When I decided that I wanted to embark on a career as a writer, I had a clear image in mind.
I would sit in my London flat, smoking endless cigarettes, in silk pyjamas and brainstorming weird and wonderful concepts. I would be a solitary soul. Passionate only about the written word, driven by a desire to tell engaging stories and build connections with strangers online.
I do not live in London anymore. As a writer, (or a banker) London is nauseatingly expensive. And the idea of sitting in my five-bed house-share’s dingy kitchen, that was already filled with smoke (the cannabis kind – one of my housemates was unemployed) was frankly laughable. So, I took a slight career detour and somehow ended up as a copywriter.
Quite a few of you have messaged me various questions around writing, namely how the fuck do you get people to pay you for it? Whilst I am (in no way or form) any sort of authority, I wanted to put them in one place as some sort of resource for those of you interested in the UK’s most unreliable career.
How do I become a writer?
Firstly, do you like writing? Like do you really, really like writing? Sounds simple, but when you’re eleven articles deep and frantically messaging editors, you might find that your passion for the written word takes a rather sharp nose dive. The easiest way to test this is to get writing, every night. Ideally on a blog, with your name on it. If you haven’t got a portfolio, then start writing a blog.
Portfolios and other career injustices.
Like most creative jobs, a CV will not cut it. You must also present samples of your work, and just like a CV, you need to really think about who you’re pitching to. Ideally, you have two portfolios: Corporate and personal. Your corporate one covers your content stuff, professional website content, LinkedIn articles and ghostwriting. Personal is everything else.
Great portfolio sites are Clippings, Mudrack and Contently – dependant on who/ what you write for. I am such a hypocrite for saying this (as I’m forever forgetting to update it), but it should be up to date. A good portfolio has a variety of different platforms (web, print and social) with your best content. That article you knocked up five years ago about Topshop will not cut it. This is your showcase.
Once you have a lovely looking portfolio, link it to everything. On your LinkedIn, Twitter and even in your email signature. Have it ready to go at all times.
Pitching is by far, the worst bit about writing freelance. If you don’t possess an unusual fetish for rejection, then this bit can be quite tough, because you’re going to be rejected, a lot.
Cold pitching is basically contacting editors with story ideas. It is not spamming editors with irrelevant stuff. Firstly, check the publication. You should know what kind of stories they publish, there’s nothing wrong with pitching something a bit different, but really demonstrate that you know the audience.
Secondly, actually read the content they publish. All good writers read, and they read a lot. If you can’t sum up their demographic and content in a sentence then you do not know the platform well enough.
If you’ve done all that, then go for it. Pitch a story idea with a snappy headline, attach your portfolio and drop it over to the editor. Early morning pitches are best, so you don’t end up at the bottom of the pile. But, do not send them a finished article. I cannot stress that bit enough. You should send them a headline and a synopsis:
How the f**k do I become a writer?
An informative article aimed at those venturing into the world of freelance writing. Roughly 400 words.
You want to be pitching every day for your first month. And I mean every day, this isn’t the 80:20 diet, you need to be finding contacts and emailing a different editor every single day.
The important bit – getting paid.
Agree your rate early on, if someone has agreed to your pitch, normally editors will outline how much they pay. If they don’t, ask what their budget is for the project. Once everyone’s happy and you’ve sent over the content, download an invoice template and drop it over to them.
Now is also a great time to know your rights. If someone pays you late, you can charge late fees, you should also have a look over the small claims court process. This will happen to you at some point in your career and it’s worth learning the ropes now.
There you have it, the basics of a career in writing. I wasn’t sure how much detail you guys might want on this, so just drop me a comment if you want a follow up on anything specific.