Feature photo by pedrosimones7
How did I get here?
I ask myself that sometimes and am rather amazed that I am doing today what I have dreamed of doing most of my life: earning a living as a writer, a freelance writer. But it took me time to get here. I seriously started publishing magazine articles seven years ago in between classes and full time work. As of last summer, I’ve managed to go full time with my freelance writing and it was worth every effort I put into it over the years.
For the past 4 years, I’ve lived in Prague, Czech Republic, originally coming here to study at Charles University for one year. I had already an online graduate certificate in analytics and received a Journalism degree back in the US, but had always wanted to try living abroad. My first intensive experience of living abroad occurred after finishing college, when I moved to Bombay, India to volunteer for an NGO there. That experience gave me an infinite amount of material to write about, both fiction and nonfiction.
But how did I actually begin to make money from my writing? Well I realized rather quickly that writing journalistically, writing nonfiction, was a much easier way to get paid than to submit poetry or short stories to literary journals- venues that are far more subjective, a bit elitist and tend to receive an overwhelming amount of submissions year round. Not only that but the waiting time for responses (rejections in my case) was way too long and I’m not the most patient person.
There are definitely waiting times for magazine submissions as well, but one lesson I definitely took from my J-school experience was to aim for NICHE MARKETS. If you find the exact kind of audience that you are looking for, say a magazine whose articles you would like to read for yourself, then the chances are much higher that you will fit into what the editor is looking for.
That being said, you need to do your research. I actually spent a lot of my free time in Bombay sitting in a dingy, air-conditioned (thank God) internet cafe investing a little of my meager NGO stipend,so I could start making long lists of magazines, newspapers and websites that might accept the kind of article topics that I knew I could easily write about: female travel, Bombay’s street food, volunteering, etc. After all, someone wise once said: write what you know. I do it, and it works.
But–I still research several times a week for new markets (especially nowadays new magazines and online publications are opening and folding every day), read other freelance writer’s blogs and search for new gigs. I now subscribe to plenty of freelance writing newsletters that slip into my inbox every day or every week, giving me the heads up on new markets (or established ones that I’ve never heard of), freelance writing gigs, writer’s residences and colonies around the world, full and part time writing jobs, writing contests (poetry, fiction, non-fiction), calls for submissions for literary journals or anthologies on various topics, etc. Some good ones to start off with:
But of course, the important thing is to make the move to your freelance career slowly and steadily, transitioning from your full time or part time job. Otherwise, you’ll have no money coming in—since payments for articles are often made upon publication, which can be a month or two or more after the acceptance of your article. So be sure you know if the magazine pays upon publication or upon acceptance—that makes a huge difference!
Don’t just sit down at your desk and expect inspiration and ideas to come raining down on you. You need to constantly be taking note of everything you do, everything you experience (maybe not in the moment, but later on) as something that could be turned into an article. This may sound like tough work, but it’s really not. When you return from your road trip to Vegas, sit down and write about all the different themes that you can pull out of it. Some examples: How to prepare for a road trip, 10 things to do in Vegas besides gambling, What not to do on a road trip, Wildflowers of Nevada, 5 Not-to-be-missed Restaurants and Cafes in Las Vegas/Nevada/wherever. Just with these story ideas, you can plunge into quite a range of markets, from parenting magazines to travel magazines (or the travel section of a newspaper), regionally-focused publications (like inflight magazines for airlines), or even a college student-focused publication.
Also, always be taking pictures—whether you’re out and about your hometown for the day or you’re on a two-week vacation across the country (or the globe). Visuals are often key to an article (either in print or online), and editors will ask if you can provide pictures to accompany your story. Readers want to see what you saw, not just read about it.
Of course, you need to do your research to see what’s out there, which publications you feel comfortable with and ready to write for. Markets that will accept your topic ideas and your writing style are important to have in mind when you come up with your ideas, so you can tailor your ideas toward their specific guidelines and style.
These are the basics of turning your life into that of a freelance writer—but also know that it’s not for everyone. Your income is definitely going to be unstable and slow to start, so you must be willing to deal with that. Also, you are going to spend a lot of time with yourself. How well do you like yourself? There won’t be any giggling or prankster-ing with your office buddies. And probably one of the most important things necessary to be a freelance writer: self-discipline. Your life will run on deadlines—those given by your editors and those that you have to give yourself, otherwise your world-changing article ideas will remain just ideas. Sure, you can get up at noon, writer in your pajamas at home, or go to the cafe and write all day—but just be sure to meet your deadlines! Otherwise, your editors won’t take you seriously.
I wish all of you with freelance dreams the best of luck, and feel free to contact me with any questions or comments you might have!