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How to Become a Freelance Writer

Hundreds of thousands of writing opportunities exist. Making the most of them is where the art of the freelancer really comes into play. A freelance writer is someone who writes without belonging to any single company or entity but acts like a small business or an independent contractor.[1]

It's possible to be a full-time freelance writer earning a living, or to be a part-time freelancer supplementing a regular income. Another role is to simply do it for fun or to build up a broader portfolio of skills. In this article, you'll get the basics on what it takes to ease your way into freelance writing as a career or hobby.


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    Be a good writer. It may seem self-evident but there is a substantial group of people who believe that they can write but when they attempt it, their lack of originality, good grammar, and self-discipline prove otherwise. Be sure that you're comfortable with writing, that it is a medium in which you can express yourself with ease and clarity, and that it is something you don't mind doing almost every single day of your life without respite. If you don't already have writing qualifications, consider doing a college degree in journalism or English, or taking a workshop so that you're at least aware of the major requirements in writing, and the terminology used. Even if you already have a degree in a non-writing related course, you may find it easier to either get a writing diploma or to get an entry-level job as a copywriter or editor in a field related to what you graduated in.
    • Decide whether you prefer fiction or non-fiction or perhaps even both. Non-fiction is much easier to sell than fiction,[2] so bear this in mind when making your choice. If you're writing for fun, you have more leeway to experiment, though.
    • Decide whether you want to write for a living, for extra money, or for fun. The reason for your freelance writing will impact the approach that you take to running your freelance operation. Bear in mind that treating freelance writing as a full-time income will require a lot of hard work and establishing yourself in the niche, so be prepared to put in the effort and time.
    • If you already have qualifications, from a degree to a diploma, always make use of these to support your expertise. These are extremely helpful in a competitive world where many people are seeking the same thing but who don't have the qualifications to stand out.
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    Be comfortable communicating. Unless you want to be the hermit novelist living in poverty, you'll need to reach out to other people as a freelance writer. You'll need to be prepared to market yourself, to drum up business, and to chase leads. You will also need to be happy to turn around work quickly and according to the client's or employer's needs and changes, and all of this requires good negotiation and interaction skills. Fortunately, much of this can be done by email, meaning that you can rely on writing to connect but it does mean you'll need to be prepared to put yourself out there and not just sit about waiting for leads.
    • As part of this, you'll need to know how to write a query letter. A query letter explains the concept of what you're proposing to write, along with a very brief explanation of your experience and qualifications. This letter has to sell your idea to an editor, blog owner, or website operator and will become a regular part of your toolkit. The sooner you're comfortable with it, the better.
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    Realize that turning a creative passion into a job can dampen your enthusiasm. No matter how much you love writing, there will be occasional writing jobs that you'll hate doing. In this situation, you'll need to learn the art of "just doing it" regardless of your feelings, your desire to procrastinate, and your temptation to rush through it. Master pushing through the dislike barrier by treating it as the work that it is and looking forward to the more interesting writing coming up. Some freelance writers find it helps to maintain their own writing on the side, as a means for ensuring that at least something they're writing remains a pure joy.
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    Balance the joys of working alone with soaking up the vibes from being around other people. Working from home or for yourself can be very lonely at times (no matter how much you love your writing) and you can feel as if you're working in a vacuum. Part of the answer to this is to accept the unusual (and often liberating) nature of being a freelance writer; the other part is to get out and be around people as much as you can. Get portable by having a notebook or laptop, and portable Wi-Fi access, and go and write around people when you're feeling lonely – a cafe, a library, a park, anywhere that you feel involved in society again. You might find you need to do this regularly, or every now and then; just find your own rhythm and don't box yourself inside your house all day.
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    Be prepared for a lot of self-discipline and good money management. If you're planning on making a career from writing freelance, you'll need to have a good sense of responsibility toward your clients or employers and yourself.
    • Have financial systems set up before you start taking in work and be regular with your invoicing, tax filing, and reconciliation of accounts. You cannot afford to be sloppy when it comes to your income!
    • Be organized; have a dedicated writing space, all of your reference books in one place and easily obtained, all the writing equipment that you need in good working order, and a decent ergonomic work station set-up. Writing daily can do terrible things to your posture if you don't take good care of it!
    • Have a deadline system in place. Whether you use a diary, an online reminder system, a wall chart, a whiteboard, or whatever, be sure to have some sort of system in place that allows you to see at a glance what writing work is due when and for whom. That way you can prioritize accordingly and not have last minute rushes.
    • Communicate well and regularly. It's very important that you feel comfortable reaching out to people to make queries, to reassure them of your skills and ability to meet deadlines, and to keep clients and companies informed as to your progress and any issues that may come up.
    • Don't take on more than you can do. Part of being organized is knowing your limits. Once you do get into a flow of regular writing, don't be lulled into a false sense of confidence that you can do more than the hours in the day. Remember to maintain a good balance in your daily life.
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    Set a goal and keep working in the meantime. If you plan to write magazine, online, and newspaper articles, don't quit your day job until you're making enough money to sustain your lifestyle. This means that you might have to do your writing in the early morning or in the evening or whenever you have a spare moment, such as on the weekends. However, it's good practice to trial your writing aspirations in this way because it provides you with the opportunity to see whether you enjoy writing under pressure and across a broad range of different topics. It also gives you the opportunity to work out whether you can write well enough.
    • Visit the reference section of your local bookstore and buy a copy of "The Writer's Market". This will give you the know-how of writing in easy-to-digest guides.
    • There are numerous exercises you can do to increase your abilities as an author- submit letters to the editor of your local newspaper, write articles for your church bulletin, create a blog, even write articles for wikiHow.
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    Become active in the writing community. There are writing groups and freelance writer associations in many countries and it's a good idea to belong to them so that you can meet other writers, get information and advice, and establish your credentials as a writer. A quick search online should find organizations in your local area or country. Look for a group that has meet-ups, seminars, guest speakers, and offers advice on all aspects of writing including publishing and marketing, as well as having contacts with publishers and networking opportunities. Many of these groups may also be an excellent resource for writing job leads, so being a part of them will soon pay back in terms of contacts and work offers.
    • Attend conferences and conventions that focus solely on writing, authors, and freelance writing. You can meet publishing professionals on these occasions, as well as having the opportunity to network with other freelancers.
    • In the United States, you can subscribe to "The Writer", a publication which provides information and advice on writing a query letter, finding publishing houses, and how to run a writing business. It's an excellent resource if you're keen to become a full-time magazine writer.
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    Decide what type of writing you're going to do. These days the choice includes print writing (magazines, trade publications, newsletters, and newspapers) and online writing. It's possible to do both, although you may find yourself very stretched trying to keep up. Even within the online writing sphere, there are various possibilities, including blog writing, guest blog writing, topic specific websites (for example, green living, pet care, collectibles, etc.), "article mill" sites (these vary in their quality), and so forth. There is also official writing for government, but for this type of writing you'll often need qualifications and experience in the policy-making areas you'll be writing for; contact a company that handles such writing to ask them what they're looking for.
    • Be aware that many print publications such as newsletters and trade publications are done in-house or outsourced to a company specializing in writing. In this case, you may be better off trying to get on the books of a company that is happy for you to do freelance work across a range of topics using their contacts. They'll take a commission but you'll gain the benefit of their expertise and established market.
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    Start looking for opportunities to write to build your portfolio. Initially it is important to establish your credentials and build a portfolio. It may be simplest to begin by writing for small, non-paying publications and websites. By writing articles for smaller publications, you will gain experience, get known, and get a bunch of published articles with your name on them that you can use to show clients and employers. You need that portfolio for established publications to take you seriously and hire you. Visit your local library to get lists of publishers and ideas for whom to contact.
    • Submit a poem or story to a children's magazine such as Owl if you're a young person.
    • If you're a teenager, join your school's yearbook committee and submit articles to the school newspaper. Regard this effort as good practice for your future freelance career.
    • If you're a college or university student, craft strong, well-written essays for class that you might be able to later get published. You can also offer your services at the writing lab, and write articles for the student newspaper, literary magazine, and alumni magazine.
    • For an adult, start with reputable online sites that accept articles – make contact with the owners of sites and blogs that you admire and explain that you're building up your portfolio and would like to write some pieces for free in return for your name being publicized. If you have your own blog or website, this can help you as you can include it as a backlink with your name.
    • Non-profits are also excellent places to find writing work. Donate your time and effort and get your work published in their newsletters and publications and use those as part of your portfolio.
    • Turn your best articles into PDFs that can be easily emailed to potential employers or clients.
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    Reach out and start job hunting. When you feel that you're capable of writing professionally, think of something you'd like to write about, then start contacting the relevant people. Find publishers you'd like to write for, then read their guidelines. This cannot be over-emphasized - sending queries and articles in that have nothing to do with the publication is as bad as turning up to a job interview never having researched the company. Know your market and target your writing accordingly. And always send a query letter to a major publication before submitting a completed article, unless you're submitting "on spec", or you're happy to waste precious time on an article that may never be published.
    • For a newspaper: Send a query letter to the city/lifestyles/sports editor of your local newspaper asking if they're interested in publishing an article on the topic. Include the first paragraph of your article and an outline of the rest. Call in two weeks if you don't get a reply. Another approach is to send in a completed article for them to consider "on spec". In this case, the editor will read it but doesn't have to publish it.
    • Magazine or other major publication: Think of something you'd like to write about, then send a query letter to the editor of a pertinent major publication asking if they're interested in publishing an article on the topic. Include the first paragraph of your article and an outline of the rest. Call in four to six weeks if you don't get a reply.
    • Online: Check online job boards for columnists, bloggers, web content creators, and other writing jobs. Use a query letter approach in an email if it seems appropriate, or simply respond in a straightforward manner to the job's description. For guest blogging, make it clear you have read and enjoyed the blog in question and keep your suggestion short and sweet. Good blogs get an an overwhelming amount of requests and yours needs to stand out to make the blogger want to even read it. For article sites, if they require you to apply to be an approved author, then do so and supply all the needed background information and proof of your qualifications. For those sites that don't need anything more than joining, get on with it and join but don't rely on these sites to make a living!
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    Write your article. If you haven't already sent a full article but just the query, then it's time to get started once the client or employer confirms that they want your writing. (Congratulations, by the way.) Write in your own unique and brilliant way and avoid conforming to the mold of other writers. By all means conform to the required guidelines of the publication in question, but try to avoid cliches, hackneyed turns of phrase, dull prose, and deadly boring content. You've got that worked out already, right?
    • Keep a thesaurus, dictionary, and grammar book with you at all times. If you're writing in an English that isn't your own dialect, or isn't your native language, also have a grammar resource for the English in which you are writing.
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    Find steady freelance writing jobs or even ongoing contracts. There are plenty of possibilities in both print media and online media. The difficulty will always be the competition, so you'll need to keep your style sharp and interesting, your list of contacts detailed, and your motivation stoked. Keep improving your writing skills by reading widely, attending relevant talks and seminars, and staying up-to-date in the areas you're writing about. This is especially important if you're writing in areas that change rapidly, such as technology and fashion.
    • Update your portfolio every time you have an article published.
    • Learn from your editor's comments. Fix your grammar quirks, mend your heavy prose, and celebrate the fact that someone is giving you golden advice on how to improve your writing skills.


  • Before submitting anything to a major publication, make sure you read its guidelines. Plenty of good writing is rejected because the writer was too lazy to meet the guidelines.
  • Treasure any suggestions from professional editors. They are the best writing teachers available for fiction or commercial writing, much better than classes. That's their specialty - taking a good piece of prose and polishing it to its best. If they make any critical comments on a rejection, use that advice and apply it to your other writing works too, you'll be surprised at the improvements.
  • There are oodles of online writing opportunities but providing a list of potential sites is not only unfairly favoring some over others but it's liable to be wrong by the time this goes to print, given the constantly changing nature of online sites. And therein lies a problem for the online freelance writer – which sites to trust and to put your efforts into and which sites are liable to bite you. A number of well-known article sites have a tendency to change policies without warning, thereby leaving regular writers in the dark or even pushed off the site. The motto is to be prepared for change in the online environment and to place your writing eggs into many online baskets. That way, if things do go awry on one site, you've plenty of others to turn back to.
  • When checking a writing site to see if it's for you, here are some things to think about:
    • Is the site reputable? This matters as much for your own reputation as for the site's longevity.
    • Is the payment fair? Online writing jobs are not a source of great wealth on the whole but some pay better than others and if you can lean toward those ones, then so much the better.
    • What is the timeliness of payment? Clearly some clients or employers are going to be better than others. Over time, you'll learn to prefer those that pay, both out of sheer necessity and out of frustration and outrage at those who don't pay on time, or at all. Keep an eye on writer's forums and bulletin boards for information from writers about bad payers and steer clear of them.
    • Does the site have quotas? Quotas can mean that no matter how great your written piece is and even if the piece has been accepted, the site might have reached its quota and refuse to publish it, and therefore refuse to pay you. If you don't like this type of system, don't write for sites that use it.
    • Does there seem to be good communications from the employer or client? A lack of these can lead to misunderstandings or poor interactions.
    • Will you be bidding for work? Some sites require you to bid. This means that you need to understand the bidding system, be comfortable with using it, and be ready to be outbid.
    • Which English do they use? If writing for the online environment, you'll need to be aware of the site's English policies. If you're writing in Australian English for an American website that doesn't permit spelling variants beyond those used in the United States, then you'll need to brush up on your American grammar unless you want to upset the editor constantly (you don't want to do that!).
  • Set aside a room in your house for writing. On your tax return, you may be able to claim this space as a business expense; check with your accountant or business bureau for details.
  • The best success is likely to come from pitching ideas in areas where you're most familiar with the subject-matter.
  • Keep receipts. Many of your purchases are likely to be tax-deductible and it's better to keep the receipts than to lose their potential value.


  • While ongoing earnings for articles already sitting on sites are lovely, don't allow these to cause you to rest on your laurels. Things change and articles can be removed or updated without warning and your earnings can suddenly disappear or plummet.
  • Maintain honest financial records. Your earnings are taxable in most countries.
  • Insist on an advance and part payments. Part payments and advances will protect you from working for nothing with bad payers.
  • Never be casual when you're working through sites that garner reader feedback. Negative feedback can make it very difficult to get work in that platform again.

Things You'll Need

  • Internet access
  • Portfolio
  • Articles that you've already published
  • Journalism or writing skills, plus qualifications where relevant
  • Job leads

Sources and Citations

  1. Wisegeek, What is a freelance writer?,
  2. Wisegeek, What is a freelance writer?,

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