For those who have a way with words and enjoy the act of putting pen to paper – or more likely, fingertips to keyboard – then a career in writing may be just the right job. But do people really pay good money to have someone write for them, and is it possible to make a living out of writing? Here is some career advice for becoming a freelancer writer.

Why write?

There is always a need for the written word. The explosion of the internet has meant that there is a hunger for content that keeps websites fresh and up to date. For many people, the internet is their primary resource for sourcing information, seeking answers to everyday questions and making purchases dependent upon the pictures and the text they see on a site. And that is not all – despite the appeal of the online world, there is still a huge market for printed publications, such as magazines and journals, which constantly need articles and features to fill their pages.

The good thing about freelance writing is that you do not need any formal qualifications: you either have a talent for writing or you do not. Although good writing techniques can be learnt, you need to have flair and an ability to tell a story, even if you are writing non-fiction. However, if you do have a degree, it will demonstrate far more than your ability to just write. It will prove that you have the ability to carry out research to inform your writing, that you can construct an article in a fluent and coherent manner, and that you have the intelligence to make arguments and back them up with evidence. If taking a degree is out of the question, you can still learn more and develop your skills by enrolling in a writing course that earns you a diploma.

The best way to demonstrate your writing ability is to build up your portfolio. This used to be something of a Catch-22, needing someone to take a chance on you in order to create some work, but the internet has changed this. The pay may not be great, but by bidding on jobs posted on online freelancing sites, you can quickly build up a body of work that can be used to demonstrate your writing ability. These sites also give you experience in working to commissions, delivering to specified deadlines and working with clients. Once you have your foot in the door, so to speak, you can move onto bigger and better paid jobs.

Once you do have a body of work behind you, you may want to make a decision about whether you want to stay as a writer who will write about anything, or specialise in a particular area. There are advantages to both. If you are a freelance writer who has a broad range of interests and feels more than equipped to write on a variety of topics, like Alison O’Riordan, who is a freelance journalist writing about crime, sports, politics, fashion and much more, then your job opportunities can be huge. O’Riordan, as a freelancer, has the freedom to pitch her work to any online or print publication she chooses. One advantage of being a generalist is that no two days are likely to be the same. You could be writing website copy one day and a white paper the next.

Specialising brings its own advantages. By specialising, you are writing about a subject that you have a particular interest in, which is always desirable. Also, if your specialism is particularly niche, then you have an opportunity to become the go-to person for that subject, which could mean you can charge much higher rates. The drawback is that such writing jobs may not be all that regular.

There will come a time when you will need to approach editors and pitch to them, and for the newbie writer this can be rather daunting. Few people like to receive cold calls, so expect to face rejection on a frequent basis. If telephoning is too intimidating, then you can send an email as a pitch, explaining who you are and providing some article ideas. If the editor is interested, they will contact you. If you do not want to pitch a particular idea but just want to make contact, then email asking if the editor is looking to add freelancers to their list.

Becoming a freelance writer is a great way to earn a living out of your love for writing; all you need is talent and an attitude that never gives up.