Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Learn How to Earn a Living as a Freelance Writer, Part Five—Practice Sustainable Writing

Sustainable Writing is the key to earning a living as a
Freelance Writer

Sustainable Writing is the key to earning a living as a freelance writer. Having a regular income as a freelance writer requires multiple streams of income. Managing those streams and keeping them afloat is where the sustainable part happens. Just like the environment, we have to be good stewards of our time and resources as writers and business owners.

As a matter of fact, there's a lot we, as writers, can learn from the environmental awareness movement. If you don't believe me, just substitute the word TIME for the word ENVIRONMENT and you’ll be surprised what becomes applicable.

Don't waste your research, recycle it
into more articles
When we think about sustainable writing, we need to have a recycling mindset. We should never waste anything. Say you’re doing research for an article titled, Remodel Your Kitchen. If you pay attention, you’ll find material to write several dozen articles. How about one called New Trends in Lighting Your Kitchen or Using Kitchen Cabinets in the Bathroom. Once you know where to look, the possibilities are endless.

This works with more than just research, you can repurpose articles—change them by 60 percent—and sell them as a new article to another source. Or, don’t change them at all and sell the reprint rights.

Here are some other ways to apply this to your writing.
  • Research - When you research a topic or person for an article or book, keep all your notes. I keep all mine in a single computer file. Within that file it’s important to have a document that lists all the webpages (not just the websites) you’ve visited to get your information. I’ve gotten in the habit of copying and pasting the web address into this document the first time I determine the importance of the webpage I visit. I also keep a transcript and/or notes from any interviews I conduct on the subject.
  • Rough Drafts - Many times when I’m writing an article it will start off way over the word count I need. I keep a copy of that first draft in my file before I start cutting it and revising it. Often I’ve come back to it and pulled parts out for a new article.
  • Related Subjects - I've also learned to make a list of possible related subjects while I'm working on an article. Frequently, when I’m writing an article, ideas for other articles will come to mind. When that happens I’ve learned to immediately make a note of my thought. If I wait, the idea disappears. 

Don't forget EVERGREEN topics for articles
You can also become a sustainable writer by utilizing topics that are always relevant to the reader, there are called evergreen or GREEN articles. Open any magazine, and you’ll usually see all of these categories somewhere within the table of contents. Of course there are exceptions, but take a trip to your local bookstore and browse through the magazines, you’ll be surprised what you find. Even niche publications will often include articles about their niche, slanted to include all four of these categories.

Green Articles fall into 4 major categories
  • Business/Finance
  • Health/Fitness
  • Relationships/Fulfillment
  • Passionate Pastimes

Here are some possible titles within these broad categories 
  • Managing Your Finances in Tough Economic Times (Business/Finance)
  • How to Eat Healthy When Time is at a Premium (Health/Fitness)
  • Re-Learn the Art of Dating by Going Out With Your Mate (Relationships/Fulfillment)
  • Learn to Tithe Your Time (Passionate Pastimes) 

The thing that makes these articles so popular is the fact that they answer a felt need for the reader. If you haven’t heard this term before, in writing terms, a felt need is a topic that resonates with the reader. They feel a need to know this information. If you want your writing to connect to the reader you utilize this concept.

Calendar articles are a great way to
connect with your audience
Finally, I want to talk about Calendar Articles. It’s critically important for us as writers to build a relationship with our readers—it’s even more critical for a magazine or website to do that. One way to accomplish this is by writing about things that are what relevant to them—again that felt need.

Calendars are a great way to do this. Think about Back to School themes in the fall and the theme of Love in February. Go the extra mile though, and come up with an original slant to the holidays. Or, if you do write about something fairly common, come up with a sidebar that’s got a slight twist. For example, you might write an article during October titled, Pumpkin Carving with Preschoolers. Make it unique by including a recipe for toasting the pumpkin seeds in a sidebar.

But, with calendar articles, it’s critically important to go beyond the major holidays. I’ve sold articles on Breast Cancer, during October (Breast Cancer Awareness Month) and on Yoga, during September (National Yoga Month) and on vaccinations during August (National Immunization Month). Below are some government websites to help get you started on special calendar days and events. 
I’ve given you a lot of information in this post, so now it’s your turn. Use the comments section to ask questions or offer suggestions.

Don’t forget to join the conversation!


  1. Great ideas, Edie. That gives me more to work on!
    Thanks again for your hard work that benefits us all as writers.

    1. Barbara, thanks for dropping by! It was great to put a face with a name at the EMACW conference this past week. Blessings, E

  2. Great tips, Edie! I love the calendar articles idea.

    1. Thanks Michelle! You have a great blog post today, I love that list of what NOT to do at a writers conference. I can hardly wait to see you in Texas on Sunday! Blessings, E

  3. Great reminder of what I haven't done in a while. Thanks. :-)

    1. Vonda, I predict life will slow and you'll be hitting the writing treadmill soon! Thanks for stopping by, Blessings, E

  4. Great tips!

    I'm always intrigued with the organizational writing styles of writers. Quick question. Do you have 3 separate documents for the development of one article? One research, one idea, one saved rough draft? Or do you combine the three components into one document?

    1. Robin, good question. I have my ideas in a general document that I periodically update and organize into general topics. Then I have my research document and my rough draft. Once I'm ready to write my final article, I copy the rough draft into my research doc and do my final revisions in the rough draft. When I name my files I use the topic first, a comma, then more details. For instance: Concrete flooring, research.

      I'm sure there are as many ways to do this as there are writers, but this works for me. Thanks for stopping by! Blessings, E

  5. Thank you for this series and all the tips, Edie! I do have a question. I recently queried an editor with an article idea. In his response, he asked to see a basic outline and some other information, which I sent. Though he has since let me know he likes my sidebar idea, I'm still waiting to hear back from him on the article as a whole.

    In the meantime, however, I came up with another idea I think he might find useful for this magazine. So, should I query that idea now or wait until I hear back from him on the other?

    1. I would like to know this answer as well. I'm always worried about contacting too often.

    2. Sharyn, I'm so glad you're finding this series helpful. I do recommend you wait to hear back from the editor before you query with something else. If you don't hear back from him about the article in a week or so, it would be fine to send him a polite email. He may have meant to say the article was great, too when he commented on the sidebar.

      After you have a firm answer, the query about the other idea. As editors, we can get easily overwhelmed. Also, if he likes your second idea better, he might turn down the first in favor of it. By waiting you have the possibility of getting two things accepted. Let me know how it turns out! Blessings, E