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Getting Ahead in the Freelancing World

 article about Getting Ahead in the Freelancing World

This article belongs to The Writing Life—The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly column.

Getting Ahead in the Freelancing World

Whenever I meet young writers, it always amazes me how much they know. And while I'm mostly impressed, part of me is jealous because I only learned in my late 20s what they already know as sophomores in college. I am sure there are others like me (of all ages) who do not know what college courses might help them in their writing careers or what they can do before they graduate to get ahead of the pack. Of course, there are many directions one can take to get a jump start on freelancing, but these are a few I recently discovered.


Get an Internship

This may be obvious to a lot of you, but when I was in school where to get one or how was not made public. In fact, while my college had walls and walls of job listings and volunteer opportunities (anything from dishwasher to childcare worker to law assistant), there were no flyers about magazine or publishing opportunities. And, yes, I did look on the walls of the English department. So, it will be up to you to find them as well, but I can tell you where to look.


Websites like and post many internships. ED2010 has listings almost daily. Most are unpaid, but you can receive college credit. Imagine what a great summer you'd have working at some glossy magazine, making contacts, and gaining the right knowledge to put you on the right path to your dream job (whether that be writing or editorial work). Sure beats working at the mall!


Start Pitching

You don't have clips? So what? Start locally. Many town or region newspapers want flexible college kids (who work cheap) to cover a variety of events. If the paper is small enough, you can even get a weekly column. Pitch an idea about the college scene and how it ties into their lives - maybe a college student's take on night life or farming (whatever makes the place tick). Don't turn your nose down on the school paper either. This is not only another way to get clips but a chance to find out what kind of articles really move you. Then, once you gather three in a specialty of your choice, pitch larger magazines. It may take a few attempts to hit, but even if you are pitching unsuccessfully for a semester, editors are getting to know you. And when you finally do hit, you can begin your clip portfolio. By the time you graduate, you will have numerous published articles—just the beginning of your budding freelance career.


Attend Workshops and Conferences

An excellent resource is the American Society of Journalists and Authors ( It provides information on upcoming conferences and workshops as well as loads of tips on freelance writing. Another site with conference information (both for fiction and non-fiction writers) is This latter site lets you find workshops not only in the U.S. but in other countries as well. Think about how much more fun spring or summer break can be when you're also doing something you love.


Take the Right Courses

That's emphasis on the word "right." Recently, a friend and I were discussing what a waste of time mandatory writing courses (like Rhetoric or Composition) were. If you are not a writer, these classes are just irritating. If you are a writer, they are painful as well. Who cares if you know how to catalog index cards in outline form with subtopics or to make footnotes in your term paper about the hazards of smoking? Sure, if your goal is to get a doctorate in English, by all means learn this stuff. But, if you want to be a freelance writer, these skills won't help. What is important is to learn how to tighten your writing, follow direction, mold your voice to fit a magazine's, and the ability to take notes quickly to capture your subject's quotes.


So what would be helpful? A journalism course (if you're majoring in the subject, then you'll have plenty of them) to learn the ethics of the field as well as what's expected of you; a typing class (HIGHLY recommended so you can pound away on your computer without asking the interviewee to slow down every minute); a creative writing class (even if you plan to write only non-fiction, you want to have enticing openings and paragraphs that keep the reader interested - creative writing helps open your brain and further explore your writing skills).


Conduct Informational Interviews

Want to learn more about the field but can't get an internship just yet? Call up the local paper or even a favorite glossy and see if you can snag a coffee date with an editor. Don't ask for the Editor-in-Chief or Executive Editor. Instead go further down the masthead for an Assistant Editor or even Editorial Assistant (this last bunch would often be happy to take the time to talk to you and tell you about the field—plus, you never know when they'll move up to a bigger position). Explain that you're a college student and ask for their availability. Coffee is perfect because you won't be imposing as much as if you asked for a full lunch or dinner. Come prepared with questions and even a pitch or two. And don't push. If they can't see you, maybe they will be willing to speak with you on the phone.


Just Do It!

With the end of semester approaching, now is the perfect time to start thinking about your summer plans. Look for those jobs or classes that move you. Summer work not in the cards? Start compiling a list of magazines, newspapers, or courses (they don't have to be in your college or university; maybe some good ones are offered locally) you want to pursue in the fall. The key is to get moving. The sooner you do this, the closer you will be to getting the job you want.


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