The Freelance Writing Trenches: Getting Started

Sunday, February 5, 2012
I spent a lot of time in my advisor’s and other professors’ offices during my college career, never more so than during the close of my senior year. Wedged between their book-lined walls, I chatted up my professors, mulling over my next move. Grad school? An attempt to grasp an elusive and rapidly disappearing 9-5 writing job with benefits?

As obtaining my B.A. (a double major in English and Communication) grew closer and closer, I realized that after four years in the idyllic hallways of Tower Hall (a building nicknamed “Hogwarts” for its striking Gothic architecture), I was as clueless about what came after college as I had been when I hiked up the four flights of stairs to my very first college class.

Well, maybe not quite as clueless.

During my college years, in addition to working towards my degree, I’d spent three years writing for and two years as news editor of the student newspaper. I’d spent four years working for and two year editing the college’s literary and artistic journal. I’d develop my writing skills and knew I wanted a career in writing. Yet, the summer between my junior and senior year, I’d lost an opportunity for an internship with a small city newspaper because the publication became unable to fund the position. 2007 was not a great year to immerge into the world as a young woman with a love of print media and an English degree.

Of course, there was one option that would allow me to write and earn an, albeit, meager living after college. I wouldn’t have benefits, but I also wouldn’t have to go through the heartbreak of having every single writing job I applied for be defunded before they even finished the hiring process.(True story.) But I never discussed that option with my professors. It seemed too ridiculous. Who graduates from college wanting to be a freelance writer?

A friend emailed over the weekend to ask how exactly you get started as a freelance writer. I had to pause for a moment and think about how I began, because honestly, I’ve been kicking around the freelance writing thing since I was in high school.

So how do you approach dipping your toe in freelance writing? If I were to do it in a linear manner, here's what I'd recommend.

1) Get a consistent writing gig where you write for someone else. Don’t worry about getting paid for this gig. Your job here is to learn the joy of deadlines and experience some times eye roll-inducing interactions with editors. If you’ve worked on a school newspaper, helped edit a newsletter or journal, or anything of this nature, you can probably skip this step. I spent several years, both in high school and college, writing and editing for the online teen ezine Yes, kiwibox. It sounds ridiculous, but during that time I wrote literally 100+ articles and edited just as many. It was truly invaluable experience, no matter how silly it sounds now.

2) Amass your resources. I believe every would-be freelance writer should have a subscription to some writing magazine (I got Writer’s Digest), a subscription to Hope Clark’s e-newsletter Funds for Writers, and the latest version of Writer’s Market.

Got those? Good – immediately proceed to step 3. It’s just too tempting to use resources as a diversion from the actual freelance writing work.

3) Start pursuing paid gigs through queries and submissions. I started querying on an extremely fair weather basis during the summer of 2005. I got a couple nibbles, but no bites. I did however learn how to write a decent query letter. I sold my first article in 2008. Then another one in 2009. Then I got a regular writing gig. It's not a fast process, but just like driving home in the fog with one headlight, it'll get you there.

There is no (I repeat, no!) magic process you must follow to become a freelance writer. But there are two things you must do if you’re serious about making money as a writer:
  • Pursue publications for paid writing possibilities.
  • Write. 

We wish!


  1. You are one tough cookie! You surely have shown determination, resilience and the ridicule is proved wrong.Chapeau!

  2. I'm right in the middle. I have one soon to be hopefully paying regular column, and I can't wait to see if it turns out and lasts! Fingers crossed!

  3. These are some great tips, thanks for sharing! Just thought: if you know any creative types looking for a writing gig and don't mind being paid in cool crafty supplies, let me know! We need another writer for Gauche Alchemy. :D

  4. new follower of your blog
    now follow my blog

  5. Great tips to get started there.
    I've got a permanant note to myself, that regularly needs refreshing. If I want to be a writer...err, you have to write.
    (love the snowy picture in your header too.)

  6. I've sent out many manuscripts with marginal success. The work I've done that has been read the most is definitely my blog. Maybe I need to try again.

  7. I was so lucky to get a freelancing gig right out of college. Not only did it pay really well, but my editor hardly edited. It was very good for my ego, but maybe not so much for my sense of reality, because I realize that it is very rare to come by. I was also lucky that this editor took a chance on me, because up until that point, my portfolio was pretty slim.

    I definitely need to invest in a Writer's Digest subscription, and I need to take a chance and send out queries to some other publications. I'm sticking with what I have for sure, but a little variety will be good for me, too.


Related Posts with Thumbnails