This is the latest installment of Dear WordCount, an occasional advice column answering your questions about writing, blogging and running a freelance business.
I have been praised for my writing ever since I was a kid. I’ve always been told I should become a writer. Years ago, I moved to the West Coast before I finished college because I was dying to escape to the big city. I needed to pay the bills, and I fell into word processing because it turned out I can type like the wind. As a result, for my entire work life, I have functioned as a de facto editor, writer, proofreader, and fact checker, but with nothing to show for it. I am always prettying up someone else’s work, or flat out rewriting it for them. “Uncredited ghostwriter” is my middle name. These days, technology and off-shoring have defoliated the job market of word processing work, permanently. It did not satisfy me anyway. I am trying to transition into freelance writing, but I do not have the writing samples to prove that I can do it. If you have any suggestions I would be very grateful. No one will help me and I am just about at the end of my rope.
Yours, Jane S.
There’s no easy way to do what you want to do, but it’s not impossible.
You don’t really say what type of writing you want to do. I’ll assume it’s journalism because that’s what I know best.
If you’re interested in working as a freelance journalist, you need training and practice.
For training, take classes through a local community college or university extension program. Not only will you learn basics like the inverted pyramid, nut graph, how to conduct an interview, etc., you’ll meet teachers who are likely to be in the business and who can give you good feedback and introduce you to publications that might need writers.
Post your resume online. Put it on your blog, and emphasize your writing experience. Join LinkedIn and fill out a profile – that will help you show up in searches of people with your qualifications. Reach out to people you’ve worked for before and ask them to write LinkedIn recommendations for you, again emphasizing your writing and editing skills.
Join a local writers’ group, or start one; these days writers’ groups can be online too. Use the group to give you feedback on your work.
Collect ideas and craft them into queries that you pitch to the appropriate publications. If you’re nervous querying big publications start with little ones, but not so little that they don’t pay anything.
Treasure feedback you get from any editor who takes the time to explain why they didn’t accept your query. Use it to make the next one better.
When you get assignments, drink in everything the editor tells you to do – or not to do.
Meet your deadlines.
Send an idea for a second assignment when you turn in the first.
How did you break into freelancing? Share your experience by leaving a comment.
Got a question for Dear WordCount? Email it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.