Leaving Work Behind

Get Paid to Write (in 3 Steps)

Written by Tom Ewer on January 25, 2013. 39 Comments

TypewriterI get a lot of emails from people who are just starting out on their online freelance writing journey and feel utterly overwhelmed by how they should start.

Having been a beginner freelance writer myself not so long ago, such memories are still fresh and I can empathize. When I was starting out the very concept of getting paid to write was completely alien and the idea that I should approach people and sell myself as a professional writer was almost absurd. It’s easy to become paralyzed under such circumstances, as you may well appreciate.

With that in mind, I want to break down the process of getting started as a freelance writer into the most basic steps possible. Whilst you can take your approach a great deal further than this, I am going to cover strictly the “must-dos” and push all the rest to one side. If you want to get paid to write but are feeling paralyzed by the perceived enormity of the task ahead, this is a great place to start.

1. Write Great Samples

Forgive me for stating the obvious but you’re not going to get paid writing gigs without first demonstrating an ability to write. As such, putting together some samples is of utmost importance.

However, most beginner freelance writers subconsciously define the word “samples” as “work that I have previously done for other clients”, and immediately see an unavoidable roadblock in their journey to freelancing success. After all, how can you win your first client if you have no samples? The simple answer lies in changing your definition of “samples”.

Put simply, a sample can be any piece of writing. It could be a front page article in The Times or a 200 word stream of consciousness on the back of a napkin. You probably already have samples and didn’t even know it. For instance, I got my first freelance writing job off the back of the blog posts on Leaving Work Behind and nothing else — and the posts weren’t even related to the job I was applying for.

Here’s a brief list of the type of samples you can produce right now:

  1. Posts on your blog (as mentioned above)
  2. An article written in a word processor (just pretend you’re writing an article for a client)
  3. Guest posts on other people’s blogs (download my guide to guest posting)

With the solution of where to procure and how to produce samples out of the way, I will leave you with perhaps the most important piece of advice when it comes to freelance writing — your chances of winning a job are most affected by the quality of your samples. Work hard to ensure that your samples are as good as you can make them and you are far more likely to see a positive return from your efforts.

2. Write Great Pitches

First of all, let’s dispel the myth that there are no freelance writing jobs out there for people who are just getting started. If you are willing to be paid $20-$30 per hour to write whilst you build your reputation then there are no shortage of opportunities, and you can ramp that figure up very quickly after a matter of weeks if you apply yourself.

If you want to know more about finding freelance writing jobs online I would recommend that you read the following posts:

Now let’s talk about great pitches. If “write quality samples” is the best piece of advice I can give you, “write great pitches” follows just behind it. These are the two key pieces of the puzzle — in theory, if you have perfect samples and a perfect pitch, you can land any freelance writing job on offer.

But what makes a great pitch? Well, if you’ve read the first post listed just above then you’ll already have a pretty good idea — here’s a direct link to my tips on creating quality pitches if you haven’t.

3. Improve as a Writer

So many people tell me that they can’t write “naturally” or in a “conversational style”, or that it takes them a long time to write an article. In fact, these are the most common excuses I read for people not getting into freelance blogging, as if the aforementioned abilities are in some way innate and unobtainable.

But back in the real world, nothing could be further from the truth. Let’s not forget that I only started blogging in June 2011 — have you checked out any of my posts here on LWB from back then? Whilst I have gone back and edited a lot of them (out of embarrassment), you can still find the occasional gem that reveals how fresh I was to the world of blogging. My point is this — someone who makes their decision as to whether or not they should be a freelance writer based upon anyone else’s ability is looking at the issue from the wrong perspective. The simple fact is this — you are in control of how good a writer you become.

OutliersLet’s take a moment to consider the now infamous “10,000-Hour Rule” popularized by Malcolm Gladwell’s fascinating book, Outliers. The principle of the rule is quite simple — in order to become “great” at something, you must put in 10,000 hours of quality practice. Gladwell asserts that this theory debunks the notion that some people are simply more inherently talented than others. And whilst I believe that our genetic makeup does still play a part in our “natural ability” at any given thing, I for one consider my fate to be far more in my hands than anyone else’s (tweet this).

To come back around to freelance writing prospects, this means one thing — if you want to become a better (and therefore more successful) writer, you need to put in the practice. No excuses, no “but I’ll never be good as so-and-so” — concentrate on your own ability and how improving it will lead to your own success.

How do you do this? I have three recommendations:

  1. Yahoo! Style GuidePurchase and devour a copy of the Yahoo! Style Guide. I consider it compulsory reading for anyone producing content on the web.
  2. Read. Subscribe to blogs with quality writers and learn from them.
  3. Write. Put what you learn into practice on an ongoing basis — whether or not you’re being paid for it.

That’s it — rinse and repeat.

What Else is There?

Above I have outlined what I consider to be the three key steps to getting paid to write. As I alluded to at the start of this post, my guidance above is intended for those who are feeling utterly overwhelmed by the prospect of becoming a successful freelance writer. Whilst there is plenty more that you can be doing, these three steps represent the barebones necessities.

I have not written this post as some kind of “freelance writing is a piece of cake — just do these three things” quick fix. In reality, there is more than you should do to improve your chances. But if you start with the above three steps then add layers as your confidence permits, you will no doubt reap the rewards down the line.

If you’re interested in finding out what else you can do then I would recommend you explore the other articles on freelance writing that I have published here on the blog. And if you’re ready willing and able to commit to the world of freelance writing then I recommend my freelance writing guide.

One more thing — if you have gotten value out of this post and know of anyone else who might benefit from reading it, please take a moment to share it with them — via email, social media (click here to tweet!), or any other means.

Photo Credit: splorp

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39 Responses to “Get Paid to Write (in 3 Steps)”

  1. Sophie Lizard
    January 25, 2013 at 8:56 pm

    Nice one, Tom! I suspect that even 100 hours of practice is enough to lift an aspiring freelance writer above the crowd. And like you said, making time to practise is part of the job, so it’s a good idea to get used to it when you’re first starting out. 🙂

  2. Cari Mostert - A Writers Website
    January 26, 2013 at 8:45 am

    What great advice Tom. Wish I’d read it years ago, I might have gotten started sooner 😉

    But, this is an absolute truth:

    “The simple fact is this — you are in control of how good a writer you become.”

    Practice, practice, practice.

    Thanks for the timely reminder.

  3. Matthew P. Ross
    January 26, 2013 at 6:27 pm

    Thanks for the great post, Tom. Sometimes I let the marketing side of freelancing overwhelm me. I appreciate the reminder that the best approaches are really quite simple. Now excuse me while I go and share a link to this post…

  4. Steve
    January 26, 2013 at 8:59 pm

    Good “Outliers” reference! Couldn’t agree more – If you want to do something well, be prepared to put in a lot of hard work developing that skill.

  5. Nick Di Fabio
    January 26, 2013 at 9:16 pm

    Great post, Tom! As usual, this post is another great example of useful and practical advice found throughout your blog. I’ve bookmarked this page and will continue to refer to it on my path of generating a full-time income through freelance blogging.

    Thanks again!

  6. R.C. Thornton
    January 27, 2013 at 2:25 am

    Nice Tom. This advice really rings true for success in *anything*: aim towards long-term improvement, and don’t expect for things to be perfect right off the bat.

    On my blog, I encourage young professionals and college students to embrace entrepreneurship and start companies…but I find that a huge portion of these people won’t even try for the very reason you mentioned about writing: they feel overwhelmed…and they think that a lack of ability to produce perfect results off the bat precludes them from trying.

  7. olu
    January 27, 2013 at 11:23 am

    On my blog I usually try to stay within a limit of 500 words per blog post. I wonder if using such posts as a sample for freelance blogging where longform posts are required is a good idea.

  8. Susan @ Travel Junkette
    January 29, 2013 at 8:00 pm

    Simple, but great, advice. Thanks, Tom!

  9. Mark Bongcasan
    January 30, 2013 at 7:54 pm

    I really love to be in this kind of online job/business. However, I don’t write that great because of some reasons. Not to mention, English is not my primary language. No matter how hard I tried writing, it still sucked and kind of weird to read for native speakers.

    So I quit, quit, quit.. hahahahaha I just focused on web design services.

    Nice article buddy!

  10. Tom Southern
    January 31, 2013 at 12:11 pm

    Great advice as always Tom! I’d add a 4th step: Know who you’re writing for.

    If you know who you’re writing to, you’ll know better what to write and how to write it. A good way of finding your reader is to create them. A simple shortcut to this is to …

    Think of your reader as someone similar to you.

    They want to know what you know. You write to that “want”.

    They’re not a complete beginner, or aren’t completely new to your common interest/topic.

    For example, if you want to write for freelancers who struggle with marketing online, think back to where you were after you’d got the hang of blogging, possibly with your own blog. You knew what marketing was but you were stuck on getting your marketing in front of eyeballs that mattered – that’s a good place for where your ideal reader could be at currently.

    Now, you’ve succeeded at that and have had good results. How did you succeed at getting in front of those eyeballs that mattered. What steps did you take. Which of those steps worked. Which worked even better – that’s what you write about for your ideal reader.

    You might chose your reader’s current position along the knowledge, skills and experience path at whatever point you feel comfortable meeting them at and guiding them along the path that you’ve “prepared” for them.

    This step saves a lot of time (and frustration).

  11. Perrin
    February 8, 2013 at 11:33 pm

    I am so glad I stumbled upon your blog! Thank you for sharing your experiences with all of us, Tom! I should probably buy the Yahoo guide and learn more of writing style.

  12. contech
    March 19, 2013 at 1:24 pm

    it is a nice article if you want to be a good writer but this does not explain that how can we get good money by writing great articles. you should also share information about it.

  13. Farhan
    April 3, 2013 at 6:46 pm

    Hi Tom,

    I saw your blog mentioned on ProBlogger and came here to see.

    Your design is impressive. Especially your header. May I ask who designed it?

    And you have mentioned the Yahoo Style Guide. But I follow the British English and Yahoo is an American company. I think they must have followed American English practices in the guide. So will that be beneficial for me?

    • Tom Ewer
      April 4, 2013 at 10:46 am

      The theme is WooThemes’ Canvas framework, quite heavily customized by me and a designer I hired.

      The Yahoo! Style Guide covers far more than just spelling and other American-only issues. It’s still well worth reading.

  14. Jas P (@Live0utUrDreams)
    June 20, 2013 at 7:43 am

    Great post! I’m really loving your site. I am also interested in leaving work behind and using freelance writing as a means to do that. I’m glad I stumbled upon your site! Keep it up.

  15. Vivek Jain
    July 20, 2013 at 2:29 pm

    First, i want to say that you are wonderful and more wonderful your writing skills!
    This post can attract anyone, whatever that age of the person..uhh..doesn’t matter!

    And the other think which i learn form this article, “Practice Matters a Lot”.
    If you have a good skills and want to prove yourself as an excellent writer then this is perfect choice for proving your good into best.

    There are many people who try to write but their attitude don’t allow them to work more or they get disappointed pretty fast. May be the reason “Lack of Confidence level”. But yeah if you are a medium attitude personality and want to try your attitude in positive way then try to this way for finding mind blowing results. “Your Patience is the Key to Success Here”.

    Last but not least ” It your Attitude, Not you Aptitude….What decides your Altitude”.

    Thanks for writing this excellent article for us! 🙂

  16. Dawn Seaman
    August 22, 2013 at 4:47 pm

    I have read many things on line over the past several years, & you are the first person I have ever responded to. I feel inspired!! I am an ex teacher with 20 years of experience, I have a special needs son, a very gifted son, & a family history of various mental issues, some of which I deal with as well. A lot of “grist for the mill” I would say~ I have written steadily for the past two days, as well as having a large portfolio of other personal writings & professional papers. Would sending things to magazines be a good way to start, just to show you have been published? Thanks for the excellent advice~ I am over 50, but not yet finished~ Thanks, Dawn

    • Tom Ewer
      August 22, 2013 at 7:23 pm

      Hey Dawn,

      Well I feel honored that you’ve chosen to comment on my post!

      To be honest, I have no experience in offline writing nor do I have any desire to get into it. I would say that you don’t need to get involved in offline writing at all, but then I am biased!



  17. Dawn
    August 23, 2013 at 12:29 am

    Thanks, Tom!! I am not sure which direction I will take, but I do have the desire to now. Continued Good Fortune to you~

  18. Haider Raza
    December 6, 2016 at 5:47 pm

    this post is very awesome because i also starting blog writing and not how to start. but this post is very helping to understand.

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