When I started out as a freelance writer, I failed miserably. I failed in so many ways I doubt I have enough time left on Earth to recount them. Suffice to say that I didn’t know what the hell I was doing.
Still I slogged along, taking whatever work I could get for whatever pay I could get. In order to support my ‘career’ I had to work non-writing jobs to make ends meet. Why I didn’t give up is beyond me – but I had a dream that just couldn’t be killed.
Out of the blue came the call of freedom
At perhaps one of the lowest points in my life—I was working in a warehouse making $10 an hour, after returning to L.A. broken from a disastrous love affair—I got an email out of the blue. Someone who read my blog wanted to know if I was interested in doing some web writing. Was I??? Yet bet.
Again, lots of mistakes, emotional outbursts and general insanity ensued but I learned quite a bit from my editor. And I will always be grateful to her for what she taught me. And more so for how she toughened me up – because truth be told I can be quite the crybaby when I set my mind to it.
So I quit my warehouse job all hyped up to be a real freelance writer. Exciting. For about ten minutes. Because shortly after that the work dwindled. I started eying the want ads again, sure I’d always be a failure. But wait, another email out of the blue saved me.
The start of a real apprenticeship
A friend and fellow writer asked me if I’d be interested in helping her with a long term project she had with a major company who provided content for attorneys. I would be assigned certain projects, write them, send them to her, she would edit, we would go over the changes, and then submit. My pay was a cut of what she was paid for each page. The proposition seemed fair and a really good escape from the 9 to 5 grind I was so diligently trying to avoid, so I said yes.
I have to admit there were days I wanted to put my head in the oven rather than write one more blog post about car accidents or probate but I persevered. The project lasted well over a year and after all was said and done I’d written hundreds of web pages and blog posts. Some practice areas I knew so well that I could write them in my sleep.
Now here’s the valuable part – it was the personal care and editing that my mentor gave me. She really took the time to go over the edits and she was very smart because she made me implement the changes rather than just making them herself and sending it on. This impacted me much more and I learned very quickly to self edit. As time went on, her edits became lighter and lighter. And I credit this to her method – getting me to make the changes really drove home the why and wherefore. After apprenticing with Lyn I knew I was a freelance writer and that I could deliver. I knew that if I promised something to a client I could keep that promise. I knew I was ready and not destined to failure anymore.
How does this little story help you?
My point is that if you’re looking for a way to break in, if you have contacts who’d be willing to apprentice you, then approach them. Offer to sub-contract, taking less pay and learn from them. If you don’t have contacts you can:
- Approach web content companies/web design companies
- Approach established freelancers
- Approach editors of popular websites/blogs
Be honest with them and tell them you don’t have experience but you want to learn. Offer to apprentice under one of their experienced writers at a reduced rate until you’re ready to fly solo. Busy writers and busy companies are always looking for help. You may be the one who can offer that help.
If somebody takes you up on your offer then commit to it. Commit to becoming a sponge and soak up everything you possibly can. Accept that you’re going to do a lot of rewriting and make changes that you might not like. Be gracious because someone is taking their time to teach you their secrets. Cry in private and oh yeah, you’ll cry. But that’s okay, because after the tears comes knowledge and understanding and eventually confidence.
So, if you have an opportunity to apprentice – take it. If you’re lucky and you’re diligent you may up becoming a real bonafide freelance writer.
To read about the history of apprenticeships, go here.