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The Pen Thinker

Everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. ~Sylvia Plath

Freelance Writing – How I Got Myself Started (And How You Can Do It, Too)

Posted in Freelanc-ink

ds-1.jpgHow did it all start?

Freelance writing, I mean.

If I had to answer this question, I think I would say: “It began with accepting the obstacles and taking up the challenge.”

Well— a few weeks ago I received exactly that kind of question from a follower of my Facebook page.

Hi, I am a Wanna-be-writer. Could you please explain how long it took you to be what you are now and what tips would you recommend for me. I am a beginner and I don’t know where to start. Could you help?

The question awed me. How was I going to respond to give him a thorough answer without coming up with a 2,000 words personal essay? I had to think about it.

So I told this person I would better off answering his question with a blog post (which I’m doing), but I felt compelled to spend at least a few words on a short reply.

I wrote:

It takes practice, goodwill and a bit of stubbornness to enter the freelance world. You will have to experiment with various writing styles and niches until you find your match, research and keep up-to-date with writing markets, marketing your skills and products on Social Media, blog and network with fellow freelancers… and you have to keep going, keep pitching and marketing even when the waters are too calm for your taste. Never give up. :-]

That summarizes it a bit, doesn’t it? But it still didn’t answer the “how did you get started” question, so I tried to put myself in my follower”s shoes, to recall what it felt to me— that fear that left me wonder whether I’d ever make it in the freelance world.

I never gave up on my dream to write

When you write small books and essays from age 10, you know you’re never really going to give up on your passion. As I grew up, a hobby that made me happy 24/7 slowly began to shape into a future career in my mind.

Oh, there have been many along the way— “I’ll be a pediatrician!”, “I’ll be a teacher!”, “I’ll be a full time comic artist!” —but nothing ever replaced writing in my art. Perhaps its only ‘competitor’ was illustration, because I’ve always been an artist, too. Art and writing are my room-mates.

So your first asset to enter the freelance writing world should be your dreams, your passion for writing. It will get you going, even when you run into obstacles and downtimes.

I never gave up on my dream to write for money

Why just write without compensation?

To earn money doing what you love is THE job!

Even so, it took years for me to accept that I would have to charge a fee for my writing services. Back in 2007, when I started earning money for writing sponsored posts on my own blogs, I felt compelled to set my fees at the lowest possible amount ($1 to $5) and I was just happy that I could make that measly $50/month I could spend on my personal shopping without having to ask my parents.

But was it right? No way!

I recently published a free 5-page comic here on Writer’s Mind that tells the story of Margie, a newbie freelancer who puts her lifestyle at risk to write for content mills. That’s what I was going to do if I hadn’t the push from my family, my friends, kind advertisers and fellow writers who saw the potential in my writing.

Don’t do that mistake. Life is good and your job should add more good to it, not turn it into a hell.

I read blogs, books, magazines, white papers and more

Every writer starts as an avid reader.  At least, that makes sense if you think that you can’t learn how to write well if you don’t read how others write well first.

I read blogs because I’m a blogger. When you stumble upon big blogs like AllFreelanceWriting, TheRenegadeWriter, YoungPrePro, QuickSprout or MakeALivingWriting I know I’m going to learn a big deal about how to widen my blogging horizons and I regularly discover new angles and new niches.

I read magazines because I want to pitch them and because I want to stay informed. Also, magazines are a precious resource of new ideas, potential sources and prospects (because I may not be interested in pitching the magazine itself, but a company that advertises on that specific publication in a specific niche).

I read white papers and case studies because they’re great for background research, they provide useful information about a subject (yes, I have used white papers to complement my university studies, too!) and they show you how YOU can write a successful white paper or case study.

Read anything that interests you. And sometimes, even what you have no real interest in. Your mind takes in all the new angles and voices and will come up new connections.

I used fiction to experiment with different types of writing

Whether it was Character blogging, fanfiction or short stories, using fictional situations helped me explore different niches and types of writing.

If you’re a blogger interested in finance, you could create a fictional character that works in a bank and writes detailed journal entries about his experiences.

If you want to learn how to write a case study, you may invent a fictional corporation and write about how you (and that’s yourself or a fictional person you created for the exercise) helped it achieve a certain goal.

There’s no limit to imagination, is there? Then use it at your own advantage.

I explored the available markets in length and breadth

Research, research, research. It’s the only way to learn what the market expects from you.

Whether you wish to write for a magazine, a blog or a company website (copywriting), your pitches and proposals won’t get your the job unless you have done your homework. Prospects want to know that you understand their niche, that you keep up to date with the industry and that you’re flexible enough to find connections on your own.

Want to land more gigs? Give your curiosity a boost and use it to improve your research skills. :-]

When I had a hard time understanding a niche, I studied

No human being was born with an encyclopedia installed in their brain.

You have to keep learning throughout your life, keep up to date with niches that interest you, find new connections between topics and build up your vocabulary when the industry you’re interested into is filled with technical terms and foreign words.

If you didn’t enjoy studying back in school days, make an effort to start doing that now. Trust me, the confidence you will build this way will keep you going even when an assignment will look more like a nightmare than an easy gig.

When it was the English language to bug me, I made an effort to learn from my mistakes and hone my skills

I’m not a native English speaker. I started learning English in high school and I have only used the language for as little as 13 years.

What did I do to reach today’s competencies?

Simple: after high school I developed a hobby for text translation. I also began reading novels and manuals in English, which helped me improve my skills.

But online chats where the thing that really made a difference. When you chat, you only have seconds to a few minutes to IM a person without interrupting the flow of the conversation. To put it simply, chats force you to think in English rather than translating from a language to another. After only six months, my skills improved considerably.

Not a native English speaker? :-] CHAT!

How did you get started on freelance writing? Share your experience in the comments below.

Image credit: Tyron Francis

8 Questions You Should Ask Yourself Before You Accept To Write For FREE

Posted in Freelanc-ink, Marketing Toolbox

Free writing?Free “gigs” are easy to find.

Which prospect will say “no” to the possibility to get a writer to work for them at no cost?

But often writers won’t get any benefit from their effort. What’s in for us in a free “gig”? Experience certainly isn’t enough of a reward.

The truth is: you should only write for free when you can get something back for the effort.

I do write for free, but I won’t just write free content for every business or magazine that crosses my path.

There are 8 questions I use to guide myself to discern the real opportunities from the downright exploitation. A writer’s time is too precious to waste on work people won’t pay out of pure greed.

Keep reading to discover how you can protect yourself from the sharks!

My 8 Anti-Exploitation Questions

1. Will I get a byline with this article/blog post/sales letter/etc.? — The truth is: there is no point in writing for free if you can’t get a byline. There’s no ROI of the time you spent to research, interview, write, edit and proofread. Don’t accept to write for free if you’re not provided with a byline.

2. Can I rise my reputation level if I write this? — Reputation makes a writer into a successful writer. Even if a clip doesn’t pay you money but rewards you in reputation, it will be worth inserting into your writing portfolio.

3. Can I direct more organic traffic to my website? — Whether your website is only mentioned along with your name in the byline or linked for SEO benefits, you will get a part of your client’s traffic redirected to your website. Every time I accept to write for free, I make sure my work (be it a guest post or a cartoon) is not only bylined, but it also links back to my website so I can get targeted traffic for my niche. Nofollow links are fine as well, because even though they won’t pass search engine benefits, they are still human-clickable links readers can follow.

4. Will the clip get me in front of the right audience? — When you write for free, you want to give yourself an opportunity to reach your target audience, the only audience you can get relevant feedback from. Ask your free client questions about their readership before you accept to write for them.

5. Will the clip help me in my marketing and prospecting efforts? — Think of free, reputable opportunities as marketing tools to up your chance to find new prospects and, hopefully, land new high paying gigs.

6. Will the clip get me more contacts in my niche? — The person you choose to write for might work in an industry that’s relevant for you and may introduce you to one or more of their contacts— who knows? Make sure to learn a bit about their background, scrutiny their website and social media account. Explore your free client’s reach and reputation before you make a decision.

7. Can I learn anything new with this opportunity? — Learning is an underrated benefit. Can you expand your knowledge about a niche as you write for free for this individual, association, noprofit and whom else? If you can, don’t disdain the project (just make sure it’s small and quick enough to get done).

8. Will this free gig eat up too much of my time? — No excuses on this one. If a free project is going to take too long to get done, or will require too much effort on your side, you better pass. Your time is for earning a living.

The Exception?— Yes, There Is One. Just ONE.

Pro bono work. Small projects you want to do because you know they’re going to benefit the needy and will make you feel better about yourself, too.

But I don’t need to remind you to keep this kind of projects spare throughout the year and only in your leisure time, do I?

What do you do to protect yourself from no-payers?

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Writing Innocence, Where Have You Gone? — The Adult’s Writer’s Block (And How To Get Rid Of It)

Posted in Freelanc-ink, Thoughts On Writing

The secret to a high word count Read her, please!

Why write for money? I want to write for Love! I want to cry along my characters, be their shade as they walk down the streets of their imaginary world. I want to write because one day, when I’ll be older, my children and grandchildren can have a piece of me to keep forever, a piece that will be part of my family’s history.  Who cares if it doesn’t make money. I write because I can, and because it’s my dream.

That was me. At 13.

It was 1998, the year I spent rewriting a novel I wrote in primary school, one based on the crossover/remake of the Transformers cartoon series and a Japanese anime called Gordian. A novel I pitched to an important Italian publisher— completely unaware of copyright issues. Actually, I didn’t even know what copyright was. I just had fun writing.

That novel got rejected (of course), but it sealed my commitment to getting published, one day.

So I kept writing. If not every day, at least twice a week.

But the entrance into adult age changed something. The magic was lost, even though I didn’t want it to. The adult world pressured me to ‘do things for money’ so much that I started to feel guilty every time I approached a project out of pure genuine interest, either it involved money or not. I began to drop projects based on pay.

Was that the right thing to do?

My writing muse screams ‘NO’.

The Fundamental Cause Behind Adult Writer’s Block

As a kid, the only thing that would cause me to put writing projects on hold was going to school and getting homework done. Or having to go out with my parents on family trips that didn’t involve time for writing. But as an adult, I found myself getting blocked for a different reason (plus a gazillion smaller silly ones):

Am I really good enough to even begin this project?

Or put in other terms: What right do I have – me, a lowly writer whose English is not even her first language – to submit my stupid ideas to important publications?

The ‘important publication’ could be a blog, an e-zine, a newsletter, a print magazine, a short-story anthology. Anything. Even the lowest paying small circulation magazine or blog would appear too important in my eyes.

Where did my writing innocence go? Why am I unable to ‘just write’ without having crazy internal editors get in the way? There was no editor who could stop me at 13. There are way too many to deal with now.

Recover That Writing Innocence Before It’s Too Late

If you read this far, you might be on my same boat. You need to recover that writing innocence from your childhood if you want to further your writing career and be successful at what you do. There’s more than one way to subject yourself to ‘writing therapy’, but remember that no method will work until you make it a commitment to heal fast and get your writing muse back.

1. Pen and paper in hand, close your eyes and write. Who cares if you overwrite your own words, go overboard or if your handwriting looks more like a kindergarten kid’s first attempt at writing? What counts is that you hiss your consciousness and just follow the trail of your thoughts. When you are done, put pen and paper away (without looking at it) and do something else. Later, grab your paper and edit. There might be food for more than one article, short-story or newsletter inside those ‘crappy’ lines.

2. Write wherever your heart commands. If that’s the white border of your daily newspaper, that’s fine. If that’s the back of your grocery shop receipt, go for it. If that’s the palm of your own hand, it’s no problem (just make sure you can wash it away!). Don’t make time for writing, just write. It can be as urgent as food when you’re starving.

3. Don’t wait for an editor’s response. Write away! I realize this goes against all the advice you’ve heard about focusing your efforts on tasks at hand when freelance writing, but sometimes waiting means losing the momentum and the joy for the piece you want to write. So, don’t wait for your editor’s ‘go ahead’ to start writing! As freelance writer Christina Katz says in her her book Writer Mama, prewrite your features! And not just those, but fillers, columns and blog posts, too. That is how the post you’re reading was written— straight from the heart. And refined, edited later.

4. Use a tape or mp3 recorder (or your cellphone recording function) to note down your ideas. This is no new advice for freelance writers, but it turns out incredibly helpful when you want to get rid of your internal editors and just let your writing muse speak. Free! You’ll have time to put your vocal notes in order later.

5. Make (or leave) your notepads as messy as you can. Trying to write orderly when you’re noting down ideas and outlines only hinders your ability to write freely and it freezes any new idea twist or slant you had been working on inside your mind. Keep your innocence alive, let it make your heart pound!

And be a child again. You need it. 🙂

What do you do to feed your writing innocence?

Image credit mpclemens via Compfight