Writing

How to Become a Freelance Writer: Step-by-Step Guide

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Dec 9, 2019 • 3 min read

Freelancing is a full-time job in the truest sense of the term, with yourself as your own boss, employee, and accounting department.

As a freelancer, you may work more than you did at a typical 9-to-5 job, but the freelance life may also grant you the freedom to do work that interests you more, that sustains you creatively, and that allows you to set your own schedule.

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What Is a Freelance Writer?

A freelance writer is a professional writer who acts as a contractor, rather than a full-time employee, and usually offers their writing services to a number of different clients and publications. A freelance writer can work across a variety of forms and genres, whether they sell their short stories to creative writing journals, articles to magazines, or work as a copywriter for a company outside of the media world.

What Do You Need to Become a Freelance Writer?

Besides patience, tenacity, and a knack for budgeting, successful freelance writers need three things: a portfolio of writing samples, great ideas, and a network. Knowing the right people opens doors to new project opportunities and assignments and allows you to do the same for others down the road, but meeting those people can be challenging. At the beginning of your freelance writing career, you may have to rely on cold-pitching to get the ball rolling. Reach out to your favorite writers locally and meet up for coffee, or join an online freelance writer’s group, where editor contacts and resources are swapped freely.

A good writer also has the ability to work outside of their usual writing niche, and your portfolio should highlight this crucial skill set. If you have a specialty, drill down into it—but don’t discount assignments that might feel like more of a challenge.

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How to Become a Freelance Writer: Step-by-Step Guide

Freelance writing jobs and writing clients come in all shapes and sizes. Luckily, there are endless ways to piece together a freelance writing career.

1. Build a Portfolio.

Small businesses hit just as many highs as they do lows in the beginning. Freelance work is no different. Focus on finding new clients and building up your portfolio. Portfolios are curated collections of “clips,” writing samples that show your strengths and range as a writer. In the beginning, every byline and project you get can and should go towards building your portfolio, but if you’ve yet to land any paying gigs, you can always write up “spec” clips for hypothetical clients, or use blog posts. If you’re stuck on what you should write about, make a list of your passions, or areas you have experience or expertise in.

2. Start Pitching.

The hardest part about freelance writing is also the most crucial: You’ve got to put yourself out there and pitch to multiple publications and websites. Always be listening for ideas or trends in your everyday life or the culture at large. Be sure to identify the right outlet and editor—do enough research to make a good guess about the right person on the masthead to contact (very rarely this is the editor-in-chief this person. Keep initial pitch emails brief. Be sure to include links to one or two solid clips, to give them a sense of your voice. When you do get turned down, handle rejections with grace, refine your idea if necessary, then start again with another outlet. Once you get your foot in the door at a publication, pitching becomes easier.

3. Start Your Own Blog.

Becoming a blogger is particularly useful if you’re just starting out and don’t have any published bylines quite yet. Many editors or potential clients will request clips or writing samples to get a sense of your voice; this way, you’ll have something to show them. Blogging is also a great way to hone a daily writing practice. Even if your mom is the only one who reads it, building those habits will make you a better writer—and someone very well might discover your work along the way.

4. Scour Job Boards.

Not all freelance writing gigs are 12,000-word articles you’ve reported and pitched. Most companies offer part-time contracts for content marketing, copywriting and copyediting for everything from brand partnerships to search engine optimization (SEO) projects. Sites like Contently, Mediabistro, and LinkedIn are a good place to start looking for freelance writing jobs.

5. Embrace the Side Hustle.

Writing work, especially at the beginning, can be inconsistent. A part-time day job can help you financially while you build your portfolio and client list, or while you’re in between assignments and waiting on invoices.

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