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For both new and experienced writers, freelancing can be a great pathway to professional growth. The ability to come up with creative ideas, write clearly, self-edit, and adhere to deadlines can land you work at newspapers, magazines, websites, ad agencies, retailers, and non-profits, for starters. It can be a competitive field, but there’s also tons of opportunity and flexibility.
British journalist Robert Fisk once said, «everyone wants to be an author,» yet not everyone can deliver the goods or makes a living from freelance writing. If you dream of becoming a professional writer, a couple of skills make all the difference. Obviously, the first part is the craft itself, but you also need to steep yourself in the business of writing. This means finding and joining networks, learning from people who know the rules of the game, and continually refining what you already know as industries undergo changes.
The resources on this page will steer you through the full arc, from ideation to selling your work and building your brand.
Learn what it takes to be a published freelance writer with these free and affordable resources, all created by top-tier writers and teachers.
Like the idea of making money from writing but not sure what that looks like for you? This book can help. Petit explains what freelance writing involves, where to sell your work, and how to approach commissioning editors. Perhaps most usefully, the book walks you through how the industry works and how your ideas can fit into it. Sections on story anatomy, interview tips, and common publishing terms are handy if you’re new to writing or don’t have connections in the business.
Almost every freelance article that gets published has a «news hook», which is when an idea relates to or explains a current event or cultural moment. Being able to spot a news hook is vital if you want to sell your work. Knowing what makes topics newsworthy and how to report them can also give you a competitive edge, and will help you refine how you present your ideas.
This beginner course by journalist Joshua McGuigan covers the building blocks of news journalism. Nail these and you’ll be a step closer to winning over readers and commissioning editors.
«New York Times» editor Tim Herrera knows good writing, and can teach you how to achieve it. Together with other industry insiders, Tim’s mission is to help you make money from your words. The bulk of the learning takes place via email newsletter, and focuses on practical, effective skills (for example, recent content includes real-life pitch letters and tactics to find more work). As a bonus, there’s a roster of regular Zoom meetings, where successful freelance writers reveal how they generate ideas and sell stories to the biggest publishers out there.
The Knight Center’s courses have a global reputation — so much so that, in almost any circle of professional writers, it’s very likely someone has gone through this training.
Courses are self-paced and taught through video and reading materials, typically running 4-6 weeks.
Don’t want to be a journalist? These quality courses teach transferable skills in everything from research to finding and breaking exclusive stories, making them useful for writers of all stripes.
Solutions journalism is a form of storytelling that explains why things work the way they do. As the name implies, it reports on people and systems that make a positive difference. Traditional news and storytelling tends to focus on problems, but there’s a growing appetite for content that helps readers and communities move forward.
This Learning Lab course takes around two hours to read through, with quizzes and examples along the way. Of particular note are interactive story blocks that explain how real stories are structured – which you can apply to your writing across the board.
Being able to write eye-catching headlines is a nice touch when you’re writing feature articles. It’s also the secret to writing emails that editors actually open (which ultimately brings you closer to getting an assignment). Starshine Roshell’s course deftly steers you through the basics, so you can feel confident about writing powerful headlines that make editors excited and eager to read your work.
Attention to detail is a key attribute for any writer. It shows you care about your work and respect your editor’s time – and that’s a good foundation for any professional relationship. On the flip side, work that looks sloppy (or worse, contains factual errors) can kill your chances of getting commissioned. Heather Saunders’ online course helps you side-step those dangers, revealing how to polish and perfect your writing for editors and audiences alike.
Once you’ve got the basics under your belt – how and what to write – Writer’s Market lifts the lid on where to send your work. This bible of the writing industry lists an incredible range of magazines and journals, with details about who to pitch, how to contact them, and what they pay. There’s even advice on writing query letters, understanding contracts, and managing your earnings.
The BBC is one of the world’s most trusted content providers, and their training programs have a similar level of prestige. Digital Cities offers free training sessions that are run regularly throughout the year. Content addresses a wide range of creative industries, and writers can find fresh ways to build brand presence and sell their work. Live sessions run to UK times but catch-up content is available via the site and social media channels.
Think of the Society of Freelance Journalists as a kind of vast, virtual concourse. The main hub is a Slack messaging channel, which is a space to chat with freelance writers all over the world, share ideas, and ask for help. This alone makes it a fantastic resource – freelance writing is often a solo venture, so it’s worth building your network early. The cherry on top is the number of jobs and writing opportunities posted to the channel: you may well find your next commission here. Another great, affordable option is Study Hall, which sends you a weekly newsletter of freelance pitch requests, gigs, fellowships, and full-time writing jobs, while also providing a Slack channel and email listserv to keep you connected to other writers.