5 Shortcuts New Freelance Writers Can Take to Jumpstart Their Careers

Carol Tice

Nearly every freelance writer — or even aspiring freelance writer — I meet would like to know how to get there faster.

Who wants to pay dues for years, writing low-pay gigs in obscurity? Writers want to know where the shortcuts are to earning a real living in writing and gaining a solid reputation.

For some aspects of this career, there are no shortcuts, in my view.

Want to improve the quality of your writing? Then write a lot. There isn’t really any substitute for that.

But there are definitely some time-wasting detours you can avoid to move ahead faster in freelance writing.

Here are five of the most useful shortcuts I know:

  1. Stop doubting yourself. Oodles of time and energy are wasted in self-doubt. When you don’t feel confident about your writing abilities, you don’t put yourself out there as much as you should. So start with a belief that your writing offers something unique and valuable to the marketplace. Trust me, it does. There is no other you. No matter where you are in your writing journey, there is a client that is a fit for you and would love to hire you.
  2. Don’t look at online job ads. They are almost exclusively the province of low payers. Look at those enough, and you’ll despair that there’s a living to be made in writing. All the good jobs go unadvertised and are gotten through referrals and active marketing — so commit yourself to promoting your business. You’ll be amazed at how much faster you develop a list of good-paying clients. Scanning the online boards gives you the illusion that you’re marketing you’re business, but you’re really just trolling the same crowded, low-paying pool as the masses. To get there faster, you’ll need to do something bolder. Challenge yourself to spend one week on other marketing activities and completely avoid those Craigslist ads.
  3. Instead of writing for mills, do a few free gigs. Yes, we all want to get paid. But the best way to hurry up and acquire the sort of portfolio that impresses good-paying prospects is to volunteer for a few quality organizations in the industries where you want to write. You can write 100 content-mill articles, and still have no good samples you can use to break in with magazines or quality businesses. Instead, bite the bullet and write pro bono, with a pledge from the client to refer you and give you a testimonial.
  4. Put up a writer website and join LinkedIn. You just don’t look like a pro — especially with online markets — if you have no website where prospects can go to learn about and read your work. Get one up and you’re instantly more credible, even if your only writing samples are your own blog posts. So many writers put this task off, and it’s really a big mistake. Get something — anything — up now and improve from there. Stuff your LinkedIn profile with relevant key words and connect on there with every former teacher, writer pal, and editor you’ve ever known. Then, let them know you’re looking for clients. Your marketing will never get any easier than telling people who already know and like your writing that you’d appreciate their referrals.
  5. Get mentors. My career would never have taken off without help from two editors who were willing to show me what I was doing wrong and how to improve. A pro’s quick scan through your query letter or article — or their tips on how newbies can break in — can save you months of rejection and discouragement and help you start getting gigs lined up that pay real dough.

What shortcuts have you taken that helped you earn more? Leave a comment and share your tip.




  1. Inge Papp

    I agree wholeheartedly with no. 3, Carol, and I would hasten to add that you don’t necessarily have to write pro bono for a client – you can write an eBook and publish it online for free to get your name out there. Businesses do it, so why can’t individual writers?

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