I’ve got one heck of a story for you: how I got started as a freelance writer. I’m going to go through exactly what I did and why I did it, with all of the nitty-gritty details included.
I didn’t intend to write a book, but I think it’s important to share all of the details because this is something I had never considered before until just recently. It’s a weird thing to do, and when I first thought to try this, I had no idea what I would need to do and the challenges I would face as I got started.
I wished someone had shared their journey with me so I could see the transformation from regular person to kick-ass freelance writer. That’s what I’m going to try to do here (minus the kick-ass freelance writer part; there’s a lot of really great writers out there and I only consider myself semi-okay).
You can see that I’m not magic, and that as long as anyone else can string a few decent words together and muster up some courage, they can do this too.
My Journey Into Becoming A Freelance Writer
Okay, so to be fair, we’re going to take a ride in the way-back machine and see some of the events that led up to the past four months. That way you’ll get a flavor for some of the precipitating forces that were already in place.
While still in grad school, I decided to create my own webpage about my thesis research project. My friends and family had no idea what I was doing, so I pointed them here to learn more about it rather than explain an entire field of wildlife research forty times over.
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.
Note: it’s highly riveting reading if you’re a large mammal nutritional ecologist. Otherwise, read it if you’re an insomniac and I promise it’ll help.
I was hired on 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 wildlife researcher to being the cleaning lady. It was hard on my ego and on my wallet.
Luckily, I was able to listen to podcasts at work. I began focusing on personal finance podcasts, because I realized by this point I sucked at managing money and now was the time, if ever, to learn how to do it better.
Inspired by stories from the Smart Passive Income podcast, I decided to start my own blog to claim my share of the millions being made every month. 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, but I agreed! Thus appeared my first two non-knitting posts: Navigating the Post-Graduation Job Hunt, and Networking Tips for Introverts.
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.
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.
Anyways, once I delved 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 test it out. 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.
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 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 site. 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 utterly depressed about my spot in life.
But by this point, my back was against a wall. I was flat broke, major expenses were on the horizon, and I was utterly depressed about my spot in 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.
I can’t properly describe how nerve-wracking this was for me. I don’t know why, but talking on the telephone scares the bejeesus out of me. And 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 played around with different writing methods, tools, and techniques to make myself a better, more efficient writer. 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
This resource has also been incredibly helpful to me, because I have access to a whole host of recordings for writing classes, as well as a community of other writers – ones who do this full-time, for a living, and are incredibly generous with their help.
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 began 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 – my most productive month so far, despite only working for 2 ½ weeks.
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 – 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!
Have you ever thought about freelance writing as a side hustle? Leave a comment below!
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