So, I'm doing a lot more freelance writing these days than contract writing and while both things are writing jobs, it seems that a lot of folks might not realize the difference between the two. The thing about writing is that it is quite a versatile beast. Dependent upon what you write about and how often you desire to write, one is likely to work better for you than the other.
So what is the difference? While either type can be full-time or part-time work, the real difference is in where you work and for how long.
Typically, contract writing is when you work with a company but you are not a part of their formal staff. Oftentimes, you might work physically within their office as an independent contractor (1099) and you may be paid on an hourly basis or salaried. These jobs are often for a specified length of time (3-month, 6-month, and 1-year are common ones) and it is often project-driven. If you finish the project within a specified time, your contract may end. If not, it may be extended. Hours may or may not be flexible and the pay is often higher because it is a contract position.
A few years back, I took a contract writing position for a large law full-service law firm and my workload was solely project-driven within a 6-month period. I also received an extension. When the work was completed, my contract ended. Contract positions are a great way to build your portfolio while gaining valuable in-house work experience.
For freelancers, the location of the job is the biggest difference. Just like contract writing, you are considered an independent contractor (1099) and you work for yourself, but oftentimes you will provide your writing services under more flexible terms. These jobs may be paid hourly but are more often paid by the project. Work may be for a specified length of time but a project with proposed deadlines is more common. Projects may be large or small.
Unlike most contract work, your services as a freelance writer may be utilized by a client over a longer period of time. Dependent on the relationship you build with your client(s), you may work on a variety of projects and with a variety of folks--be them companies, media liaisons, marketing firms, ad agencies, creative departments, etc.
Freelancers not only tend to work on their own terms, they also often work on their own turf, which means you are likely working right from home or remotely. In the last year, I have taken on several freelance gigs and enjoyed the freedom of managing my own schedule and working with a variety of great folks (lovely clients). With this freedom however, comes the responsibility of needing to stay proactive and focused. Freelance work is a great way to build your portfolio, network with others and build strong references for future work!
The Bottom Line
Yes, there is a difference! Writing come in many sizes, shapes and forms! Now it's up to you to distinguish and conquer! No matter what path you take in your writing career, know that there are endless opportunities out there. Make sure you explore several avenues, try things out, be open minded, and find what works best for you. Nothing is more rewarding than discovering what you love and do best, then going out and doing just that!