As obtaining my B.A. (a double major in English and Communication) grew closer and closer, I realized that after four years in the idyllic hallways of Tower Hall (a building nicknamed “Hogwarts” for its striking Gothic architecture), I was as clueless about what came after college as I had been when I hiked up the four flights of stairs to my very first college class.
Well, maybe not quite as clueless.
During my college years, in addition to working towards my degree, I’d spent three years writing for and two years as news editor of the student newspaper. I’d spent four years working for and two year editing the college’s literary and artistic journal. I’d develop my writing skills and knew I wanted a career in writing. Yet, the summer between my junior and senior year, I’d lost an opportunity for an internship with a small city newspaper because the publication became unable to fund the position. 2007 was not a great year to immerge into the world as a young woman with a love of print media and an English degree.
Of course, there was one option that would allow me to write and earn an, albeit, meager living after college. I wouldn’t have benefits, but I also wouldn’t have to go through the heartbreak of having every single writing job I applied for be defunded before they even finished the hiring process.(True story.) But I never discussed that option with my professors. It seemed too ridiculous. Who graduates from college wanting to be a freelance writer?
A friend emailed over the weekend to ask how exactly you get started as a freelance writer. I had to pause for a moment and think about how I began, because honestly, I’ve been kicking around the freelance writing thing since I was in high school.
So how do you approach dipping your toe in freelance writing? If I were to do it in a linear manner, here's what I'd recommend.
1) Get a consistent writing gig where you write for someone else. Don’t worry about getting paid for this gig. Your job here is to learn the joy of deadlines and experience some times eye roll-inducing interactions with editors. If you’ve worked on a school newspaper, helped edit a newsletter or journal, or anything of this nature, you can probably skip this step. I spent several years, both in high school and college, writing and editing for the online teen ezine kiwibox.com. Yes, kiwibox. It sounds ridiculous, but during that time I wrote literally 100+ articles and edited just as many. It was truly invaluable experience, no matter how silly it sounds now.
2) Amass your resources. I believe every would-be freelance writer should have a subscription to some writing magazine (I got Writer’s Digest), a subscription to Hope Clark’s e-newsletter Funds for Writers, and the latest version of Writer’s Market.
Got those? Good – immediately proceed to step 3. It’s just too tempting to use resources as a diversion from the actual freelance writing work.
3) Start pursuing paid gigs through queries and submissions. I started querying on an extremely fair weather basis during the summer of 2005. I got a couple nibbles, but no bites. I did however learn how to write a decent query letter. I sold my first article in 2008. Then another one in 2009. Then I got a regular writing gig. It's not a fast process, but just like driving home in the fog with one headlight, it'll get you there.
There is no (I repeat, no!) magic process you must follow to become a freelance writer. But there are two things you must do if you’re serious about making money as a writer:
- Pursue publications for paid writing possibilities.