How To Become A Freelance Writer
Look, there is not a singular, set way to become a freelance writer. Ever since I started writing as my primary source of income, people ask me how I got into it, and how they can too. In this article, I will take you through everything you need to know to become a freelance writer.
Build Up Your Writing Skills
Before you do anything else, you are going to need to build up your writing skills. This should be fairly obvious, but you aren’t going to have a lot of success as a freelance writer if you can’t actually write.
This is the most essential piece of advice, but it’s also the piece of advice I feel most awkward talking about when people in my life ask me how to become a writer. It feels rude to respond to the question with: “Well… do you know how to write?”
For me, being a writer was one of my lifelong dreams. When I went to university, I got an English degree. So that’s my story of how I got my education. But everyone is different, and the truth is, you do NOT need a degree to be a writer.
Also, you can get a degree in English or specifically in writing and still be a bad writer. Trust me, I saw many of my classmates pushed through the program whose writing was always painful to edit. However, a simple writing course can be a huge help to beginners.
If you want to get some writing training under your belt but don’t want to enroll in university, consider some of these options:
- Find an online course. There are websites like Edx where you can take college-level writing courses completely online, for free!
- Watch youtube videos on writing. A good thing to search for is specifically the type of writing you want to do. For example, there are tons of great YouTube videos out there teaching the basics of copywriting, which is a common freelance writing niche.
- Read a book on writing. There are so many options out there. The Essential Guide To Freelancing Writing and Starting Your Career As A Freelance Writer are a couple of books you could start with.
2. Write. A Lot.
Even as a kid, I did NaNoWriMo each November, which is a writing endurance challenge where you attempt to write a 50,000-word novel in a month. This comes out to around 1,667 words a day. And I did this for fun. I did it even when I was in university reading two books a week and writing an academic paper every week.
This is the most common advice writers give for how to become a writer, and for good reason. Without practice, you can not improve. But practice alone is not enough. You need to practice the type of writing you are going to be doing. Fiction writing is different from academic writing, which is different from product copywriting.
Our recommendation: Join a writing challenge. Even just googling “writing challenge” can lead you to so many opportunities to push yourself to further your writing skills!
3. Get Feedback
In addition to practicing the type of writing you want to work in, you are going to need to find people to give you feedback. There are a couple of ways of getting feedback. Here’s some suggestions:
Join a writing group. One common way is to join a writing group. You can find writing groups online. Again, you are going to want to find a writing group for the type of writing you do. There are a multitude of writing groups for fiction writers, but most paid writing is not in fiction.
Making a writing group. If you can’t find a writing group for your specific type of writing, consider making one. Make a group on Facebook or another common platform for “copywriter feedback” or “fitness article feedback”. Then go into the kind of spaces where those types of writers might be and tell people about your group.
Create a niche writing group. This can push you to develop your skills even further in your specific niche. For example, if you want to specialize in health writing, you might go into groups of health experts or health enthusiasts to see if there are any people who have been also thinking of writing in that niche. By creating a community, you can grow together.
Note on writing groups: Keep in mind that the quality of the feedback does matter. If you get feedback from a bad writer, they could very well push you in the wrong direction and make your work worse. This brings me to my next piece of advice.
4. Get A Staff Job
It might feel counter-intuitive, but it is true. This can be a great way to get training and (maybe) get paid for it. If you don’t have the experience already, you might be getting paid pennies on the dollar. Even if you are willing to write for free you probably still won’t land the position if your skill level isn’t high enough. However, if you are skilled enough to get on a writing staff, it will most likely skyrocket your writing abilities.
By getting on a writing staff, you are going to be working with the cream of the crop as far as writers go. If you get a paid position, you can bet your life that they aren’t going to let you get away with poor writing, especially if it is a well-established company/publication. Being in this type of environment is how many of the great writers first built up their skills.
5. Read. A lot.
Another incredibly common piece of advice: read, read, read. In order to become a good writer, it is essential to read other people’s writing. You should be able to easily identify between good writing and bad. By reading good writing often, you naturally absorb those writers’ skills.
How does this work? When I was a teacher, I could often identify my students’ favorite authors or what they were currently reading because they would subconsciously imitate the style of the author. In university, one of my classes required us to imitate the style of three different authors per week using a set subject matter. So we would describe walking to class as if we were Hemmingway, and then Jane Austen and finally Mark Twain.
When you are writing your actual work to be published, you should not be copying others’ styles. However, it is by reading frequently and learning the styles of dozens of different skilled authors that your writing voice will naturally evolve.
Landing Clients as a Freelance Writer
This is the part of freelance writing that people are usually thinking about when they ask how to become a freelance writer. Landing clients is a skill in itself that you have to develop. You can’t depend on clients to fall into your lap. Until you develop the skill of landing clients, your business as a writer will not be sustainable.
Networking is the most fundamental skill of any freelancer or entrepreneur. If you already have a professional network, make sure to let them know that you are starting your freelance writing career.
If networking sounds scary to you, it’s probably the first thing you should tackle. Find some networking events in your city and go to them. Make connections with people and tell them about the work you do.
Here is a key piece of advice: don’t tell people that you want to be a freelance writer. Tell people that you are a freelance writer and that you are looking to take on more clients right now. If you haven’t been able to find any paid work, do a few free pieces for publications. Then you will have an answer to the question of who you have written for in the past.
2. Friends & Family Can Help Too
If you have friends or family that run successful businesses and need writing work done, there is no shame in working for them. People think that the only way to get started is to reach out to strangers or get on a freelancing platform, but there are many ways to jump into the world of freelance writing. Your friends and family are a part of your network. Make sure you let them know you are available!
3. Platforms for Freelancer Writers
If you are a regular reader of Freelancing Labs, you knew this was going to come up. Freelancing platforms are a great way to get your start in any type of freelancing, and writing is no exception. We have a ton of guides on almost any freelancing platform you can think of.
The great thing about freelance writing is that it operates in the same way as any other freelancing work. For example, you can take our article on how to make money on Upwork and apply it directly to your freelance writing career.
4. Build Client Relationships
Client relationships are the foundation of a strong freelancing business. Clients are not only the ones paying you at the end of the day, they have the potential to be a great source for new clients. If you build a strong relationship with your clients and tell them that you are looking to take on more work, they will probably be happy to refer you to their own network. Or they might give you more work directly.
5. Ask For Client Feedback
Yes, feedback is actually a part of the client relationship. Clients are going to vary in how comfortable they will be with giving feedback. One way to build a stronger relationship with them is by asking for feedback. By doing this early and often, you can create a relationship with a client where they will be more comfortable working with you. As you learn each other’s needs and work styles, you will become increasingly valuable to them.
Finally… Expand Your Image Of Writing
Look, when I dreamt of being a writer as a kid, that meant a novelist. Perhaps a newspaper columnist. When people think of what it means to be a writer, they think of Carrie Bradshaw typing away about her love life in a New York City apartment. However, the vast majority of professional writing is not like that.
When people ask what kind of writing I do, they almost immediately assume that I write fiction. In that same vein, when people in university told me I could never make money writing, they also probably were specifically thinking of novel writing. When I tell people that I write about investment, finance, entrepreneurship and freelancing, they are often surprised. It is actually a little funny because I can almost see the lightbulb go off in their head. Oh yeah, that does sound like it would be profitable…
If you are too stuck on wanting a “romantic” writing job, you might never make money. Copywriting, SEO optimization and listicles aren’t romantic, but they are what the modern internet is built on.
How To Become A Freelance Writer: No One Can Start Your Career For You
When people ask me “how can I get started freelance writing?” what they often mean is: “Can you start my writing career for me?”. No one is going to do the work of teaching you how to write, teaching you how to find clients, and teaching you how to maintain those clients for free. Even now, I’m not doing the work for you: you found this article and you are reading it. The information is out there, but no one can do the work but you.
Here’s the truth: if you can’t do the research to figure out how to be a freelance writer, you probably can’t be one. Research is one of the most fundamental skills of writing. If you can’t connect with clients, if you can’t successfully pitch your writing, then you can’t be a writer.
It’s natural to want to subvert the hard work and many hours it takes to figure out how to start a new career. However, if you don’t do the work, you won’t have the skills to sustain your business.
So get out there and write. Read. Join writing groups. Get feedback on your work. Sign up for freelancing platforms. Get rejected. Then, pick yourself back up and get out there again. Keep Googling for more advice. In fact, keep reading Freelancing Labs! This website is essentially the book for how to get started, available for free. Go through the information and take the steps suggested. Even if it doesn’t work out in the end, at least you can say that you tried.