6 Tips for When You’re Starting Out as a Freelance Writer

Yes, starting out as a freelance writer is tough. But YES, you can get paid to write – even as a new freelance writer. Don’t miss these tips for writers just starting out, which revolve around discipline, drive, and determination.

starting as a freelance writerMany novelists and freelance writers just starting out worry that their ideas will get stolen by other writers, editors, or publishers. While I’m sure it occasionally happens, it’s not something to fear. I’ll explain why below, then dive into the tips for writers who think freelancing is the job for them…

One reason writers don’t have to worry about idea theft is because there’s a cosmic karma flow of ideas that incites writers, editors, and publishers to think of the same article or book ideas at the same time. This isn’t just “cosmic”; it’s common sense.

For instance, if a a new research study proves that writing as a career improves heart health, then writers worldwide will be pitching query letters about heart health to magazine editors (who will publish the most detailed, interesting article idea they find).

A second reason is that there are very few (if any) truly unique, original ideas out there. Remember Ecclesiastes? (the book of wisdom in the Bible).  Solomon nailed it when he said is nothing new under the sun. But what is new is how you present it…which makes the difference between a wildly successful writing career and a ho-hum one.

6 Tips for Starting Out as a Freelance Writer

When you’re starting out as a freelance writer, don’t worry about idea theft. Instead, focus on creating ideas that are so good you have to ram them down editors’ throats!

1. Examine your commas and colons. Twice

I recently hired a gaggle of writers to write for “Quips and Tips” (one of the best decisions I ever made!). Sitting in the editor’s chair has taught me that many people can write very well, but some writers are the teensiest bit careless.

Paying attention to the details – properly capitalized titles, adherence to writing guidelines, commas in the right places – can make the difference between writing as a career and writing as a hobby.

2. Build your writing platform – a portfolio of articles, stories, etc

What type of writing do you want to build your career on? I currently write monthly articles for BC Women’s Hospital, and one of the first things I was asked before being hired was “how much experience do you have as a health writer?”

Even now, I still get asked about the variety of health articles I’ve written by the doctors, nurses, and other health professionals I interview. My writer’s platform builds my credibility as a writer. If you’re starting out as a freelance writer and don’t know what a writer’s platform is, read How to Build Your Writer’s Platform.

3. Grab a part-time job (freelancers just starting out need money!)

Yes, you can get paid for writing articles and blog posts — but it’s good to find a way to pay your bills that is reliable and separate from your writing (at first).  Writing as a career can be a consistent source of income, but it takes time and effort to build up a stream of clients and jobs.

I worked part-time in an office until my paid writing gigs started to demand too much time. Then, I went to work writing full-time. One of the best tips for freelance writers just starting out is to diversify your paid jobs until you get established.

4. Find and follow writing role models

One of my role models is Daphne Gray-Grant, a publication and writing coach here in Vancouver. I’ve never met her, but I get her weekly e-newsletter. I sometimes publish her tips here, and she sometimes comments and answers questions. One of the best writing tips she ever gave me is “don’t edit as you write” — she’s increased my productivity and skill dramatically!

If you’re starting out as a freelance writer, you need to ignore the horror stories of never getting published, not being able to pursue writing as a career, not selling enough ebooks to earn a living. Instead, find inspirational, successful writers and stay connected with them — even if it’s just via a weekly email.

5. Focus on freelance writing as a career

How do you — and the people in your life — view your writing dreams and goals? Are your writing plans a hobby, or a business? There’s nothing wrong with being a hobby writer, as long as that’s what you’ve decided to be. There’s nothing wrong with being an unpublished novelist who loves to write and doesn’t care about getting published, or a freelance writer who only wants to write technical textbooks….as long as that’s what you want to be.

But if you want a writing career that puts almond butter on your organic whole grain bread, then you need to focus on writing as a career. This isn’t just for freelance writers just starting out, it’s for established writers, too.

6. Remember how long it takes to be an “overnight success”

You’re gonna get more rejection letters than paid assignments, and suffer more disappointments than thrills. Writing as a career can be exhausting — but to actually get paid for writing, you need to stay dedicated, determined, and disciplined! It’s hard to stay positive sometimes — trust me, I know. But if you take time out to visualize yourself as a successful writer (whatever that means to you), you’re more likely to be a successful writer.

starting out freelancing writingIf you haven’t heard of Bob Bly, you need to read his freelance writing books! His latest is How to Write & Sell Simple Information for Fun and Profit: Your Guide to Writing and Publishing Books, E-Books, Articles, Special Reports, Audio Programs, DVDs, and Other How-To Content.

Bly’s guidebook is packed with information for writing for magazines, traditional book publishers, self-publishing, and the Internet. He also shares how to become a successful writer, and explores how to write and sell simple information in multiple formats.

“Don’t worry about people stealing your ideas.  If your ideas are any good, you’ll have to ram them down people’s throats.” ~ Howard Aiken.

What are your thoughts on a freelance writing career? Comments welcome below…


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21 thoughts on “6 Tips for When You’re Starting Out as a Freelance Writer”

  1. Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen

    Thanks for your thoughts…I really want writers to know that starting out as a freelancer isn’t as hard as they think!

  2. Charleston Wedding Photographer

    I guess in my case the lack of writing on most of my work would have me believe that would be an issue. I try and let me pictures do my talking for me.

  3. Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen

    Yes, idea theft is a worry for freelancer writers starting out! But really, there’s nothing to be concerned about. I love Aiken’s quote about ramming ideas down people’s throats 🙂

  4. Wow! Indeed, I will keep in mind all these 6 tips. These will be very helpful for me. I’m just a starter in freelance writing and I got so anxious and worried about idea theft but your article inspired me to just focus on my ideas and share them. Thanks a lot!

  5. I really liked the tip about Idea Theft. I’m trying to be a freelance writer but every “original” idea I think I come up with; I’ll research it and find out there’s 1000 articles about the “unique” idea I had. It’s reassuring to know that all writers go through that same struggle; Now i can stop worrying.

  6. Like in every other domain, it is important to be passionate about what you are doing. So, even though you read all the tips and tricks about being a good writer that won’t make you a good one, if you do not like to do it. It is all about passion, in my opinion…

  7. Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen

    I don’t know what’s harder: starting out as a freelance writer, or flowing through the inevitable valleys that freelance writing brings. The highs and lows are almost too much!

  8. I recently read the 4 hour work week … it is a great book and i highly recommend it.
    I really wish I had the discipline to write, but I am no wordsmith..

  9. Hi folks! In addition to this great article, I think every freelance writer could seriously raise his/her efficiency by using the online freelance tool eJobMailer. It helps you find suitable freelance work opportunities by automatically scanning various online job sources for matching jobs. It then emails you the results with a time interval of your choice. You can be sure to find many, many matching jobs this way..! -Cheers.

  10. Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen

    Thanks for your comments!

    Efren ~ I appreciate your feedback; you made my day 🙂

    Daniel ~ I totally agree that the writing jobs go to those who aren’t expensive to hire. It’s like that in any business — cheap labor takes the jobs! And, I hire writers for Quips and Tips, and I can only afford to pay $15 per post. It’s not that I don’t value writers who have those amazing portfolios…it’s that I don’t have the budget to pay writers more. Sad but true.

    George ~ I think you can rest on your laurels after becoming an overnight success, if staying “on top” doesn’t matter to you. But I look at the hard work successful people put into staying successful, and I wonder if it’s worth it. If you love what you do, then you’re lucky!! But if you have to force yourself to stay on top after becoming an “overnight success”, then….well, I wouldn’t want to spend my life that way.

  11. This is a great article and easy to understand. Some bloggers write articles and they are the only ones that know what they are actually trying to say.

  12. Sometimes I wonder if writing is really reserved only for the best. I am not targeting novelist here, but more the freelance writers that you find on many freelance sites. It’s such a sad thing to see that sometimes you can have an amazing portfolio, respect deadlines and write high quality articles but in the end who gets recruited? those offering low cost services from India etc- so in the end it’s not quality that matters but rather how much you charge!

  13. yeah… if you really like to write, you can make money as a freelancer, but let’s face it: you won’t get rich over night 🙂 instead, you’d better write a book, maybe write a book about writing and selling it… you have a better chance to make more money, i guess 🙂

  14. Hey Laurie,

    I’m catching up on my blog reading – can ya tell? 😉

    This is such valuable advice for people considering the writing life. I especially like the overnight success advice. I know it can take years and the other thing is that once you are there, you can’t really rest on your laurels.


  15. Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen

    Jerry ~ You’re obviously not a writer….I doubt it’s easy to make money writing for ANY writer…although, I haven’t met every writer in the world…

    Tammi ~ And, a strong platform can mean more money for a writer! That is, the more “proof” you have that you’re an experienced writer, the more you can charge per word or per hour.

    Parthenia and Sarkari ~ glad this article was helpful 🙂 You CAN build a strong, profitable writing career, but it takes time and effort.

  16. Writing is an easy way to make a living from home. Many people hire folks to write content for their sites, and marketing campaigns. It is a good way to bring in the bacon. 😉