We’re artists, passionate about our word-crafting. This industry is such that we’re almost afraid to say we want to make a living writing, because so few people do. And those fearful of writing for a dollar are the ones not making the bucks.
But how do you get started from scratch? How do you become a freelance writer with no experience? What’s the best way to get paid to write?
How to become a freelance writer
Start by analyzing your assets and setting goals, while at the same time remembering that long-term dream that drove you to enter this profession in the first place. In other words, it’s all about organization and drive.
Determine the following:
- Your long-term goal;
- How much money you want to make in a year, in two years, in three years; and
- What you’re willing to do to make the bucks.
There’s a reason that last one sounds like a hooker (yes, as in prostitute), because that’s what you’ll become if income is your immediate desire. You need to be willing to write almost anything, because you must be recognized as a writer first and foremost before you attempt to become a NY Times Bestseller novelist or world-renowned blogger.
At this point, most new writers are spinning in place, wondering how the heck to get started. Your fingers are itching to write, but you have no outlet. You have no idea how to become a freelance writer. You aren’t sure where to start or what to write about.
And that’s OK. We’ve all been there. Take a deep breath, slow down, and look within — and don’t make the mistake of thinking you have a drab life or minimal knowledge.
You’ve got tons of interesting things to say, and we’re going to make it easy for you to find them. Here’s how.
List three assets that define you. Those could be life events, personality traits, interests, experiences, other careers or professions, leadership roles you’ve had, your education, etc.
Next, list three things about life that inspire you. For example: parenting, nature, religion, charity, freedom, military, etc.
Now, list three things you dream of. These might include retirement, publishing, grandchildren, traveling, marriage, financial success, sustainable living, etc.
From these three lists, you amass a wealth of topics to address. This is your expertise.
From here, you’ll start seeking markets — because girls and guys, when you want to earn money with your words, you have to seek clients. They aren’t going to magically come to you… at least not at the start.
But there are parties out there who will pay for your written knowledge, whether they’re businesses who require copywriting for their newsletters, websites and advertising, or magazines that seek freelance features. By focusing on your areas of expertise, you can start to make yourself into a marketable asset. You need to be able to walk the walk and talk the talk. (Click to tweet this idea!) Sure, you can write anything, but tapping your lists — i.e., your best subjects — will help you jumpstart your career in a flash.
Now, it’s time to start hustling.
Here are some great places to find freelance gigs and magazine markets:
- Writers Market is a paid service, but $5.99 per month is a small price to pay for the knowledge and connections you can glean.
- Upwork is a peer-to-peer market specifically designed to match freelancers of all stripes with the businesses who need them.
- Contently is a great spot to host your digital portfolio once you start amassing some clips, but it can also bring you even more work — the site puts your existing pieces in front of the businesses who might want to recruit you, and gives you an opportunity to pitch directly to their content requests.
- Craigslist can be a great resource, although there are some caveats. First of all, avoid those who ask you to write pieces on a topic as part of the application — they’re likely just gathering free material. Also avoid listings that lack real-people connections.
- Blogging Pro has tons of helpful hints and tips, and also includes a daily-updated job board.
- ProBlogger’s job board is one of the best places to find long-term freelance writing work, no matter where you are.
- FreelanceWriting.com is similar to a few other writers’ resources websites on this list, but also has a well-kept and frequently-updated jobs list.
- Worldwide Freelance offers freelancers a writer guideline database, free monthly newsletter, valuable lists of specified writing markets and more.
- Simply Hired is a traditional job board, but you can find lots of writing opportunities on it.
- FlexJobs is another good one for writers. It’s specifically a board for remote work, but since writing fits that bill, you can find lots of writing gigs in its listings!
- Morning Coffee Newsletter has been around for ages, and has time and again proved an invaluable tool — all delivered directly to your inbox!
- Freelance Writing Jobs publishes a post with some lucrative freelance writing, blogging, and copy-editing opportunities just about every day.
- LinkedIn — the paid upgrade has many more opportunities.
- Free Trade Magazines offers free subscriptions to magazines you won’t find at the newsstand — and which often need freelance writers to flesh out their content base.
What about that dream project? That award-winning novel in your head?
That’s your dessert each day. That’s what you fuss over once you’ve put in your time bringing home the bacon.
Plus, if you play your cards right, you can sell “fun” writing that relates directly to your interests. Here are a few roundups of magazines and outlets that are paying for personal essays, travel writing and short fiction:
Don’t get depressed that you’re abandoning your artistry, because you’re not. On the contrary, you’re building a foundation for it. Once you become adept at freelancing, you not only have income to use for your dream project, but — surprise! You’ve vastly improved your writing skills. And people now identify with you as a professional writer.
This post originally ran in August 2013. We updated it in June 2017.