A lot of people ask me how to become a successful freelance writer. They feel the gap between wanting to be a writer, and actually being able to call themselves one feels like a step too big to take.
It’s not too big friends, I promise!
A year ago I had never been paid to write anything. Growing up, I loved hiding away in my bedroom to write long poems about how terribly sad I was, or starting 5000 novels that never quite got past chapter 6. But that was about the limit of my experience.
I am now a successful freelance writer, with a wide range of clients in the world of travel, outdoors and adventure.
I would have laughed if you said that a year ago. How could I be a writer? I had just abandoned my whole life to live in a tent with a hitchhiker. ‘Being a writer’ was an impossible task for people cleverer than me.
And yet here we are!
To be honest, I just bumbled along this road of becoming a writer with absolutely no idea what I was doing. I’ll save you some of the trouble, by giving you 5 tips to get you started in the world of freelance writing.
Put Yourself Out There
It all started for me when I got an email from Lonely Planet saying they wanted to hear my story.
I thought it must be spam at first, how the heck did they get my email?
But then it clicked. 4 months before I had decided to send out a few emails to travel magazines and tell them about myself. I was living in a two man tent at the time, wildcamping every night and travelling by hitchhike.
I don’t know what compelled me to reach out, it just seemed like a good idea and then was quickly forgotten after I pressed ‘send’.
Well that paid off.
I have never been paid so much for an article since by the way, and had no idea how lucky this break was at the time it was given to me.
Every job I applied to after that was impressed that I had been published by Lonely Planet. It didn’t seem to matter that I didn’t have any other experience to offer. I was published by a big name, so I must be good.
Sometimes it just takes one stroke of luck to open a door for you. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out in the world and take chances.
Make Your Own Website
Not everyone is going to get published by an international magasine on their first try.
If you need to have some examples of your work to send to potential new employers, it’s time to make your own website.
You can just throw together a free wordpress site, but I reccomend that you pay for a personal domain because it looks a lot more professional when your website ends in ‘.com’ rather than ‘.wordpress’.
If you can’t afford to pay that right now, don’t worry it’s not the end of the world.
You then want to write well researched, high quality articles on topics that interest you. If you want to get into writing about animals, you could write an article about preparing the house for your first puppy.
If you like gardening, you could write a blog about the 5 easiest vegetables to grow in a drought area.
When you apply for jobs, you can then send these links as examples as your previous work. You don’t need to hide the fact it was for your personal blog. Your clients won’t care about how much you’ve been paid before, they just want to see you’re a good fit for the job and you can deliver quality content.
Check Out Job Forums
You can look for work on websites like Upwork, Problogger or Bloggingpro.
The problem with Upwork is that there are a lot more people looking for work than contracts available. This is quickly devaluing the work of writers and I often see absurd job listings asking people to write a 3000 word article for $3 and a ‘very generous review.’
(I’m shaking my head right now. Shake your head too, OK? And remember to shake it again every single time someone tries to underpay and undervalue you.)
You need to have some boundaries and remember that your work is valuable. If you spend all your time doing work for people that barely pay you, you won’t have enough time to track down clients that value and appreciate your work.
At first, finding new clients is time consuming.
As you build up your portfolio and strengthen working relationships, you will spend less time hunting for contracts.
Develop Your Skills
You are not going to be born a perfect writer.
Of course, it comes more naturally to some people. But there’s a lot of stuff to learn. Making your sentences flow, creating content with good SEO, understanding the right tone for different audiences.
It takes time, and I reccomend you check out some Youtube videos that teach you about blog writing.
As a minimum, you should know:
- What SEO is and how to apply it
- The different types of content e.g. pillar posts vs listicles
- How to structure posts with paragraphs and headings for readability
You do not need to go to journalism school.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure there is plenty to be learned on degree programs for writers.
But you know what? There’s plenty to be learned in life as well. I could have spent £9000 on a masters (lol no I couldn’t, I’m poor) but that wouldn’t have guaranteed me anything but another lump of student debt.
If you have the money to go to writing school and genuinely enjoy it, then by all means steam ahead. But please don’t feel you can only be taken seriously as a writer if you have a degree under your belt.
The world of writing is changing. If you want to keep up to date with those changes, what better way than being right in the fray.
It took a while before I felt I could call myself a real writer.
But if you go through the dusty drawers of my childhood home you can still find the first novel I started writing when I was 5. It is called ‘the rabitt and th gurl.’
It hasn’t made it to the best seller list yet, but my fingers are still crossed.
When I was at univeristy I had a blog which didn’t really have a particular theme. I vomited my feelings into every now and then in the form of poems and personal essays. When my opinion piece got published in the University newspaper I felt like a celebrity!
It didn’t matter that hardly anyone would read it or that I wasn’t going to be paid anything, I was on cloud 9. I guess I have always been a writer at heart.
But until last year, I was not being paid for anything.
It is amazing how quickly things can develop once you get started. A big part of that is claiming the word writer for yourself.
It doesn’t matter if you have made a penny yet, or if anyone reads what you have to say. If you have stories in your heart and put them onto paper (or more likely pour them onto a screen), you are already a writer.
Believe this. Own this.
You are already a writer, and wonderful things are coming for you!
If you are inspired to become a freelance writer on the road, you might want to consider getting some of the following simple equipment.
- A foldable travel keyboard – don’t even think about typing on your tablet or phone, you will waste so much time!
- Blue light filtering glasses – great to prevent headaches ane eye strain from, laptop screen
- A notebook computer- a good compromise between a tablet and a laptop. This ASUS model served me perfectly well for my first years of writing. It’s small but easy to type on, plus it’s survived being dropped on the floor 3 times so far! Eventually you may need a more powerful computer if you are running software like grammarly pro
Remember buying second hand is always best for the Earth!
I hope you enjoyed this article! You might also like to read:
- How to make a living from upwork on the road
- Success: The great lie of our time
- Full time vanlife as a couple
- The future of the vanlife movement
Alternatively, you might like to check out my first published book, Highly Sensitive Nomad.
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