3 Lucky Breaks That Led Me to a Freelance Writing Career

TypewriterA lot of people want to know how to become a freelance writer. “How do you get paid for writing?” is what they often ask. When I think about what got me here, three lucky things needed to happen in order for this to occur.

  1. I met the “right” people. When I first decided to switch gears from therapist to writer and as a new freelance writer in Hawaii, I got lucky only because I met the right people. For example, I connected with a newspaper writer from San Jose Mercury who connected me with another writer. This writer ended up being friends with a business owner who just so happened to need a copywriter. Knowing someone in the industry, upped my reputation and helped me to land my first gig.
  2. I asked the “right” questions. A lot of times we don’t succeed not because we ask the wrong questions, but simply because we don’t ask. When an opportunity comes up, take the risk. If this comes to you in the form of a new acquaintance who is living your dream job, ask him or her how they got there. If you meet an editor, ask them if they’re looking for writers. It’s not asking that will prevent you from getting that freelance writing gig.
  3. I got the “right” gigs. I did my hard work. At the beginning, I didn’t always get paid to write. I didn’t always get paid well to write. But I did it. Over time, my portfolio grew and I could be more choosy. To become a freelance writer, you have to work hard like every one else. Sometimes this means rolling up your sleeves and writing about things you don’t really care about. Over time, you’ll get to choose.

I hope you catch what I’m saying here. To be honest, while there may be some luck involved, a lot rests in your hands. Instead of waiting for opportunity to come your way, make your own. Go to networking events (I only went to one before I scored my first paid magazine writing opportunity in Hawaii). Contact people in the area you’re interested and ask if you can do an informational interview (Talking with an expert in the field landed me my first copywriting job). And tell everyone you know you’re looking for writing opportunities. But most importantly, write whenever you can and about anything, just write! Every single thing that you write matters, because it’ll make you that much better of a writer.

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Here in the Midst of Challenge

I often do as you do. I read about people once they’ve already climbed the mountain and faced that lion. It’s all inspiring and humbling to do so. But what I rarely get to see is a picture into the lives of those who are fallen.

What do you if you’re not there yet?

I’m in that murky space right now.

I’ve spent 8-years in the professional nonfiction arena. And I’ve done okay for myself. I’ve worked with reputable companies. I’ve built a network of clients that can depend on me to create and complete finished articles on time. I rarely have to look for work and grateful that somehow people find me. But what I haven’t yet done is succeed in my fiction life.

In other words, I’m still climbing that mountain.

I’d like to write a riveting blog post concerning the twist and turns of countless rejections with stops and starts of my fiction career. I’d like to say I spent 7-years tolling away at my work about to give up when a glowing response from a literary agent and a top ten best-seller review gave me hope again. This is the sort of stories I end up reading about. Mostly because when people are in the middle of struggle, they’re holed up at home. They’re throwing their hands up in the air. They don’t want people to know they’re going through a hard time. They want people to celebrate with them once they’ve succeeded.

But the truth is, our seemingly weakest moments are our strongest ones. It is the times when we’re at our breaking point, when we are on the verge of giving up, that makes for great stories.

In Rising Strong, Brene Brown says the following:

“While vulnerability is the birthplace of many of the fulfilling experiences we long for — love, belonging, joy, creativity, and trust, to name a few — the process of regaining our emotional footing in the midst of struggle is where our courage is tested and our values are forged. Rising strong after a fall is how we cultivate wholeheartedness in our lives; it’s the process that teaches us the most about who we are.”

This means that all of you who are writing right now and receiving those rejection letters are on the path to the greatest opportunity to elevate your courage, and your sense of identity. It’s not an easy road when we don’t know whether our work is of value or if anyone will care.

But as Elizabeth Gilbert writes in Big Magic, that doesn’t matter.


Create what you must. Write because you delight in it. Face your fears every day while you’re sitting at your computer despite the fear that it’s not good enough. Because I believe if you work at it every day, you’ll eventually get there. And all that courage it took to do so, will not only make you a better writer, but a better person.

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3 Surprising Truths About Sharing Your Writing

Writing group

It took me a long time to do it. I blame it on the years of torment I endured from a high school teacher reading our work aloud. With our names. And with unnecessary bullying and negative criticism included. But it’s come at a detrimental cost.

What hiding has done in the long run is hurt my writing.

As a freelance writer, edits, feedback, and revisions are part and parcel to the job. It doesn’t feel personal. Someone pays me to write words for them and it’s my mission to deliver that.

But when I write fiction, it feels like my soul is pouring out of every word. It’s in my word choice, and character description. It’s in my deep desire to share an experience with strangers who may not be as kind, understanding or compassionate in their reading of it.

Because of this fear, however, my writing has gone stale, stunted, and rejected before it’s reached its full potential.

Last weekend, I finally decided to take that risk. I met with SCBWI members from the Hawaii chapter and I silently prayed that they would be kind or more importantly that I would be kind to myself no matter what feedback I got.

Here’s what I learned in the process:

  1. You need outsiders who can tell you if you’re successfully delivering your story. You know that thing that happened between you and your cousins? It was hilarious and you really had to be there. You may be making the same mistake I made-writing a story as if they were your cousins who knew what you knew, who experienced what you did. But readers don’t have that same privilege. Offer your story to outsiders and they’ll tell you if that line about the party jives or needs more details to make sense.
  2. Non-friends and family will read it without sentiment. And you need that. Your mom might be your biggest fan and is so impressed that you wrote a book, she’ll overlook the flaws in your story-the missing ingredient, the lack of climax. But a fellow writer, won’t. And that’s a lesson worth learning sooner rather than later.
  3. If you want to get published, you need to prepare yourself for rejection. If you’re normal, you will experience a slew of rejection when you start querying agents and publishers. It’s part of the sh*ts andwich author Elizabeth Gilbert talks to Marie Forleo in this video. Anything worth it’s grain in salt comes with difficulty. Getting negative feedback from another writer is much better than getting a rejection letter from an agent prematurely because you didn’t put enough work into it.

For the most part, writing is an isolated activity. And if you’re writing purely for self-reflection and journaling, then you never have to open up your world to other people. But if you want to get published, if you want your words to move people, then you owe it to yourself and the world to step out of the shadows and right into the spotlight. And this is true, even if it means some people will hate your work or won’t get it. Eventually those people will be your book reviewers on Amazon. But for now, let them motivate you to keep chipping away at your work.

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Writing With Kids

ToddlerI often tell friends it’s harder and better than people say. I was talking about parenting, but it also applies to writing.

Last night, my two-year old son was up multiple times with a nervously high fever. When your baby’s sick, everything else goes out the window.

But on a day to day basis, there’s teething, tantrums and toddler troublemaking. There’s always reasons to not write especially when you have a child pulling at your pants. And real, understandable, legitimate reasons too. Like sleep.

I caught this post on Writing & Parenting in my Twitter feed today, and it all came tumbling back to me. It justified, validated and explained why writing sometimes feels like an uphill battle these days. I’d be dishonest if I didn’t admit to moments when I dreamed of life pre-kids when I had hours to idle at coffee shops, not even writing, just gazing out the window, pretending to write. These days, every precious minute is coveted. It’s not that I’m a slave to my writing or my writing clients. It’s cause writing is almost like a third child. It’s surprisingly that important to me.

Meet an angry, irritable soul and you’ll probably have met a creative person who hasn’t expressed himself that day.

Writing when you’ve got kids is nothing to apologize for. Sure, the guilt will get to you on days when you’d rather sit in front of your computer than put together another puzzle. But I think doing the things that fills our creative souls makes us not only better parents, but better people.

So you may have to sacrifice some time, sleep or some other activity you used to savor, but in the end, I think putting energy in what you love (writing and your kids) is all worth it.

One day when we’ve figure out as much of a balance as possible, they’ll thank us. I’m sure.


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The Difference Between Fiction and Nonfiction


If you ask me what the difference between fiction and nonfiction is, I’d say, “apples and oranges.” And to most writers, that’s a given. For people who don’t write professionally, however, words are words whether they’re made up or based on fact.

There’s an art about each. And both have their challenges. For me though, using my imagination, and letting go into it are difficult. There is no way of controlling what will happen to my characters. There is no specific date or fact that can completely direct my story. That’s why writing a children’s book has been a continual hurdle for me. And why I drool over real authors the way I do over runners running past my window.

Here’s what Ayn Rand says about the two in her book, The Art of Nonfiction:

“Contrary to all schools of art and esthetics, writing is something one can learn. There is no mystery about it.

In literature, as in all the fine arts, complex premises must be set early in a person’s mind, so that a beginning adult may not have enough time to set them and thus cannot learn to write. Even these premises can be learned, theoretically, but the person would have to acquire them on his own. So I am inclined to say that fiction writing-and the fine arts in general-cannot be taught. Much of the technical skill involved can be, but not the essence.

However, any person who can speak English grammatically can learn to write nonfiction. Nonfiction writing is not difficult, though it is a technical skill.”

She says the essence of fine arts can not be taught unlike nonfiction. Anyone can write nonfiction, but where does that leave a wannabe fiction writer?

I sometimes question that myself. Does a fiction writer have to be born? Can anyone, even a straight, factual nonfiction writer create?

I’m apt to say, “Of course!”

But the journey has been a long and furiously frustrating one.

While I often offer advice on my writing posts, I’m throwing this back to you dear readers. What do you think is the main difference between fiction and nonfiction? Can a nonfiction writer learn to be a fiction writer? Which one is harder for you to compose?

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Grammar: Friend or Foe of Freelancers?

{Photo by Patuska via MorgueFile}
{Photo by Patuska via MorgueFile}

Guest post by: Nikolas Baron

Every writer knows that grammar is important. However, grammar is the strongest determining factor in the success or failure of a freelance writer. If you are thinking of a freelance writing career, grammar can be a friend or foe. Here are three reasons why:

1. You are the only one on your team.
Let’s say you’re a staff writer for a widely-read magazine. You might start writing an article by telling your assistant what to research. Once you receive the report, you work your magic and crank out a stunning page-turner on the subject at hand. The manuscript lands on the desk of an editor who checks the facts again, proofreads and corrects errors, and polishes the piece to a sparkling gleam.

As a freelancer, you are the assistant, writer, and editor all rolled into one. Many clients expect work that is ready for the presses. When it comes to grammar, you had better know your stuff. If not, your clients will not be happy with your work.

2. Your reputation speaks louder than your resume.
There are several online companies that connect freelance writers with clients offering short-term assignments. After each job is complete, the clients may express how satisfied they were with the work. Other potential clients view the profiles of numerous freelancers along with the reviews that accompany them in order to decide whom they will hire. Would you rather your review focus on poor grammar or wildly creative prose? As an employer, which type of contractor would you seek to hire? Even if you have a great university education and years of experience, online and word-of-mouth reviews carry weight.

How can you make sure that your reviews reflect the high quality of your work? Always complete at least two checks of your material. For the initial check, use a professional grammar checker like Grammarly. Proofing software will save you time by quickly detecting basic errors. Perform a second check personally or hire a professional editor to do so. If possible, wait at least a few hours between your last draft and your edit. The waiting time will allow a fresh perspective to develop. Ideas that need clarifying and grammar issues will be easy to identify if you let your mind rest between drafts.

3. You are not just another pretty face.
A large majority of freelance writers work at home. They communicate by phone, email, and web conferencing. The writer and client may never meet face-to-face. In a virtual relationship, it is difficult for a client to get to know all the wonderful qualities that you possess. All too often, the only thing the client sees is the work that you submit. Perfect grammar is a beautiful thing!

Properly used, grammar is your friend. A body of well-written work will serve as your reputation. Your online clients will leave good feedback that will lead to more jobs. If you do not thoroughly proofread each writing assignment you undertake, grammar will be your worst enemy. Clients will judge you unfavorably, and you will lose out on repeat work. As a freelance writer, make sure you stay on the good side of grammar.

NickNikolas discovered his love for the written word in elementary school, where he started spending his afternoons sprawled across the living room floor devouring one Marc Brown children’s novel after the other and writing short stories about daring pirate adventures. After acquiring some experience in various marketing, business development, and hiring roles at Internet startups in a few different countries, he decided to re-unite his professional life with his childhood passions by joining Grammarly’s marketing team in San Francisco. He has the pleasure of being tasked with talking to writers, bloggers, teachers, and others about how they use Grammarly’s online proofreading application to improve their writing. His free time is spent biking, traveling, and reading.

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The Courage in Vulnerability


Brené Brown is an expert on everything related to vulnerability. I’ve taken two of her online courses and listened to her SoundsTrue podcast recently. I’m admittedly a big huge fan.

Perhaps, it’s because I’m all too familiar with shame. It sits on my shoulder every time I publish a post, conduct a workshop/meetup or submit my writing. Until I listened to Brown, I hadn’t realized how my cheeks would burn or how embarrassed I was to let my insides show.

Rejection to me doesn’t feel uncomfortable. It feels like a slow death. It’s an end of who I am. It’s a room full of strangers laughing and pointing. It’s a deep inner ache that somehow whatever I’m doing is not enough.

Enter in my dreams and the whole thought of pursuing them seems laughable. Much better to hide behind a boring job. It’s much easier to stay with the same friendships. Way safer to keep the dreams at night and distract myself during the day with mindless activities right?

Anyone who has ever taken a big risk in being vulnerable realizes both the cost and benefit of putting yourself out on the line. You can’t truly live unless you do something that scares you sh$tless. You won’t ever feel like you’ve made your mark unless you do something that makes you feel like an idiot.. Until you risk big, you won’t feel alive.

You may will fail if you choose to live your life. But failing is a good thing. Every rejection letter you receive. Every job opportunity that doesn’t work out. Every editor that tears apart your work. Those are evidence that you are strong, and living your purpose. And there’s definitely no shame, but so much courage in that.

Failing isn’t an end state. It’s one stop on a long journey towards success.

So next time you feel defeated, remember that. Remember that failure is in its own way success. It’s a reminder that you’re fighting the fight. One more failure down, many more to go.

That’s the way we get through our writing dreams. A little bit of blind faith, hard work, and courage to be vulnerable.

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An Easy Way to Sharpen Your Fiction


Since I’ve become a SCBWI member (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators), I’ve learned a lot of ways to beef up my fiction. An easy way I just read about in our recent Bulletin, is to read your story aloud in front of a mirror, to a loved one or a crowd of kids. The key, however, is to do it without a manuscript in front of you, but to recite from your memory. Obviously if you have a novel rather than a picture book, you won’t be able to read the whole story. But that shouldn’t matter.

As I’ve learned through doing the exercise myself, reading from your memory cuts out unnecessary details and shows you what’s the meat of the story. Storytellers know this. And you will discover as you do it too, that reading aloud is a completely different skill than writing. Reading gives you added information to what will really excite your audience, what you simply don’t need, and the niggly details that might sound fancy shmancy while typing it on your computer, but will bore readers to death.

Try it and let me know what you think.

Interested in meeting with other writers on the West Side? Writers from all skills and levels will be meeting twice a month to share their writing goals and get information, resources and networking to finally accomplish their 2015 writing goals. I already have interest from an Oahu publication who is searching for local writers and is interested in being a guest speaker. You can find out information for the group here, and sign up here.


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The Truth About Failure

Blue woman

I had it again. It’s a reoccurring dream where I’m still in high school. The dream haunts me because I’m stuck there, unable to take the necessary courses and get the required grades to move on. Although the situation is different, the emotion is the same.

FEAR. It’s the emotion that prevents me from taking the next step.

This year embarks a new journey for me. I’m still writing, but I decided to reach outside of my comfort zone and teach workshops. Teaching stress management workshops has been my dream for almost as long as I’ve wanted to be a writer. I finally faced my fears and did my first one at the end of last year and have two more scheduled in the next few months.

I’m always surprised when people like them and prior attendees want to sign up for another one. This is despite the fact that since I’ve been working on them, I’ve slept better, my son’s cries doesn’t stir me up the way it used to and my husband says he’s noticed a significant decrease in his stress after taking it. I’m too accustomed to failure. I brace myself for it even before its made apparent.

But I read something recently on failure that changed how I perceive it.

Failure isn’t the end of your dream, nor is it proof that you won’t ever succeed. It’s indication that you might need a new path. It’s evidence that you need to try something different. But it’s also the realization that you’re doing it! Failure is a necessary part in success. You cannot avoid or sideswipe it if you want to get good at what you do.

Stop criticizing yourself by adding unnecessary suffering and burden for the things you didn’t do right. They are wasteful emotions that work only as excuses so you don’t have to try again.

In The War of Art, author Steven Pressfield talks about the pain he felt when the first movie he worked on bombed:

I’m a loser, a phony; my life is worthless, and so am I.

My friend Tony Keppelman snapped me out of it by asking if I was going to quit. Hell, no! ‘Then be happy. You’re where you wanted to be, aren’t you? So you’re taking a few blows. That’s the price for being in the arena and not on the sidelines. Stop complaining and be grateful.’

That’s was when I realized I had become a pro. I had not yet had success. But I had had a real failure.”

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