Every month or so, an email with a similar theme pops in to my inbox. It's the same question - with bits of variation - but the sentiments are all too familiar: Teach me how to become a freelance writer. Tell me the secret on how you became one. I need the inspiration / magic formula / hope / kick-in-the-butt to get in to the freelance writing life.
That is why I decided to write a standard reply here. It's where I plan to send people who write to me for advice. Besides, it's also a great way for other people to chime in , give more advice, and continue the discussion. After all, I don't hold all the answers. 😉 If you're a freelance writer and you wish to share more advice, please do.
Now, if you're reading this via a URI I sent to you when you wrote to me, let me just say: Thanks for writing. I appreciate the fact that you think I can assist you in becoming a writer. I do enjoy helping other writers to exterminate writers' block, to get published, to win competitions, to earn money from writing and more. I know the joys, the pains, the exhilaration, the excitement and the sorrows of the writing life and it is my honour to take part in other writers' experiences. However, since most people who write to me for advice ask for the same things, I thought it's best to create a "mini article" and just direct people to this piece instead.
So, on to my free-for-all advice on freelance writing. Here are my Top Five Tips on Becoming a Freelance Writer:
1) First of all, there are no magic formulas or secret keys. I know it's not what most people would like to hear. But, every published writer I know says the same thing: The way to become a published writer is just to apply one's butt on to the chair and just write, write, write. If this advice doesn't suit you, then probably, becoming a freelance writer isn't exactly what you want to be. Maybe you just want to be published or see your name in print. If this is the case, then do something else worth writing about. Climb mountains, scale the seas, jump from the skies, help the sick and hungry, or be a movie star. Then, other people can write about you. Otherwise, you can hire a ghostwriter and brainstorm for possible book projects.
2) This brings me to my second tip: Know exactly what you want to do. It's not enough just to say "I want to be a writer" or "I want to earn a living as a freelance writer." The difference between the thousands of people who think of these same sentiments and the few who do realise their dreams is that the latter make specific and achievable goals. They don't just fantasise about writing a book - they know what kind of book they want to write and they work on it page by page, chapter by chapter EVERY DAY (or at least, thereabouts). The same goes for those who wish to write short stories, movie scripts, poems, songs and feature articles.
3) Don't wait for inspiration to come to you. Most likely, it won't. Instead, seek inspiration with fervor. Get your grip on it and tie it next to your writing chair (yes, yes - the one where your butt should be stuck to). And, if inspiration refuses to budge, just keep writing anyway.
4) Study the market you're aiming for. Don't go sending your story about horses to a dog magazine, for example. It's really strange, but apparently, it happens. A lot. If you do this, you're only setting yourself up for disappointment. No matter how hard you try, and no matter how brilliant your piece may be, an atheist magazine will never publish a piece on How To Become a Good Christian. Well, unless it's a humour article and you take it with a different spin. The best place to start your market study is to take a good, hard look at the books and magazines you're already reading. Do they accept freelance work? One way to find out is to check the masthead (or staff box) and compare the names of the contributors. Check if they have a writers' guidelines. There are lots of information out there - both online and in print - on where you can get loads of guidelines for contributors. Try to do a Google search. Then, study those guidelines. Target one or two publications in the beginning. Explore more later. It's the same hoo-ha with competitions.
5) The thing you'll realise once you start sending things out is that you will encounter several rejections. It doesn't matter. Just keep going anyway. In the end, it's not the number of times your work is rejected that will count - it's THE ONE that will accept it. And yes, some times, all you need is one good push to get you to the right direction. While I was starting out as a writer, one advice I recieved was: "If it's the right thing; If it's some thing you really, really want to do; never, never, never give up." I pass that advice to everyone I meet. Yes, not just writers. Oh, and yes, when you receive rejections, try very hard to think that it's not you that's being rejected - it's your work. I know it's personal. But, if you want to make it in the freelancing world, you can't afford to sulk endlessly every time you get a rejection letter. Find ways to improve your work or your presentation, and/or just keep submitting to other publications. Again, don't give up!
And, for those of you who wish to know if you stand a chance before you embark on any project: Well, truth of the matter is - there are no guarantees in life. But, without going in to any details, if I can do it, I'm sure you can too.
Shai has been managing and blogging here at ShaiCoggins.com for 17 years. Here, she writes about creativity, productivity, and how to recharge for a better, happier lifestyle. She is the author of Today: Life Journal, Colour Bliss: Kaleidoscopes, and a little known children’s book.
A serial entrepreneur, Shai also currently runs Vervely.com, a boutique digital media agency offering online content, community, and conversion marketing services. Her blogging experience and digital work have been featured in various media, including being listed in Fast Company’s “Most Influential Women in Technology” list.
Originally from Manila, Shai lived in Singapore and the USA before moving to Australia with her British husband. They have two children, a pet bunny, and a rambunctious rescue Labrador.