27/11/2012

How To...Be a Freelance Writer







Since I started Coffee and Heels and since I started working as a freelance writer, I have received emails and comments asking me about my job and how to become a writer. First of all, I'd like to point out that I am in no way one of the glamorous, Carrie Bradshaw-esque writers who wear vintage dresses, live in gorgeously decorated little apartments and spend their time eating luxurious dinners in wonderful, trendy restaurants with their fabulous writer, designer and celebrity friends.

I'd absolutely love to become one of these people, but the reality is that I live in a flatshare, wear H&M and spend most of my days frantically trying to meet deadlines while sipping a soy latte at my local Costa Coffee. Nonetheless, keeping in mind that it's incredibly difficult to just manage survival with writing jobs only, without having to put in a few hours a week waiting tables or selling t-shirts, I think I'm doing okay at this whole writing thing.



Keeping in mind that I am far from an expert, here's my quick how-to for the aspiring freelance writer:

Have ideas.
My first-ever mentor was the Features Editor of Cosmopolitan Sweden, where I was an intern three years ago. She later quit her job to go freelance and now makes tons of cash writing in her pyjamas or at a cute coffee house. Her number-one tip was always to come up with fresh, exciting new ideas for the magazines/websites you want to write for and I find that she is one hundred percent right. Magazine editors don't care what you studied at uni, what you do every day from nine to five, if you're fifteen or fifty. What they care about are your ideas and what you can bring to them. True story.

Update: I do not mean to say that an education isn't important! Absolutely not. A good journalism class is incredibly valuable, plus many journalism schools give you internships with newspapers and magazines, which is really the best way to get started in the industry. All I meant to say was, if you don't have a journalism degree, go for it anyway - I studied fashion marketing and I write for magazines for a living. If you think you have the right ideas, just toss 'em out there!

Study the publications you want to write for.
So how do you come up with these amazing ideas? Here's how: you study, study and study the magazines/websites where you'd like to see them. My editor at SOLO, one of Sweden's biggest women's magazines, once told me, "how do you do it? It seems like you know exactly what kind of articles we want!" This was only because I've been reading SOLO since I was fourteen, so I'm very aware of their style, their voice and their target group - mainly because I am their target group. If I was to write for a magazine about cars, I'd be completely out of my depth, so I'd have to study the magazine, see what kind of content they run, how their articles are shaped and what tone of voice they use. Studying pays off!

Write.
I love following screenwriter Kelly Oxford on Twitter - I think she's funny, smart and sometimes so on point I have to pause and think, wow! I also get the idea that she's a truly awesome writer. You should read this post on Kelly's Tumlbr on "the quick route to success" because it really says it all. There's only one way to become a writer: write. Write lots. All the time. Find your style and spend rainy days and sleepless nights perfecting it. As Kelly says, "if you're not already doing it because you love it, you probably aren't a writer."

Don't sell yourself short.
When someone asks you to work for free, what do you say? I say it depends.
One of my absolute favourite clients, Chic Vegan, does not pay me. They cannot pay anyone yet, but I see huge success for Gretchen and her team in the future. I am so, so happy to be working with them, even if I'm not making one penny out of it. It's like working on this blog - I do it because I love it. But it's different when magazines, websites or companies ask you to do writing work for ridiculous pay like "fifty pence a piece" (think fifty cents if you're from the US or a Euro country) and pass it off as "visibility". Can't pay my bills with visibility, honey! Sure, if you need to build your CV and have other work to pay your rent, by all means, go ahead - I've done it, too. But sooner or later, paid work has to come. Learn to tell the difference between a labour of love and just getting played.

Most of all, remember that it's hard work, it will drive you crazy, it will not make you rich or get you invitations to fancy parties and it's nothing like Sex and the City. If you still want to do it, get ready - it's one bumpy ride, but I'm sure you'll love it.




picture from Independent Fashion Bloggers and Pinterest.

17 comments:

  1. That's a great post! It's true what they say - write about what you know about. Kudos to you for making a career out of it!

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  2. Fantastic article, I really appreciate this. So many points hit home for me because while I don't want to be a freelance writer, I blog and I want to be an accomplished, published novelist one day. I always feel like the blogging I do is kind of pointless, especially when motherhood gets in the way and I end up having spans of time in between posts. I never thought that being a bookworm would be in my favor, so that's a sweet perk!

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  3. Fantastic article, I really appreciate this. So many points hit home for me because while I don't want to be a freelance writer, I blog and I want to be an accomplished, published novelist one day. I always feel like the blogging I do is kind of pointless, especially when motherhood gets in the way and I end up having spans of time in between posts. I never thought that being a bookworm would be in my favor, so that's a sweet perk!

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  4. Thanks a lot, this post is incredibly useful for me since I want to be a writer and a journalist with all myself. Can I ask you what kind of studies have you done? (yes, I read that editors don't care about that, but I'm not going to quit school of course!) I'm actually thinking about studying Journalism in Scotland, an Italian journalist told me that here in Italy a Journalism degree would be an avantgarde! Do you know how it would be considered in the rest of Europe?

    Giulia

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    1. Oh I really hope it didn't come off like I meant that an education wasn't useful - keep studying and do not quit school! A journalism class is a really, really valuable asset. What I meant when I wrote that was that when you're trying to be freelance and you don't have a journalism degree, you can absolutely try anyway! But at the same time, I often think that someone who wants to be a journalist should study journalism - why should you study something else if this is what you want to do? Having said that, I myself studied fashion marketing (I had just fallen in love with the fashion industry and there weren't many fashion journalism classes around at the time) and it worked out fine anyway.

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    2. Non mi ero accorta che sei italiana, scusami! Intanto mi sono esercitata un po' con l'inglese :)
      è importante per me sentire pareri professionali, quindi grazie mille! Per quanto riguarda il giornalismo freelance, si comincia semplicemente proponendosi? Ad esempio, io mi sono proposta ad un giornale locale e ha funzionato, ma non saprei come farmi considerare da testate maggiori.. Scusa per tutte queste domande, a proposito!

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  5. Bell'articolo, che condivido e sottoscrivo in tutto e per tutto.
    Grazie. :-)

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  6. da poco collaboro come freelance di profumeria artistica per una testata web italiana, ma c'è grande crisi nell'editoria qua... ufff proprio adesso che ci stavo prendendo la mano!

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    1. eh infatti quando mi chiedono ragazze italiane come fare la mia strada non so che dire perché in Italia la vedo proprio nera, ci saranno pure le occasioni ma tutte a gratis! Penso peró che il web é un ottimo settore per gli scrittori, il copywriting e il web editing é un settore in crescita (io lavoravo come web fashion editor quando vivevo a Milano) e il blog é una piattaforma perfetta per crearsi una base di lettori e mettere in luce le proprie capacitá. Dove scrivi? Vorrei tanto leggere qualcosa :)

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  7. Devo dire che ammiro chi, come te fa lavori creativi. Mi piace leggere, studiare, scoprire punti interessanti, ma non riuscirei a farlo per lavoro. Anche se non è come Sex & The City uno lo può sognare così, mentre nel mio campo anche sognando, essere un ingegnere non ha lo stesso appeal :)

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    1. Esatto, essere un ingegnere é visto per (una parte di) quello che é: un lavoro, con i suoi pro e i suoi contro, come ogni altro mestiere, mentre la scrittura spesso viene romantizzata. È per questo, secondo me, che finiamo con annunci che ti pagano un euro a pezzo e ti garantiscono la "visibilitá". Nessuno si sognerebbe mai di pagare un ingegnere, un infermiere, un contabile in questo modo. Ma visto che scrivere é "glamour" e "artistico", si deduce che lo si puó fare per passione. Purtroppo con la passione non si pagano le bollette...

      Io ammiro anche chi scrive per hobby, perché sai una cosa? Spesso chi scrive veramente per passione lo fa molto, molto bene!

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    2. che poi anche il mio lavoro è creativo, solo che lo è in ambito diverso e non essendo romanzato a volte lo si pensa più brutto di quello che è in realtà.
      Una cosa che mi piace molto del mondo web è l'apertura delle possibilità: posso scrivere un blog io, che lo faccio come un diario per metter giù pensieri, come lo fai tu che invece lavori nell'ambito dell'editoria. Più persone, più stimoli, più idee: le cose si fanno molto interessanti

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  8. Thank you very much for this post! I think it's very important and also usefull for a starter-blogger like me!
    THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU!!
    Lulu
    lifelaughloveandlulu.blogspot.it

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  9. Ah ma leggo dai commenti che scrivi anche in italiano!! benissimo :))
    grazie davvero per questo post, l'ho trovato davvero molto molto utile ed interessante! Con l'occasione mi complimento per il tuo bellissimo blog!
    Un abbraccio
    Lulu

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  10. Veramente un bel post con degli utili consigli per chi vorrebbe intraprendere questa strada.La cosa bella è che tu descrivi la realtà delle cose senza infiocchettarla tanto,perchè è importante anche far capire che di certo non è come molti se lo immaginano ma è un'attività dura che richiede tanto impegno,passione e sacrifici come ogni altro lavoro!

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    1. ...ecco, "come ogni altro lavoro" é quello che vorrei che rimanesse nella mente delle persone. È un lavoro. Non é solo passione e divertimento. Essere freelance significa anche pagare le tasse, fare la dichiarazione dei redditi, scrivere le fatture, fare ricerca, ecc ecc. E non é vero che sei "libera" e non hai un capo. Io al momento ho quattro clienti fissi e un paio di variabili, quindi di capi ne ho sei o sette, e devi adeguarti a tutto quello che ti chiedono per produrre una cosa che piace a loro. Il cliente ha sempre ragione anche quando sei freelance, purtroppo! Poi io non credo che basta "fare quello che ami" per avere successo come freelance, devi anche trovare una cosa dove sei bravo e che gli altri vogliono comprare. Vedi sopra: le idee.

      Detto questo, scrivere é ovviamente anche meraviglioso. Altrimenti non lo farei :)

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