Hand on my heart, writing as a freelance journalist was one of the biggest and most fulfilling highlights of my career.
For eight years I wrote for the most inspiring magazines, such as Grazia Australia, body+soul, Real Living, Cosmopolitan, Good Health, and Lorna Jane Active Living. Every day my brain and heart would explode in unison a little bit. I found it. My calling. My passion. These days I’m focussed on other passions, such as copywriting, editor, writing cards, and penning books. But I’m forever grateful for my epic portfolio from all those years and the lessons I learned.
Is writing your passion too? Do you want to get paid for doing what you love?
Here are my top tips for shifting gears and making cash from your craft…
1. Write daily
Grab your favourite pen, a fresh page in a notebook, and let loose. When you get going do not edit and do not stop. Write about absolutely anything. Don’t worry about what’s coming out, because you’re doing something wonderful: you’re opening the door to your creative mind. That’s fantastic for improving your skills as a writer. Honestly, it’s the best habit to get into.
The more time you devote to writing, the more you’re improving your self-discipline too. This is handy for being a freelance writer, as you’ll need lots of it. It’s also developing your patience and self-belief. Aim for 20 minutes every day.
2. Find your niche(s) and your voice
What do you love about life? What do you think about all the time? What gets you into heated debates? What features most in your daydreams? What are you deeply passionate about? Notice what you love to talk and learn about, because that’s guiding you right into your purpose, your niche, your calling.
The tone of your writing is also really important. Ideally, it should sound just like you do when you talk. Conversational is what you need to aim for, but depending on who you’re writing for, it might need to be a little tighter, a touch more polished. Ensure you can easily read your writing – outloud – back to yourself, then it will be effortless for others to read as well. And while you’re reading it back to yourself, edit it as though it was you speaking to a friend. An eloquent monologue. And don’t forget to give it flavour, your flavour.
3. Read everything
I find the more I read, the better I write. When I’m in regular contact with other writers ~ their opinions, voices, humour, style, and use of words ~ be it through books, online or magazines, my mind soaks it all up and I have a bigger well to write from. When I haven’t read for a while I can see it in my writing. My words feel stiff; sentences difficult to stretch out and bring to life. But when I’m inspired, everything is exciting, anything can be turned into an idea.
4. Honour all your ideas
You’ve thought of a great idea, you’re excited about unwrapping it, but you’re in the car, or in bed, or at a dinner party. You think to yourself: Of course I’ll remember this later… it’s brilliant! Actually, you probably won’t. Pull the car over (safely), get up, or get your phone, and write it down. Now. Before you get distracted. Write while it’s fresh and bright. Use notepads, apps on your phone, or put sticky notes on your computer.
Brilliant ideas will strike at any time, but usually when you’re relaxed and happy. I can’t tell you how many ideas I’ve had in the shower, after meditation, on a walk, out for dinner, and just before I go to sleep. Don’t let them slip away, because you probably (almost definitely!) won’t remember them later when it’s convenient.
5. Find your flow
I absolutely cannot write an article if I’m not in the right mood. If I don’t feel aligned I’ll do anything else. I’ll research, I’ll contact people I need to interview, I’ll get together information, I’ll update social media, I’ll clean the oven, I’ll eat all the chocolate… but I simply cannot write the thing. I’ve learned not to force it. My peak time for writing is after lunch or sometime in the evening. Yet somehow I come up with my best ideas in the morning. Figures.
6. Let it breathe
There you are, you’ve come up with a smashing idea for a magazine, you’ve fleshed it out and you absolutely cannot wait to send it off to the editor. You type it into an email, you can’t imagine there’s anything wrong with it, so you hit send. Only the next day when you look at the sent email you realize there are not only spelling mistakes, but you could have been so much clearer when presenting the idea.
Let all your ideas breathe for a day or at least a few hours before you send.
Same goes for completed articles. Don’t aim to finish them on the day you want to send them off. Try to get a draft together at least a few days earlier. When you’re happy with the article, print it out and sit with it away from the computer when you’re feeling refreshed. Take a pen to the article and you’ll see it with fresh eyes.
Giving it time allows you space to hear your intuition. Trust it. If your gut doesn’t like a sentence, paragraph or idea, or you just feel hesitant about it, change or delete it. Your intuition can usually pick up on something that doesn’t feel right.
7. Know your audience
Who’s your target audience? What are they reading? What’s stopping them from being happy? Do they have a family? Are they tight on time? What are their struggles and fears? Do they travel? What do they buy? What do they desire most? How do you want to serve them with what you write? How do you want them to feel?
Your audience will be different depending on the magazine you’re writing for. It’s so worth taking the time to figure them out before you send out an idea to the editor. The more you know about your audience, the more you can speak right to them. And that’s the key to a successful article.
8. Get in touch
Approaching a magazine can be done in a few ways. You can track down their submissions guidelines – either in the magazine or on their website. You can also take a more direct approach and call the magazine, where you’ll probably chat to the editorial coordinator. Ask them who looks after the section of the magazine you want to write for, and if you could please have their email address.
Now take your time and form a short but sweet email. Tell them you’re a long-time reader and passionate writer, and you’d really like to write for them. Tell them a bit about yourself, but be brief. Send them one or two links to your blog posts – or online articles – that highlight your best work.
Outline two or three article ideas with a one paragraph explanation for each detailing how you imagine writing the article. If you have written the complete articles, or a more in-depth explanation, attach this to the email too. Keep the resolution low, and only send pictures if they’ve been requested.
9. Meet face to face
Sitting at home sending emails isn’t the only way to get yourself known. Hang out at events, take writers you admire out for a coffee/kombucha, find ways to network that put you in touch with people in media. Take a workshop at your local writers’ centre, pop into book signings to meet authors, keep your eye out for temp or part-time positions in the media, and ask around for work experience. The more people you know in the media, the more likely you are to get a recommendation or commission.
10. Nail a commission
It’s hard waiting on a reply, but be patient. Resist the urge to contact them after two days to check if they received the email (they did), and don’t call them either (they’re insanely busy). If you’ve heard nothing for two weeks, feel free to drop them a line with another article idea, and make sure you forward your last email, a subtle reminder of who you are and what you’re up to. If you’ve been at it for a few months and heard nothing, it’s time to move onto a new publication.
If you do get a commission, thank them and let them know you’ll have the article to them on time. This sounds obvious, but make sure you get the article in a day or two early. And if you have any questions, ask them straight away. As for the pay, you might need to start out and work your way up from there. Low is 30c. Amazing is $1. Find something in between that you’re happy with and go from there. Some editors have only one rate that cannot be negotiated. A set rate is a set rate, and once you feel you’re worth more, find someone else who pays more. Simple (but not always easy).
When the article is published, remember that they’ve paid for your words, and the copy belongs to them. This is not an article you can post on your website or anywhere else. You can post short excerpts of it, but always with a mention of the magazine and publishing date. If in doubt, ask them.
11. Keep your message clear
Say what you need to say with creativity and clarity. Use a thesaurus where you need to, but not everywhere. Know the rules of grammer so deeply that you can break them whenever you feel like it. Go easy on the exclamation points, asterisks, and avoid abbreviations and emoticons. Use ‘and’ instead of & or +, and save the hashtags for social media (unless totally appropriate for your reader). Also watch your repetitions; you need to be aware of the words you overuse because they’ll stand out to everyone else.
12. Believe in yourself
You have something gorgeous and unique to share with the world. Don’t hold back! Find the confidence to make your writing dreams a reality, and before you know it you’ll be coaching other writers on how on earth you do it.