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Do I Have To Write For Free To Get Started? Ask Anne, The Pro Writer

Do I have to write for free?Hi Anne,

I want to start earning money as a freelance writer. I know you don’t think I should write a sample of one of those short SEO articles for free and I agree. But does it make sense for a writer to ever write for free?



Hi CC,

It seems like people are always asking writers to write something for free. It may be your neighbor who has an idea for a book and is willing to give you a generous share of royalties, or a group that needs a newsletter writer editor. Poorly funded new magazines, websites and other ventures often advertise for writers and tout how much great exposure and credit you’ll get.

The truth is there are way fewer good reasons to write for free than for pay. That said, there are some good reasons to do a bit of writing for free, including:

  • When you have no clips. Getting a byline in a local newspaper, web ‘zine, or even a club newsletter can help you assemble the credits you want to present to an editor when asking for a paid assignment. You may not have to write for free to get credits. Before you decide, read No Clips? No Problem!

  • When you want to break into a new area. If you’ve been writing, say travel articles, and want to start publishing self-help, you probably won’t need to write for free. But if you’re moving from non-fiction to fiction say, getting one or two stories published for free may help you break into the paying short story market.
  • Small samples for big projects. I sometimes will offer to do a couple of pages of a potential book ghostwriting project for free, in part to inform myself about the real nature of the project. It works for me and for the client.
  • When you want to contribute. There are always a few situations where we simply want to make a contribution, and donating our writing can be a good way to do it.

Before you jump in with an offer to write for free, consider:

  • Writing is hard work. When we write well, we work hard, and we deserve to be paid for our efforts.
  • You’re a professional. Professionals get paid. In fact, being paid is one definition of ‘professional.’ Sometimes you need to take yourself and your writing career seriously enough to insist on being paid.

Of course, there’s no single answer to the question about writing for free. I’ve found it comes up as often now as it did in the beginning of my career. Back then, I did some writing for free, now I won’t, except of course when I do. Usually it’s to create residual income for me or just to donate to a cause I want to support.

I’ve also learned that writing for free takes just as much time and effort and sometimes more than writing for pay. I don’t have time to do much free writing and if you’re honest with yourself, you probably don’t either. Be willing to say no and see what happens. I suspect you’ll be delighted.


You may also want to read Free Sample Writing? Ask Anne The Pro Writer.

Your turn: Have you ever written for free? Why? Did it work for you? What else would you like to say about writing for free? Say it in comments.


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{ 6 comments… add one }
  • thanks

  • Anne

    Pavithra, if you’re writing on your own blog or site it’s free until you begin to earn income. – that’s not where the problem is. Nor is it in guest blogging as you point out. In the US, at least, people who say they are writers often get asked to write for churches, school organizations and what-have-you, to write for free. A few free things like this is okay and can be good, but when it becmes a habit it’s a problem if one wants to earn a living writing.

  • I think writing for free helps a lot for beginner writers. Thats how one can build traffic to one’s blog or website and get noticed in the writing circuits. For somebody taking baby steps , guest blogging may just be the path to learn how to write for blogs and websites.

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