I’m well aware that I’m in no place to give advice about anything, let alone writing. What I do know, though, is that when I decided I wanted to try this whole “freelance writing” thing, I had no idea where to start. While there’s plenty of advice out there from successful, published authors, what I wanted was help from someone who was where I am now. Which is at the very beginning, basically. So that’s what this is: if you want to give freelance writing a try, here’s my advice (based only on my personal experience):
1. Start a blog.
I’ve mentioned this before, but if you want to write and you don’t have a blog, then what are you even doing with yourself? It’s one thing if you just like writing and don’t need anyone else to read it to feel validated, but if that’s the case then you don’t even need to worry about doing freelancing. You can just do you and keep a journal. But, if you’re anything like me, you have a pathetic need for attention and a freakish, almost worrisome desire to have people read your work. Set up a blog (I use WordPress because it seems very “website-y” to me and it’s easy to use, but most hip people use Tumblr, which is definitely easy and better for sharing things, but it doesn’t really matter what you use) and commit to a posting schedule. When I started my blog, I posted at least once a day, usually twice. At the time I had no other writing commitments, so this was easy. Figure out how often you want to blog, but I’d recommend at least a few times a week. A blog gives you practice, gives you some accountability, gives you some validation and feedback, and also gives you some examples of your work to send out.
2. Start small.
Very small. The smallest. Before I started submitting things, I went to the library and checked out books on freelance writing. I’m very old school. Anyway, they all said the same thing: at the very beginning, you just need to concentrate on getting your name on things. When I saw that my local paper was looking for 12 guest columnists to write opinion pieces throughout the year, I sent in a sample. I knew that the pool of applicants would be small, so I’d likely get it. Then, when I submitted other things, I could say that I wrote an opinion column for a newspaper. It sounds much more impressive than it is, and that’s all that matters. And not only can you say you have published articles, you can actually show those published articles to people. This matters a lot.
3. Be okay with doing it for free.
One of the most frequent writing questions people ask me, in person and online, is, “Do you get paid for writing for HelloGiggles?” Nope. That’s not unusual, and I didn’t expect to. If you want to hit the ground running and start making money immediately with writing, you’re going to be incredibly disappointed. Based on my personal experience and the experiences I’ve read about, that’s definitely not the case. I know there are some people who are horrified by the thought of working for free, but think of it this way: in most industries, people have internships. You don’t get paid, but you do get experience and connections and a sweet gig to put on your resume. Basically, that’s what you’re going to be doing with writing. I’ve only been seriously writing for about a year, and I’m just now starting to focus on getting paid for it. At the beginning, I can’t even begin to tell you how far money was from my mind. So I guess my advice here is to check yourself. You need clips for people to take you seriously as a writer, and the only way you’re going to do that is by writing for free at first.
It goes without saying that you shouldn’t quit your day job. Like, not now or possibly ever. Or maybe you should if you’re a person who doesn’t care a lot about stability (I know you’re out there!), but I’m a person who needs to always know I can pay my rent and be insured.
4. Send in perfect work and meet your deadlines.
Editors are busy, and they will look more favorably on you if you’re meeting every deadline and turning in work that needs very few edits. Some people say things like, “It’s an editor’s job to fix things!” and, yes, it is, but if you can give them something they don’t need to spend much time on, they’re going to like you a lot more.
5. Read some books.
A lot of books on freelance writing are terribly out-of-date, because rules for internet writing are very different from the olden days of sending in submissions via mail. That doesn’t mean there aren’t really helpful books out there, though! One I really like is How to Become a Famous Writer Before You’re Dead. It’s super helpful for all kind of writing. My other favorite books on writing are Stephen King’s On Writing, Elizabeth Berg’s Escaping into the Open, and Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones. They’re not necessarily about freelancing (although Berg’s book talks about it the most), but they’re helpful all the same.
6. Don’t worry about rejection.
I don’t get very upset about rejection, which is probably because I majored in Creative Writing, where you have to sit in a circle and listen to everyone tell you what’s wrong with what you wrote. Once you do that, someone rejecting you via email isn’t that big of a deal. And guess what? Usually people are pretty nice about it. Also, I try to keep in mind this advice from Jenna Fischer.
7. Just submit.
Seriously. Just write something and send it somewhere. The absolute worst that can happen is that someone will say no. And you’re definitely not going to get anywhere if you don’t even try.
If you want some (probably better) advice from people who are more experienced than me, here are a couple of posts I like:
Advice from Meghan O’Keefe, a fellow HelloGiggles writer (I don’t know her. I know very few people who write for HG. But she seems great, right?)
So that’s my advice! Like I said, I’m in no place to be giving advice about anything, but believe it or not people do ask me about this sort of thing. If you have any questions (about this or, like, whatever) you can always email me at email@example.com and we can chat. Or e-mail me if you just want to pay me to write for you. That would be great, too.
Image via TFD