All who have ever tried to break into the freelance writing business know how difficult it is. To attract readers and editors, we must consistently perform at the top of our writing ability. The content must be meaningful, the structure engaging, and every word must convey the right meaning, feeling, and connotation. But this is not enough. We can’t rely on just being good writers. Hell, not even word-magicians like Tim Neville or Paul Salopek can type their pieces out, put it in a drawer, and call it a day. There is an immense amount of work around it as well.
As freelance writers, we need to wear many hats. We must know how to run a company, including everything which it entails: client communication, paying taxes, and managing invoices. We also need to be competent at marketing ourselves, selling our brand, and understand how to network successfully with readers, editors, and potential clients. Additionally, if we want to target online publications, we must hook readers quicker and have a sound knowledge of search engine optimization (SEO).
For the aspiring writer, all of this may seem daunting and intimidating. How do you learn all of these things? What do you learn first? And where do you find the information you need?
I have, like anybody already in the business, asked myself these same questions. And as I am still relatively new in the game, the struggle is still fresh. To learn what I needed to know, I have spent weeks combing the internet, scoured book stores (okay, actually only the Kindle store), and raked through hours of video lessons. To be fair, it is not easy to come by quality information. There is an abundance of “do this today, and you’ll earn six figures next week.” Thus, to save you the hassle, here follows a compilation of all sources of information you need to start a career as a freelance writer.
Skillshare is one of many online learning platforms out there. It offers people a place to publish video lessons, teaching you their skills. Whether you want to learn cooking, photography, graphic design, or freelance writing, there will be something for you. I have spent countless hours on Skillshare, learning about freelancing, article writing, blogging, and SEO. Currently, they offer a free trial period for all new members, which should give you enough time to learn everything you need for free. After the trial period is up, they will bill you automatically, unless you cancel your subscription before.
Here is a list of the best Skillshare courses for aspiring freelance writers. Don’t forget to grab a new notebook.
Freelance Writing 101 by Brad Merrill
Freelance Writing 101 is one of the most comprehensive sources of information about how to launch a career as a freelance writer. It is the first lesson series I watched when starting my journey, and it is still one of my favorites.
In the course, Brad covers everything from the mindset needed as a freelance writer, how to choose a niche, how to build a portfolio. He discusses how to pitch publications, how to win clients, and then how to successfully write your pieces. If you watch the whole course, I can guarantee that you will have an excellent understanding of the essential elements of running a freelance writing business.
Travel Writing 101 by Rosie Bell
As suggested by the name, Rosie gears Travel Writing 101 towards the aspiring travel writer. However, the principles she shares with you are not exclusive to one niche. The general ideas are the same, whether you are writing about an island in French Polynesia or Apple’s latest invisible headphones.
In Travel Writing 101, Rosie takes you through how to find your first clients, the art of pitching editors, how to be a better writer, and how to run the business side. Although you might think it sounds similar to the previous course — remember that not everything works for everybody. You might find that one strategy works better for you than the other. In the two video courses, they discuss these issues from different perspectives, complementing each other.
Creative Writing: Crafting Personal Essays with Impact by Roxane Gay
It is easy to believe that How-to posts and listicles will be the beginning and end of your freelance writing career. With every blog online overflowing with these posts, one might think that “the 5 best this-and-that” is the only type of piece that will interest readers. This is not true. All of us have life experiences that can educate and entertain others. If you can isolate these lessons from your life, you will be able to write thrilling creative non-fiction.
Roxane Gay is an outstanding personal essayist who covers, for example, social injustice, feminism, and racial issues. In Crafting Personal Essays with Impact, she teaches you how to identify the lessons worth sharing within your experiences, and how to get them down on paper in a way that will capture your readers.
Introduction to SEO: Tactics and Strategy for Entrepreneurs by Rand Fishkin
If you ever plan to write guest posts or ghostwrite for blogs, you need to delve into search engine optimization. SEO is a way for search engines (read Google) to recognize what your posts are about and rank them for different keywords. A lot goes into ranking well on Google, including the post length, the number of links in the posts, keywords used, and where you place them within the text. While writing posts with search engines in mind, you need to remember that the reader always comes first. Therefore, the piece needs to be informational, engaging, and read naturally.
Rand Fishkin is one of the leading voices in the world of SEO, and the co-founder of SEO empire Moz. In this video course, he teaches you everything you need to know to create posts optimized for your readers and Google alike, whether you run a blog, or create content for others.
If you are hungry on this subject, he offers a sequel to this Skillshare course, called SEO Today: Strategies to Earn Trust, Rank High, and Stand Out.
Reading blogs is another invaluable source for learning how to launch your new career as a freelance writer. We all acquire knowledge in different ways, and you might find that reading suits you better than watching videos or listening to podcasts.
There are many blogs out there dedicated to teach you how to improve your writing, how to run your business more efficiently, and how to step up your SEO game.
Some helpful tips:
- Download the free tool Feedly. With it, you can gather all your favorite blogs into a custom-tailored feed, and keep all relevant information coming through one channel.
- Sign up for newsletters of helpful blogs. I have received a lot of great information from blogs without even having to search for it.
- Create a bookmark folder for informational blog posts that you might want to revisit at a later date.
Here follows a list of blogs that I have found especially helpful.
The Write Life is one of the best blogs out there for aspiring freelance writers. They provide countless hours of reading about the writing process, freelancing, marketing, and publishing. The Write Life gives you practical advice on how you can make a living from your writing. If I could only recommend one blog, this would be it.
How to Respond When a Client Says Your Rate is Too High
In the freelance writing industry, it's easy to undervalue yourself and your skill. Just take a quick look at some of…
As suggested by the name, Smartblogger is created for bloggers. According to many, every freelance writer should run a blog, as it serves as a testimony of your writing skills. On Smartblogger, you will find tons of information on how to run your blog successfully. It also provides excellent advice on how to be a better writer.
How the Humble Analogy Can Give Your Writing More Punch
Give yourself credit. You're a solid writer with good ideas. But... you feel like you've reached a plateau. People like…
Writer’s Digest has existed in magazine-form since 1920 and has continuously strived to help writers improve their craft. Not limited to freelance writers, this blog sets out to educate people, whether it be in writing poetry, fiction, or articles. They also provide loads of handy grammar rules that can help you master the language.
Note: If the writing process is your niche, Writer’s Digest pays contributors good money for accepted pitches.
End the Debate: Why the Oxford Comma (or Serial Comma) is so Cool!
Learn when to use the Oxford comma (or serial comma) with Grammar Rules from the Writer's Digest editors, including a…
Neil Patel — the man, the myth, the… you know the cliché. Mr. Patel is your go-to guy for anything you need to know about the SEO world. He is also the owner of an extremely informative youtube channel, and the SEO tool Ubersuggest. At the moment of writing, Neil is at week three of a seven week-long in-depth series on SEO knowledge and keyword research (week #1 video below).
Week #1 video:
Similar to Neil Patel, Ahrefs is another invaluable source for knowledge about search engine optimization. If you divide your time between these two blogs, you will be an SEO shark in no time. Ahrefs is also the developer of a very advanced SEO tool. Although it’s way out of my budget and I have no first-hand experience with it, I’ve only heard positive things.
Regardless of all the different sources we have at hand nowadays, nothing lives up to the book. Few other mediums can contain so much collected information as the book can. Personally, I retain knowledge more efficiently from reading, than I do from listening. Additionally, if we want to be writers, we must also be readers. Sherman Alexie once said, “Read. Read 1000 pages for every 1 page that you write.”
Remember that information can appear several times when studying a topic. Therefore, you don’t have to be too concerned with reading every single word in these books. Stick to the parts that are relevant to you, allow yourself to skim, or even jump over sections. Also, I would refrain from starting a war with any keep-every-page-pristine person, but I strongly suggest that you go to town with a highlighter for information that needs revisiting and take notes in the margins.
On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King
This masterpiece by Stephen King is divided into five different parts. For example, he talks about his path to becoming one of our time’s most successful authors, and how everything changed after he was hit by a car in 1999. Although I cannot recommend the whole book enough, for the purpose at hand, you can focus on the parts called “Toolbox” and “On Writing.” Here he gives invaluable advice about tone, characters, plot, and much more.
I can hear you protest right away, “But Phil, we’re talking freelance writing here. I’m not writing a novel”. Sure, that is true. But remember that plot and characters are present even in articles, and creative non-fiction. It is all applicable in our context.
Totally agree about the digital prices being too high, but at the end of the day it is down to the publisher in terms…
The Essential Guide to Freelance Writing by Zachary Petit
In The Essential Guide to Freelance Writing, freelance writer and PRINT editor-in-chief Zachry Petit collects and shares all his best advice for aspiring freelance writers. As somebody who has been on both sides of cold-pitch emails, he is in a unique position to tell what works and doesn’t from both the perspective of a writer and an editor.
In this book, you will learn everything from how to improve your creative process, pitch your ideas successfully, and how to structure and write different types of pieces. Of all the sources in this article, this is my personal favorite.
The Essential Guide to Freelance Writing
Truly is an essential guide to freelance writing. Everything from starting freelance writing to style, from editors to…
Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose
As previously stated, if we want to be writers, we also need to read extensively. But how do we read? Reading to improve our writing is not the same as when we read for pleasure. We need to start paying attention to the author’s choices. We need to close read.
In Reading Like a Writer, Francine Prose discusses how to properly close read different elements of a text to successfully distinguish what constitutes good writing, and what doesn’t. Like On Writing, this book is centered around fiction, but everything is applicable for reading articles or blog posts.
Reading Like a Writer
In the last couple of years I've gotten in the habit of devouring books. This is great for certain books, but…
The Elements of Style by William Strunk
Now this book won’t win your heart because of its beautiful prose or spot-on metaphors. Basically, it is a list of “put the comma like this, not like this” from cover to cover. However, it is a short read (around 80 pages), full of absolute must-knows. Taking some of these do’s and don’ts to heart can immensely improve how editors regard your writing. Even Stephen King wants you to read it. In On Writing, he says, “I’ll tell you right now that every aspiring writer should read The Elements of Style.” Do yourself a favor: don’t skip this book.
We have looked at several sources where you can learn the tools of the trade as an aspiring freelance writer. I am confident that if you take the time to go through these sources, you will gather enough knowledge to start creating your own pieces. It might seem like a lot, but if you invest a few weeks into your understanding of the business, you will thank yourself. The return you receive from investing in your knowledge is immense. If you prefer to select just a few of the sources, I would suggest that you, at the very least, watch Freelance Writing 101 on Skillshare and read The Essential Guide to Freelance Writing by Zachary Petit. I also recommend that you read On Writing by Stephen King to let him bash into your head that simpler is better, the active voice is the only voice, and that adverbs are the source of all evil.
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Philip Sundt has been a full-time traveler for over 2 years, has since then visited more than 12 countries, and realized that life on the road is possible — even for an average Joe. Philip covers travel, freelancing, and personal growth. Say hi on Twitter, LinkedIn, or Facebook!
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