One way to become a professional writer is to take the specific experience or certifications you have currently in your professional life and leverage those into writing gigs that you build into a full-fledged (or part-time) writing career. For example, if a certified automobile technician wanted to become a writer, then using those skills and certifications can be a way to get started as a freelance writer.
It takes some perseverance and a little bit of paying your dues, but it won’t take long until you are an established writer doing the math to see if you can quit your job and write full-time.
Let me start by saying that in my former life, I was a Certified Financial Planner and before that a Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer. I bring that up because while it was not my intention, I was only able to build my professional writing career by leveraging those two things.
Let’s start with the basics. There is a lot of competition out there in that there are a lot of other people who are, or who want to be writers. To succeed, your task is to somehow separate yourself from them. The catch is that you cannot do it with your writing. This is because pretty much every published writing gig on the planet gets 100+ responses, so the people doing the hiring have to "triage" the pile into a manageable stack and THEN they look at writing samples et. al.
Your hook is the certified auto technician thing plus your experience. Make sure you highlight this at the top of your resume (if you send on), at the top of your bio, at the top of your website, and at the top of your cover letter / email response. Hopefully, that means they won’t miss it.
My first several gigs were all either writing about computers or writing about finance or investing.
Branching Out As a Professional Writer
The key is to build yourself into a giant in your current area while diversifying by getting gigs that are "related".
Start by writing up plenty of articles that you want to write. Do those now, even before you have any jobs. Perfect these articles because they will be your samples. Then, write up a bunch of articles that are related and in the same direction as other things you want to write about.
For example, if you want to eventually write about small business, write up an article about how to run your own shop. Make it a two-parter, part one focuses on how to run an auto shop, part two focuses on how to run a business (doing the books, ordering phone lines, getting supplies, hiring/firing, and so on.)
The point is that people (at least those who pay more than $5 an article) will only want stuff from you that you are an “expert” in. As a writer, being an expert means having written about it before. If you get your two-part article on running an auto shop published somewhere then you start using it as a writing sample when you apply to gigs writing about small business.
“Dear Sir or Madam:
I am replying to your recent posting for a local small business writer. I am a professional writer with experience working with small businesses as well writing about them. You may wish to read my article at AutoBusiness Daily about running an auto shop as a small business. While Part 1 deals mainly with the specifics of running a car business, the second part is relevant to most any small business….
When you have work relating to small business, then you can write about marketing for small business, and then about advertising, and then about PR, and so on until you are an expert author all the way to whatever topics there are that you really want to be writing about.
How-To Get Writing Jobs
Most new writers find it easier to reply to job postings than to go out and market and network. That is fine to start, but you’ll want to do both. To start, read your city Craigslist everyday under Gigs->Writing. You can also look under Jobs, but you’ll tend to do better with people who understand the difference between hiring someone for a job or contract and just hiring a professional to do some writing.
Then, search for sites that post freelance writing gigs and positions. Use these sites to build up a repertoire of sites that seem to have good opportunities for you. Do not use them as a crutch to find all of your writing gig postings. For starters, there are a LOT of people using the same sites (including most of these sites posting mostly the same gigs from many of the same places.) Second, you never know when someone is having an on day versus and off day and the last thing you want is for a day when “that’s good enough” leaves you with a list of a writing jobs that does not include the writing gig you would be great for because it was on another site.
In the beginning, focus on posts that are for automotive related topics. Remember the triage thing. These writer wanted postings literally get 250+ or more replies sometimes, especially if they pay well, or sound really promising.
DO NOT PAY anyone to get writer postings. The do not have anything more than you can find for free.
DO NOT SEND anyone money in order to become a writer. Legitimate writing gigs NEVER charge any sort of fee—not a processing fee, not an application fee, not a fee to review your work. NO MONEY GOES FROM WRITER TO CLIENT – EVER, EVER, EVER, EVER! If you don’t understand this, or if you think there is any exception to this rule, just do yourself a favor, send me some money and then go hit yourself in the head with a mallet because it will be more productive.
DO NOT JOIN any mailing list, website, or group in order to become a writer. One of the best writing scams going these days is to offer a writing gig and then say, that in order to apply you need to read our site, but in order to read our site, you have to register. Needless to say, the point is to get more “registered users” and more email addresses to be spammed, marketing to, or sold. Chances are you will never get a writing gig from this kind of offer. Some particularly clueless clients might legitimately ask you to go this route. If you think they are legit, then ask for a temporary account or journalist account so that you can do what you need to do. If they are honest but un-savvy, they will give you a temp account. If they are scammers, they won’t.
Build a Website
Nothing says “expert” quite like your own repository of articles, posts, and notes showing just how deep your experience and knowledge are. For our certified auto technician, an automotive website of some sort is in order. There are plenty of tools out there that make website building a no brainer, so don’t use “I don’t know how” as an excuse.
As an added bonus, having your own website both provides experience with writing for, and posting on the Internet, but it also shows commitment where there is no other way to do so. A blog with a post a day for 16 months tells a potential client that he doesn’t have to worry about you writing the first 10 or 12 great ideas that you have and then slowly (or not so slowly) vanishing as coming up with great ideas gets a little bit tougher.
Also, it shows that you are serious about being a writer. With more an more writers out there just looking to write for a little extra spending money, or to help them through a job transition or layoff, proof that you are a writer now and that you have been a writer for longer than just since you were laid off, helps prove that you will be a writer next month, and in six months when the client needs you.
Read Professional Freelance Writing Advice
Then, keep reading this blog. Seriously. The only reason I have this blog is because people always ask these questions and most of the time when I read the answers I either think, “No duh,” because the advice was so elementary as to be unneeded, or “Um…no,” because the answer is flat out wrong. If I see a question, I try to help, because I remember what it was like, and frankly I still need help with other areas of running a freelance writing business, so I consider this my “paying it forward.”
I’m going to put together a list of other resources that I respect so that you can find accurate, worthwhile information elsewhere to, but for now, stick with me. Grab the RSS Feed to make it even easier.