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Todays post is written by Peter Roberts on behalf of Academic Knowledge, who specialise in freelance writing jobs for graduates. He reflects on how freelance writing can not only bring in some pennies, but also aid in the writing process.
The contemporary academic environment presents ECR’s with a range of challenges; the 2014 REF is fast approaching, there is increasing pressure to publish or perish and there is a requirement to reskill and to adapt to new forms of publishing in more traditional ways, but also online. The idea of doing freelance writing on top of all this may seem like an added pressure. In this post I attempt to debunk some of these myths and outline how freelance writing can not only make you a little extra cash, but also help you in the world of academic publishing.
Freelance writing for PhDs and Postdocs?
Freelance writing is something, which many PhD or postdoc students may have thought about as a way to help make ends meet. It can bring in a little extra cash here and there, and if you have got good writing skills and an area of specialist knowledge, then there’s a reasonable chance you’ll find work. But freelance writing can help in ways that go beyond the financial. If you do choose to take on freelance jobs, you’ll be forced to write in a range of styles to fit various different audiences. And if you are planning to turn your PhD into a book manuscript, having a good awareness of audience is absolutely essential.
As PhD students know very well, writing a thesis can be at times a solitary activity, and in most cases, the only people who read the finished piece are supervisors and examiners. Within the confines of a PhD, this isn’t a really big problem. The thesis is written for the benefit of the external and internal examiner to pass the viva and secure a doctorate. In this sense, a PhD is really only written for two people. But writing a book manuscript is a very different process, and you need to consider your audience more carefully. Do you want to write an academic book or produce a text more appropriate to the popular market? If you do intend to write for the popular market, it’s particularly important that you breakout of the mindset of writing for just two examiners, but after three to four years of intensive writing specifically for that purpose, this can be a daunting challenge. This is where freelance writing can come in.
If you do take on some freelance writing jobs you’ll immediately have to start writing for new audiences and in very different styles. This can be great practice, and can help broaden your horizons and give you a better awareness of who you are writing for. For example, you may need to produce work ranging from simple web copy to specialised reports. You will have to alter your style of writing. It’s certain that your prose will need to be simplified and you will have to write succinctly, and make your point quickly and clearly. You’ll have to sacrifice words and make decisions about what content is relevant to the particular job. Going through this process will undoubtedly help you convert your PhD into a book. A PhD thesis may need to go through fundamental changes to be finally accepted for publication. For the popular market, these changes will be even starker. But if you have some experience in writing for different audiences already, by the time you do start editing your thesis it may seem much less of a daunting task. You will already have more developed skills and a better understanding of how to write for a new audience. Of course, this alone will not secure a book contract, but it will go some way to improving your chances.
In this respect, freelance writing is worth considering not only for the financial assistance it can provide. If you want to broaden your writing skills, it’s an easy way to achieve this. If you are interested in finding out more, take a look round some well known freelancing sites and see if you think any are right for you – www.elance.com, www.academicknowlege.com, www.freelancewriting.com.