Like any good adventure, my career as a freelance writer began on a rather unexpected note. I was driving across country in a beat up car that was rather desperately lurching up winding mountain roads. (In a snowstorm. With practically no heat.) I had just left a long-term relationship and needed to get my life back on track and was heading 1, 500 miles away to stay with my cousin.
As I urged my reluctant car up the hills I pondered how I was actually going to make a living. I had heard that writing and starving were pretty much joined at the hip, but that is all I really wanted to do. ( Not the starving part.) The only problem being that I had no experience, no portfolio and no clue as to how to begin.
Maye this sounds familiar in some way because you want or even need to create an income from your writing. If so, here are a few tips to help you get started. First, understand that no matter where you are starting from, learning to write is a skill. It is something you can always improve. There is no perfect sentence.
Like any skill, it takes practice. And no matter how good you are, someone is going to hate it. So do yourself a favor now and separate your ego from your writing or you are going to cry. A lot.
Secondly, you need to start somewhere. You may not get paid for your first pieces, but they can help you gain some traction so that you can start getting paid to write. I would recommend starting a blog (WordPress offers a free site) and writing for online sites that do not pay, but allow you to build links. The point is to begin honing your work and creating “clips” that you can use down the line as examples later.
Many writers pay their dues by working for online content mills to gain experience and a bit of cash in the process. Personally, I am not a big fan of the low wages and long hours. Nor do I like the fact that you may receive contradictory guidance from the editors. Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of really good content companies, just bear in mind low entry and easy access often equals low pay.
If you are desperate and need to make some money right off the bat, just do an online search for “content mills” or “writers wanted.” Make sure to do your due diligence and look at a few reviews. See what others have said about working for a given company before you jump in.
You can skip that step if you like and try blogging for pay or writing articles for on-line or traditional print magazines. If you are interested writing paid articles, make sure you do a bit of research and spend some time thinking about what you want to write about.
Try choosing a subject you either know about or are willing to learn. Then take a good look at publications that cover your topics of interest. For instance, let’s say you come across a travel magazine that you are interested in. Once you have a target, find out who you need to contact (you can usually find this in the publication or on their website), and then start crafting your pitch.
Pay attention to what they have published in the past. What is their voice? ( young, hip, business-like?) Who is their audience? What do you have to say that they might like to read?
A well-written pitch tells them that you understand their needs while providing a mini-showcase for your talents. I will be writing another article soon about pitches, but for now, understand that even if an editor does not hire you to write for a certain piece, they can tell a lot about your skills based on how well you craft it and that can lead to sometimes work down the road.
The biggest step is just to take action. Even if you’re scared (and who isn’t at some point?), the worst they can do is say no. Hang in there and go through the process as many times as needed. If you persist, you might be able to call yourself a paid writer sooner than you might think.