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Starting a Career in Freelance Content Writing

As a frequent visitor to online forums filled with entrepreneurial stay-at-home-moms (and dads), I see posts every other day asking questions along the same line. How do I go about starting a career in writing? Where did you get your first writing assignment? Can I be a writer?

Sometimes these posts are followed by an online game of 20 Questions, and often the thread ends up buried with relatively few responses. Why? People by nature do not like to repeat themselves. However, make a few friends in the group, or catch a writer just after they've received their dream assignment, and you might get someone excited enough to share a few tips with you. Or, you could just follow these five steps for getting your career start in content writing:

1. Educate yourself - Take the time to read about the writing industry. Visit writer's websites and blogs, do online searches via Google, subscribe to various news feeds, and join (and frequently participate in) online groups and forums. There is a world of information out there that will enable you to decide if writing for a living really is for you. Tip: It's not for everyone. You will also discover if you have the skills to pull it off, and you may even find you need some formal education.

2. Hone your craft - Take a good look at what you want to accomplish, and compare that to your skill level. Do you need to take a college composition course? Are you in need of some basic English tutoring? If so, you may want to rethink this career choice. Writing is competitive. However, if you need to simply sharpen your writing talent, try online writing courses. There are also a number of free websites that will help you with your grammar and/or spelling. Lastly, the best way to improve your skills is to read and write often. Join a book club and subscribe to Writer's Digest magazine.

3. Put yourself "out there" - Nobody will know you want to be a writer if you don't tell anyone. Do you have a blog? If not, start one immediately. Write informative pieces about any topic of interest, but don't get too personal if you plan on using this site as your writing sample. I suggest a professional blog with content leaning toward the type of writing you wish to produce for pay.

When you've done that, join online communities and writing forums. Put your blog URL in your signature. Write a few articles and list them on websites such as Constant-Content. Also post free articles on your blog or in free article directories. Offer the use of your work on the condition there are no changes made and your byline is listed. Get your name out there.

4. Apply for work and follow through - Once you have some writing samples to show a prospective client, look for job opportunities. Buy the current Writer's Market book from Amazon.com. Look through job listings, which can be easily located on websites such as Craigslist, and lesser-known sites such as personal blogs and writing forums.

I got my first writing jobs at the WAHM writing forum, as well as by looking at Deborah Ng's blog filled with job listings. Most importantly, when you are given your first assignment, follow through and give your contractors a reason to keep coming to you. Do your best work, and adhere to all guidelines and deadlines given. The best indication of a great writer is repeat business, which will allow you to build your "clip" and "sample" piles.

5. Repeat as needed - The fifth and final step is the most important. Once you've reached the point where you're getting paid for your writing, repeat steps 1 through 4. Each time you do, set the bar a little higher, depending on what your ultimate goals are. Want more business? Start a website and market yourself ferociously. Join more writing groups. Decide what area of expertise you want to focus on, and begin building your authority in that area. Whatever you do, build upon the relationships you have with the writers, editors, and publishers you have already worked with.

Diane Penna is a freelance writer in Northern California. She provides web and magazine content, as well as ghostwriting services. You can read more of her work at dianepenna.blogspot.com.

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