Imagine this: seven-year-old Jillian with a pencil in one ear spying on the neighbors, siblings, and parents with a magnifying glass in one hand and a notebook in another. I didn’t want to be a detective, I wanted to be a reporter. I veered off the path multiple times, landing on ideas like sea lion trainer, teacher, performer, speech pathologist, and eventually a publicist. After all the many turns, writing was always polar force tugging relentlessly at the needle of my compass. I’ve known I wanted to be a writer for forever, but I didn’t truly learn how to make my art my job until my twenties.
One of the most frequent questions I receive is how to become a freelance writer. This is an area I’m always trying to improve, so I wanted to share the resources I use and recommend to improve your writing skills and find real jobs.
Types of Writing Jobs
There are several types of writing jobs you can try as an aspiring writer. The best part about freelancing is that you can dabble in more than one. Here are a few of the most popular areas of writing to consider:
I’ve always had a passion for telling the stories of others, meeting new people, and using my curiosity as a vehicle for learning more about a situation. There are so many beats in journalism you can cover (science, crime, lifestyle, fashion, travel, film, etc. the list goes one. A few types of journalistic pieces include investigative, news, reviews, columns (based on your opinion), and feature writing (you can learn more about the different forms of journalism here). I, personally, fall into the lifestyle journalism category covering fashion, beauty, weddings, and more. I also love writing personal essays.
Content writing for company blogs requires skill, versatility in tone, and some SEO knowledge. These opportunities are great, often pay well, and have a level of consistency that freelance journalism sometimes lacks. Instead of pitching editors and hoping for the best, you can work with companies on the project or monthly basis to write web content to be used on company blogs or internal sites. I currently balance four content writing jobs along with my blog and journalism, allowing me stable paychecks which is always nice. (Who doesn’t love money in the bank?)
Technical writers turn jargon into reader-friendly passages. These writers write the manuals and guides that show us how to do the things we need to learn how to use in layman’s terms.
No explanation needed. If you can dream it, you can write it.
So now that you understand a few of the opportunities available to you as a writer, let’s talk about my favorite resources for polishing your skills and getting the job!
Where to Learn
As Ernest Hemingway once said, “We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.” Here are several resources for writing classes to polish your skill:
Catapult is a site that publishes award-winning fiction and non-fiction pieces. If you browse through Catapult’s online courses, you will notice that you may recognize a few faces, or at least book covers. Well-known published authors and journalists teach workshops on the site on everything from story structure to query letters. Browse their course schedule here.
Stanford Online Continuing Studies
I was feeling uninspired earlier this year, so I stumbled across Stanford’s course menu of online creative writing classes. I took “The Creative Habit: Cultivating a Daily Writing Practice,” which I found to be affordable at $340 compared to the other 3-credit courses.
Writespace (For Houston-based Writers)
Writespace is perfect for those of us who want to connect with other writers in the Houston-area without tumbling into the debt a pricey MFA program can bring. Learn more here.
Grammarly isn’t a class, but a plugin that will do a thorough grammar and spelling check. My favorite part of Grammarly is that it teaches you grammar tips along the way, and explains what needs improvement in your copy. Try the web version or download it here.
What to Read
To be a great writer, you have to be an even better reader. Any book you read will help your skill as a writer, but here are a few that are geared to the field:
The Byline Bible by Susan Shapiro
This book was recommended in so many of my online writing groups that I had to pick it up and read for myself. I’m only several chapters in, but Shapiro promises her students will be published in just five short weeks. She gives tangible tips that will get your creativity flowing, and give you the courage to pitch.
On Writing by Stephen King
If you want to get into the mind of a prolific writer, start here. King shares his own experience as an author, which is bound to leave you feeling inspired. Who doesn’t need a pep talk after staring at a blank page?
Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert
If you’re a writer in distress, Elizabeth Gilbert is your literary fairy godmother. When I’m feeling stuck in a black hole, I remember her tips to move forward. In her words, “done is better than good.” As a procrastinator and simultaneous perfectionist, I constantly need a little boost to get my thoughts onto a page.
Where to Find Work
How do you get paid as a writer? The question we all want to know. Outside of pitching local or national outlets, job boards are constantly being updated. There are several resources overflowing with opportunities. Here are a few sites to bookmark today:
MediaBistro has a jobs board, resources for writers, and online courses.
ProBlogger is a great board for getting started. Be mindful of rates though.
Do the Damn Thing
You have the tools you need to get started, so it’s time to get your words out of your head and onto your keyboard. If you have any resources you’d like to share or feedback, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below!