6 Young Indians Share What It Takes To Be A Freelance Writer

6 Young Indians Share What It Takes To Be A Freelance Writer
Payal Mohta (L) and Protima Tiwary (R)

As a writer myself, I’ve always been aware of the downside of switching from a comfortable full-time position to an erratic freelance one. The latter comes with a certain amount of apprehension and trepidation; it has its own downsides - erratic payments, the struggle of self-discipline, and simply the lack of a regular income to pay one’s bills. And while these anxieties are completely justified and, to a certain extent, even true, one can’t help but observe the rise in freelance writers across India. After all, who doesn’t like being one’s own boss? The freedom to wake up and leisurely sip on your morning cuppa, schedule work meetings as and when you feel comfortable, and carefully pick and choose the kind of work you do is pretty much a professional dream come true. The kind of life we all wish to live someday but are not sure of where and how exactly to begin.

Unfortunately, “How to be a freelance writer” is not a question Google can answer, neither can the people around us (mostly). So keeping the inaccessibility of knowledge in mind, I spoke to six thriving freelance writers across the country. Some who’ve only recently embarked on this journey, others who’ve been around for a while and loving every second of it. One common misconception that most people have about freelancers is that it’s all about penning words while sitting in breezy cafes. And while that may be partly true, it’s not as common a practice as one would assume.

From a freelance content writer who’s also a fitness blogger to a journalist who works independently and remotely from a small town in Kolhapur district to someone who specialises in freelancing for international publications - here’s some inside tips and how-to’s to help you gain some perspective on a career that’s seldom spoken about as openly.

I. Protima Tiwary

29-year-old Protima Tiwary started freelancing in early 2013 right after she’d just quit her full-time job at an agency and was genuinely looking for a break. Five years hence, she has completely immersed herself into the freelance life - that is both erratic and exciting. “I enjoy writing about food (especially desserts!), travel and fitness. 60% of my projects fall under this category in the form of social media branding projects, while the rest is a mixture of business blogging, social media and entrepreneurship essays, website projects for various genres and sometimes even blogs on education,” she says.

As someone who was always interested in working with new brands and trying new things, this life of a digital nomad has been convenient for her as she gets to travel, work, and workout all at her own convenience and leisure from any part of the world. When asked about the importance of financial health as a freelance writer she says, “In the beginning of my career I had a part-time consultancy job for a couple of years because I needed that fixed amount in my bank every month, especially when I started investing.”

Like most freelance writers out there, Protima is a big fan of her flexible work hours but still struggles with finding clients who will pay well. “Important advice: Sign a contract to ensure proper payments. Build your network - both online and offline. Attend relevant events and, talk about your work - it isn’t showing off”, she signs off.

You can follow her work on her Instagram or her website.

II. Devyani Nighoskar

Shuffling between Mumbai and Saharnpur, Uttar Pradesh, 23-year-old Devyani embraced the ups and downs of the freelance life only recently after she quit her full-time job in September 2018 as it was quite rigorous and limited her from travelling often. “I was also facing a mental health crisis and wanted to take things slow and easy for a while, which is why I chose to not take up another full-time job”, she says. Specialising in long-form features on travel, culture, development, and identity, Devyani has always been fond of travelling and it’s what drives her to work on stories she believes can create an impact.

As someone who started freelancing very early on in her career, Devyani is quite grounded about the challenges of her profession. “As a freelancer, I have a very unstable income and it’s my privilege that has allowed me to take up freelancing at a stage where I have not quite yet established my credibility as a journalist”, she shares. “I do think that one should start freelancing after having a few years of full-time experience for it not just establishes credibility but also makes you so much better at your craft,” she adds.

While networking and attending events to meet like-minded people is important, Devyani also emphasises on the importance of patience, “Keep pitching. One amongst 10 stories is bound to get accepted. A lot of international publications are constantly looking for stories from India and they pay well too. On the other hand, Indian publications don’t have a ‘Pitch To Us’ guideline so it often requires more networking and payments can be slow.”

One experience that has truly stood out in the past four months of Devyani’s career is how her friends and peers don’t respect her time. “Even though I am my own boss, I still have interviews to take, stories to find and deadlines to meet so stop thinking that I am idle and free all the time”, she signs off.

You can follow her work on her Instagram.

III. Sanket Jain

Currently based out of Ichalkaranji (a small town in Kolhapur district of Maharashtra), 22-year-old Sanket Jain began his tryst with freelancing right after college. “In my final year I was interning with one of the national dailies in Delhi. I was tired of the routine urban reporting and rural India has always been fascinating me. That’s when I decided to start off as a rural freelance journalist. Usually it’s perceived that one cannot start off as a freelancer without any experience in the media. I think that’s not true. You can start off as a freelancer and still do amazing stories”, he says.

However, he says, it’s important for one to be sure of the niche they want to cover. “Find what you love covering and then spend a lot of time on field, talking to people, and eventually you will start becoming an expert in a particular area,” he advises.

As someone who works remotely, a huge part of Sanket’s work involves understanding what a publication is looking for and then pitching to the editor effectively. “As a freelancer, you have to learn to deal with rejections. Get ready for it. Sometimes it’s just that the editor doesn’t understand what you are trying to cover. Never lose heart when your ideas are rejected,” he signs off.

You can follow Sanket’s work here.

IV. Chandni Doulatramani

Armed with a prestigious degree in Television journalism, Bangalore-based Chandni enthusiastically ventured into the industry in 2011. For the next five years, she jumped from one job to another but nothing held her interest for more than a few months. So she took a year off, moved back to her parents’ house in Calcutta, and randomly started writing about topics that intrigued her. “I practically dived into freelance journalism without giving it much thought – I’ve always been pretty impulsive with all my decisions in life but this is the one I’ve been most happy about”, she says. Chandni has written for publications like National Geographic, The Caravan, VICE, and Mint Lounge.

As someone who started freelancing without any real savings from her previous jobs, Chandni was glad to have the support of her family and boyfriend initially until she was able to get back on her feet. Even now Chandni, like all freelance writers, struggles with the financial realities of this field, “As a precaution, I keep aside a portion of all my earnings no matter how little I get paid.”

Even though working independently means one is free to utilise their time the way they want, Chandni admits that there are some traditional ways of being motivated that are missing from her present life. “I struggle a lot with keeping myself motivated and driven on a daily basis. I also miss having an editor/mentor to brainstorm with so I usually pester my journalist friends and boyfriend and thankfully they oblige. Also, writing is a very lonely job and freelancing can make it lonelier - I’m sometimes tempted to go back to a regular job just for the sake of interacting with colleagues even if they’re mean and bitchy, but then I remind myself of how much I love what I’m currently doing”, she tells us.

You can find Chandni’s work here or follow her on Instagram.

V. Kiran Mehta

As a freelance features writer, Kiran’s life is full of adventures. One day she might be stepping onto the Buckingham Palace gardens for the 60th anniversary of the Queen’s coronation, the next she might find herself in the bylanes of Dharavi, writing about the potters or simply heading to a new neighbourhood restaurant for an anonymous review. On other days, she also creates content for digital travel guides.

Taking us through her decade-long career in journalism Kiran says, “My last full-time job was with Mumbai Mirror, Times of India Group. While I had worked with magazines before, this was my first time with a daily, and it was a fantastic learning experience. After a few years there, I decided to take the plunge. Back then, I didn’t have much of a plan. Thankfully, things have been good.” Having said that, she would advice others to have a basic plan before quitting their job. “For instance if you’re living in a rented apartment in Mumbai, make sure you have enough to cover that until you get a footing in the freelance world”, she adds.

Apart from following various Indian and international publications, Kiran emphasises on the importance of social media in the life of a freelance writer. “There are Facebook groups created for and by freelancers, which act as great resources for exchange of ideas, alerts for assignments, etc. Such groups also help you beat loneliness that is typical in the freelance writing world”, she says.

Even though Kiran didn’t have much of a plan when she started freelancing, she now realises the importance of working full-time in a publication house for a few years before opting for an unconventional approach, as it helps you pick up other skills like teamwork, people skills, working under pressure, and learning to translate your ideas within the constraints of a particular section of the newspaper/magazine/website etc.

VI. Payal Mohta

Like most writers, Payal was always aware of the ground realities of her profession. She knew that the financial prospects of being a journalist in India were bleak. Moreover, the pressures of a full-time job in a city like Mumbai had started to leave their mark on her personal life - and it’s what truly pushed her to make the switch in August, 2017. “Some people might think that freelancing doesn’t pay much but what I had found was a very unique opportunity which was international freelancing. It provided me a way to be financially independent without compromising on my creative aspirations,” she says. Payal has written for publications like Broadly, The Guardian etc.

While understanding what kind of stories a foreign publication wants from India can be a challenge, Payal finds her strength in knowing that it’s the pitch that makes all the difference. “Remember, when you’re writing to the editor, it’s not just for the assignment, it’s a way of building a relationship as well. Also, being friends with other freelancers in the city can also help”, she shares.

While she does advice having a financial support system in place before quitting a full-time position to start freelancing, she has also come across stories of other freelancers who’ve taken the leap with funds that could keep them afloat for just 3-6 months as well. “After all, the more that’s at stake, the harder you’ll work”, she signs.

You can follow Payal’s work here.

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