How I Became a Freelance Writer

I am a freelance writer. That is what I do, how I earn my money, and how I spend some of my time (note: some, not all).

Unlike many people, I am not a slave to an office nor do I work the same hours each day. If it is raining, I will sleep in as long as I like and work from home, if it is sunny I might do some writing before I head to the pool – life is pretty flexible for me.

Some days my home is my office, some days I work through a series of cafes, maybe a park or at the beach. Other days, I don’t work at all because I choose my own days off.  It wasn’t always so easy though, and after loads of people asking how I got to where I am it seemed like a great time to write a post on the journey I took to get here.

Don’t get me wrong, I work hard. Sometimes very hard, and I have put in huge amounts of groundwork and long hours over the past year.

I put adverts in the newspaper to get my name out there
I put adverts in the newspaper to get my name out there

Around a year ago I was fed up with my job, I needed an out, I needed a change. A series of events in my life and health problems meant that how I was spending my weeks just wasn’t working out for me.  I was a flight attendant, so certainly not sitting around in an office. I had been working short-haul international with this airline for almost 4 years and had been having the time of my life hopping around the south pacific, Sydney one day, Fiji the next.. But the shift work was HARD, the hours were long and the time away from home was demanding.  It was time for a change.

Writing had been a dream for a while, and a skill I had developed since before I even started school – I was writing stories at age 4 and throughout school creative writing was my favourite class. But I lacked courage. I came from a place in my mind that decided because I didn’t have a journalism degree, or a BA in English, I wasn’t a writer (totally untrue by the way).

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Thanks to a lot of support from my partner, family and friends; I finally resigned. I had about 2-3 months off after this to reflect and pursue what was really important to me.  Not that I had any clue what that was, or how to get there.

One significant moment that sticks in my mind was an impromptu evening of drinking wine with a group of people I’d never met.  I was a bit tipsy and discussing literature with a few interesting people when my drive to write came out, Along with all the self doubts and ‘buts’.  Someone said to me “If you want to write, then just go do it!” (as simple as that sounds it hadn’t really crossed my mind that I could just go out and do this thing I loved) after further prodding and asking what they meant “Just make some business cards that say your a writer, make a website, then go out and get work”.

I designed my business cards & had them printed.
I designed my business cards & had them printed.

Despite my doubts of this plan at the time, turns out that’s exactly what I ended up doing.  Through lots of uncertainty all it really came down to in the end was deciding that I, in fact, was a writer now.

I didn’t make money in the first three months, but I studied – a lot. I listened to hours a day of podcasts on marketing, startups and SEO strategies. I joined writers groups and devoured information on writing. I created a website and started writing articles for anywhere that would publish them online, slowly collecting up a portfolio of things I had written and a huge understanding of how I could go about marketing myself.

I ended up taking a new job, in an office where a small part of my job involved writing and the rest was administrative. I enjoyed it at first, but quickly tired of all the hours sat at a desk watching the sun shining outside. I would get home at 6pm each night and stay up until bedtime writing and working on establishing a personal brand, an online presence. I took time to create my brand, choose my colours and designed a writers portfolio website to show off my skills at http://annamcphee.net

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I resigned from this position only a few months in, thanks to buying one-way plane tickets to Bangkok, Thailand.  I spent the following 6 weeks selling most of my possessions. In November 2014, I took the plunge and left for Asia – with the plan of earning enough freelance writing each week to support the considerably lower costs of living in Thailand.

Anna McPhee Freelance Writer Website
I took time to create my brand, choose my colours and designed a writers portfolio website to show off my skills at annamcphee.net

It might appear to some people that one day I just decided I wanted to travel, jumped on a plane and called myself a writer – this is not at all the case. I wrote this post in part to show that I put in a lot of study & ground work before I left, which enabled me to get online and proactively find gigs for myself.  The other part of this message is that you can essentially re-brand yourself as whatever you want to be.

You don’t need a degree to be a writer – great writing skills help though. Although a journalism degree is certainly very helpful in some corners of the industry,  you can prove your skills just by doing.

The hardest part of this whole journey was finding the confidence, and the self belief, to trust that this would all work out and to take the leap (or in my case.. the flight).

I’ve been away for almost 3 months now, this was our cut-off point. Our ‘if this isn’t working out after three months we will retreat and buy the plane ticket home’. We did just buy a plane ticket, although it wasn’t home. It was for our next destination – Malaysia.

 

Want to Write?

 

Get a Website

Having an online presence is a big help when trying to pick up writing work, it shows you are real person who has real skills. wordpress.com is a  good place for beginners to get started, but if you are looking for more than the restrictive functionally of the free and easy wordpress.com, go for a server that provides wordpress installs I recommend Blue Host  – cheap and a very good support service, the cheaper install gives you up to 5 wordpress installs and includes one domain name in the monthly fee.

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Find a Support Network


I use The Freelance Writers Den, but there are plenty of alternatives around. It really helps to be able to ask questions and have access to lots of useful information, tutorials and webinars.

 


 

Get Writing


Start getting yourself out there, and try to get as much feedback as possible. Stephen King was known for collecting all his rejection letters and pinning them to the wall above his desk – reminders of how to become better and of how far he had come. A good editor can be a bit of a hit to the ego, but an incredible valuable resource for improving your writing skills

 


 

Read


Read, read, read and don’t ever stop. Read about writing (I personally recommend On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King and Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott, just to get started) and then read about whatever interests you. It is important to read great writing and to read terrible writing, even if the only purpose is to learn to tell the difference between the two. Learn about the styles you like, practice emulating your favourite writers in your own style. Even those considered the most successful writers in the world still claim to reading for a few hours a day.

 

 

 

 

5 thoughts on “How I Became a Freelance Writer

  1. Pingback: How I got Freelancing on Elance - Jet Setting and Living Well

  2. Pingback: 7 Awesome Jobs That'll Pay You To Travel The World

  3. Kevin Casey Reply

    Good one, Katie! There are actually a lot more people doing this than people think. If you have a laptop and reliable Wi-Fi, you can write from anywhere on the planet. I was sitting on the shores of Lake Bled, Slovenia last year when I got an email from a writing client in Australia. Fast forward a few months and I’ve made more from freelance writing than I did in my normal job.

    Too many writers fall into the trap of just perusing writing sites (where there are a gazillion other writers competing with them. But a simple WordPress writer site, a bit of networking (I’ve got some great-paying clients from LinkedIn) and you’re on your way. The trick is to look for long-term clients, not short-term assignments.

    I write 8 months of the year, and explore wildernesss rivers all over the world the rest of the time (www.remoteriverman.com)

    There is no better time in history to be a freelance writer than right now.

    Good luck – if you get a chance to visit Sabah (Malaysian Borneo), do it – it’s an awesome place!

    Cheers,
    Kevin Casey

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