I got an email today from a new mom who wants to start freelancing, and make some money at it. She’s interested in getting started as a new writer but she doesn’t know how. Here’s what she wrote:
Question: Freelance writing sounds very appealing: It seems like a wonderful way to research and write about the many things I’m interested in … I’m wondering if one really does make a living as a freelancer, and if it is possible to write seriously and still spend a lot of time with one’s family. I’m daunted and excited about making a new career choice, and a bit paralyzed too…
How to get started as a new writer? Do you have advice for a newbie? Is it really possible to just jump in and get started as a new writer when one hasn’t published anything non-academic? What would you recommend as a first step?
It turns out I have lots of advice. It strikes me that these suggestions might be helpful to others out in the I-Want-To-Be-A-Writer world.
Here goes, warts and all:
Answer: As you might imagine, there’s a long answer and a short answer to your questions.
The short answer is, yes, absolutely, it’s possible to make a living as a writer (I do it and support our family of five. My husband is a stay-at-home dad most of the time) and yes, absolutely, it’s possible to break in even if you have not published before.
That said, there’s several things you should know:
1) It takes time and won’t happen overnight.
2) You need to have the constitution (or pretend to) to deal with rejection and not take it personally. Or, take it personally but try again. And again. And again. The people who survive and thrive as freelancers and who all look wildly successful from afar can wallpaper entire houses (not their own because their houses are too small) with rejection letters.
3) It’s not easy and it’s especially not easy now.
4) Be careful what you wish for. When it works (and it will work if you keep at it and you can write at least a little bit well and you are open to learning to hone your craft) — you’ll find yourself both making money and being busy and that WILL take time away from your family.
It’s possible to have both but it’s not possible to do either parenting or writing 100% of the time because there isn’t enough time in the day. So, you’ll be up in the middle of the night finishing deadlines (i’ts 4:10 a.m. as I write this) and you’ll be passing off the baby to your partner, if you have one, and to friends/family/hired help when there’s a crunch time.
A quick story about that — I helped a writer recently who has THREE small kids and is determined as hell. I promised her that she would make back my fee if she followed my advice.
She has a modest goal of making enough money a year to send her firstborn to private school, and would like eventually to make enough money so her husband can quit his job.
My advice and her hard work paid off surprisingly quickly.
She sent me a frantic email today entitled “Help!” because she has five assignments, including a 2,500-word feature, and she has no idea where she is going to find the time to complete them…
Okay, reality check out of the way. If you are still reading and not completely daunted, here’s how to start:
1) Make a list of all the magazines and newspapers (and websites) you read:
Chronicle of Higher Education?
New York Times?
Other parenting magazines? (Brain, Child is a good one for content)
This list can include magazines and websites you read regularly as well as ones that you sometimes read or hope to read or want to read more often.
These magazines and websites are a good starting point. Since you know them and read them, you understand the audience (people like you) and you can start thinking about articles you would like to write for them because you know what their readers (you) are interested in.
2) Make a list of your interests and the things you would like to be writing about and why. As you make this list, think about the academic research you’ve done in X field and think about how you can make some of that work, study, and writing resonant for a more popular audience.
3) Buy the most current Writer’s Market. Don’t believe anything you read in there is gospel because it’s not but start reading around in it to see what markets are out there and which you might want to try to tap into. I’ve found reading while nursing works well. It’s worth the $30 to own a copy.
4) Take a class on the business of writing or hire someone to tutor you. You can take a class on-line through either MediaBistro (expensive but I’ve heard good things) or Freelance Success (not sure if you have to join. I recommend joining but not until you’ve done a bunch of legwork or you might get overwhelmed. It’s one of the best places out there for freelance writers).
I’d also explore the ASJA website (American Society of Journalists and Authors) and consider going to one of their meetings in NYC.
Chances are I’ll be there.
You may also want to take a live class closer to home. Or hire a coach.
I suspect you can find a good class at a community college or at one of the universities.
5) Start small but think big. Look at all the local publications in your area, including daily newspapers. These markets are often easy(ier) to break into and they need content on a daily/weekly basis. They probably won’t pay well but the work you do for them will be like paid research and you can then use the information/ideas/sources/etc you come across to send queries to larger, better paying markets.
So there you have it. My best advice about how to get started as a new writer. Take the leap. You won’t regret it. And I promise to read every word.
Last updated: June 2, 2018