Inside: Have you ever thought about freelance writing? Here’s my story of how I got started as a freelance writer – right down to my fears and how I overcame them.
I’ve never really been a brave person.
Once, I was given the task of reciting a poem about flirting in front of my high school English class (consisting of several of my crushes).
Rather than buck up and do it, I pretended to be sick for an entire week of school. Just to be safe.
Getting started as a freelance writer was much the same way for me.
But, unlike high school, I couldn’t pretend to do the work. I had to actually do it. I had to fight through all the vomit-inducing, peed-pants-producing moments.
Doing scary things doesn’t come naturally to me or anyone else. Unless you’re superman, that is, in which case please contact me because I need to hire you on retainer to squish spiders around my house.
- 1 How I Got Started As A Freelance Writer
I think it’s important to share how I got started—even if it embarrasses me—because this is something I had never considered doing before.
I was supposed to get a good 40-hour-per-week job like a good little girl. Nothing in my education had prepared me for this. I could have told you what n=9 means, but not what a W9 was or why the hell I should fill one out.
I wished someone had shared their journey with me so I could see the transformation from regular person to weird freelance writer.
Today, I’m going to be that person for you.
You can see that I’m not magic. Far from it—sometimes I walk into trees.
If I can do scary things like this, so can you!
How I Got Started As A Freelance Writer
Let’s climb into the way-back machine.
I could start with when I learned to read (as that is a prerequisite for writing), but I’ll be nice. Besides, I don’t have all day and neither do you.
Let’s go back to when I first started writing in the real Grownup Pants world.
Related post: How much can you earn as a starting freelance writer?
While still in grad school, I decided to create my own webpage about my thesis research project. For all my friends and family knew, I was trying to create a FrankenCaribou in the lab. This was my attempt to set them straight. I think I only half succeeded.
I had no plans to update or monetize the site, but technically speaking it was the very first place my writing ever appeared online.
I published my thesis research and a scientific article in a peer-reviewed journal.
It’s the height of exciting reading if you’re a large mammal nutritional ecologist. Otherwise, read it if you’re an insomniac and I promise it’ll help you sleep.
I was hired as a lab animal caretaker after graduating with my master’s degree in wildlife biology and conservation. It was a big slap in the face to go from being a published wildlife researcher to being a cleaning lady. It was hard on my ego and on my wallet.
Luckily, I was able to listen to podcasts at work. I started listening to personal finance podcasts because I realized I sucked at money and I needed to get better.
I decided to start my own blog after hearing everyone tout the magic of blogging.
I knew how to knit really well, so I thought a knitting blog would be perfect—and thus, Knit Nerd Lab was born.
Be kind; it really is a silly blog. I never made any money with it, but it served another important purpose: it got me comfortable with writing online and learning more about how to blog.
One of my favorite podcasts, Listen Money Matters, put out a call asking for support from their community in growing their brand. I thought, “What the hell?” and reached out.
Luckily for me, one of the editorial staff was a huge knitting nerd as well and really liked my knitting blog. She asked if I would be interested in writing a couple blog posts for them. I was floored that anybody else would want me to write for them. Most of the time the words I put together don’t sense any make. 🙂
At about the same time, I also wrote another guest post to try and publicize Knit Nerd Lab more. This post, How Not To Be Afraid: Advice From A New Blogger/Designer, appeared on Yarn Obsession.
These experiences were important because they taught me how to pitch stories and work with editors. They were also important for me becoming comfortable with the idea of my writing appearing on a site that someone other than my mom would read.
Related: The Well-Fed Writer: Financial Self-Sufficiency As A Commercial Freelance Writer In Six Months Or Less, by Peter Bowerman. (affiliate link)
Early December 2015
By this point, I’d been blogging about knitting for several months and listening to personal finance podcasts for nearly a year. Now, I actually began reading personal finance blogs. I don’t know why it took me this long to combine the two.
Once I dived into the personal finance blog world, I quickly realized that blog posts were something people paid money for—real, substantial amounts of money. None of this silly 5-cents-a-survey crap that I had been doing before.
This was a game-changer for me. I had been writing blogs for a few months now, for free. Would I be able to actually charge money for it?
I decided to try it out. After all, if it didn’t work out I could still go hide in my bed, which I was basically already doing then anyways.
I found a few sites that paid people to submit stories, including the Penny Hoarder blog. I reached out to them and proposed a couple of stories, and thus was born my very first, and second, paid blog posts.
By this point, I’d jumped over the first hurdle. I proved that I could do this for realsies.
I decided to invest in a course so that I could learn more about how to do this professionally. I signed up for Sophie Lizard’s Get Starting in 28 Days (affiliate link) e-mail course. It cleared up some of the questions I had, and there was a great free forum to help me. This course gave me the confidence to start approaching people about paid writing opportunities, and I even started up my own writing website.
I ended the month by setting a goal: I would send out one pitch a day to a potential client.
This was a terrifying thing for me to do. I felt like a fraud, hitting people up and claiming to be a “freelance writer” with only five posts and a weird knitting blog to show for it. But by this point, my back was against a wall. I was flat broke, major expenses were on the horizon, and I was completely depressed about where I was in my life.
I didn’t have much else to lose. My pride had already been lost by that point. And so I went with it.
Two people I had sent pitches out to finally bit the hook: they responded back, and said they were interested in what I had to write. I offered to write a couple (paid) trial blog posts for them, and if they liked my work, we would talk about signing a contract.
This was one of the most nerve-wracking things I’d ever done in my life besides agreeing to meet a stranger from the Internet for a date once (spoiler alert: we’re married now). I don’t know why, but talking on the telephone scares the bejeesus out of me. I’d rather stab my foot with a fork than talk to people on the phone.
Thinking about charging people money for my writing about something in which my only qualifications were listening to a metric sh*t ton of podcasts was equally frightening. But, I did it anyway.
I wish I could say that I knocked their socks off with my trial blog posts. I didn’t.
Instead, I didn’t fully integrate my writing with the voice they were shooting for on their sites, and both clients requested edits and do-overs. I was embarrassed and again, I felt like a fraud. But I redid the posts, and they were very happy with the outcomes! Within the first two weeks of the year, I had signed three-month contracts with my very first two clients.
At about the same time I was signing these contracts, I noticed an ad for a personal finance writer on one of the freelance writing job boards. I reached out to them with samples of the writing I had done thus far. I was honest and said I was just starting out, but nonetheless, they responded back and offered me a contract on-the-spot.
By the end of my first month, I had made $500 total.
I began falling into the swing of freelance writing. I invested in joining the Freelance Writer’s Den (affiliate link), where I learned even more about how to be a better freelance writer.
This resource has also been incredibly helpful to me, because I had access to a whole host of recordings for writing classes, as well as a community of other writers. And not just any writers; ones who did this full-time for a living.
One afternoon, an old friend on Facebook reached out to me. It turns out he was now the editor at a popular dogsledding magazine (how random, but awesome!). He had seen that I was doing freelance writing now, and he was looking for contributors for his magazine.
It turns out that the pool of dog mushers (current or former, in my case) who can also write is not that large, and so I was a prime candidate. I used this opportunity to write my first magazine article, about strategies that long distance dogsled racers can use to combat fatigue.
By the end of the second month I had made an extra $600.
Unfortunately, I got sick at the beginning of the month and couldn’t write for an entire week and a half.
I was determined not to let this bring me down, and so I ramped up writing efforts. I started waking up at 4:30 AM, and implemented some hardcore productivity tactics to keep me focused.
It worked; by the end of the month I received $600 from work I did the previous month, and I also sent out invoices for another $800 worth of work. This was my most productive month so far, despite only working for 2 ½ weeks.
I’m currently still tweaking things here and there to continue to be more efficient at writing. The three-month contracts that I signed back in January are all currently up or will be soon. All of my clients have agreed to resign their contracts, so now I will have long-term work!
Becoming a freelance writer has brought freedom and self-worth back into my life when it was at an all-time low. I felt financially and mentally trapped by my day job, but now I feel like I could develop this into a full-time income if I needed. I’m excited to see where this work takes me in the future—stay tuned!
Don’t Be Afraid To Try Something New
The biggest thing I learned through all of this was to not be afraid to try something new. I would have never gotten started as a freelance writer if I had stayed in my old mindset. I used to think “mindset” was a fairy, hocus-pocus word. But it’s real, and you can change it if you want something bad enough.
Have you ever thought about freelance writing as a side hustle? Leave a comment below!
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