* Names have been changed
Hi there. I’m a freelance writer. What do you do?
Oh, you’re thinking about writing but you’re not sure if you can do it?
Hmm. Well, I think it’s time we have a chat.
You can be a writer.
Ha. You don’t think you can? Baloney. Here’s what you need in order to be a writer: Some technical know-how (as in the ability to string words together), ideas, dogged determination and the serious intention to make your dreams of seeing a published byline come true.
Yes, it’s that easy. And that hard.
Trust me, I get it. I’ve been there. In fact, let me recount my most recent journalism class…
I wanted to take Online Writing* after reading its glowing course description. “Take this class and have your freelance career handed to you on a silver platter,” it read. Really? I thought. Sign me up!
So in January, I went to my first class. I took a seat with a gurl I’d had another class with and we chatted quietly until our adjunct professor, an employed web editor, spoke up. In her introduction, she told us she was teaching the class because she had taken so many paycuts at work and needed the money.
The rest of the 15 weeks we had her class, our teacher scheduled everything so that she only had to handle instruction for two classes. The rest of the time, she brought in guest speakers and left us to write up the four pitch letters that made up our grades.
She never seemed to have a good thing to say about journalism.
I’m not stupid; I realize this is a tough industry to break into and work in. But aren’t most industries tough these days? The obstacles most writers face seemed to have her completely down. She was snarky and rarely ever helpful. In fact, one of the ideas I told her I wanted to pitch was blown off as a bad one and just a few days ago, that website ran that very idea, written by one of the teacher’s colleagues.
On our last night of class, I got my final assignment back. I had a 12 out of 20 points on my pitch for a health-conscious website. I was so angry that I almost didn’t make it through the class. I wanted to stand up and call out our teacher on her bullshit. “If you hate journalism so much, don’t teach it and bring the rest of us down,” I wanted to say.
That night when I got home, I bawled for a good half hour. Was I getting into the wrong business? Was I not cut out for it? What would I do if I couldn’t write for a living? It was too much to bear.
So how did I move past it? I read a few books about freelancing – I highly recommend Kelly James-Enger’s Writer for Hire – and I decided that Little Miss Angsty Adjunct wasn’t going to bring me down. I could – would – do this thing for real. It was time I took myself seriously again. Time I took my writing career seriously.
I’ve begun this summer with one goal in mind: To jump-start my freelancing career so that I can graduate with prospects.
But even if you’re not in school for journalism, it’s time to look at yourself in the mirror. No matter how silly it feels, stand before the mirror. Then say it with me, “I’m a writer. Words and ideas are my currency. I’m going to make people sit up and take notice. And until they do, even when they do, I am going to be my own biggest fan.”
There, you’ve done it. Now we can proceed with basic business concepts you’ll need to know if you want to be a freelancer. Check back next week for ways to market your writing and start getting assignments.