Become a Freelance Writer: Career Guide

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

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  • 0:00 Should I Become a…
  • 1:13 Step 1: Earn a…
  • 2:22 Step 2: Build a Portfolio
  • 2:48 Step 3: Seek Freelance…

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Video Transcript

Should I Become 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 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 cause a writer's income to fluctuate. According to Payscale.com, the median wage for freelance writers was $28 per hour as of January 2016.

Education is helpful in developing and honing writing skills, but experience and samples of published work often carry the most weight with prospective employers. A degree in journalism or a related field might be advantageous when competing for assignments and provides the skill set necessary for the career.

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 and research skills, creativity, persistence, computer and typing skills, and marketing and accounting abilities

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

Now let's walk through the steps toward a career as a freelance writer.

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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. These programs commonly include coursework in literature, creative writing, and introductory journalism. They also tend to include internships that provide valuable experience outside of the classroom and can be listed on one's resume to appeal to potential clients. Students can also cater their electives toward a career in freelance writing. Some colleges and universities even offer freelance writing courses that can benefit students looking to break into the field.

You may also considering taking marketing and accounting classes, which can instruct freelancers on how to promote themselves and manage their finances as independent contractors, as well as computer classes that train students in word processing, spreadsheet, and multimedia software.

Here's a tip for success:

  • Write for school publications. Aspiring freelance writers can improve their writing skills by writing for student publications, such as newspapers, magazines, blogs, or newsletters. These opportunities provide writers with valuable experience and professional writing samples.

Step 2: Build a Portfolio

A portfolio consists of samples of published work that highlight a writer's style and composition skills. When looking for freelance jobs, a writer needs a portfolio to present to clients. 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 without payment.

Step 3: Seek Freelance Assignments

A sizable portion of a freelance writer's time is spent looking for work. Writers can find job opportunities through both print and online media. There are different methods for finding assignments. 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.

Here's one last tip for success:

  • Join a professional organization. Professional organizations, like the American Society of Journalists and Authors or the National Writers Union, offer networking opportunities that assist freelancers with acquiring clients, internship opportunities, and even insurance discounts. Local writing organizations also exist for writers living in or near major cities.

Becoming a freelance writer generally requires a bachelor's degree in English, journalism, or communications; a portfolio of writing samples; and the persistence necessary for finding and pursuing writing assignments.

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