You should be networking as a freelance writer. You really should. What with it being the era of social media and all, you really have no excuse.
When I'm in a hasty mentality, I'll poo-poo Facebook as silly and unnecessary. But when I'm in a more objective mood, I can see that Facebook has allowed me to stay in touch with some very important people.
The thing is, when I originally "friended" them, oh, six or seven years ago, I knew I'd probably never them again after graduation. (And I haven't.) I never imagined they'd be so important. But the mere fact that we've all pursued freelance writing and been able to keep in touch through the wonder of social media has made these individuals indispensable contacts.
You hear on any career building website how important it is to network. In fact, the word "network" kind of makes me glaze over. But I do think it behooves freelancers greatly, no matter where they're at with their careers, to stay in touch with fellow professionals who are following in similar footsteps.
Here's three reasons why:
Freelancing is lonely business. Sure, you'll get out of the house for an in-person interview every now and then, but most of your work is done through phone calls and emails. What's more, if you're a freelancer, you probably get this a lot when you explain the whole query/write for pay process: "Wow . . . that's . . . so . . . interesting. I didn't know you could do that." When you have someone you can contact who understands how you make your living (and not just in the "oh, good for you" way), you feel a little more legitimate and a lot less prone to spontaneously bursting out into a heart-wrenching version of "All By Myself."
If I wasn't passive aggressive, I'd call this reason "accountability" but the truth of the matter is, I like winning. (Maybe that's why Andy refuses to play cribbage with me anymore?) But when you're self-employed, there's no such thing as raises and promotions. Without any external forces pushing you to work harder, it can be easy to fall into the trap of thinking "hey, there was enough money to pay for groceries this month, who needs more than that?" But when you send off an update to one of your writer friends and they reply by telling you that they recently broke into the New York Times, you're presented with one of those "now wait a minute , , ," moments where you realize if they can do it, there's no reason why you can't either.
When you stay in touch with other freelance writers, you have an opportunity to share your experiences, yes, but also your contacts. Success in freelance writing depends to a certain extent on having an "in" with an editor. Most of that time, you're depending on a great story idea to land you a gig, but every once in a while, you'll get tipped off about a particular publication by another writer. I've landed more than one job from a lead I got just from checking in with a fellow freelancing colleague. Classic scratch my back and I'll scratch yours.
I don't have any specific formula to my networking, although I will say my most helpful networking has been with people who are in a similar stage of their freelance writing career as me. Still, there's value in networking with people who are just starting out (you will learn something just by answering their questions) as well as those who have reach that pinnacle of success you aim for. Many people recommend networking once a week. I find once a month is more attainable for me and enough to keep me on track with my goals.
Moral of the story: keep in touch. Shoot a writer you admire an email. Send a college classmate who's gone into a similar career a Facebook or Twitter message. You never know what doors might open as a result of your correspondence.