8 Reasons Why A Freelance Writer Should Use the Internet

What a wonderful resource the Internet is!

Students find information to help them with their studies; business people keep in touch with important clients and stay up to date with important business developments; stay-at-home-parents can find ideas for children's activities and feel less isolated by forging friendships with other online parents; and even small children have the opportunity to learn how to use the technology that will take them into the future.

It seems everybody has a reason to use the Internet and writers are no exception. In fact, the Internet is a resource that once explored, most writers couldn't do without.

Let's take a look at why.

1. Research

This one's almost too obvious to mention but nevertheless, it's the number one reason why a freelancer would use the Net.

While most writers still build up their own library of reference books, without the Internet we'd still be scurrying off to the public library in the hope that they'd have a book about "coinage in ancient Egypt" or "the architect who designed the fountains at Trafalgar Square". Pretty obscure subjects and the likelihood of the library having anything on their shelves was pretty remote. They could probably order something that might help but that could take anything up to a month to arrive.

But now we have the Internet! Tra-la! A few simples keystrokes and up it comes. I now know that coins in ancient Egypt can be traced back to the late dynastic period and that the fountains of Trafalgar Square were designed by Sir Charles Barry. How much easier things are today!

The meanings of names, weights and measures, sunrise times around the world, world Royalty throughout history, how long it takes to drive from Chicago to Los Angeles and what food you're likely to be served in Botswana, all the information's out there just waiting for you to need it.

2. Find Work

While it's still usual to pitch ideas to magazine and newspaper editors and send manuscripts as hardcopy, the Internet has opened up a whole city of avenues for writers.

There are websites specifically designed to help freelancers find work (or project owners find freelancers, depending on how you look at it), and online magazines are often looking for writers who can submit professional content to their sites.

By joining a handful of well-chosen freelance forums, you'll soon discover where to look for work and which markets pay best.

3. Join Support Groups & Communities

Writing is a notoriously lonely profession.

Almost all freelancers work from home and therefore don't have the opportunity to network with others in their profession.

By joining online support groups and communities, freelancers can alleviate some of that loneliness.

Being able to exchange ideas and thoughts with others who know exactly where you're coming from can help a writer get through the day without clawing at the walls too often.

Online communities are also great sources of information that you may otherwise have missed. New markets and new research resources are often discussed and the budding freelancer will be given far more advice from those who've made all the mistakes already, than any book could ever offer.

Local groups sometimes arrange social meets, too. What could be better than lunch with other writers when you've been pulling your hair out because your friends just don't understand that putting words on paper really isn't as easy as it looks.

If only ruined wallpaper and wigs could be written off against tax...

4. Polish Up Your Language Skills

"Their", "there", or "they're"? Or was it "lay" or "lie"? Or possibly even "too", "two", or "to."

And where does that semicolon belong? Oops, it seems I started that sentence with a conjunction. Am I allowed to do that? No? Well I just did! Surely writers can break the rules sometimes, can't they?

The Internet is bursting at the seams with sites designed to help improve your writing.

It doesn't matter how good you think your language skills are, it's always worth testing yourself now and then just to make sure you're still on top of things.

I know I'm a sucker for the comma. They slip in all over the shop and lead to wasted time while I go through my work, whipping them out again. And I'm not alone. Most of us have a little "something" that's peculiar to us. As long as we're aware of it things aren't too bad, but what if you have some little "distinguishing feature" that you don't know about? You wouldn't want to be sending your work off to editors with commas hooked here, there and everywhere, would you?

Some language improvement sites send out regular newsletters that are worth subscribing to. I receive a couple every week and am surprised at just how much I've picked up.

5. Develop A Portfolio

A website is pretty much a necessity for freelancers these days and luckily, they aren't difficult to build.

Your website should give prospective clients information about your background including any relevant education or employment, a bit about who you are and why you write, what your goals are and your areas of expertise. Some freelancers list their basic prices on their websites while others choose not to.

A "clip file" is a must on the website. No matter how much you write about yourself, if you really want to sell yourself you need to give visitors the chance to access a cross-section of your past work.

To get a good idea of what's needed, take a look at other freelancer's sites. Those who have been around for a while have neatly laid out sites that work hard for them. Make sure yours works hard for you, too!

6. Read "How To" Articles

Thousands of freelance writers have posted articles on the Net giving advice to others, whether seasoned writers who are perhaps moving in new directions or newcomers who still have lots to learn about all aspects of the profession.

All sorts of subjects are covered from how to find markets and which topics are most likely to sell to the basics of bookkeeping and how to make uninvited guests understand that you're working even though you're at home.

If you're just starting out as a freelancer, I'd suggest reading at least one "how to" article every day. Believe me, there's far more to learn than you imagine!

7. Keep In Touch

Editors and other project owners are keen to use email as a means of communication so it's worth having a mail account that you can easily access from wherever you happen to be.

Free accounts such as hotmail, yahoo and gmail are all handy for people on the move because you can log in to check your messages from Internet cafes, libraries and friends' houses.

If you're busy working on a project, you might find that the client wants to keep in touch via one of the instant messaging systems that are available these days. MSN, yahoo messenger and AOL instant messenger are the most popular for this use.

Use email to contact your existing clients regularly. As with any other business, it's important to remind them of your services and perhaps offer a discount now and then.

8. Take Payments

Quite often you'll find clients will want to either transfer money directly to your bank account or use an online payment service such as Paypal (www.paypal.com).

If your client transfers money directly to you, checking your account for payments is easy when you have access through the Internet. Just log into your bank and list recent transactions. If the payments been made, you can update your accounts accordingly and know that you can happily work for the client again as nothing's outstanding on his account.

If a client wants to pay via Paypal or another online system for transferring money, you can send an invoice directly through the service and receive an email when the money's received. From there you can either transfer it to your bank account or leave it to accumulate on the Internet account.

If you're planning to use the Internet freelance sites to find work, then a Paypal account is an absolute must. The same goes for some content sites.

In other words, if you want to maximise your earnings, get a Paypal account and do your banking online.

Conclusion

I honestly can't imagine how a freelance writer can manage these days without regular access to the Internet.

Searching the Net will never be the same as browsing the shelves of a library and I suggest you continue using whatever resources your local community has to offer. But for the sake of convenience, the Internet simply can't be beaten.

If you're still not comfortable with computers, sign up for an evening course and learn how to use the basic programmes and find information on the Net. Believe me, once you've started, you'll wonder how you ever got along without it.

Sharon Jacobsen is a freelance writer living in South Cheshire, England. She's been writing in one form or another since she was a very young child taught to read by her grandfather and although there's nothing she'd rather do for a living, she does enjoy dabbling in web design "on the side" now and then. To contact Sharon or to find out more about her work, please visit http://www.sharon-jacobsen.co.uk

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