5 Steps To Start Freelance Writing

I’ve had quite a few people contact me in the past few months asking for advice on how to start Freelance Writing. Obviously, I’m no expert considering I am technically only doing this since January. But I didn’t simply dive in on the 1st day of the year. Becoming a freelance writer has been a work in progress for quite some time and I’ve learnt a few things along the way.

With so many people asking me how I got to where I am already, so quickly, I must look like I know what I’m doing. But I’m still learning too. I absolutely love helping anyone out that gets in touch with me so I thought I’d throw together this post with some of the basics. Considering I’m at the beginning of this road, which is usually the bumpiest, the journey is nice and raw for me. How to be a freelancer by a freelancer who’s just started as a freelancer! I’m sharing my advice before I forget how it all began!

In The Beginning

I started writing when I was a kid. I ran a writers group when I was an adult. Writing has been in my bones forever. I missed out on studying journalism in college. I was fifteen points off on the CAO so I opted for a three year arts degree in UCD. English was my first love so I was happy with the choice but couldn’t figure out my way into journalism. I never stopped writing however.

The thought sat in the back of my head but I moved on with my career to librarianship. Here I was given even more opportunity to hone my research skills, learn new skills and take on roles that expanded my portfolio outside of being a librarian. I edited and designed the staff newsletter which gave me so much experience in what people want to read and how they want to read.

It’s not just words on a page. There’s so much more to writing than just throwing up on a white sheet of paper.

I don’t particularly think you need an education in English or journalism to be a successful freelance writer but it certainly helps. I’ve been on my fair share of writing courses and been a member of a few writers groups online and in real life. I attended writers talks, conferences and workshops. I have a diploma in subediting and design. I am self taught in graphics, web design, and write all the time.

Writing has so many different variations, voices, methods. Find yours and you can sell yourself. But always always be mindful of your audience, your editors and what you are capable of. More on that later.

Time To Blog

When I started the blog in 2016 I simply wanted to write again. I had fallen out of favour with the writing group I ran considering the admin side took me completely away from actually writing. I ended up resenting writing for all the stress it brought me. But I missed it. So Over Heaven’s Hill was born.

Starting a blog was one of the best things I’ve done for myself and my career. It brought me so many new and interesting opportunities and stirred up a future plan within me. When little bean was roasting away in my belly and once the worry of the initial bleeding I suffered passed, I looked firmly towards our future as a family. We lived in the countryside, had very little support nearby. How on earth where we to manage school, dinners, family life in general?

Taking a year maternity leave gave me time to figure everything out and see just how well I could manage being home with the kids, writing and continually looking for work. The thoughts of being a freelance writer would not leave me alone! Would I make enough money? Would I have the time? Would I even get any work? Is it too late to change career? Would I learn how to budget?  Am I incredibly mad?

Starting this career is not like taking on retail apprenticeships or running head to head with Kate for the promotion you both want. There is pretty much no support network unless you make one yourself. Which isn’t always easy and the isolation of both working from home and being a freelancer can be tedious at times. There are a lot of questions before choosing this career but if, like me, its what you’ve always wanted then do it! I haven’t regretted a single day since I started. I have written for little pay, I’ve written for no pay. Starting out as a freelancer certainly does not guarantee a cushy payday But each month, the more I write, the more I pitch, the more I earn.

That’s how I started. Let’s see how you can start too.

freelance writer

1) Start With Research

As I say I didn’t simply wake up on the 1st of January and kick start this writing career. The idea started in 2016, took hold in 2017 and powered on until I quit my job and had the confidence that I could do it in 2018.

I spent my time in between researching, reading, figuring out “journalism etiquette”, visiting writing blogs, following other freelancers and seeing how their career panned out. I even contacted some of them and asked for advice just like some have done with me. Freelancers can be funny and not all of them like to divulge how they started out etc so don’t be offended if they don’t reply. There is tons of advice out there, some good, some bad but remember these three things:

You do not need a journalism degree or an English degree to be a freelance writer

It can help, of course. Courses like these can teach you pertinent skills but you won’t be rejected if you don’t have this piece of paper. A lot of freelancing comes down to life experience.

Editors read pitches, they don’t read you

Unless you’re famous or have brought yourself to the attention of the media in some way, you are selling yourself via a pitch, on email more than likely. If you can sell a pitch, you’ve sold yourself.

Never stop writing

Never stop thinking. Always write down your ideas because I can guarantee you will forget it if it’s not written down.

Freelance writing

2) Know What It Involves

Freelance Writing is not just about the words on a page. Obviously that’s where it ends up but there’s a whole heap of stuff in the middle and after.

Be Coordinated

You will need a diary, a calculator, a spreadsheet, an idea book, an address book, a filofax, a lever arch file, a filing cabinet, mountains of coffee and a laptop. Or mostly just a laptop and coffee.

To be a freelance writer you need to be coordinated. You need to keep your ideas, your drafts, your finished pieces, your contacts, your accounts, your invoices, your tax returns, your emails, somewhere where you can easily find them. And you need to back them up some how because, well technology can F you up at times.

Know How To Write

So you’d think this is fairly obvious but you wouldn’t believe how much bad writing is out there. A lot of people start out with blogs and then say, “Oh I’m a writer now. They’ll publish me.” Only to be rejected for their poor writing skills. Brush up on your writing skills and as I said before never stop writing. Starting a blog gives you a focus on what you want to write about, and how to write with skill. Reading is even better. Read other blogs and most importantly read the publications you’re interested in.

Have Confidence

I recently sent a commissioned article to an editor that wasn’t sitting right with me. I almost emailed them to pull it but I reread it and in actual fact it was exactly what I wanted to write. Having confidence as a writer is something that takes time. Rejections will happen but it’s never personal. The more “clips” you have (published pieces) the more your confidence will increase.

Be Your Own Editor

Simples. Don’t give your editor more work to do. If they have to fix your grammar, spelling and composition mistakes they won’t continue to commission from you.

Freelance writing

3) Create A Portfolio

So I’m going to assume that you know what you want to write about. I started a parenting and lifestyle blog because I figured what best to write about than my life as Momma Bear, the changes, the rollercoaster, how much of my personality got mushed up, spat out and turned into something else.

Because of my blog, I now write parenting and lifestyle articles, columns and features for national newspapers and parenting magazines. I don’t limit myself however and will write outside of these boxes when the inspiration strikes. I do more than write however, to keep my income flowing. My freelance writing career also involves freelance editing, design and wordpress website maintenance. My primary income comes from writing however.

How did I get these clients and editors to work with me? I created a writing portfolio on my blog. One reason the blog came in very very handy indeed. Having my own website has meant I have a dedicated space, an almost online CV that any prospective editor can look at if they want to check out my clips and see what I’m capable of.

The link to my writing portfolio is listed in my signature with every email I send. I’m not sure many look at it, but the fact that it’s there gives me a little bit of that added confidence.

“But my portfolio is empty!!!”

I might hear you shout. Is it really though? If you have a blog, this will showcase your writing style and talent. Have you written for free? Not many advocate writing for free but it’s a good way to get your writing out there. Some places, depending on where you want to send your work, will accept some of your old blog posts and publish them either online or in print. (There’s a whole big dealy about making sure the reproduced post is linked back to the original though, so check that out if you’re concerned about Google rankings and all that lark.)

In 2016 and 2017, I started sending my blog posts out and I had a few biters. These posts became my first clips. If you’re prepared to share your work for free, a few clips added to your portfolio this way, with previously written content, is a perfect way to kick start your writing portfolio.

Freelance writing

4) Make Contacts

There are so many who have jumped into this world of freelancing and people who have made huge career changes. They can help guide you or simply keep you on the right track. It’s a difficult line of work, it probably won’t make you rich but you can enjoy the ride.

On top of that, making contacts for any experts you may use in your articles is vital. Twitter is a brilliant spot to make new acquaintances and find people to support your writing.

Keep your contacts list on file somewhere so that you have them to hand.

5) Pitch Your Little Heart Out

Sending my first pitch was so damn daunting and it was rejected. Well, in actual fact, I didn’t hear anything back at all. It was hard not to be deflated but I was pitching the wrong places. It took a few months to figure out where and who to pitch to. As I said, making contacts is almost vital in this business, especially considering you’re working from home without that support network.

To pitch an editor there are three things you need to do:

Figure Out Where To Pitch To

This all depends on what type of publication you want to write for. I write for the national newspapers, magazines and websites. I do all the dogsbody work myself of finding out who the editors are, what type of publication it is and what their style is. It’s hard graft but keeps me in the publications I want to be in.

If you don’t know where to start then you could try out the likes of Problogger and Freelance Writing Jobs both of which I’ll admit I hate for the poor jobs and poor pay. But to each their own and some have found amazing clients through them

Find The Editor

Pitching to the right place is important for the simple reason that you don’t want to be wasting your time (or someone else’s) emailing the wrong person. Its quite easy to find out the editor. Buy the magazine or newspaper.  Google the website and check the contacts page. Sending an editor an email addressed specifically to them and not “dear editor” shows you took the time to find them. (Doesn’t mean they’ll take your pitch, its just polite.)

Know the publication

It goes without saying that you should read the magazine or newspaper that you’re pitching too. It would be fairly remiss to be over confident and think you can pitch everyone and that they’ll want you. I can imagine an editors life is somewhat frustrating.

It doesn’t take long to do a quick Google search and find out if they’ve already covered the topic you are looking to write about. Don’t waste their time show your interest by showing that you read their publication having to go through inappropriate or badly written or thought out pitches.

Sell Your Pitch

There’s a bit of an art form in writing a pitch and it takes time to hone. On top of that, when you get to know an editor you’re method of pitching will probably change to suit their personality.

Your pitch should include a bit of background to the piece, what you aim to include, any experts you may talk to and not enough detail for them to steal it and give it to one of their staff writers to do. (This happened to me and I was fuming after it but feck it, it wasn’t personal just business.) It should be brief with the pertinent details and it must zing! You want to grab their attention in a positive way so that they will commission your pitch.

The Editor may ask for more details or give you guidelines on how to write the piece. If they say yes, whoop! Well done!

If an editor has not come back to you, follow up with a gentle email asking if they had a chance to read your pitch. They have mountains of emails to go through every day so your pitch could very well have gotten lost in the pile. Be courteous and polite and never pushy. Remember, you want the editor on your side and you want to build a relationship with them so that you continually pitch to them successfully.

Freelance writing

Final Thoughts

Keep your editor happy. If they give you specific instructions, adhere to them as best you can. File your copy by the date they give you. And stick to the word count.

Don’t stop pitching because you’ve had a few rejections. Broaden your scope, hone your pitching style, and reassess what the publication needs. It takes practice. But also don’t be a nuisance to the editor!

I hope this post helps! I’ve rambled a bit 🙂 this could very well be the longest blog post I’ve ever written!

Happy pitching!

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