Monday, January 21, 2013

Starting out: So you want to be a freelance writer?

When I spoke at the Problogger Conference in 2012, I also had the opportunity to attend the many fabulous sessions on offer. At one of those, uber-blogger Chris Guillebeau spoke about Making Money and Changing the World Through Blogging. Chris said a lot of good things and I was most impressed by how happy he looked, but I do remember this: "Never compare your beginning to someone else's middle." The quote seems to belong to author Jon Acuff, but the sentiment belongs to us all. It also got me thinking.

I know that a lot of members of the Fibro community are aspiring freelance writers and I enjoy sharing some of the stuff I've learnt about freelancing over the years. But sometimes it helps to hear from someone who's in the same boat as you are. So I'm starting a new series called Starting Out, in which I'm going to share guest posts from people who are... starting out.

Today's post comes from travel writer Megan Blandford. I met Megan a couple of years ago through blogging, and Twitter and all the other good stuff. She wanted to make the jump from writing on her own blog to writing for other people - and she has. She's written for publications such as Practical Parenting, the Jetstar inflight mag, My Career, Go Camping and 4WD Action, as well as websites such as iVillage, NRMA and Essential Baby.

Here's some of what she's learnt along the way.

Want to be a freelance writer? Here’s the tough advice you need to hear. 

Writers throw around a lot of airy-fairy talk of muses and inspiration and chasing dreams and creative flows – all of which is fine in the right context. But when you’re trying to run your own writing business sometimes you need to face some harsher realities.

 I always wanted to be a writer but the question of HOW? was a puzzle. The answer came in the form of some home truths, and once those were given to me (thanks Allison!) all the pieces fell together to create a new career.

What does life look like now? I stay home with my two children and work from home around them, writing about topics that intrigue me. I travel for my work, too, going to destinations that fit in with my family life to write and photograph for magazines and websites. Sounds pretty good – and it is. But it doesn’t come without its challenges.

So you want to live your dream and be a freelance writer? Here’s the blunt advice you need to hear first:

 •Consider doing a course. Before you make any career change you need to be informed and arm yourself with some new skills. Writing is no different. I did the AustralianWriters’ Centre course in magazine writing, and it both confirmed the knowledge I already had and taught me more about the industry I wanted to join.

 •You will face rejections. Over and over again. A turning point for me was hearing that even the most experienced and successful freelance writers still face rejection and – in my opinion, the worst reaction – silence. Once I stopped taking rejections personally it all became easier.

•Take on advice. It doesn’t matter how much you disagree, the editor of a publication is always right. Learn from them by analysing your rejections and what you could have done better.

 •Try and try again. I like to think of a ‘no’ email as an opening to a conversation: they’ve answered me, and now I can try another pitch. Building relationships means showing them you have plenty of ideas to offer that their readers will love.

 •Your skills need honing – now and forever. Practice, practice, practice. Your writing needs constant attention, as do your ideas – the more time you give to both (and really, ideas can be worked on right throughout your day) the more you’ll succeed.

•Treat it like any other business. If you’re serious about making this a viable venture, you need to treat it like a business. That means managing your finances and bookkeeping, setting goals, marketing yourself, chasing new business and building relationships. Odds are that you won’t feel confident in all these areas but the reality is that you need to learn.

 •Use the skills you have. What’s your background? You could use your skills and knowledge to get you started by writing in your field of expertise. Are you a parent? There are countless parenting magazines and websites you could target. What do you want to know more about? Chances are someone else wants to know more about it too, so think about how to get that information out there.

•Consider different forums in which to write. These days it’s pretty hard to make a living writing just for magazines. Consider other outlets, like writing for websites, magazines and corporates (newsletters and blog posts, for example).

•Perhaps don’t quit your day job just yet. Freelance writing is hard work and it takes time to build up steady work and an income that you can rely on. Many writers start gradually, building up their freelance income and phasing out their old job. And with all that out the way, good luck chasing your dreams!

Megan Blandford is a freelance writer who specialises in family travel and creating online content. Megan lives on the outskirts of Melbourne with her family, and you can find her rambling her way through life at Writing Out Loud

Are you starting out as a freelance writer? Would you add anything to Megan's tips?


  1. I think for me its about not being complacent. I found that after a few 'wins' with some magazines I pitched ideas that weren't as thought through as my initial ones and suddenly I was met by silence or some polite 'umm no thanks'.
    I also tell myself to slow down, when I think of an idea I take my time to let it sit and work out exactly what case studies Ill need rather than firing off an idea at midnight that sounded good at the time but then in the sunlight it looks wonky and rushed.
    Metaphor for life.
    Thanks for your insights Megan x

  2. Oh yay - wonderful advice and tips from Megan! This is going to be a great series Al!

  3. Great advice and very timely. Thanks Megan (and Allison).

  4. It's a slow road, even when you graduate from University with a degree in creative writing.
    I've been paid and published once so far and awaiting for a response back from another magazine.
    Wether you're writing poetry or articles you just have to keep at it and be patient despite what the nagging self doubter says in the back of your head.

    Great post!

    1. Oh, the self doubt - always lurking there somewhere. Thanks Murissa!

  5. Great advice, Megan. And great idea, Allison. I love the writing of both of you.

  6. Definitely spread the net far and wide! It's nice if you can get some ongoing, slightly regular work that isn't just feature writing (in my case for a local NGO, writing for their website and publications). A lot of organisations need this kind of work done but can't afford a full-timer. I then use the rest of my time to pitch and write features that really interest me. This is a great first post in what sounds like a great series, thanks.

  7. Great list, Allison! I've been dishing out a similar version since 2009, and find it covers all bases pretty well.

  8. This is my favourite piece of advice from Megan - "You will face rejections. Over and over again. A turning point for me was hearing that even the most experienced and successful freelance writers still face rejection and – in my opinion, the worst reaction – silence. Once I stopped taking rejections personally it all became easier."

    Needed to hear that.

    This is a great series!


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