Writing for a Living: 4 Steps to Make it Happen

I have a confession to make: I’ve struggled to make a living as a writer.

It’s not easy. During the course of my 15-year career as a writer, editor, and communications consultant, I’ve worked as a daily newspaper reporter, freelance magazine writer, public relations professional, social media manager, freelance writing solopreneur, fiction indie author, and communications manager. I’ve worked full-time, freelanced, gone back to working full-time, and tried freelancing again.

I say this to squash any delusions you may have that you can write for companies and poof! Make six figures. Yeah, no …

Writing is work. It’s strategy. It’s savvy. It’s gut instincts and street cred and a knack for what makes people tick. It’s psychology.

BUT. It is possible to make writing for a living work for you! Here’s how:

1 – Decide if you want to freelance or work full-time as an employee

This. Is. Crucial.

I say this because what an employer wants and what a client wants are two different things. An employer may want a bachelor’s degree in English, communications, marketing or journalism (in which case, you may have to go to college). A client might care about affordability. Determine which route you want and that will guide your strategy toward future success.

2- Build your writing portfolio

Regardless of whether you apply for jobs or plan to attract clients, both sides have one thing in common:

They want to see your clips.

Clips are examples of published writing, usually by someone other than you. For example, I’ve written for Phoenix Magazine. An editor hired me to research and write an article. The magazine published my article. The magazine then paid me for my work. That’s a clip, also the best kind of clip.

However, if you’re starting from scratch and can’t get someone to pay you, offer to freelance for free (hint: find a small online publication or blog and reach out to the owner or editor via email). I freelanced for free for some local magazines at the beginning of my career. Those clips built my portfolio, which I used to land my first staff reporter position on a daily newspaper. Mission accomplished.

If freelancing for free isn’t an option, start a blog, or a newsletter–anything to show off what you can do. At the end of the day, clients and employers want to see what you’ve done.

3 – FREELANCING? Save money and find multiple avenues for writing referrals

If you’re anything like me, you suck at sales. Which is why I find multiple paths for referrals. You can too. Here are some places you can target that will send you regular streams of work without too much outreach:

  • Small-or-medium-sized marketing firms that find the clients, but subcontract with you for copywriting
  • Staffing agencies and recruiters (that you trust)
  • Career coaches who need help writing resumes for their clients
  • Editors at magazines and online publications

Before launching into full-time freelancing, I recommend holding onto your day job and trying to land a few clients part-time. Then, save the money you make from those clients to create a safety net for when you transition to full-time freelancing.

4 – APPLYING TO JOBS? Look for entry-level content writing positions

Rome wasn’t built in a day. Neither is your writing career. Whether you’re starting out in life or making a mid-career transition, I encourage you to be patient. You will have to start at the bottom.

Seek out entry-level writing jobs. Some might say “copywriter” or “junior copywriter.” Others might say “content writer” or “content marketing.” Either way, avoid anything with the word “senior” in the title.

Once you land that first job, work it for about two years. Then, if you want to move on and move up, the world is your oyster!

Was this information helpful? Then consider making a small donation of $2, $5, or $10. I’m a small-time indie writer who lives in Phoenix, Ariz., and your tips/donations help me (Shari) afford to continue writing great content that helps other writers improve their craft, grow their audiences, and make a living. Thank you!

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