This article was written by Tammy Ruggles, BSW, MA, a legally blind freelance writer and finger painter from Kentucky. You can find her on Facebook. We hope her article serves as an inspiration!
If you have a way with the written word and always thought you might like to try freelance writing as a career, don’t let anything stop you. You don’t have to have a degree in writing or journalism, although that would be great; you just have to have a passion for writing and learn what makes freelance writing work:
Know What You Want To Write About
There are a million topics out there, so it can be hard to know what to write about, so try to narrow it down to some areas that you feel comfortable with. If you’re a parent or know a lot about parenting, maybe this could be one of your topics. If you know how to fix things around the house, then home repair might be your niche. If you’re a teacher by day, then articles on education and child development may be your thing. The possibilities are endless. You don’t have to have a degree to know how to write about something. Often you can find expert sources, and quote them in your articles, or use them as subjects for interviews to include in your text. Make a list of topics that you know you can write about right now.
Be Open To Learning New Topics
Don’t limit yourself to just the topics you know. Stretch yourself. Write outside the notepad. Research subjects that you yourself want to learn about, and then write about it. If you’ve never learned to grow tomatoes but always wanted to, then research the topic and see how easy it is to write about a how-to about something you want to learn about. It keeps your writing fresh and your curiosity going. You can find a wealth of information in the library, on the Internet, and from people in your own community that have firsthand experience.
Know The Markets
Writing is half the battle. The other half is knowing where to pitch your material. In a way it’s like matchmaking: Match your writing to the publication that prints the type of material you write. You wouldn’t pitch a cooking article to a sports magazine. You would find all of the food magazines you could and contact them. Make a list of magazines that accept the kind of writing you do, read their writer’s guidelines, and start pitching with a query letter. Almost every publication has writer’s guidelines, and you can find collections of them in books like Writer’s Market, or on websites like freelancewriting.com.
Write A Query Letter
This is probably one of the most important tools a writer can have. Query and query often. Just like a door-to-door salesperson has to knock on each door and pitch their product over and over again, you have to do the same. The letter should be short and direct, but cover what you need to say. A query letter should contain information about the piece you propose, why the editor should be interested in considering it, and should include a little about yourself, especially any publishing credits you may have.
If you have none, don’t worry. A lot of publishing outlets like to work with new writers and may ask you to send them a sample of your writing with no promise of publication. A new writer should be open to writing on spec in the beginning, because it can lead to great paid opportunities. But if you do have published clips, be sure to have them available should an editor want to read a writing sample.
Be professional. If you say you’ll write a story for a magazine, do it. It may be rejected, and that happens often in freelance writing, but don’t let it keep you from pushing on. Editors reject ideas and stories for a variety of reasons. It could be that they printed a similar story two issues ago. It could be that it isn’t what they’re looking for. It could be that your writing needs some adjustment. An editor will usually tell you why they don’t want the piece, so don’t take it personally, just use the information to learn, improve, and make yourself a better writer.
It sounds like a ridiculous thing to say, but freelance writers often find obstacles to writing. Maybe it’s an outing with a friend. Or a good book. Or a TV show. Or a shopping spree. Whatever the distraction, tame it, and make writing your top priority, because it can and will become a job if you keep working at it. You wouldn’t put off a task that your boss asked you to do, would you?
In freelance writing, you’re sort of your own boss, and you need to discipline yourself by completing tasks that you assign to yourself. Decide which time of the day or night is best for you to write, and do it faithfully. Of course, one luxury of freelance writing is that you can set your own hours, so you can be flexible with your schedule, just make sure you stick to it or you will find yourself doing other things besides writing. Makes lists of things you want to write about, and commit yourself to working on it until it is completed. There is great satisfaction in following a project through to its completion.
As you can see, freelance writing is a real possibility for you. All it takes is a little knowledge, some motivation, and the tools to make your job easier.
Images via Tim Green, CollegeDegrees360, and Daniel Borman
Catherine DeCenzo says
I’m pretty sure I’ve got my query letter down, but I never seem to get responses to emails – yay or nay – from editors. What’s a writer to do? Is snail mail a better route to take?
Clarissa Wuerch says
I have been wanting to be a writer for along time, and i came across this.
How do I get started? And does it cost anything to get started
Deshilia Dianne Cook says
I have a heart for writing children’s stories. I want to write children’s books. I just love writing. I can sit for hours and hours writing. I love writing short stories and poems and hope to be published one day.