How to Start Freelance Writing: A Beginner's Guide

I started freelance writing in my first year of college. My first gig was as a weekly blog contributor for The Young Mommy Life. Although it was only a six-month contract, it was a great introduction to my dream career.

(Read reasons why you should freelance in college here.)

Then, in my final term at school, my teacher recommended me to a freelance writing gig for a local community newspaper and I’ve been writing for them ever since. It wasn’t until this summer that I finally pushed myself to get out there and start pitching editors. I now write for four different places, three websites and one paper, as well as my blog, and I am still sending out pitches all the time!

(You can check out some of my articles here.)

Being a freelance writer has a lot of benefits, which is why a lot of people wish to become one. Unfortunately, most people are too scared to get started, just like I was, but the truth is, it’s a lot easier than you think! The best part is, you don’t need any credentials, diplomas or degrees, or even experience to get started. All you need is knowledge in at least one topic (it can be anything from parentings, to veganism, to gaming, or even celebrity gossip) and a few examples of your writing. Examples can be blog posts or even an article you write just for them.

Since a lot of people have asked me about it, I figured I would share what I’ve learned with you.

Research

The best way to get started is to start reading freelance writing blogs and websites. There are a lot of amazing sites out there that have everything you need to know.

Just to name a few, here’s a small list:

If you’re interested in a long list of websites I like to read regularly on writing and freelance writing, let me know and I’ll put one together!

Read

The best writers are people who like to read. In fact, reading is essential to writers because it opens them up to new styles of writing, inspires them and helps them learn the art of language.

It doesn’t even matter what you read! Read magazines, novels, comic books, blogs, memoirs. Read anything and everything. Of course, also make sure you read a lot of similar things to what you want to write about. If you want to write about celebrities, you need to read a lot about celebrities.

One of my favourite things to read though, are books on writing. Here are a few of my favourites:

There are also a lot of great ebooks on writing, too. Here are two I really enjoyed:

Write

If you want to be a writer, you have to write!

Starting a blog, if you don’t already have one, is a great way to get into a writing habit. When I was in college, I was shocked to learn there was only one other student in my journalism course who blogged, ever! It seemed like a missed opportunity for a lot of students who also wanted to freelance while in college.

Even if you don’t want to blog though, getting in the habit of writing regularly has a lot of benefits, but it is crucial if you actually want to make a living off of it. You can take online courses, take out a book at your library on writing, or simply write all on your own.

A great idea is to join, or even start, a writers group. It’s definitely on my to-do list, but I have yet to start. You can, however, join an online Facebook group like Jeff Goins 500 Words group.

Pitch

If you read and write regularly, and have done your research, you might be ready to finally send out a few pitches.

Pitching was the scariest part for me, because I was so scared of rejection. Unfortunately, rejection is a big part of the job! Now that I’m used to pitching, I’ve learned it really isn’t that scary after all. The trick is to write a really good pitch, one you can save as a draft and tweak it to fit different gigs. If you find you’re getting gigs from it, then it’s probably fine to keep using. If you aren’t hearing back from anyone, you should change it. That way, when you come across a gig you like you don’t have to keep writing a new pitch.

The art of pitching is something that can be easily learned, although it does seem scary at first. I managed to get my past three gigs with my current pitch, which I learned how to put together through the ecourse, 30 Days or Less to Freelance Writing Success. When I say 3, what I mean is 3 places that regularly send me stories that have deadlines, but I’ve also managed to sell articles to websites and have been approved to write for other sites, too.

You can find a lot of great websites that tell you how to write a good pitch. Gina Horkey, author of 30 Days or Less to Freelance Writing Success, has a great blog post on how to write a pitch, including a template. Read it here.

Job Boards

If you’ve got a pitch you’re feeling good about, then it’s time to actually use it.

There are a lot of online job boards around to find decent paying jobs. Here’s a list of some of the ones I look through:

To be honest, I even tried those content mills and my own experience was terrible. I got paid like, less than a dollar per article and wasn’t even give credit on the sites my work was published. Sometimes, writing for free is a great way to get experience and add to your portfolio, as well as bring traffic to your website/blog. Apparently The Huffington Post is one of the best places to write for, even though they don’t pay, for these reasons.

There are also a lot of places that will pay you for articles, poems, short stories, and what not, that aren’t recurring gigs. If you would like me to share a list of places that pay, don’t be afraid to contact meΒ and I’ll put something together!

This is just an introductory to freelance writing. There’s a lot of information out there, and it can be kind of overwhelming, which is why I tried to keep this simple. If you are serious about freelancing, but don’t know where to start, I highly recommend taking Gina’s ecourse, 30 Days or Less to Freelance Writing Success. I honestly think it was the best money I could have spent towards my freelance writing career! And it’s a great price!

If there’s anything else you’d like to know, just ask! I’m not an expert, but I have learned a lot so far and will do my best to answer any questions you may have.

Good luck!

* Affiliate links in this post.

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35 Comments

  1. This just the post i needed to get started. I just started my blog as a way to enhance my writing skills and I have noticed a big difference even in the month that I have been writing. I have been looking into doing freelance work but I get nervous about the pitching part, as well. Let’s just jump and take the risk.

    • Cole Nemeth Reply

      Blogging really does help improve writing skills! When I look back at older posts, I really do notice how much I am improved! The pitching part can be a little scary, but you’re right, you just need to jump in! Good luck!

  2. This is an awesome guide on how to start a freelance writer. I wish I could take all the advises. I am not scared, but I now my limitations πŸ™‚

  3. Can I just tell you, this post is EXACTLY what I have been looking for?? I’ve been doing my research but sometimes I fall flat on understanding exactly how to GET STARTED. This lays it out so nicely and you have such helpful links! Thank you for this post, truly πŸ™‚

    xx
    Torie

    http://www.callitadventureblog.com

  4. That’s a great post… Thanks for sharing!
    β€” DT | Here I Scribble

  5. Really great tips Cole! I completely agree that it’s easier than people think to become a freelance writer. Like you say, you don’t need any qualifications or any experience really, as long as you can show you understand audiences and can write well on a certain topic. Looking forward to seeing how you grow as a freelance writer!

  6. I’d really like to do some freelance writing but I’m afraid I’d spend way too much time finding the jobs. Thank you for the great information!

    • Cole Nemeth Reply

      Finding the jobs is a little time consuming, but once you have a pitch written out, and you know where to look, it only take a couple minutes!

  7. Chocolate Mama Loves Vanilla Reply

    Totally pinning! I needed this! I’m trying to get into this now, thank you so much for sharing, you gave tons of useful information! πŸ˜€

    • Cole Nemeth Reply

      Thanks for reading! I’m glad you found this helpful!

  8. These are awesome tips! I am writing a book about mental illness stigma and recovery and it has been helpful to write a daily journal entry so a blank word document doesn’t look so intimidating!

    • Cole Nemeth Reply

      I love that idea! I always try to do some free writing before I dive into work. It keeps me more focused πŸ™‚ Good luck on your book!

  9. Such a fab post, thanks for sharing!
    I’m constantly contemplating getting into freelance writing but I tend to find I sign up to sites and am either overwhelmed with everything or I can’t really see anything worth doing (like you said about very small payments/credits) Will definitely be checking out some of the sites you’ve recommended and might actually do it this time! x

    • Cole Nemeth Reply

      Good luck! I think if you want to get into it, just check out a few job boards daily (takes like five minutes) to see if anything jumps out at you, and then pitch them.

  10. Thanks so much for this!

    I’ve been freelancing for a while, but a 101 guide like this is always good to have. I’ve been trying to get into freelancing job boards/platforms. Do you know UpWork? I’m a bit sceptical about the site and I haven’t tried it yet because you have to go through all sorts of writing/translating tests though it seems as if there are a lot of good small writing/translating jobs available.

    Anyway, great article!!

    • Cole Nemeth Reply

      I haven’t used UpWork before. Actually, I haven’t signed up for any sort of job boards, I tend to prefer browsing free ones.

      Thanks!

  11. This is a great list, thanks! I’ve been thinking about freelance writing for a while, but wasn’t quite sure where to start. I did a couple of the ‘content mills’, but decided that my time is more valuable than what I was being paid for! I would love to see a list of the places that pay a little better! Thanks for sharing with the Wednesday Showcase!

    • Cole Nemeth Reply

      Yes, those content mills are usually quite terrible! When I first wanted to get into freelance writing all of the information out there was too overwhelming to even help. I’ll put a list together and post it soon. I’m glad you found this helpful!

  12. These are great tips. I have dabbled with the thoughts of freelance writing and this might be the push I need to pursue it. Thanks for sharing with Small Victories Sunday Linkup last week. Pinning to our linkup board and hope you joined us again this weekend.

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