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.

From Rut to Groove

What do you when you’re writing gets stale? You do the following…

  1. INCREASE YOUR VOCABULARY.

    Writing can become mundane even for the writing enthusiast. And when you’re bored, your readers are bored. Mix it up by expanding your vocab list. Check out This site, which teaches words like, “argute,” and “snudge.” You might not use every word you learn in your next manuscript, but the exercise will force you to spend time outside the box.

Read more over at The Freelance Life where I’m guest blogging.

How to Live Happily Ever After With Your Editor

{Etsy sign by CastleInnDesigns}
{Etsy sign by CastleInnDesigns}

It’s not over once you get that writing gig. To sustain a prosperous freelance writing career, you need to do more than get a job. You’re going to need to work hard at cultivating a mutually satisfying relationship so editors and clients will want to call you the next time a writing job comes around.

How do you do it?

Here are 4 agreements (inspired by Don Miguel Ruiz’s book The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom) to help you be that editor/client’s next go-to writer:

1) Be impeccable with your word. Being impeccable with your word means more than just being honest. It means delivering what you promise. If you agree to submit a 900-word article by Friday, make sure you do it. To develop trust, your actions and words must match up.

2) Don’t take anything personally. No one likes rejection. But when your idea or even your article gets canned, it sucks. And rightfully, so. But the only way to make it worse is to think that every person who doesn’t like your work, doesn’t like you. It’s difficult not to equate your own self-worth with your creative endeavors. It’s hard because everything you create feels personal. Let the process be personal, but be like a parent and when it’s all grown up, let it go. No matter what critiques you get back, don’t let someone’s words take away the power of what that piece did for you.

3) Don’t make assumptions. Just because you haven’t heard back from an editor in a few weeks, don’t assume they didn’t like your work. Most likely, they’re drowning in manuscripts and paperwork and just haven’t had a chance to respond. Check in with a quick email to see if you can help in anyway.

4) Always do your best. It doesn’t matter if what you’re working on pays $$$$ or $. You should provide every project with the same effort. You can’t control a lot of things in life. But what you can control is the quality of your work. Continuously show up with great content and you’ll get noticed.

Do all 4 and you’ll be on the right path toward freelance writing success.

Get Off Your Writing Couch and Do Something!

Thank you Stephanie and Jan for reminding me about 2 things: 1) To keep up this blog! 2) To be more compassionate. 

Their comment comes on the heels of a short answer I compiled for O magazine. If you want to read my little published shpeal on compassion, it’s right here.

{Etsy art by wordwillow}
{Etsy art by wordwillow}

But the main reason I’m writing this is that I think too many of us get comfy in our writing couches and stop taking chances. Maybe we had HUGE dreams about what it would mean to be a freelance writer and since we didn’t achieve them, we kind of just gave up.

I had big dreams too. I wanted to be a self-help writer who writes about mental health issues, the environment and writes copy for cute whimsical companies on the side. On days when I have too much time to think I get down about that. Until my logical side slaps my creative side and says the following: “Doh dude, you already did that! Get back to work!”

It’s so easy to get lost in the once-in-the-lifetime dreams like writing for O magazine when your dream life is right in front of you. We think that to be successful means we need to be published in a huge publication, be known in the writing industry or be a published author. But for many of us it means making our clients happy, getting new gigs, challenging our creative muscle. Just because you’re in the latter category, doesn’t mean you’re a loser or you’re never going to get there. What it means it that you’re right now on the writing road to success. You’re just in the early stages and the only way you won’t get there is if you give up.

This quote by author Christina Katz came to me in the form of a Writer’s Digest newsletter and I’m so grateful for it. For any of you out there who feels bummed out that you haven’t “made it yet,” read this:

“Stop waiting for big success and aim for a series of small successes instead. Many writers are waiting to hit the mother lode, so to speak, of writing success. But success lies in taking aim at targets you are likely to actually hit and then hitting them one after the other. That’s how experience is gained in an otherwise complex and mysterious profession.”
~ Christina Katz

5 Things to Do Before the End of the Year

 

The road leading to your freelance writing dreams.
The road leading to your freelance writing dreams.

There’s lots to keep you busy in December. Need I list them? Christmas, Hanukkah, gearing up for your Resolutions list come January.

But there are a handful of things you won’t want to forget while you’re busy making a list and checking it twice.

Here are 5 things you don’t want to miss if you’re a freelance writer:

1. Say, “Thanks!”

We often forget what it was like when we had no clients. When there were no deadline, no phone calls, no projects in the near future. Or worse, when we had nightmare clients who were worse to work with than having no clients at all. When it comes to cultivating your garden of opportunities it’s always important to be grateful for the garden you have now. Make time to send a card, or even just an email to let your clients (past and present) know how much you appreciate them and how much you look forward to working with them again in the future.

2. Organize your paperwork.

Better to get all your paperwork in order now before things get crazy again next year. This means sending out all invoices due, recording all payment received and keeping track of all of your receipts.

3. Create a list of accomplishments you’re proud of.

The year goes by so fast doesn’t it? I find that by spending time thinking about all the things I’ve accomplished this year, I’m more motivated and excited by the upcoming year. I never would have thought that, for example, I’d finally move to Hawaii, land freelance writing opportunities for national and regional magazines or that I would have gotten a column for The Writer magazine. It’s easy to get caught up as a freelance writer, comparing yourself to other writers and getting down when work gets sparse. All the more reason why you should take a few minutes to list all the amazing things you’ve done this year!

4. Create a list of things you want to accomplish in 2013.

It’s almost here! 2013 is right around the corner. To get jumping on the new year, devote time to writing what you want to still do. Whether it’s completing a short story, novel, or book of poetry, make sure you add it to your list and refer to it every few months. The only way you’ll get things done is if you focus on your goals and take the necessary steps to get there.

5.  Create a “no ways could this ever happen to me, but I wish it would” list.

We do this for holidays, make a list of all the things we wish we could own. Why not do this for your writing? Compose a list of ideal clients, amazing companies, and inspiring projects you’d love to work on. Once it’s out there, you never know what can happen.

What did you want to accomplish before the end of 2012?

I Really Want to Be a Writer But…

{iPhone photo by Brandi-Ann Uyemura.}

There’s always a reason to give up.

Let me count the ways. Your mounting bills, the bad economy, the competition, your lack of time, fear of rejection, there’s already enough books out there, your stuff’s no good, no one will read it, you hate feeling vulnerable, etc.

And it doesn’t get easier. They ebb and flow, rising as your confidence rises. They strengthen as your courage deepens. In fact, the more you grow, the greater the challenges become.

Over time you either grow accustomed to them or you begin to listen. If you choose the latter, you may lose your inner voice. You may think that no one is rooting for you, that you are alone on the journey, that there are people who expect you to fail. This type of thinking not only hurts your chances of writing success, it hurts your spirit.

There have been many times on this path that I’ve doubted my course. And I still do. I know I probably will always feel uncertain about my choices just as I have days where I’m completely sure. But one thing I’ve learned to do is separate myself from the negative voice. I’ve also learned to reach out right when I feel like closing in. I’ve learned that there are people who I have never met who are cheering for me (like these people here.) And I learned that No ONE knows the purpose of my life, only I do.

A lot of people tell me that they want or wish they could be a writer. I understand the longing. It’s been my secret desire since I was a kid. It only took me a few decades to gain the confidence to pursue what I thought I didn’t have the skills to do.

But here’s what I’ve learned.

If you really, really want to be a writer, then do it. Don’t wait until you’ve got enough experience, you have more time, you feel less insecure, the perfect writing job comes along. Do it now!

This lady taught me a few years ago something that I only got now. She told me that if I wanted to be a writer to do it. She said, “I believe you can.” I took her words as generous and kind as gifts from a sweet person. I only realized now that anyone can do it. The key is you’ve got to have the passion and the belief that you can.

It doesn’t matter how much experience you got or how much talent you have. We all need to start somewhere. If you read my writing when I first started, you’d realize how far we all have go to get good at something. It’s the process by which all people rise to the top.

So stop whatever moaning and groaning and procrastinating that you’re doing and do what you say you’ll do. Don’t wait until tomorrow because tomorrow offers another excuse to put it off.

You say you want to be a writer? Well go ahead and write right now!

Starting Over

{by Brandi-Ann Uyemura}

Fabulous careers in creative fields (like you writers) deserve a little more attention, motivation and flexibility than other fields. You need to roll with the punches, get your tough going (when the going gets rough) and be willing to go for the ride. [Definitely met my “trite phrases quota” for the day.]

Part of that is getting used to the up and down roller coaster ride of both inspiration and writing gigs. That means sometimes there will be lulls, sometimes there will be speed bumps. And when I’m on a high, I need to remember to stop myself from being too big for my britches, less I forget that I’m about to fall back into a valley.

I’ve recently moved to Hawaii and left the comforts of mainland writing gigs. Actually, I left during the peak of my career and had to turn down several lucrative opportunities that did not allow me to work from home. But like you, I’m met with just another writing hurdle. One that asks the question:

How do you start over again?

How do you start over if you’ve been fired from a job, quit the current one or projects have ended?

You dust yourself off and get resourceful. Contact previous clients or tell friends, acquaintances, family members that you’re looking for a new one. Join a writing club, create your own (if anyone lives in Hawaii who’s interested in attending a club, I’m about to start my own).

You remember that things take time. 

You remember how busy you were when things were going good so you use the time to rest and recoup before your next big gig.

You forget about how good it was so that you can move on to bigger and better things.

You do an inventory of skills you may need and equipment and supplies you don’t. Use the time to reorganize, take classes, and read up on your field.

Most importantly, don’t lose hope. Starting over seems scary because we get too comfortable where we are. Life is about beginnings and ends. Sometimes we forget that and believe we have control over everything in life. In Produced By Faith DeVon Franklin says we only have control over two things:

“how we prepare for what might happen, and how we respond to what just happened.”

{If passion’s what you need help with, you might want to read my latest article for The Writer magazine here.}

Feel Free to Moan, and Groan…But Never Ever Give Up!

{flickr photo}

I’ve spent enough time studying the grooves of my ceiling to know that every creative person, writers included, needs to take risks and risk the repercussions afterwards. Just like you may have a flood of ideas and are eager to set each one free, you may spend nights like me staring at the ceiling bemoaning over your impulsivity for not being more discriminating.

That comes with the territory.

In the five years that I’ve spent freelancing, I’ve banged my head over my keyboard (figuratively) enough times to put Don Music to shame. (If you need a refresher, he’s the crazy piano guy on Sesame Street.)

But I know it’s just another part of the process.

In fact, I’m quite sure that the more successful you are, the more failures you’ve collected over time. And while that’s not always enough to get writers to ever look forward to rejection letters, it’s hopefully enough to make you see the normality in the ups and downs of your creativity.

It’s all about falling off that horse and moseying back up again.

In a beautiful CNN article, “The success of failure: Pulitzer winner’s surprising road to the top,” writer Todd Leopold demonstrates just how far you might have to go to be successful. In particular, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jennifer Egan sometimes admits to going through 50-60 drafts. And it’s not just about being persistent that makes you successful. Taking a line from Kenny Rogers, it’s also knowing when to “fold ’em.”

Some writers spend years perfecting their work-in-progress having never had it published. Sometimes it takes hankering away. But other times it’s getting good at knowing when it’s time to move on.

It’s a gray area.

How do YOU know when it’s time to say goodbye to a project you’re working on or when it’s time to keep working at it?

Help This Writer Out!

{flickr photo}

Fellow writer Daylin Van Zandt sent me a message over Facebook today that inspired me. He decided to quit his full-time job to fulfill a dream. I’m so excited for him! One of his dreams is to start a community magazine. While he has the networks and the know-how to get started, he wanted some tips, advice, suggestions on what steps to take to get cracking on this latest endeavor. I asked Daylin if I could post his question on my blog in the hopes that you generous and wise readers could help out. His message is below. Please leave a comment to let him know what you think.

“I was going through old emails and I actually saved the few of them that we sent back and forth last year. I took some time to read them and it really inspired me again. I recently quit my job that I had in a call center and took a part time job tutoring which is really awesome so far. I am left with about 20 extra hours a week to pursue what I am passionate about. I have been working on some film/photography projects (none are paying yet but its good experience). I’m also trying to start a community magazine and start writing and publishing. We have a local company that distributes free arts and entertainment papers (charging for advertising) but I have heard from a lot of people that for one they are too expensive to advertise in and two the articles and coverage they do isn’t a true representation of what’s really going on in the local culture. So I’m trying to find a way to make this happen. I was wondering how you think it would be best to go about creating this. Blog? Printing? I’m really excited and motivated. I have alot of really good contacts in the city and an active involvement in arts/business/music/film/access to writers. I just wanted to know what you thought.”

What You’re Holding On to Could Be Holding Back Your Writing

{flickr photo by fireflythegreat}

The Pain in My Neck

I went to the chiropractor for the first time in a decade today. I’ve been having a literal pain in my neck and shoulders and wanted to find the culprit. Although the results were inconclusive, the chiropractor did tell me something intriguing. He said my posture was messed up. Okay he didn’t say that exactly, but he did tell me that I was tensing one of my shoulders and hunching my back. I realized that just as we hold onto bad ideas, dysfunctional relationships and negative thoughts, we also unconsciously hold onto our bodies willing it to work in ways that cause us pain and discomfort.

It’s the same for our creative endeavors.

What You Give Out Comes Back to You

If you’re not mindful of how you’re holding your postures, your thoughts, your inaccurate beliefs of what is possible for your life, they could control you. An old college classmate once said, “You walk like you don’t have any self-confidence.”

The energy I was bringing to the world was once that was a gross misrepresentation of what I wanted to express in the world. And that energy was literally causing me a pain in my neck.

How You Could be Sabotaging Your Work-In-Progress 

As I have been unaware of how I was holding myself up, how many of you are letting your work-in-progress down by being unconscious? For example, you may have the following thoughts:

  • that your writing is not good enough
  • that you’ll never make it as a writer
  • that the work you do has no meaning
  • that no one will like it
  • that everyone will laugh at you when they read it.

Well those seemingly innocuous thoughts can sabotage your success, eating away at your efforts to get published.

Letting Go

In order to confront these shadows, it’s important to have be conscious of them and then let them go. Sometimes mean, old, bitter critics that live in our mind come from the words of relatives and friends who said something to us at one point in time. And even though it’s difficult to believe, sometimes their words feel comforting because we’re scared. Believing their words can keep us from confronting our own fears.

But if you want to be a writer, you need to not just write, but write for the world to see. Let go of the idea of perfection. Let go of the belief that you’re not good enough. Let go because doing so will let in something greater to your life.

And watch as they float on by like balloons in your mind.

All writers take risks with the knowledge that doing so will reap far greater benefits that the comfort of squelching their dreams will.

Being a writer is not easy. So the real question is:

How much will you risk to be the writer you always wanted to be?