Pieces of Me

How to become a freelance writer

Some say that the best way to start anything is to just start. Except when I was sitting behind my computer screen at home aching to become a writer, the idea of just starting was overwhelming. I didn’t know where to start or how to start.

Often I am asked how do you become a freelance writer? My answer is to start with a course. Not because this is the only way to become a freelance writer or because it is the best way to become one. Simply because it is the way that I started and it worked for me.

AJwritersBLOG2(1)

But which course? I completed the Australian Writers’ Centre Magazine and Newspaper Writing course. A game changing two days of my life. Up until then I thought a secret writers’ handbook existed and I was not privy to the secrets. Once my course had finished I felt like l had been given the secret handbook.

Yet all roads lead to Rome. A university degree in journalism, an arts degree, a science degree, a TAFE course, a writing course either online or offline. If you feel like you need to learn the rules before you play the game then find the course that is right for you. Just as true, if you feel like you can get started without doing a course do what works for you.


AJwritersBLOG3

Freelance writing starts with a pitch. What is a pitch? A pitch is a writer’s description of a potential story to an editor. A good pitch should introduce who you are, summarize the story you want to write and explain why that story matters. A good pitch should also make the case for why you are the best person to write that story.

Pitching is hard relentless work. My stomach has twisted itself into knots almost on every occasion waiting for an editor’s response to a pitch. But without a pitch there is no commission so it is the only place to start, regardless of what the editor’s response might be.

AJwritersBLOG4

Know your stuff. Sounds simple right? But if an editor has said yes to your pitch then give them every reason to believe that the copy you have just filed isn’t just good – it is awesome. Do your research, check your statistics and make sure the experts have been quoted right.

I often take a step out of my writers chair and put myself in the readers chair and ask: as a mum (if the article is on parenting) would I be finding this article useful? How can I make it better? Draft your copy and never leave it to the last minute to meet your deadline.

AJwritersBLOG5

The mechanics of being a freelance writer are diverse. Some writers work best on tight deadlines, others don’t. Some sit down and write their copy from start to finish and draft later, some draft and edit as they go. Writing styles are individual, there is no right or wrong. Sometimes writing styles differ depending on the publication you are writing for.

Either way, practice, practice and practice some more to find a way that works best for you. My practice space has always been my blog. Testing out different writing styles, different writing voices and sometimes even giving a voice to a pitch that received a ‘no’ from an editor.

AJwritersBLOG6

Be careful of the thief. Comparison is the thief of joy and while having freelance writers that you look up to and admire is a very positive part of establishing yourself. Do not let your confidence take a beating watching by line after by line appear online or in print and feel that you will never get there. You will get there.

Know that each freelancer may place very different priorities on their writing to you. Some may hold onto it as a full time job, others as a part time job and others as a creative outlet. Everyone has their own reason and motives and so dedicate the respective amount of time to their writing.

Find your priority, work out your time and be kind to yourself as you start out.

AJwritersBLOG7

Confidence is not something that can be taught. Confidence takes practice. Confidence takes hard work. I may be the last person to preach about confidence, for mine wanes on some days, escalates on others and generally has me on a tight leash. I’m working on it. Every day I’m working on it.

Having a support network, whether it be an online group, a real life group, a mentor, a friend, someone to be your sounding board can be your saving grace on some days. Knowing you are not alone, having someone listen and even just someone saying ‘yep that happens to me too’ can be all it takes to swing the pendulum of confidence.

AJwritersBLOG8

So how do you become a freelance writer? I guess in the end you really do just start, wherever that start may be for you. So what are you waiting for?

AJwritersBLOG9

Need a little more inspiration? Valuable resources to check out are Allison Tait’s Get Paid To Write and Megan Blandford’s Freelance Writing: The first year of your writing business.

A HUGE thank you to the incredible writers who took time out of their deadline driven schedules to contribute to this post. More so, thank you to these women for being part of my incredible support network, their voices, their stories and their inspiration will always be treasured. Take a moment to say hello to Lisa Almond, Sarah Wayland, Thuy Yau, Ariane Beeston, Megan Blandford, Jo Hartley, Michaela Fox and Catherine Rodie.

What advice can you offer someone who wants to be a freelance writer?
Are you ready to start?

  • LydiaCLee

    This is a faboulous post – many thanks for all the tips.

  • There is some fantastic advice in here, Josefa. I love how you have brought all of these writers together to share their secrets. It’s been nine years since I was a freelance writer. I’d arrived home from living in the UK for a few years and needed some money fast. It’s amazing what a motivating factor that can be. While I was able to secure one permanent gig, I found the pitching and rejection part hard. I was a lot younger then and didn’t have a great deal of self-confidence. I took rejections to heart. I have often thought about freelancing again, but I still do find it a little scary and wonder if I would be able to earn as much money as I need to earn to support my family. There are a lot of freelancers out there. In the end, I think the pull to writing for a full time career will be too strong and I will have no choice, but to get back out there. Great post.

    • The rejection is hard Renee, I’m not very good at it and perhaps no one really is. Look forward to you “getting back out there” I think once the writing bug bites there is no going back xx

  • The best thing I ever did was the Austrlian Writers’ Centre Newspaper and Magazine writing course. You just need to jump. Dive in and see where it takes you. You will sometimes feel like you are drowning, but you will come up for air, and when you see your byline for the first time, it will be like catching the most perfect wave. Then you do it all over again!

  • Thanks Josefa – this is really helpful. Thanks for sharing and being so supportive of fledglings like me. Happy Tuesday! Mel xx http://melaniegreenhalgh.blogspot.com.au

    • I think the best part of freelancing is the chance to support each other through the ups and downs of the game xx

  • I love that line about the worst that could happen – yep, we’ve all survived hearing “no” once or twice before. Just have to develop that thick skin and be prepared to accept lots of nos, to get more and more yeses – it applies in so many different aspects of life!

    • I love that line too! You seem to imagine all sorts of doom and gloom waiting for a response from an editor, when all they could say is yes or no. No doom and gloom, thunder bolts or lightening 😉

  • Natalie @ Our Parallel Connect

    So much amazing advice here… Not sure where to begin. I am currently studying professional writing and live my weekly challenges … I think patience is important too

  • writeofthemiddle

    What a fabulous collaborative and informative post Josefa! I’m off to check out the course you did plus the links to Alison’s & Megan’s posts. 🙂

    • Oh yay! Allison’s and Megan’s books are super great – you will love them xx

  • This will be a great resource for those starting out. It’s nice to share knowledge!

    • I hung onto any little bit of knowledge anyone shared when I started out (still do) so it will be great to know this post can help others too xx

  • There is so much helpful info in this article. Thank you for compiling it all. I just received notification of payment from my very first paid writing job. It was only very small, but it’s a start and I could not be more excited! 🙂

  • Great post and I hope it inspires many people to join the pitching fun!

    • Pitching fun – love the choice of words Emily. Yes, I hope in between the lines a little inspiration filters through xx

  • I love Allison Tait’s Get Paid to Write book. I read it nearly a year before I landed my first commission but it set out the nuts and bolts really well and gave me the confidence to start. Some really great advice here, thanks for sharing #TeamIBOT

  • Great advice. I started trying my hand at pitching ideas last year. I had a few articles published but mostly they were for things I love like Elephant Journal and MindBodyGreen. It was great fun and very satisfying, and probably a good start, but there’s no money in those sorts of places! I was left wondering how writers actually make enough money to survive. I guess you have to work out where the income is, if that’s what you want from it.

    • I think you are right, if money is the aim then you need to work out the best source for that income to flow from – that in itself can take trial and error to figure out, but I think it is all part of freelancing xx

  • Brilliant article as usual Josefa! You do everything so beautifully. I had a brief foray into freelance writing, until other avenues picked up for me, and were much more consistent and reliable. To be honest, I found waiting to hear back (or pretty much never hearing back) from editors very frustrating. A simple ‘no’ would have meant I could just move on, improve something or think of a new pitch. It’s an exciting line of work to be in definitely, especially seeing your name in print! I will treasure the magazines with my articles and by-lines.

    • Zanni I truly appreciate the editors who serve a succinct and prompt no – means I can move on and not wander, linger, worry. Yes seeing your name in print is fun, but seeing your name on a book cover – more fun? 🙂 xx

      • Well yes, maybe. When I actually hold the book in my hands I might just believe it’s true.

  • This is great advice, and I think a lot of it can translate to freelancing in other areas, such as design & photography. I am definitely going to file this one away to refer back to later.

    • I think you are right Kylie, much of this advice can apply across the board, hope you come back to the post and find some useful inspiration xx

  • This is so full of useful information that is actually practical. Thanks for sharing.

    • Yay! Hope the practicality and inspiration reaches through the screen and gives some people the reason to “just start” xx

  • I’ve thought about freelance writing but that whole “secret book” thing is how I’ve felt – I wouldn’t know where to start pitching and writing!

    • The “secret book” weighed me down so much that I felt like I had no choice but to do my course and it is perhaps the best decision to shed any fear and inhibition and start writing xx

  • This is a really interesting post Josefa. I haven’t done a writing course but I would like to one day when my hands aren’t full with little kids!

    • Before you know it Bec your hands won’t be that full and you will just love completing a writing course xx

  • I’ve considered it, but I honestly don’t think my skin is thick enough!
    Also I spent a good long time thinking this was the only way to be a writer, but honestly, I don’t really want to do it. If that makes sense. I want to write differently, and I’m finally ok with admitting that to myself.

    • I think that is an important thing to realise and accept Jess, and not just in writing, but in all aspects of our lives. Sometimes we feel this need to be the cookie cutter but when that doesn’t work for us – accepting and finding our way can be powerful xx

  • In a way you’re right, there IS a secret book – actually lots of them, and they’re not so secret after all! My freelance writing career began nearly 20 years ago when my kids were tiny. I stumbled across a book in the library called “The Successful Housewife Writer” (that title was very un-PC then, even more so now!) and it was the first time I realised that I could write for magazines and maybe even get paid for it! I still remember the first article I sold to a magazine – I bought a gorgeous new bedspread with my cheque.

  • Thank you for the motivation I have just sent off my first lot of pitches and I needed the reminder to keep pitching and stop waiting.
    PS I used the Australian writers Centre as well, their course on Travel Writing was really informative.

  • Thank you Josefa. Some really great advice which I will take with me. I am inspired to look into a course and to get to know the biz a bit more xx

© 2019 always josefa - designed by adelphimou