Finding Freelance Writing Work

By Nils Gollersrud

Finding freelance writing work at the beginning of your career is often difficult. There’s many challenges that young writers face, especially if they are just getting started building a professional network and if they only have little or no published content. However, it’s not entirely impossible to find freelance work. I can attest to this as I was fortunate enough to be offered several opportunities for paid and volunteer writing over the last couple years despite being a recent college grad and facing a challenging job search during Covid.

Since May 2020, I have been writing film reviews and articles for the website Loud and Clear Reviews. I’ve had the opportunity to watch screeners for upcoming films, attend online film festivals, interview a writer/director/actor for his debut feature, and pitch articles on film topics that interested me. I’ve written 61 reviews and articles published on the site, as well as contributed to several more collaborative articles. 

One day completely out of the blue, the website’s owner messaged me on Facebook saying that she had read some of my reviews on Letterboxd, a film social media platform I frequently post on (it’s a site where you can log the films you watch and add reviews). She was impressed with the reviews I’d written on there and asked if I’d like to write for her website. I gladly accepted her offer for the chance to have a new creative outlet where I could have my writing published and also to have something to keep myself busy with outside of online classes in the early months of quarantine.

My favorite opportunity that this gave me was the chance to apply for a press pass for the 2021 Seattle International Film Festival. I was able to watch and review 10 feature films, as well as several shorts programs. This was one of my most productive periods as I was able to watch and review multiple films a day, which was certainly tiring but also very exciting and gave me a sense of what it might be like to be a professional film journalist having to review so many films at a festival.

While this was an unpaid opportunity, I found it very rewarding as I was able to engage with a passion of mine in a new way and write lots of published content that I could also add to a portfolio.

After graduating from undergrad, I completed an internship for SagaCity Media, a travel and lifestyle magazine publishing company. Most of my internship consisted of fact-checking articles for publication, but I also got to write articles and was fortunate enough to be paid for these. Ultimately the internship wasn’t very exciting because the work was often tedious and it didn’t give me as much of a learning opportunity as I hoped to get from it. However, I was fortunate enough to have my writing published for the first time, even if it was work that I wasn’t particularly proud of.

In December 2020, while I was in the middle of my job search having no luck, I got a message from an editor from Sagacity who was putting together a new Washington State Visitor’s Guide and he reached out to me asking if I’d like to write some articles. He saw that I’d written for the Visitor’s Guide the year before and found me on LinkedIn. I gladly accepted his offer and wrote several articles on Washington food and travel. This was a great beacon of hope in my career search as it allowed me to make a little money, give me some work experience I could put on a resume, and add more material to my portfolio. The editor also mentioned that he’d found my film reviews I’d written for Loud and Clear and was impressed with my writing.

I was fortunate enough to be contacted by the same editor again a year later, and was also contacted a couple more times by another editor I used to work with at my internship. While I hadn’t stayed in contact with her, she reached out to me with opportunities and I was glad to take on these. In addition to writing more articles on local travel, I also got more variety with the assignments, such as interviewing a real estate expert about the upcoming housing market forecast (not a particularly exciting topic however).

Much later in my job search, a recruiter contacted me on LinkedIn about a content writing opportunity for a sales enablement software company. While I didn’t get the job, the manager for the position that I’d interviewed for was impressed with my writing background and portfolio and offered me the opportunity to be a freelance contributor. I gladly accepted, thinking this would be good experience to add to my portfolio and resume, and would hopefully help me find a job soon.

However, it wasn’t a good opportunity. First, I was transcribing podcasts and interviews into articles about sales enablement, a topic that did not interest me at all. The work was tedious and unlike my other writing opportunities, had no room for creativity. The work didn’t pay much and I could only work less than 15 hours per week. I also had to accept the offer on a freelancing platform called Upwork (which took some of the money I was paid) and had to record my work time on a tool that took a screenshot every few minutes to monitor my screen to make sure I was actually working.

Fortunately, after about a month, I was lucky enough to find a full-time job and could finally quit this freelance editing work. I didn’t even bother including these articles in my portfolio since my name wasn’t even mentioned in them and I wasn’t proud of the work I contributed since it didn’t interest me. Around this time, I was even offered another opportunity for freelance work by a friend of a family friend who works for an e-commerce marketing company, but I had to decline that offer as I wouldn’t have had time for that work.

I was surprised by how many freelance writing opportunities I was able to find after I’d graduated college. At first, it seemed almost impossible to be able to find freelance work, especially since I didn’t have much professional experience and published writing to show. However, through these different opportunities, I was able to add content and experience to my portfolio over time and build up enough variety and credibility as a writer.

Having a portfolio is a good place to start. This can be difficult for new writers if you don’t have published work, but school or personal projects can easily suffice, as long as you show your best work. It’s also wise to create a personal website, even if you only have a few samples to share, and this makes your writing easy for readers or hiring managers to view, instead of just emailing documents of writing samples when applying for writing work.

Whenever an opportunity comes your way, be sure to say yes. Even if it isn’t paid work, you should still take on opportunities that will offer material to add to your portfolio. Sometimes volunteer work like this can lead to paid freelance work or even a job in the future, so this is a good place to start those connections.

And while an obvious point, it’s important to always use good grammar and spelling, whether editing a portfolio, applying to jobs, or completing any sort of professional or published work. One time in college I applied for a research/editing job for a professor and during the interview the professor showed me the spelling and grammar mistakes I’d made on the application, saying that in the real world this can lead to a job application being tossed out. Paying close attention to the detail and quality of the work you put out will definitely benefit you and make you stand out, especially if you don’t have much experience and need to build credibility as a writer, especially for freelance work.

Nils is an aspiring novelist who lives in Seattle and currently works in support for a pet tech company. He has degrees in English, humanities and business and is also an avid language and cooking enthusiast.

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