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How I Got Started As A Freelance Writer – Sara Schmidt

A guest post by Sara Schmidt.

When I was laid off in 2008 from my editing job at a nonprofit organization, I was lucky enough to have plenty of writing samples and experience behind me. I started out writing a lot of web content for said organization as an intern, and while there I guest posted for Ecorazzi occasionally, so I had plenty of things to link to when people asked to see my work.

But how would I start out as a freelance writer? I just wasn’t sure where to begin. Thankfully, I stumbled upon Anne’s site here and it helped me out quite a bit.

I updated my resume with my writing experience, created a generic cover letter with links to samples that I could easily edit according to each job I applied for, and started applying to anything and everything that seemed interesting.

I even took a couple of very low-paying gigs just to get a wider variety of samples up on my blog, which I also started to simply host all of my work.  Eventually I found regular clients that I’ve stayed with for over two years now.

People frequently ask me how to become a freelance writer, and I tell them these steps. I point to Anne’s site, suggest setting up several samples, depending upon what kind of writing they want to do—ideally on a blog, though files can also work—and tell them how to search for writing jobs online.

One of the best things new writers can do, I think, is create a few wide-ranging pieces, such as something humorous as well as something well-researched, in order to display the scope of their talent.But above all, I tell them that they’ve got to have some confidence in what they do.  You don’t have to be an ego maniac, of course; you just need to believe in your abilities and really sell yourself on paper. Even if you don’t have experience as a writer for hire, you might have some killer samples; you might even have a few essay contest wins in your pocket. Even if these are simply from school, they count!

I also set up my own rules based on my experience. Of course they can be broken; isn’t that what rules are for? But I have learned from some bombed client relationships, as well as from Anne and others, that there are some things you just want to make sure you do when you work.

For example, not setting up a contract with one client left me feeling pretty stupid—and ended up badly burning a bridge between us.Though many other people can ghostwrite well, I have vowed not to do that anymore due to some bad experiences.  I also set a pay bar that I won’t go under after being paid peanuts during one very short-lived gig. Everyone’s personal rules will differ, of course.

Speaking of funds, I also tell my friends who want to write that they shouldn’t go into the business expecting to become millionaires. Some writers can lead very lucrative careers, for sure, but most of the ones I know write because they love to do it—not to make mountains of cash.

Writing for a living may not provide the lifestyle that my editing job easily provided, but it enables me to enjoy my work every day, set my own hours, provide the necessities for my family, and be home with my young daughter—and to me, that’s so much more important.

What rules do you have for yourself as a freelance writer?

Sara Schmidt is a writer, artist, activist, unschooling mom and intermittent graduate student from Missouri.  The former editor of YouthNoise, she has written for The Whole Child Blog, Teaching Tolerance, The Institute for Democratic Education in America, BluWorld, Ecorazzi, and dozens of other blogs, printed materials, and nonprofit organizations.

Two newsletters:
Abundant Freelance Writing – a resource for freelance writers including 3x a week job postings.
Writing With Vision – for those who want to get a book written.

{ 11 comments… add one }
  • This was my first year as a freelancer and it involved a lot of flailing my arms and spinning my wheels and all those other cliches that mean I don’t know what the heck I’m doing!

    I agree, this site is fantastic and I recommend it to others too. I’ve been trying things, seeing whether they work and then trying something new. I know I should have a better game plan than that, but sometimes you just have to jump in feet first.
    Amelia Ramstead recently posted..My Tragedy of ErrorsMy Profile

  • Lots and lots of discipline! And planning. Before resigning from my job I planned for one year and made sure I had three years’ worth of savings just in case things didn’t pan out the way I imagined. This spring will be my two-year freelance writer anniversary!

    • Three years of savings! Good on you Tara!

  • barak

    its hard to change job and become a freelancer when u dont have the exprience, im happy to hear you manage yourself, and about Anne’s site, its such great place!
    barak recently posted..Dog loss quotesMy Profile

    • Barak… I’ll bet you do a lot of texting don’t you.

    • Barak, I would really suggest writing a bunch of things based on your own style, or even posting things you already have on a blog so you have some great samples to show! I really love this site too.
      Sara recently posted..Guest Post At About Freelance WritingMy Profile

  • Hi Sara,
    Thank you for your insight into how you became a freelance writer. I am slowly trying to get myself organized so that 2012 is the year where I truly work on projectst that are not only profitable but are also fun. This includes freelance writing, blogging, affiliate marketing and a little bit of acting on the side.

    I hope to be as successful as you have been. Thanks again.

  • Thank you Nick! 🙂
    Sara recently posted..Guest Post At About Freelance WritingMy Profile

  • Great story Sara! Very inspiring for anyone looking to dive into the freelance pool. Thanks for sharing your experiences.
    Nicky Parry recently posted..Conference MusingsMy Profile

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