Want to learn how to become a freelance writer with no experience? Here’s how you can find freelance writing jobs and make money at home.
Finding a freelance writing job is a dream for many. Being able to make money writing from home can be a great career choice.
Today, I have a great interview about how to become a freelance writer with Alexander Webb. Alexander is a freelance writer for National Geographic, the New York Times, and more.
Alexander Webb and Kristin Wong (writer for New York Times, Glamour, Lifehacker, and more) created Come Write With Us, an online course for writers. This course teaches everything Alexander and Kristin have learned from writing for top newspapers and magazines.
Their course delivers real results and students have become freelance writers for magazines, websites, and one even writes for the New York Times.
Are you wondering questions such as:
- What is a freelance writer?
- How do freelance writers get paid?
- What do you need to become a freelance writer?
- How can I find my first writing job?
Today’s interview will help you get started and perhaps even introduce you to a new way to make money from home.
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How To Become A Freelance Writer
Please give us a background on yourself and how you started as a writer.
Hey! My name is Alex and I’ve written for the New York Times, National Geographic, and more. Kristin Wong (New York Times, CNN, Glamour) and I founded Come Write With Us, a course and community for freelance writers. The course contains everything we wish we knew about freelance writing when we were starting out.
I like writing because it is a mix of learning and creating.
At first, I only wanted to write books, but transitioned into articles after I realized I needed to practice more before tackling bigger projects. I did not study English or Literature, and while I went to University, I did it in Hong Kong.
Can you explain what exactly a freelance writer is? Who do they tend to write for? How do they get paid?
Freelance writers are just self-employed writers. When you pick up a newspaper, read a blog, or pick up a magazine, you might think all the articles are written by full-time employees. But usually many are written by freelancers who pitch articles to editors, write the articles, then get published and paid. In my case, I like the flexibility and freedom to write for whoever I want.
At its best, freelance writing is coming up with an interesting idea and getting paid to write about it.
Speaking of getting paid, there are two common ways to be paid; a flat fee, or by the word. ($1 per word is a common rate for print magazines, so a 2,000 word feature would pay $2000.)
Getting paid by the hour sometimes happens but is pretty rare. Some predatory publications will ask you to write for free. You should essentially never do this.
What are the biggest mistakes most new writers make when starting out?
The biggest mistake most writers make is never getting started. I can’t tell you how many friends of mine say they want to write books or articles, but they keep putting it off.
If you want to do it, you have to force yourself to get started.
The second biggest mistake writers make is about money. Many new writers are scared to ask about money or contracts—don’t be. The only people who are afraid to tell you how much you will be paid are people who won’t pay you. Too many new writers feel shy or embarrassed about their work and don’t feel comfortable standing up for themselves.
If you get a gig, I encourage you to look at the contract carefully, or join an organization that gives writers contract advice, such as the Author’s Guild.
How much can a new writer expect to make? How much can they expect to earn after a few years of experience?
In my case, I started by writing very short blog posts for $50 each. A few years later I worked on a National Geographic project for a low five figure sum.
If you have no experience at all, I’d start by thinking of freelance writing as a side hustle that you can turn into a career with practice. I’d say a new writer should aim for publications that pay in the low hundreds per article. We actually priced the course to be about equal to a single reputable piece. The idea is that you should earn it back (or more!) with your first job or two.
As you continue up the ladder, so to speak, $1 a word is a common rate for major publications. Of course, a big feature in a top magazine might pay even more. Here’s Ta-Nehisi-Coates recounting how earning $2 per word ($16,000 for an 8,000 word story) at The Atlantic changed his life.
You can make six figures as a freelance writer, especially if you do something like technical writing or have a lot of corporate clients, but there are easier ways to make a lot of cash. If your only goal is to make as much money as possible, and you don’t care what you do to make the money, then writing is likely not the best path for you.
Do you have to have a degree in order to become a freelance writer?
The only qualification you need is the desire to write and the time to edit your work.
Having the patience to revise your work is much more important than any sort of degree. One mistake that beginners make is thinking a first draft is ready to send off. Writers often edit their own work many times before they show it to an editor, where even more edits happen.
That said, getting advice and experience, whether from school, our course, or just talking to writers can help you gain skills faster. If you have a degree, or want to pursue one, that’s great. But don’t give up on your dreams just because you didn’t go to journalism school or Harvard or whatever. (If you did do those things, don’t give up on your dreams either!)
I had a pretty nontraditional path. I’m from Charlottesville, VA, but I studied at the University of Hong Kong. I had no family or friends there, I just wanted to see something new. Some people said it was risky and would hurt my career prospects, but honestly I think doing something different taught me a lot and gave me more to write about
How did you improve your writing over time? How can you get better as a writer?
I slowly got better by reading great writers and practicing on my own, but I only really advanced due to advice and mentorship from other writers.
One of those people was Kristin Wong, who eventually co-created Come Write With Us with me. Writing can be solitary, so it’s important to get advice and talk to other people in the industry. Our course and community is one way to do that, but there are a lot of free ways to get started.
You can start a writing accountability group with friends, reach out to writers through email, or just read and write more.
How you start is less important than just making sure you get started, and how you improve is less important than just making sure you’re always improving.
What do you like about being a writer? How has it changed your life?
I like the fact that it constantly forces me to learn new things.
I didn’t know much about medical marijuana, but writing an entire issue of National Geographic on the topic forced me to learn. Along the way, I learned more about ancient religions, the criminal justice system, Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt, and more.
Writing and researching an article is a window into so much knowledge. It’s kind of awe-inspiring and humbling to know there is so much out there that you could write about, but so little time to do it.
It’s also introduced me to wonderful people and exposed me to a diversity of ideas that I probably wouldn’t have encountered otherwise.
How can a person find their first writing job?
There are many different ways to stand out as a new writer.
Beginners think that their only way to stand out is with price. That is, writing for free or cheap. But that’s usually a bad idea.
You should instead try to stand out with quality, knowledge, and enthusiasm.
There are times when it might make sense to write for free. For example, volunteering to write for a charity, church, or other social cause is a great way to get experience while giving back. But you should usually compete on knowledge and enthusiasm. One of our students had never written professionally but knew a company whose products he loved. They didn’t have a blog yet. He pitched them on a series of blog posts at $350 per post—they accepted! When you demonstrate you care and can do a good job, companies or publications will want to pay you.
We have a blog post with information on pitching over 40+ publications, from famous ones to relatively unknown outlets. Also, this is obvious but really works: simply googling “Freelance writing jobs” or searching for those terms on Twitter will produce a lot of results. I once got a quick turnaround book deal based on a job post I found from Google.
How do you find inspiration and avoid writer’s block when things get tough?
Fostering different types of creativity is really important for me. If you want to be a good writer, you need to read great writers. Beyond the classics, I think magazines like the Paris Review are great for this—you get exposed to fiction, nonfiction, poetry and interviews, and there is always something to learn.
I also think having side projects is important. They act as a creative outlet when you’re tired with your main project. I write songs in an indie band called Lonely Singles and have an arts startup called Poetry Culture. Everyone has different working styles, but I think having a few projects allows you to always do something you are motivated about.
I find that putting a song or two on repeat helps me stay focused. But honestly, sometimes it’s just hard. And it’s hard for every writer.
There are also a lot of great books on writing out there. I enjoyed Haruki Murakami’s and Karl Ove Knausgaard’s books about writing. Last but not least, there is nothing like a good deadline to force you into getting your work done
What can a person learn from your course? Can you tell us about some of the people who have successfully taken your course?
If you want to write for top publications you should learn from people who have already done it.
Our pitch is pretty simple—this course has everything you need to start being a freelance writer. It includes honest information strategies we learned along the way, and all the tips and tricks that led to us writing for top publications.
We also have a writing community which is supportive and includes job posts, feedback, and a place to learn from other writers at every level.
We’ve had students with no experience land $1,000+ writing assignments on their first pitch, students land their first published piece after years of trying, and others who applied the skills they learned to writing more for their day job.
One of our students is a professional psychologist who has written for the New York Times. She said “Come Write With Us is THE BEST writing course I’ve taken. As an experienced freelancer who’s taken many classes over the years, the workshop taught me how to take my writing to the next level.”
We have hundreds of happy students but there’s a 30-day refund policy if you’re not happy with the course.
Another student got her first piece published after taking our course, and she wrote us perhaps the most energetic thank you note ever. “I’VE BEEN ACCEPTED!! MY FIRST PITCH EVER!!! OMG I’M SO HAPPY A MILLION THANK YOUS TO ALEX AND KRISTIN!”
For us, that enthusiasm makes it all worth it and we hope that we can help you get your work published too! If you want to get started, click here to sign up for Come Write With Us!
Do you want to learn how to become a freelance writer? What other questions do you have about becoming a freelance writer at home?
Wow, as someone that writes a blog, I’ve never really thought about monetizing my writing skills by being a freelance writer!
At $50 per article, it’s actually quite a decent place to start!
Thanks for putting this interview together – highly relevant for people like me that are trying to practice their writing and communication skills daily (might as well get paid for it).
Alexander Webb says
Glad to hear it Angie! You’re right, even $50 can make a big difference, particularly once you learn to write quickly. From there, even bigger amounts are possible. Regardless of the rate. I find writing to be nice because it’s a mix of creativity and research–and you get to share your work with others. Michelle is a great example of someone touching others through her writing and platform, and I was really glad to be able to share my story on her site. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to reply to me here in the comments!
Thank you Michelle and Alex
I learned a lot just by reading this interview.
I can say that I understand much better what freelance writing is and how to do it successfully, and I think it can be good for me.
I write often usually for myself. It is my way to clear my mind, reflect, think, etc.
I recently moved in the United States (biggest move of my life), and I am a stay-at-home mom. I was looking for something to do during my free time.
Since I write often, I decided a few months ago to start a blog (new experience) inspired by Michelle’s testimony of how she starts and who taught her about online business.
From this interview, I see how it is important for me to improve my writing skills and because I am also learning how to run an online business successfully, I will have 2 reasons to be thankful and proud of myself in upcoming years.
Alexander Webb says
Thanks so much for the kind comment, and congratulations on your move to the USA! I’m glad you hear you’ve started a blog and it’s great you found inspiration from Michelle! I’m here in the comments if you have any questions about writing!