I have an English degree. Like nearly every other English major I know, I dream of making a living as a freelance writer, creating content and being paid for it. Some of us want to write books, others want to write for non-profits, and some – like me – want to work as a marketing and corporate communications consultant. I learned a lot about writing while in college: key classes included Biography Writing with Dr. Anne Williams and Business & Administrative Writing with Dr. Ken Davis. One thing I didn’t learn, however, was what I needed beyond talent in order to break into the freelance market.
I guest lecture for my friend and mentor, Dr. Williams, and one thing I will be discussing is what writing students can do now to prepare themselves for their future writing careers. This is a synopsis of that lecture.
Write, Write, Write
I really can’t stress that enough. You need to write. My friend Brian Clark at copyblogger.com has a terrific post that list 10 steps to becoming a better writer:
- Write more.
- Write even more.
- Write even more than that.
- Write when you don’t want to.
- Write when you do.
- Write when you have something to say.
- Write when you don’t.
- Write every day.
- Keep writing.
Consequently, he’s write–err–right. You just gotta write. All the time. In college, I learned that I write best when creativity flows. I discovered that creativity flows between 1:00 AM and 4:00 AM, usually two nights before the assignment is due and when I’m hopped up on caffeine.
After spending a few years in the professional world, I’ve realized that I can’t always wait for those perfect moments of creativity and inspiration to strike me – I have to write RIGHT NOW! Learning to channel my creative side, even at the drop of a hat, has been a major challenge for me. A great way to do that is to practice writing. Make a point of writing every day, even if it’s only a few hundred words. Write about anything and everything, and challenge yourself to write on different topics. It will expand your base, increase your mental dexterity, and broaden the scope of your voice.
Genre – More Than Just Literature
Sure, we’ve got different words for it, but when you write professionally, you write in different genres because you write for different purposes. When I write marketing materials, I use a different voice than when I’m writing internal training documents. A press release is dramatically different than a grant application. (Potential employers – I’m familiar with all of these different writing styles. Keep that in mind.) Practice writing for different purposes, take classes (if possible) on writing in different genres, and find classes that will teach you how to write for the business world. Think about what types of writing will be required for the type of work you’re interested in, and begin learning how to write for that environment right away. Get as much practice as possible.
Build a Portfolio
This is big. This is bigger than big. This is huge. I can’t stress how important it is that you develop a serious writing portfolio. I’m not talking about three pieces of work that you edited for a class and turned in and got an A; I’m talking about a set of documents that cover a broad range of styles, genres, and purposes and demonstrate that you are capable of writing for any situation that may present itself. How do you get this experience? Work for free.
Look up a non-profit organization that you believe in, contact someone there, and offer free writing and editing services. They’ll be happy to have the help, and you’ll get to use what you create for your portfolio. It’s a win-win situation, and it will get you on the right track. You’ll have references, a writing portfolio, and experience to begin your professional career.
These are just a few tips for the beginning writer – especially someone entering into the freelance world. For more information, visit bltitus.com.