When would you consider yourself a writer? After you publish your first book? When you see your byline in a major newspaper or publication? Once you’re able to finance your life with your work? When you figure out how to get a job as a writer?
Many of us feel like imposters if we declare that we’re writers before we’ve achieved some imagined goal, even if we are writing daily and doing the hard and scary work of putting our work out into the world. Those benchmarks depend on a lot of factors not under our control. In the end, if you craft words into ideas and stories, if you write, you are a writer.
Since you’re reading this, you probably already are a writer, and we’re here to provide you with additional tools to help find regular writing opportunities that will allow you to reach an audience and be compensated for your work.
Getting started as a writer
It doesn’t matter where you’re starting. Maybe you’ve had some essays published or helped write marketing material for a business; maybe you’ve had a short story accepted into a collection or are halfway through your novel, or maybe the most you’ve done is writing the world’s best maid-of-honor speech for your best friend’s wedding last summer. Regardless, if you write and you mostly enjoy the process, it’s worth pursuing.
You’re not alone in wanting to hone your craft and profit from your work, and you’re not alone in sometimes feeling like writing is impossible. In addition to helping you find accessible ways to break into the industry, many of the communities we suggest will provide you access to warm and welcoming mentors and colleagues who can help the solitary business of writing seem less lonely.
You can’t teach people to write well. Writing well is something God lets you do or declines to let you do. Most bright people know that, but writers’ conferences continue to multiply in the good old American summertime.Kurt Vonnegut
Do I need a degree to be a writer?
You do not need a formal writing degree to be a successful writer, by any measure, but it might be helpful to take classes to brush up on grammar, formatting, and writing compelling content. You can find classes that are reasonably priced and welcoming to all levels of experience. at local colleges, libraries, and community centers, or online, such as Gotham or Catapult.
Classes range in quality and content, and offer everything from foundational writing skills to intensive, critical feedback. Depending on your interest, you can find classes on essay writing, copywriting (writing the text of advertisement and publicity material), poetry, screenplays, novels, short stories, and more. There are also classes and workshops on how to expand your social network and manage the business side of writing.
Putting yourself out there
Writing contests can also be a good way to learn to write within word count and deadline specifications. It can also help you stretch yourself as a writer. However, do be considerate of cost and what kind of (quality) feedback you’ll get from the judges. Many of these contests have prizes for winners, but initially, just look for lower entrance fees and valuable feedback.
Obviously, you will find that some types of writing are more fun and in line with your voice than others. But when you’re just starting out, it’s helpful to try your hand at everything. Once you can capture ideas in a precise and comprehensive way, you’re ready to start finding work.
For some writing opportunities, you will be asked to provide a resume or CV. This is where you will provide links to your previously published pieces, even if they are self-published blog posts or the like. These samples can help you build your portfolio and apply for your first writing job, even if you have no experience. Your life experience and job history outside of writing will also demonstrate your range and communication skills and proclivity for working on a team.
How freelancing can help you get a job as a writer
Many new writers opt to freelance, where you pitch to editors of a publication/site for a particular assignment. Your commitment as a freelancer is on a piece-by-piece basis, as opposed to having ongoing expectations and workload.
Freelancing allows you to choose your own writing assignments and work with a variety of employers, offers flexibility, and typically is done remotely. It is a good way to discover the type of writing you most enjoy and how each site/publication operates.
Not all publishing teams are created equal, and this industry is in great flux right now, so by freelancing you can find the places that fit you best. It might surprise you to learn how many large publications source their content out to freelancers, instead of having exclusively in-house writers.
The downside to freelancing
Working as a freelancer can be unpredictable, and you are typically not offered health care or other benefits. Remember that, even when you are new to the industry and just thrilled to be considered, be careful to protect your interests. Clarify deadlines and expectations. Ask how much support you’ll have from the editor and how much control you’ll have over the final published piece. You’ll also want to know how much you’ll be paid (and on what timeline), the details of the contract, and whether your name (or byline) will be at the top of the piece. Some websites do not name their writers. That’s not uncommon, but it also makes it more difficult for you to build a portfolio to prove your aptitude to prospective employers.
For this reason, and more, many writers start freelance writing on the side of our “real jobs,” while we build our clientele and writing acumen. Especially if we’re writing long-form pieces, like novels, it often takes years to complete. It can take even longer to find a literary agent and publisher. For that reason, most would agree it’s unrealistic to (initially) quit our day jobs while we make our art.
For the first ten years of my creative journey, I did not make a single dime out of writing. And for the next ten years of my creative journey (which included the publication of three books) I always kept alternative day jobs — always made sure I had other streams of income to rely upon….I did not quit all my other jobs until EAT PRAY LOVE became a crazy bestseller…the reason I always maintained other streams of income was because I never wanted to burden my creativity with the task of providing for me in the material world.
The art of pitching publications
Once you’re ready to start finding publications and pitching editors, where do you look? Fortunately, there is a lot of need out there. Many companies use freelance help for blogging, marketing/copywriting, and emails. Sites and journals often hire content writers for essays, SEO writing, and other content.
Consider your areas of interest and experience and pay special attention to calls for help in those arenas. These could include healthcare, fitness and beauty, technology, entertainment, nature, etc. There is writing demand for all niches. A quick look through Problogger recently found a call for writers for a Basketball Coaching Blog, and a Horticulture and Gardening magazine, for some examples.
Your understanding of those topics will help you write more clearly and effectively to that audience. Likely, it will take you less time to complete pieces on topics with which you are already familiar.
When you start cold pitching, have realistic expectations. This is the best way to guarantee the longevity of your writing career. Be hopeful, be patient, and be resilient to rejection. It is part of the process, and although it often feels personal, it is not. The most seasoned writers can line the walls of their houses with rejection letters.
Also (and it depends on who you’re writing for) but commonly, when you start out, you earn very little money per piece — especially considering how long it takes you to complete. Initially, it will feel like you’ve poured a million years and all your blood, sweat, and tears into a piece. Then you finally get paid, and the fee can’t even cover the cost of the coffee you drank while writing it. This will improve as you build your portfolio and efficiency.
Writing for your network
Early on, if you’re finding that editors are turning you down for your lack of experience, or thin portfolio, start by contacting your own personal network and see if there are small businesses, non-profits, and individuals in your friend/family group who could use your writing help. It might not pay, but it can be used as experience and evidence that you know what you’re doing when you try for a paying job as a writer later.
15+ places to look for your first writing job
If you’re looking for a full-time writing gig, as an in-house/staff writer, the best way to find opportunities is on work force networking sites. You can search the job boards on sites like LinkedIn, Monster, and Indeed. These sites often have job listings for all kinds of roles across the industry. There’s a growing demand for technical writers, grant writers, content marketing specialists, and SEOs.
To capitalize on the demand for content, some agencies have opened up that specialize in producing high volumes of content for businesses. These companies have earned the affectionate name “content mills.” Content mills don’t have a reputation for being the best places to work, and you won’t do much creative writing. But they can be a great way to get some experience on your resume.
Whether you want to score some bylines to your name or launch a full-time career, these are sites and subscriptions for writers to find work:
On Facebook, there are groups that help match freelancers to editors. These groups also occasionally post full-time roles. As with all things online, be discerning and protect your privacy and interests. This article on LinkedIn recommends these:
- Copy Jobs Board
- Freelance Writers Community (Hiring + Projects)
- Freelance Remote Jobs
- Writers Helping Writers
- Female Freelance Writers
- Freelancing Females
- The Write Life
- Freelance Copywriter Collective
- Digital Copywriters
- No-Fluff Freelance Writing Group
Own who you are as a writer
Learning to write is a lifelong process. But learning to confidently call yourself a writer is something you can do today. Set yourself small, reasonable goals, remember that the rejections and ghosting from publications are routine. Hearing no — even over and over — doesn’t mean that you aren’t a good writer. It’s part of the process, not a reflection on your talent or efforts. Besides, we all feel fear from time to time.
Recognize your progress and accomplishments, even when it feels slow or they feel small. You are not alone in sometimes feeling overwhelmed and confused by the process of getting published or building a writer portfolio and brand.