It took me years of experience as a professional freelance writer, lots of low-paid writing gigs, in the beginning, co-authorship in two published guidebooks, content creation for others and for myself, to realize that making it as a writer requires two simple things.

First, you have to invest a lot of your time and money in developing your writing skills. Many young writers or professionals, including myself ten years ago, assume that all it takes to get started is having talent.

But the talent is only the spice – it can lift the taste of your dish but it won’t make up for the lack of the main ingredients if you forget to put them in the pot.

Behind every great artist, there are years of practising.

Second, you have to charge professional rates for your services, regardless of where you live. Charging $5 or even $20 per article will only buy you a lifestyle full eating plain pasta, browsing for low-cost flights, missing out on adventures, or staying at the cheapest hostel dorms when you travel.

Living or travelling on a budget is not fun. If you are serious about becoming a professional writer and making it sustainable then you have to set high standards for your work and your clients from the beginning.

On the other hand, you can’t be a mediocre writer and expect to charge the highest rates either.

1 – Mastering the super skill to write

If you want to have a six-pack, then you should go to the gym, have a training plan, eat healthy food, and be persistent. And just like having a ripped body, the super skill to write great stories is not a given.

The more you go to the mental gym and write, the stronger your writing will get. There is no shortcut but reading more books and taking courses on writing can help you learn from the experience of others.

Making your own mistakes is valuable but it will waste you years. Learn from the mistakes of others, read their writing, develop your taste as a reader.

Pick a niche

Positioning yourself as a writer can help you find and get the right clients. What do you want to write about?

There are many options – travelling, health and fitness, finance, food, wine, technology and so on. You can be a copywriter and write content for websites, or sales letters.

Or you can ghostwrite fiction books. There are plenty of opportunities and experimenting or identifying your passion can guide you to the right niche for you.

Use simple language

In the beginning, it is very tempting to sugar-coat your writing with words that you would otherwise never use in a conversation.

Imagine going on a trip to Thailand and then saying to your friend, ‘What I loved most about my trip was that my hotel was nestled in a village with meandering rivers and houses perched on the hills.’ Your friend will probably laugh at you.

It sounds counter-intuitive but the more adjectives or adverbs you use in your writing, the less descriptive it will get. Simplify and leave space for the imagination. Read your piece out loud. Your voice will show you where your writing hits a fake note.

No cliches

Overused phrases show laziness and lack of imagination, regardless of the genre. Avoid using cliches, even when you speak to your friends.

Your writing should surprise your readers with originality to keep them interested until the end.

Edit, edit, edit

Don’t expect your first draft to be a ready article. This is a common misconception that blocks many new writers or entrepreneurs who want to write their own content.

I made 76 revisions on one of my most recent articles before it got published. Write your first draft, let it sit, detach your excitement from it and edit it several times.

You can automate editing to some extent. Grammarly and the Hemingway App are a great start that can show you the basics of editing – correcting your grammar mistakes and making your writing clear.

2 – Selling your writing and making it work

How much should you charge for your writing? Having the confidence to quote a price is intimidating for most writers in the beginning.

You need to learn how to be a little bit of a sales person if you want to turn your creative hobby into a profession that not only pays your bills but also allows you to have the lifestyle you want.

Having a per-word rate

Print and online magazines often have a set per word rate that you can find in the contributors’ guidelines that most of these outlets will have.

If you want to be a contributing author then it is worth doing research to find out the common per-word rates in your niche and set your standard. Many print magazines may pay between $0.50 and $2 per word but these gigs are hardest to get.

In all other instances, I would either charge per hour or a project rate because sometimes the shortest pieces require a lot of brainstorming and hours of hard work.

Charging per hour

Setting a per-hour rate can give you the confidence to discuss your payment with clients, even if you charge them per article.

For example, the typical rate for copywriting in the US is between $50 and $125 per hour, considering that sometimes it is almost impossible to do creative work for eight hours each day. You can work your per hour rate in reverse.

Do the math and write down the total of your basic expenses per month – rent, bills, food, social life. Now think about the ideal lifestyle that you want to have. Where would you like to travel? What experiences would you like to enjoy? Add that number to the expenses.

Consider having savings and paying taxes. Divide the total amount by the most number of hours you can work in a month. This is your ideal hourly rate. How many compromises can you make with your lifestyle?

Charging per article/ per project

This is the best pricing model of all, especially when you have regular clients. The better and faster you get, the more money you will make in one hour.

You can get this rate by predicting how much time it will take you to do the job. The more experience you have, the better you will get at predicting your speed patterns.

3 – Where and how to find clients

When getting started, it is tempting to look for clients on platforms such as Upwork. The problem with these websites is that you will have to compete with all the cheap freelancers who will underbid you. ‘We are looking for a great superstar wordsmith to write 2000-word articles for $16 per piece. Lots of work each day!’ – job offers like this are the rule, rather than the exception there.

Quality pieces require hours of writing and editing. If you are serious about becoming a professional writer with a name that works for you then I would encourage you to avoid looking for clients on these platforms.

Where you find your clients depends on what kind of writing you do.

  • If you want to write books then you can create connections with editors and publishers or use platforms like Publishizer. You can self-publish and sell your books online, or find a publisher, get paid an advance, reach more people, and receive a percentage from sales (5-15% with traditional publishers, 15-50% with small publishers who pay less advances).
  • If you want to be a professional blogger, then you can look for opportunities on ProBlogger. Typically, you can get paid from $50 to $200 per post on average.
  • If you want to be a copywriter, then you might consider working on your brand, creating a great website and portfolio, and then making a list of potential clients and approaching them directly to start a conversation. Expect between $50 and $125 per hour if your clients are in the US.

Joining communities of other writers in your niche is a great way to find support, receive advice, or even find new clients. There are many Facebook groups where members share writing job opportunities. Just search your niche + ‘writing jobs’ and join the most suitable ones for you.

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How to get started as a freelance writer