@Kyle D wrote:
I've identified a freelancer I'm interested in working with. Can I not briefly describe the project to gauge fit and determine whether timing will work?
Since you don't want to receive multiple proposals nor freelancers should waste their connects either, you should do as follows:
1.- Create an "Invite Only" Job (it does not have to contain all details, but it would preferable).
2.- Invite this freelancer, a recommendation would be to personalize such invitation, sometimes freelancers tend to decline generic ones
3.- If, and only if, the freelancer accepts the interview, a "Message Room" will be created and then you can begin to discuss your project.
Without the above, you can not talk to a freelancer directly.
re: "Is there no way to contact a freelancer to ask preliminary questions before initiating the process"
If you are asking if you are able to talk to a freelancer without any commitment or obligation on your part...
The answer is: Yes.
You are able to talk to any freelancer on Upwork simply by sending her a private invite to discuss a job posting.
You don't need to write out a complete job description. It doesn't need to be the final version of the job posting. You do NOT need to hire the freelancer (or any freelancer) using that job posting.
You don't need to pay anything.
You might decide to switch a fixed-price contract to hourly. Or use hourly instead of fixed-price. You might decide to hire somebody else. You might decide to hire nobody.
There is so much freedom for clients on Upwork, that Upwork really relies on the honor system when it comes to clients acting responsibly and professionally.