How I Got Started In Freelance Writing (About Programming Topics)

How I Got Started In Freelance Writing (About Programming Topics)

I am a programmer by trade, and writer by night, both on my own terms and for others. I can not get enough of my fingers typing words and sentences, and being paid to do so makes it all the more fun.

However, getting started is nowhere near easy, so that is why I wanted to write down some of my experiences to hopefully guide one or two of you through these painstaking early phases.

I collected a spreadsheet full of resources and sites that take pitches

To get right to the point: The most useful bit of information you will likely get from this post is my spreadsheet full of writing resources, from job boards over sites accepting pitches and even websites that take fiction submissions.

I have it set up as a freebie for signing up to my mailing list, you probably already got notified by now. If not, you can find it in the sidebar with a fancy canva graphic. Well, that list is the real deal, it’s what I used and keep using, and if your goal is to find freelance writing work then this list will save you hours of mindless work going through all kinds of lists and blogs, finding websites and everything.

I worked hard, gave up, got surprised

I can personally attest that the early stages of getting into freelance writing are utterly disgusting, soul-crushing, mind-numbing. You research a ton, you find all the job boards and lists and sites accepting pitches, then you apply to all of them.

But you don’t have a thing to show for yourself, no references. I even had my successful Medium posts to show for myself, but that means shit against someone who has actual references with posts they have written for others. Half the jobs I could not even apply for as they require English natives, no matter if I am fluent and write more English than German these days.

So it is not just an uphill battle to get that elusive first gig, it is pretty much a non-starter for anyone who doesn’t put their full mind behind it. I did, and even then I ended up giving up after two months of trying and getting nowhere.

Then, one night on the couch, I got an email from a tech content mill that I had applied for, and already thought it was another rejection. I thought „why, that’s nice of you to at least write back, most folks never even respond“. But instead it turned out that they wanted me on board, and I did a paid test post, and have been writing with them ever since. They are the biggest source of the jobs that I take on, mainly because they find actually interesting clients, give me well-thought-out outlines and pay well on top of that.

But yeah, at the end of the day, luck and hard work were the main factors of getting my first-ever writing gig, and that is really the hardest part of this whole thing.

I used my first post as a portfolio item to apply for more work

Now, with that first paid-and-published post under my belt, I could suddenly start applying to more gigs, easier. My template for applying to work changed a little, and started listing more than just my posts on Medium.

This is standard behavior for a reason, and nothing really special. You just need the experience to get the experience, but we as programmers are used to that, aren’t we?

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I kept applying for all kinds of writing jobs

I don’t just write about programming these days, even though it certainly pays best, with the least amount of overhead since I know these things by heart.

But I also write about all kinds of topics, as long as they interest me and I can get the work. I have written posts for gardening websites and welding blogs, mostly one-and-done work but with a few recurring jobs as well. To me, those are fun in between, but they come with lower pay and much more overhead, so I would really not expect to make a living off of these.

Recurring work is really where it’s at

Some people scoff at the idea of writing for content mills, but to me that is really the ideal form of work. The work stays fresh since there are always new topics and clients, and those content mills take on all the overhead that goes into the hiring and billing, the editing and publishing.

Having either long-term clients or working for a content mill is really where it’s at, those gigs are what makes all the painstaking upfront work worth it.

You can’t expect to make a living right away, but side income may just be better

The more I write, the more I realize that I would hate it if I had to rely on it for my full-time income. I sincerely enjoy sitting down on the couch or at my desk after work and penning a post for this site, writing something on Medium, or working on a paid post for one of my clients – but oh boy, would I hate it if that was the first thing I did after getting up, and the last before going to bed.

And that creates an interesting paradoxon of inverse-enjoyment the more of an enjoyable thing you do, and the balance point is definitely fleeting.

I know how it feels to burn out on a good thing, that was how I got into writing in the first place because I thought it might allow me to quit my programming job. Well, now it’s more than a year later, I have a new programming job that I love, and a writing side gig that is fun and that I can just stop working on anytime it isn’t.

Takeaway: Freelance writing is great anytime it doesn’t suck

I hope I could bring across the main point of this article, that freelance writing is a double-edged sword, with a sharp tip that is pointed right at you.

That doesn’t make it any less fun, but it’s certainly something that you need to pour a lot of effort into compared to say, signing up for a pizza delivery job. I delivered pizza for months to get away from my desk and that took me about two hours of upfront work, for a guaranteed pay check as long as I kept showing up to work and kept delivering pizza into hungry hands.

Minimum wage ain’t all that bad when it’s guaranteed and comes with tips, and you don’t have to spend hours to secure the work before being allowed to show up.

And sure enough, I really love how my website earns me money while I sit in the car getting paid to drive around and deliver food. It’s a fun job, and a fun life when suddenly everything starts working together.

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