Become a Freelance Writer: Career Guide

Research the requirements to become a freelance writer. Learn about the job description and duties and read the step-by-step process to start a career in freelance writing.

Do I Want to Be a Freelance Writer?

Freelance writers are contracted employees who are typically paid per writing assignment or per batch of assignments. These professionals often work from home and may be employed by multiple clients. With the evolution of technology, freelancers typically conduct most, if not all, of their work using computers and often submit finished pieces to clients via the Internet. As salaried positions become more difficult to secure, competition for freelance jobs may increase, and writers' incomes may be somewhat unpredictable.

Job Requirements

Education is helpful in developing and honing writing skills, but experience and samples of published work often carry more weight with prospective employers. A degree in journalism or a related field might be advantageous, however, when competing for assignments. The following table outlines the requirements for freelance writers:

Common Requirements
Degree Level Although not always needed, some clients may require a bachelor's degree*
Degree Field English, journalism, communications*
Experience Varies based on client expectations*
Key Skills Writing skills, including excellent spelling, grammar and research abilities, creativity, persistence, persuasion abilities, flexibility*
Computer Skills Multimedia software, word processing programs, quick typing ability*
Additional Requirements Basic knowledge of graphic design and page layout; marketing, management, accounting and other business skills can be beneficial*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

While formal education isn't required, freelance writers often have a bachelor's degree in English, journalism or communications. Common courses in these programs might include literature, creative writing and introductory journalism. Some colleges and universities even offer freelance writing courses that can benefit students looking to break into the field.

Success Tips:

  • Write for school publications. Writing for student-run publications, such as newspapers, magazines, blogs or newsletters, can help aspiring freelance writers improve their writing skills. These opportunities can also provide writers with valuable experience and professional writing samples.
  • Take business courses. Marketing and accounting classes can show freelancers how to promote themselves to clients and manage their finances as independent contractors.
  • Take computer classes. Since the majority of freelance work is conducted online, the more computer-savvy a freelance writer is, the better. Computer classes can help an aspiring writer learn how to use word processing, spreadsheet and multimedia software.
  • Participate in an internship. An internship in journalism can help aspiring freelancers advance and build upon their skills outside of the classroom. Internships may also appeal to potential clients when listed on a writer's resume.

Step 2: Build a Portfolio

A portfolio consists of samples of published work that highlight a writer's style and composition skills; it's perhaps the most important thing a writer needs when finding freelance work. A beginning writer's portfolio may include work completed in college or through an internship. Collecting a body of published samples may entail writing for newspapers, magazines, blogs or other publications.

Step 3: Seek Freelance Assignments

Much of a freelance writer's time is spent finding work. Writers can find job opportunities through both print and online media. Freelancers can apply for writing positions or send out query letters and article proposals directly to editors of various publications. If an editor approves a proposal, he or she may negotiate a contract with the freelance writer and outline requirements for the article. Freelance writers seldom work for just one publisher and often work for several at the same time.

Success Tip:

  • Join a professional organization. Professional organizations, like the American Society of Journalists and Authors or the National Writers Union, can be helpful for beginning writers. These organizations may offer networking opportunities that help freelancers find new clients, internship opportunities and even insurance discounts. Local writing organizations also exist for writers living in or near major cities.

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