So You Want To Be A Freelancer?

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Three years ago, I was working a 9-5 job in Washington, DC, had a steady paycheck and rewarding work, a journalism masters under my belt … and was antsy. I didn’t feel ready to apply to a newsroom job in the U.S. I wanted to talk a different language and live inside of an unfamiliar reality. I wanted to be inspired. I wanted to tell stories.


So I quit my job, sold my belongings and moved to Buenos Aires to try freelancing. After two and a half years, I relocated to Bogotá, Colombia, earlier this year, where I'm now based. It’s been quite a ride, full of ups and downs and successes and failures. Moving abroad has been the best and most challenging experience of my life.


In these three years, I’ve written stories about the environment, women’s rights, soccer, corruption, innovation, creativity, media, technology, religion and more, for publications both big and small, well known and unknown. I've produced videos for NGOs, and edited reports for a multi-national. I taught English. I teach yoga. I translate. I have ideas that go nowhere.


I've been seriously humbled, professionally -- learning how to take rejection, how to cope with stress and failure, how to self-motivate. 


Should you choose to embark on the freelancing life, you will inevitably have a much different experience than me. Here are some basic tips that can be useful to those getting started in the freelance writing game. I wish you the best of luck!


  • Build a reputation. Determine how you would like to define yourself and then build your online portfolio. Tweet. Blog. Get in people’s faces in the online space and let them know who you are, what you’re interested in, and why they can trust you.
  • Learn how to pitch. I simply cannot stress this enough. I wish I had taken an entire course on pitching before I departed. It is both a science and an art. Practice it. Study it. 
  • Find a support group. Maybe that's an online subscription service, like Media Bistro, which can help you find information on the right editor to pitch at a certain publication. Maybe that's an informal community of like-minded freelancers, with whom you can share ideas and contacts. You will need support, trust me.
  • Have a running list of story ideas. Keep a google doc or journal page or note on your cell phone of ideas that come and go. Jot down moments of curiosity or inspiration. Post links to articles that you would like to look deeper into. Paste contacts there.
  • Follow journalism blogs, web sites, etc. There are a ton of useful sites out there written by those who’ve come before us. Subscribe to these people on twitter and sign up to get their emails! Also check out sites that provide opportunities for journalists.
  • Ask people to coffee and go to events. Before I moved to Buenos Aires, someone recommended I go on the lookout for smart, creative and interesting people when I arrive. I remember this often. You don’t learn about story ideas from home. Get out of the house whenever you can, ask someone to coffee, and be genuinely interested in their life.
  • Try to stay confident. Freelancing is hard, especially for people at the early stages of their careers. And so much of it is about who you know. You are going to get rejections. You are going to have ideas that go nowhere. You are going to waste money on pursuing stories that no one cares about. Arm yourself with ideas for ways to dig yourself out of a black hole, as you will inevitably get sucked into them. 
  • Don’t get taken advantage of. Even though it’s important to prove yourself, it’s simply not fair to do loads of free reporting and writing. I got offered an assignment from a very prestigious publication, but after spending months researching and still not feeling certain it was going to go anywhere, I had to stop. I was losing money and time and energy that I felt I could have put elsewhere. 
  • If you want to make money, be flexible and be humble. I’ve picked up some small writing and editing gigs that are both interesting and fun. They’re not gonna win me an award, but at the end of the day, I can eat. I have had to temporarily let go of the idea of trying to get stories into heralded publications because, well, life costs money and I want to have health insurance!
  • Ask yourself what you’re really interested in. One of the most amazing things about freelancing is that you are essentially creating your own schedule. If you have a nagging curiosity about something, look into it. You will feel more motivated to report and more committed to selling the story.


And if you're thinking about moving abroad to freelance...


  • Consider going somewhere where you speak the language (or prepare to take months of intensive courses when you arrive).
  • This might seem like a weird suggestion, but teach English classes! My students were some of the most interesting people I met in Buenos Aires. They inspired short stories and ideas.
  • Have a safety net. Even something small. But just have one.

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