Getting started as a freelance writer

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When I was younger, I loved to write. While other kids in my class took grammar and punctuation lessons, I took creative writing classes where we wrote stories and printed and bound them into proper books. I submitted poetry for publishing when I was in grade 6. In high school, I went to see Shakespeare in the park and attended writing festivals for young writers.

There’s a (somewhat rueful) saying amongst Canadian children of Asian immigrant parents – You have three career choices: engineering, medicine or accounting. School came easily to me and I had good grades, so my parents encouraged a science education (with the hope that I’d eventually go to med school). University came and went, and I ended up working in life sciences research, specifically in the biomedical research industry.

So how did I end up getting a job as a writer for a science magazine?

I had a bit of a quarter-life crisis at the age of 24 or 25. I knew I wanted to do something different, but I was being torn in a lot of different directions trying to figure out what I wanted to do. I knew I could write, but I had nothing to show prospective employers.

 

Getting started with writing

I decided to submit a few pieces of writing to the local monthly newsletter of my professional organization. They were always desperately looking for submissions and it was a good way to get the writing juices flowing without any real risk. To my surprise, my pieces were well received and I even received compliments from several colleagues. I followed that up by submitting a longer article for the organization’s national magazine, which is read by several hundreds of people across the country. It was also well received!

Then I tried my luck at blogging and started up a science blog. It didn’t make any money but I was able to write about the things in science that actually interested me – big picture stuff, genomics, evolution, and ethics. I got on Twitter and met lots of other writers and like-minded people. I also volunteered to write for anyone who would let me have my own byline – event listings, music reviews, anything. It was during the height of my blog that I got lucky and caught a break.

 

Writing as a career ?

I have a reputation amongst my friends for always looking at the job boards and forwarding interesting jobs to people I knew. I like looking at job listings. I’m not sure why! I still do enjoy looking at them. One day, one of my friends forwarded a job posting to me. It was a advertisement for a “science blogger”. I applied, sent a few of my writing samples, and … I got the job! After a six month try-out, I’ve been writing for them regularly once a month.

For me, the key was simply persistence and a willingness to do something I loved – writing – simply for the because I enjoyed it.  I’m not saying that everyone who does something that they love will eventually make a living from it, or even make money from it.  Starving artists, musicians and actors all over the world would no doubt prove me wrong.  But you do yourself a disservice you don’t try at all.

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6 Comments

  1. After blogging for about 2 months now, I am currently not making any money out of it, but I still enjoy writing. I have actually thought about becoming a freelance writer on the side, focusing more on the writing than the technical aspects of blogging. Where did you look for writing jobs? Are there specific freelance writing sites or was it on job search sites such as Workopolis?

    • CF says:

      The best writing jobs are got were by looking through websites of companies that do things I had knowledge in. For example, my background is in science, so I looked at a lot of scientific societies/magazines to see who needed writers. These paid a typical freelancer fee of 0.30-0.40 cents a word for a researched article of 450-600 words in length.

      I also found shorter piece jobs through Craigslist. Many smaller businesses look for writers, and I would typical get a flat fee of $10-15 for copywriting and news releases of about 250 words.

      From there, most of the additional work I have received was through referrals.

      Hope that helps!

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