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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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?