Here’s How to Build Your Freelance Writing Portfolio from Scratch

build freelance writing portfolio

Even if you think you have no writing experience.

Are you struggling to build your freelance writing portfolio? If you can remember what it was like to get your first job in high school or maybe in college, every interviewer asked about your previous experience. But when you’re looking for your first job, how can you talk about your experience? The same thing is often true for freelance writers.

You don’t have experience getting paid to write and every gig or writing job you find wants samples of your writing. And what if you want to get paid to write in a different area than your work experience or your degree?

How do you show potential clients you have experience when you’ve not yet been paid to write? How do you build your freelance writing portfolio to demonstrate experience to your very first clients?

You can’t get experience without a job and can’t get a job without experience. It can often seem like a no-win situation.

But I’m here to tell you it’s not. If you’re new to freelance writing, there is hope. I work with and coach many writers who thought they were stuck in this impossible situation. It can be done and I’m going to show you how.

Forage through your past

Most people I work with are surprised to discover they actually do have more experience with writing than they realize. So, the first step to building a writing portfolio when you have no experience is to forage through your past. I know you think you don’t have writing experience, but I bet you do have something you can translate and use. So bear with me.

Create a list of each job you’ve had in the past. Every single one. There is no job too small to be on your list. It doesn’t have to be writing related.

Make sure to put down volunteer experiences and anything else you helped with for your church, for school, for your neighbors, etc. Did you and your sister have a lemonade stand every summer? Did you sell girl scout cookies? Were you in the church choir? Put that on your list.

Now that you have your list, we’re going to look at those jobs and projects with new eyes. Every experience counts, paid or unpaid, formal or informal..

I want you to look at your list and think about everything you did while in that role. If you think of anything writing, sales, or marketing related, write it down.

  • Was it up to you to gather the news every week or month for a staff newsletter?
  • Did you have to talk to people and either give them information about something or persuade them to do or participate in something?
  • Did you write or publish a church or school newsletter?
  • What about school or university? What writing and writing related experiences did you have there?
  • Have you ever worked on any part of a website?
  • Did you write or publish a newsletter for your local parent/teacher organization, your university, or your local service club?
  • Did you work on procedure manuals, lesson plans, or write up monthly or annual reports?
  • Did you tell new bedtime stories for your kids, grandchildren, or nieces and nephews when they grew bored with their printed books?
  • Did you write and send letters or poems regularly?
  • Maybe you were the one who wrote or edited the instruction manual for the new video conference system at work.

Just about every job or experience you’ve had in the past will likely have some type of writing involved in it. You won’t be able to use every instance but it’s good to do this exercise so you can be aware of the fact that you do have more writing experience than you think you do.

Discover your writing sweet spot

Now that you’ve thought about your writing experience from your past, find your writing sweet spot by making these four lists.

  1. What are you good at? What’s the thing that comes easy to you? (whether you like doing it or not)
  2. What would you like to be good at? The things you’d like to learn or develop.
  3. What are your interests? Are you a Walking Dead superfan, have you seen every episode of Outlander more than twice? Do friends/neighbors commend you on your garden, landscaping, or home decorating?
  4. What’s interesting about you? Think about your family life, places you’ve lived, or any other experiences you’ve had, positive or negative.

Now that you have your lists, circle three to five topics you’d like to write about. Check those topics for viability through a keyword search tool like Keywords Everywhere or UberSuggest to see just how popular they are. Look for the ones that have a high monthly search volume and low competition.

Learn More

There are so many types of freelance writing to choose from. Pick one or two areas and learn all you can about the expectations and standards for length of content, headlines, level of detail, format, etc. Determine whether you will write content that is primarily business to business (B2B) or business to consumer (B2C).

When you write, do you want to be known by your personal name, a business name or do you need/want to consider a pen name? If you can’t image your business existing without you, then you want a personal brand and to be known by your name.

If you can imagine building a writing business and then selling it to someone else or hiring multiple people who work with you, then you likely want a business brand.

Once you’ve chosen your brand name, find some contract templates you like, set up your invoicing and customer management system (CMS), and start getting your social media accounts setup, or if already setup, make them uniform and branded.

Build your freelance writing portfolio

(This post contains affiliate links for products I’ve used and recommend. I may receive a commission at no additional cost to you if you purchase)

Most experts will tell you the best way to build a freelance writing portfolio is to have a website dedicated to your writing services or at least a website with a portfolio page to visually show your writing to clients. And in some ways the experts are correct. If your website is properly optimized, it attracts potential clients for you and all you need to do is respond and close the deal. But getting that website properly optimized has a learning curve and takes time. In addition, you may start out writing in one area and evolve into a different type of writer.

Use a freelance writing portfolio service

For that reason, I often recommend that instead of spending the time to build a full-fledged website at the start, use a portfolio service such as authory, or Get started with these for very low cost and upload your portfolio pieces. If you want to further customize, buy a branded domain name (less than $20 annually) and connect the portfolio app to that domain until you create your website. It’s also essential to get a domain email ( as soon as possible. I used a portfolio with a custom domain on for over ten years and it worked just fine.

Come up with three to five ideas and write those pieces. If time is of the essence, create an account and self-publish them on a blogging platform such as Medium, Quora, or Vocal. You’ll use those published links in your portfolio until you have other published pieces.

Once you have a professional email address and three to four high-quality pieces perfectly polished, you’re ready to start looking for clients. There are many different ways to go about this. Work on getting that professional website up gradually, as you start earning more money and building up more published clips. Here’s how to find write for us opportunities for your niche.

I offer 2-hour webinar for $47, where I share my tips and tricks live and you can join us. Register for How to Find Freelance Clients and Get Paid to get information on the next session.

Meg Stewart has been freelancing for nearly two decades. She’s a multi-passionate skill hoarder and the intersection of freelance writing, technology, and teaching is her sweet spot. Freelance Ladder was founded to help writers get paid and help solopreneurs do business better online. Meg and her family, (along with two dogs, two cats, and two leopard geckos), live in Northeast Ohio.

The One Thing I’m Grateful For Today is Past Hardships

There were many times I didn’t think I’d make it through.

Grateful, thankful, blessed sign Grateful for past hardships-Say Yes
Photo by Ann on Unsplash

I had two children by the age of 21, their father wanted no part of it. I was on my own. I was working full time and returned to college when my oldest two were still in diapers. I took a full load of courses and picked up a work study job on campus. Minimum wage then was $4.25/hour. My two bedroom mobile home trailer was tiny and cheap, but it was mine.

I spent my days working and commuting between home, daycare, work, school, and then my nights doing homework, bath and bedtime for the kids and then hours doing my homework or trying to figure out which bills I could pay that month.

I earned my degree, and graduated cum laude to boot, but it sure wasn’t easy. I also managed to morph that work study job into a full-time position, although it took almost ten years to work my way up to $35,000 annually with benefits.

It was going to be more money than I’d ever made in my life.

Life throws a hand grenade

That was the same year my gallbladder decided to rear its ugly head. After nearly six months of not knowing for sure what was wrong, it finally required removal which everyone said should have been no big deal.

But for me it was.

The surgeon screwed up, unknowingly I guess or maybe because he was leaving for vacation the next day, he sent me home. Two days later I was back in the ER and then was admitted, requiring emergency surgery.

I almost died.

I spent two weeks in the hospital, my two kids were shuttled from family to friends to coworkers. Thank God for all of those who stepped up. It took much longer to recover because I had no choice but to go back to work at least part-time. My income was all the only one there was.

Starting over and over…and over

I had to start over to build what I had. I started freelancing in 2003 for extra money. The job I relocated for and thought would be long-term turned out to have a manager who forced me out but then much later was indicted for embezzling federal funds.

I started over again but determined this time that I would figure out how to not be so dependent on employers for my income.

I had two more children, born when I was thirty-five and then thirty-nine. Their father turned out to be an addict which brought a whole new host of hardships to deal with including the long-term impact of his addiction and abandonment on my youngest daughters.

I started over again and again. Each time it felt like five steps forward and three steps back.

It’s been a long, complicated, difficult, stressful road. But it’s also been filled with family, surprises, new skills, new people, challenges, and most of all, love.

Gratitude Today

As I sit here today, I’m fifty-three and grateful for those hardships. I’ve learned so much and it all helps me now to have the flexibility I love.

It’s the fact that I’ve had those hardships and overcome them that’s made me stronger and made me capable enough to run my own business from home.

My youngest turns fourteen in a few weeks. My children and ten grandchildren are healthy. I spend time with them often and can help out when needed.

I enjoy my steady work-from-home job teaching tech and freelancing. My coaching business is growing rapidly. I have multiple income streams. My goal is to buy a home within the next year.

There’s truth to that old German saying by Friedrich Nietzsche “Aus der Kriegsschule des Lebens. — Was mich nicht umbringt, macht mich stärker,” which loosely translated is “what doesn’t kill me, makes me stronger.”

Key Message: Everything I’ve done gave me the strength, skills, and confidence to do what I’m doing today.

What’s in a Freelance Pitch?

pitch idea

My answer to the most common question I hear from freelance writers.

The one thing to understand before you search for freelance writing jobs is that editors who are reading your freelance pitch are busy. It’s the same for CEOs, website owners, and solopreneurs. Their schedules leave them very little time to peruse their email inbox for article ideas.

If you want your freelance pitch to be accepted, make it easy for a potential client to see your idea in their magazine or publication or on their blog. Clients are people just like you and I, they’re often just as busy if not more than we are.

Make it easy for a potential client to read your pitch and see the piece will be a good fit for their audience so they can hit reply and say “yes”.

Send a Freelance Pitch not an LOI

Please stop sending LOIs (letter of introduction) to hundreds of companies or publications if you’re a freelance writer. This may work for other types of freelancers but for writers, it adds an extra step to the process and can increase rejections from busy decision-makers.

Sending an LOI puts the work on the client to review your portfolio and then take time to think of an article idea you could write for them. They’re too busy for that. And they don’t know you well enough so they’re basically guessing.

Instead of an LOI, send a specific pitch for an article you know their audience will love.

Do Your Research Before You Pitch

This means you need to do your research before you pitch. You should be able to answer the following questions about any potential clients before you write your freelance pitch:

  • Who is their target audience?
  • Do they already have a blog and/or a newsletter? Are they posting content consistently?
  • What is the average length of blog posts or articles? What formats/styles are popular? (i.e How-to, Listicle, Guides, Interviews, etc.)
  • What special elements are used? (infographics, pull quotes, resources, other)
  • What topics or trends are current or popular right now for this subject?
  • What’s happening in the world right now that could impact this topic/subject?
  • What issue or angle isn’t written about that interests readers? Where’s the gap if any in what’s being covered.
  • What questions or information will target readers be interested in about this topic? ( or a People Also Ask box for your keyword can help with this)
  • Has this topic been covered in the last few months with the angle you are pitching?
  • Why am I the best writer to write this article right now?
  • What insight or perspective can I offer that most writers/freelancers might not be able to offer?
  • Does this company, publication, magazine work with freelancers or only staff writers?

You aren’t going to use all the above information in your pitch by any means. Your pitch will only be half a page, maybe three to four short paragraphs. But all the above information helps you make sure your pitch is targeted and relevant.

Email Subject Line

If the submission guidelines indicate what format to use for the email subject line you should follow the suggested format for that publication or company.

If there’s nothing listed in the guidelines for the email subject line, use something like new pitch: article title/idea, from your name.


Use the editor’s name whenever possible. If the tone and appearance of the magazine/publication or website seems casual, fun, or quirky, use Hello or Dear First Name. For journalistic publications or more formal magazines, use Dear or Hello First Name Last Name

Engaging Introduction

Your first paragraph should introduce your pitch idea and show that you’re familiar with the audience and tone of the magazine or publication or blog.

If you are responding to a specific job posting or call for submission you should indicate that in your intro. Tell the editor how/why you think this article/idea will resonate with their readers/audience. Avoid starting a pitch with your writing qualifications or talking about yourself. Start with the article idea!

Body of Freelance Pitch

Give suggested titles for your article and outline your approach using suggested subheadings or points you will cover. Your outline should include approximate word count/range which fits with guidelines or average article length in the publication.

Provide a few sentences indicating how/why you are the best writer to write this article. You can then give a brief summary of your qualifications but only the ones most relevant to the topic or article you are writing.

If the submission guidelines indicate how to provide samples of your writing, follow those. If nothing is listed in the guidelines, provide a link to your published clips or portfolio. Double check to make sure your contact information is current on your portfolio.


Make your closing sentences positive in nature and provide a way for the client or editor to respond to you. I suggest something such as “I look forward to hearing from you at your earliest convenience so I can add this to my schedule.” or “I look forward to working with you in the coming month.”

Your closing should indicate you are waiting to hear from them in a way that assumes they will want to move forward with the project rather than asking them if they are interested.

Don’t close with statements like “let me know if you are interested”, “reply if you like this idea” or let me know if this idea works”, etc. These are wishy-washy and don’t project confidence.

Instead make it easy for them to say “yes” by letting them know you are ready and waiting to begin. Project confidence in your article with the words you use and the tone. Something like “I look forward to adding your project to my schedule” is great.

Pitch Follow Up

After about 8–14 days with no response, follow up by opening your original sent email and hitting forward. Address the email to the appropriate person and then saying something like “Just wanted to follow up on this pitch before I submit to other publications.”

Follow up once or twice with each publication or client and then move on but keep them on your radar to pitch a different idea in the future if they don’t respond.

A lot of experts will tell you to send hundreds of cold emails to get clients. Trust me you don’t have to do that.

If you start with my no blindfold system for finding freelance clients and then you customize your pitch for each client, you can save time and get better results.

Now go get paid!

Need help finding freelance writing clients? I offer 2-hour webinar for $47, where I share my tips and tricks live and you can join us. Register for How to Find Freelance Clients and Get Paid to get information on the next session.

Meg Stewart has been freelancing for nearly two decades. She’s a multi-passionate skill hoarder and the intersection of freelance writing, technology, and teaching is her sweet spot. Freelance Ladder was founded to help writers get paid and help solopreneurs do business online better. Meg and her family, (along with two dogs, two cats, and two leopard geckos), live in Northeast Ohio. Follow her on Medium or become a Medium member and get unlimited access.

Should You Create a Personal or Business Brand?

Chiquita banana-unsplash-Personal-or-Business-Brand

Part of what I do as a business owner is to teach live tech help calls where writers and other small business creatives can learn how to use the software they need to run their businesses better online. One question that always comes up involves whether to create a personal or business brand.

The members of my very first tech help group - I call them my “guinea pig” group - have transformed from writers trying to monetize their hobby to CEO’s who are planning and launching their small businesses.

I love seeing all the progress they’ve made with their businesses now that technology is less of an obstacle to moving forward.

In the process of teaching business owners about the technology they need to write, get seen, and get paid, I also answer questions on techniques for branding, email list building, SEO basics, developing their messaging, building an online presence, identifying their audience, and more.

One of the first steps a business owner has to take when building a business is to build a website. The first step to building a website is to buy a domain name. In order to help with buying a domain though, we first have to talk about branding.

To do that, we talk about the differences between personal and business brands.
Deciding between a personal or business brand for your writing business or startup, is one of the early decisions you’ll want to make. If you buy a domain without committing to one or the other of these, you may end up having to redo your website or even buy a new domain name at some point.

You can’t always make the decision between personal and business branding when you first get started, but knowing the difference between the two can help you with choosing your domain name. Sometimes when you begin to think about your writing as a business, you may decide you need to have more than one brand or more than one domain, and that’s okay, too.

Creating a Personal Brand

A personal brand is just what it sounds like: It’s a brand built around you as a person. The way I explain it to people is that if the service you are offering or the business you are building would not exist in the same way if you sold it to someone else, then you want a personal brand.

For most writers, authors, and freelancers, a personal brand is going to be the best choice. If you want people to recognize your name and your face, then a personal brand is going to be a good route to go.

Authors and writers generally want to be known by their name, or at least their pen name.
If you decide on a personal brand, you’ll want to choose a domain that is or some variation. It can sometimes be difficult to get your exact first and last name, especially if your name is common. If you can’t get your first and last name, then the next best option for a personal brand is to get a version of your name as your domain. You can do your first name, middle initial and last name. Or, try your middle name with your last name, a nickname with your last name, etc.

My first and last name wasn’t available. Neither was my nickname with my last name. I ended up with my nickname (Meg), my last name, and the word writes. If I had to make this choice again, I might use the word writer instead of writes, simply because writer is a better keyword.

When you build a personal brand, it will most likely reflect your personality and values. You’ll choose colors, fonts, and other elements, such as your photo or caricature likeness, and other images that will tell your audience who you are, what you do, and why you do what you do.

Creating a Business Brand

Part of our group time over the last several weeks has been used to share the progress each business owner has made with developing their website, landing page, and other marketing messaging.

We have a couple of people in the group who are developing a business brand. It’s so great to see how their writing businesses have evolved over time as they’ve learned more about branding, developing their messages, and using technology.
Your business brand should also reflect its personality.

Is your business formal or informal? Serious or fun? Are your services educational, entertaining, or something else? Answering these questions will help you market your business to the right audience and hone your messaging.

Consider SEO

Search engine optimization (SEO) is also critical when developing your brand. Having a keyword in your domain is also a good idea for optimizing SEO to help drive traffic to your website.

So if you are developing a personal brand and you write about health, for example, you might do your first name, last name, and add the words health writer or nutrition writer (more targeted). For a business brand, you might include words like wellness, fitness, or even just health in your business name.

If you’re ready to take your writing or other creative work from hobby to business, think about whether it would work best as a personal or business brand. Ask yourself whether or not you can ever imagine selling your successful business?

Think about how you want your business to be known in the world. Those who prefer to be behind the scenes rather than in the public eye might prefer a business brand.

Personal brands might be better suited for writers, musicians, and for those who want to be known as the face of their business, or for those who provide personal services such as coaching.

A Personal and Business Brand

For myself, I began with a personal brand, using a version of my name, as a freelance writer and consultant. It made sense then as I was primarily doing freelance writing, with a byline.
People who might buy my services need to know that I’m a real person. Using my name and photo in my branding, and honing my messaging around my personal values and interests, helps my clients know and trust me as a writer.

As my business is evolving, I’m also developing a business brand as Freelance Filter. For Freelance Filter, the focus is on helping small business owners learn to use the technology they need to do their own business better online. Freelance Filter provides helpful tutorials, software reviews and comparisons, and tech help services.

I can have other writers or staff involved in providing Freelance Filter services as long as I oversee the work to make sure it accurately reflects my brand values. Freelance Filter is a business brand that could someday be run by or sold to someone else if the opportunity arises.

There’s not really a right way or wrong way to brand your business.

Branding can even vary for different people who offer similar services. The important thing to do when branding is to make a conscious decision about which way to brand your business.

It will likely evolve and change over time. Richard Brandson, Elon Musk, and Bill Gates are examples of people who have both personal and business brands.

Once you make the decision between personal and business branding, you’ll find it’s much easier to make decisions about choosing a domain, designing your website and other marketing messaging, creating service offerings, and embarking on future endeavors.

A True Writer Never Stops Learning


8 Ways to Make Your Writing Better

There are a variety of reasons people take up writing. You may write as a creative outlet, to heal past trauma, for income or as a hobby. I’ve discovered a true writer never stops learning.

For me, writing has become my full-time income. I love writing and sharing knowledge which is why I worked so hard to figure out how to make it my full-time job. For others it could be a side hustle in addition to a day job, a way of relieving stress, or your method for expressing your inner desires and thoughts. For some, writing may be more than one of these.

How you write and why is mostly a matter of personal preference. There is one thing about writing where most, if not all writers, will agree. Very few, if any writers will master the skill as it seems there is always more to learn if you are willing to try something new.

Below are the ways I’ve found over the years to make sure that I’m always learning.

1. Write with Intent

It really doesn’t matter why you write. At least not to other people. But what can help the clarity of your writing is that you write with intent. It’s a good idea for you to know the purpose for your writing.

  • educate
  • comic relief
  • just for practice
  • warm up or release your creativity
  • for fun or to entertain
  • inspire yourself or others
  • record or share memories
  • inform
  • persuade
  • sell

The list above is not all inclusive because it’s really an unending list. But I’ve found that when I am clear in my mind why I’m writing before I get started, it helps keep me motivated and helps me focus.

2. Challenge Yourself

My writing is clearer when I write with intent. I find that knowing my intent for a post or session allows my mind to make better decisions about character development, word choice, and even pacing. When I sit down to write with intent, the finished draft often needs less editing too which allows me to be more productive.

  • Set a goal for your writing. Decide that you will write a set amount of words per week, per day, or even per hour. If word count is too specific, set a page goal or chapter goal.
  • NaNoWriMo: During the month of November each year, thousands of people across the country come together to write 50,000 words, an entire novel. There are online cabins you can join so you have accountability and support as well as in person local write along sessions.
  • Other Contests: If you prefer to do something more structured that has a more objective and tangible reward, you can look for writing contests. Thousands of contests are available and they range from simple, informal prompts to full-blown structured contests with cash prizes.

3. Uncage Your Creativity

“Every story there is to tell has already been told”. Most writers hear this or some version of it very early on. And it’s true to an extent. Just about every story can be stripped of all the details about setting and character until all that’s left is plot. And pretty much every story is based on one of less than ten plots. Those plots have been recycled by writers for centuries.

But it’s the details of the story you are writing that give it originality. The development of your characters, the pacing of your scenes, subplots, and the details of your settings are what dress your story up. The more you can uncage your creativity, the better you, as a writer, can turn one of those tired old plots into an original story that grabs the attention and admiration of your readers. Your ability to unleash your creativity is what makes your story like no other.

Below are some tips for tapping into your creativity:

Free writing: Set a timer for ten or fifteen minutes and write. Try this by hand with pen and paper and also using a keyboard as you may find each method provides different results. This is a pre-writing technique that can work to help you find new solutions to a problem, bust through writer’s block, and connect to your subconscious. The main rule to free writing is to keep your pen (or cursor) moving the entire time. There is also no editing allowed, not even correction of spelling mistakes or typos. It’s okay if what you write is repetitive or seems ridiculous, just keep writing.

Word Games such as crossword puzzles, logic puzzles, even Scrabble, can boost your vocabulary. When you expand your vocabulary and give your mind permission to look at how pieces create the big picture, it uncages your creativity and allows you to generate new twists and ideas, make intriguing connections and write more engaging content.

Journaling: This can be a terrific way to practice writing and uncage your creativity. You can use creative writing prompts as a jumpstart and to help you write with intent.

Writing Prompts are a great way to chase away “blank page syndrome”, uncage your creativity, jump-start your imagination, and call your muse to attention. Writing prompts are especially effective when used in combination with freewriting. Set your timer, choose a prompt, and keep writing until time is up!

Stretch your Imagination by deliberately asking an odd question that challenges the norm like:

  • what do clouds taste like?
  • what sounds does the number five make when angry?
  • how would the world be different if children could vote?

4. Know Your Reader

If you’ve been writing for any length of time you’ve probably heard it’s very beneficial to know your target reader. This doesn’t mean your writing is not available to everyone, it simply means you know what you write will resonate with a specific subset of readers. The reason for taking the time to think about who your audience is before you start writing is it makes it easier to draw your reader in and keep them hanging on your every word including:

  • Writing on their level
  • Connecting using a personal story
  • Answering questions they have about the topic
  • Providing value

5. Take a page from the writing legends

(I have no affiliate relationships with any of the links in this post.)

The best way to be a writer that never stops learning is to keep reading those who have come before you. There are many, many excellent writers who have written books dedicated to helping you learn to write better. Some of the classics include:

  • Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones
  • The Chicago Manual of Style
  • Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life
  • Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style
  • Stephen King’s On Writing
  • William Zinsser’s On Writing Well

6. Just write till it’s done

If you’re writing a blog post, a scene, dialogue, novel, a poem, or even a journal entry, you will reach a natural stopping point.

That moment where you feel it’s done.

One of the lessons I’ve learned through experience is to write just enough. When you reach that natural stopping point and you try to push beyond to make a certain word count or because of some other arbitrary reason, it rarely makes it better.

Writing till it’s done is different than making sure you dig deep enough or cover all the angles. It’s different than getting stuck or running out of ideas.

When you reach a natural stopping point, you’ll feel it if you’re paying attention.

If you find writing a piece has become a struggle, remind yourself of your intent for the piece and then make sure that you haven’t inadvertently pushed beyond that natural stopping point.

7. Turn off the inner critic during draft stage

It’s important to understand that different sides of the brain are engaged when you write versus when you edit.

This is one of the main reasons to delay editing when writing your first draft. If you allow yourself to edit as your write, it requires your brain to switch between two modes and it means it’s easier to get distracted.

When you edit, your muse is off duty and during the time it takes for you to get back to writing, your muse just might get bored and wander off.

8. Edit with fresh eyes

It’s always best to edit with fresh eyes no matter what type of writing you are doing.

Whenever feasible, set your draft aside for several hours or even overnight. If you’re writing a novel, finish your entire first draft and set it aside for several days or longer before you begin to edit.

If you simply must edit without a break in between, try reading your writing out loud or in reverse order from the final sentence to the first sentence. This will help you to see typos because it’s not as easy for your brain to “fill in what should be there”.

You can also have someone you trust on standby to read your writing. As recommended by Michael Masterson and Mike Palmer in Copy Logic, ask them to edit your writing by letting you know which sections are confusing, unbelievable, or boring (CUB).

Each of the writing tips above is designed to help you write more often and to write better than ever before. Use the ones that work for you. Shelve the others for another time.

As a writer understand we can never completely master all there is to learn. With the right tools and an open mind we can improve our writing if we are willing to challenge ourselves as a writer to never stop learning.

Ready to find more freelance writing jobs? Get my free Market Mondays newsletter every week. It’s chock full of links to writing jobs and other markets that pay writers and my best tips and tricks for freelance writers.

Meg Stewart has been freelancing for nearly two decades. She’s a multi-passionate skill hoarder and the intersection of freelance writing, technology, and teaching is her sweet spot. Freelance Ladder was founded to help writers get paid and help solopreneurs do tech stuff better. Meg and her family, (along with two dogs, two cats, and two leopard geckos), live in Northeast Ohio.

It’s Time for You!

woman arms outstretched, it's time for you

I’m so glad you’re here.

There comes a time in every woman’s life when we realize there’s more to life than what we’re doing. For me that time first happened in 2003. As a single mom, it became clear there was more to life than working and taking care of my children. A friend reminded me to “make time for you.”

I started freelancing, but without guidance and purpose, I floundered over and over again. I was more than capable but it was hard to know what to do and when.

I searched the Internet without much luck. I did some freelancing but didn’t gain much traction. When you don’t have a destination fixed firmly in mind, even a map isn’t much help at all.

My guess is that you are capable but looking for purpose and direction.

It’s possible you’ve spent the majority of your adult life doing what everyone else thought was best for you.

Maybe you’re recently widowed or divorced, perhaps your kids are getting older and you have more free time. Or maybe your kids are grown and you’ve recently retired from your 9 to 5 job.

Regardless of the reason, you find yourself with more time on your hands and/or a desire to do something meaningful with your life for the next couple decades.

It could be you know what you need to do, you have a dream in mind, but the technology you need to learn is overwhelming.

Or maybe you just can’t figure out where to start.

Over the last year, I’ve been coaching other writers and small business owners about how to first identify their destination, then create their map for getting there, and navigate rough waters along the way.

If this sounds like you, I can help. For those who are interested in freelance writing or need to learn the technology to do their business better online, visit Freelance Filter.

Here’s What Can Happen When You Dream Big

dream big

If you’ve ever felt afraid to let yourself dream big, maybe this will ease your fears. I spent ten years working with low income women and youth before I made the decision to relocate to Cleveland and work with homeless veterans. As a case manager for a veteran’s re-employment program, I was assigned to the largest men’s shelter downtown.

There were nearly 400 men there most nights. And sadly, a good number of them were military veterans.

Are you asking the right question?

One of the questions I used to ask the students in my life skills classes was this:

If you had access to the training and any money you needed, what would you be when you grow up?

How would you contribute to the world?

I asked this question to my first group of veterans in my job skills class. One man, who looked about forty years old, began to get tears in his eyes when it was his turn to respond.

I’m fifty years old. No one ever asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. he said.

I told Steve* he could have some time to think about it as I continued around the room.

When just surviving today is the priority, it’s hard to dream big

These men had all volunteered and served their country, many of them had seen combat. They returned to find they didn’t fit into society any longer. The horror they had witnessed, and in some cases been ordered to participate in, had a deep hold on them.

Without treatment, they grew restless, frustrated, bored, angry, and in some cases abusive and self-destructive. They couldn’t see a way out over all the obstacles.

But what I discovered is almost every one of those men wanted more. They wanted to step into their place in society. I used to arrive at the shelter on Monday evenings and within minutes, there were a line of men, waiting to talk to me and find out how I could help them.

They wanted to dream big.

But they were stuck, just trying to survive one day at a time. All they could see in front of them were obstacles.

Many of them had chronic illnesses including respiratory issues and mental health issues, such as PTSD. Many were recovering from years of substance abuse to dull their memories and pain. Some had been to prison, served their time, only to find society still held a grudge.

There was not time or resources for planning. They had so much on their plate, connecting themselves to resources was nearly impossible.

They needed a way to look beyond the obstacles and see their true potential. If you’re wondering how this applies to you, bear with me.

Stepping stones can help you dream big

When it was Steve’s turn again that first day in class, he admitted he’d always wanted to be a chef. We created a plan where he would wash dishes in a restaurant with a goal of working his way up to prep chef and then attending culinary school.

As a result of that plan, a dish washing job which would have seemed to most like a frustrating, dead-end job, now became merely a stepping stone to his dream career. Steve got his dish washing job within two weeks.

He could tolerate it because he knew it was temporary. He knew his destination.

Over the years I’ve found this to be true for myself and for a lot of other people. You will be amazed at what you can tolerate if you know it’s temporary and if you see it as a stepping stone to your big dream.

After just a few weeks in that dish washing job, Steve was smiling every day in class. He was excited to tell us about what he was learning and the people he was meeting.

Steve moved into transitional housing not long after getting his job. Within a year, he got promoted to prep chef and I took him to buy his uniforms.

It was a proud day for both of us.

I ran into Steve right before I left Cleveland. He was still working as a prep chef but the restaurant owner encouraged him to go to culinary school and he was enrolled for the fall semester.

His life had completely changed in just a year and a half.

All because he was able to dream big.

How to dream big no matter what obstacles are in your way

If you feel like you have more to offer the world than what you’re doing right now, it’s time to dream big.

Close your eyes and picture what you’d like to be doing. Don’t let yourself worry about money, time, kids, bills, or health issues that might stand in your way.

What would you do if all those obstacles were gone?

Maybe it’s not a job or career, maybe it’s something else. Whatever it is write it down. Describe how it would feel to be doing that thing.

That’s your big dream.

Can you see yourself? Can you imagine how life could be different once you get to your big dream?

Now create your path

Now, this part is harder. Just like I did with Steve, you need to think about what you need to do to get from where you are now to that big dream. Make a list.

Maybe you need education, training, or to learn how to better use technology. If you don’t know what’s required for you to accomplish your dream, do some research and find out.

Think about how other people get started. Steve knew he couldn’t just walk into a restaurant and be a chef. There are steps he had to do first and those steps take some time. Figure out where you need to start and then what you need to do to start there. Steve couldn’t start culinary school right away, his priority was a job so he could get housing and pay his bills. Survival.

The dish washing job helped him do that and it helped him gain experience and learn more about the inner workings of the restaurant industry. Every day he went to that dish washing job, he was learning and gaining experience.

If you can’t find someone to pay you while you learn the skills that are required, volunteer in exchange for learning the skills you need. Work another job if money and survival is a pressing priority for you.

Start small and create a path of stepping stones to help you dream big.

Just like Steve, before you know it, you’ll look up from that path and find you’re close than you ever thought you could be!

Set Smart Goals and Boost Your Chance of Success

typewriter with goals

One trick from the 1950’s you must use in your modern business to avoid failure.

It may come as a surprise to you that a process to set smart goals which originated in the 1950’s could still be effective in your modern writing career or business.

But believe it or not, without this one technique, your business is setup for failure.

The SMART process of goal setting became well-known in the education arena thanks in part to the extensive Professional Learning Community work by Rick and Becky DeFour.

But the concept of SMART goals was originally associated with Peter Drucker, The Practice of Management (1954). Fifteen years before I was born! I first heard about Peter Drucker, in college, when I was an Elementary Education major in 1988.

In the 1990’s, SMART goals was also popular trend for adult learning curriculum to enhance accountability and productivity.

This meant, throughout my decade as a community education instructor, certified life skills facilitator, and program coordinator at the college, the SMART goals process was an ever present focus for me.

Now, SMART goals are used in just about every phase of life, including healthcare, fitness, counseling/therapy, manufacturing, agriculture, HR/recruiting, big business, marketing, and so many others.

What Are SMART Goals?

It should come as no surprise then that SMART goals can be effective for writers and small business owners.

There have been several versions or variations of SMART goals over the decades but for most people SMART goals are ones that are:

S-pecific (clearly identified or defined)
M-easurable (something quantifiable that can be monitored, counted, and tracked)
A-chievable (under your control or influence)
R-ealistic or Relevant (a stretch from current status but not too much)
T-imely (they have a deadline or due date)

SMART Goals for Writers

As a writer, it can be very motivating to set and meet an annual income goal but you can take that one step further and set SMART goals for your writing business. These will help you to not only meet your income goal, but will help you to know what your next steps should be.

SMART goals guide the decisions you make for your business at any given point.

You can create SMART goals for your own business.

Think about what your goal is for your business for the year. Do you want to launch a course? Or start a YouTube channel? Maybe you know you need to build your email list or launch a website or start a blog.

Whatever your goal is, write it down on a piece of paper.

Make it Specific

Now look at your goal and make sure it’s specific. Will you know when it’s accomplished? Is it something concrete you can do?

Here’s an example:

Goal: I want to build my email list.

Specific Goal: I want to double the number of subscribers on my email list.

Make it Measurable

Now that you have a specific goal, you need to make sure it’s something that you can measure.

It’s important to be able to monitor your progress and see that you are moving closer to your goal.

Measurable Goal: I want to build my email list from 100 people to 1,000 people.

Make it Achievable

Now that you have a measurable goal, you need to make sure it’s a goal you can achieve.

What is required to start your goal? Who will you enlist to help you? Is it doable and under your control?

I want to build my email list to 1,000 people and to do that I need to take an email marketing course, for example.

Make Goals Relevant or Realistic

Shaunta Grimes, founder of Ninja Writers has a great way to do this using an editorial plan she developed.

I used her method in 2019 to set a goal for myself of replacing a portion of my fixed income with my writing income by December 2020. I was halfway to meeting that goal by June! By the way if you’re not already in the Ninja Writers club, I highly recommend it.

If your current email list is 100, it’s probably not realistic to set a goal of 100,000 in a year. But a goal of 1,000 in six months might be totally realistic for you.

Whatever your goal is, make sure it’s something you have control over and can realistically get done using your own efforts.

Make Your Goals Timely

The last piece of the puzzle for SMART goal planning is the T for Timely. This means giving yourself a deadline to accomplish your goal. By setting a deadline, you give yourself that little push needed to keep you from procrastinating.

This is especially important for writers who are self-employed. Set a deadline and stick to it.

Break big goals into smaller, sub-goals and give those deadlines too.

If you find you’re having trouble making progress toward your goals, it can help to post them on display where you will see them often throughout the day. It can also help to get an accountability partner or group to help you stay on track and keep you motivated.

Now that you’ve got the idea, I can’t wait to see what you accomplish this year!

If you struggle with finding clients, get my step by step guide to using Twitter’s advanced search feature to find writing clients.

Self-Publishing and Why Authors Must Understand the Basics

Plus the two things you must get right when you self-publish.

I just had a conversation recently with a client about self-publishing. I’ll admit I’m not a book marketer. I’m not a self-publishing expert. But I’m a working writer who studied the self-publishing industry extensively when I wanted to self-publish my own novel.

In fact, at one point I wanted to be a book marketer and help other authors get their books seen by the right readers.

That is, until I researched self-publishing and learned how many things can tank book sales, if you don’t get it right from the start.

During my research over several years, I learned a lot about the self publishing industry. I also studied related topics so when I did self-publish, I would know what questions to ask to choose the best service.

In the process I learned a lot about what not to do when self-publishing.

The two things you must get right.

You absolutely cannot afford to get the genre of your novel wrong. There are very specific elements to many genres and sub-genres. If you get this wrong, people who love your genre of book won’t find it, which can mean low sales, if any.

Those who find your book in the wrong category, may hate it. If they are looking for cozy mystery and you give them horror, for example. At the least they will feel dissatisfied or deceived, which can result in bad reviews.

Your book cover is your only chance in most cases at a first impression on potential readers. I know that every genre and sometimes sub genre of book also has standard design elements for the cover. When it come to font, style of drawing, even color combinations, you have to get these elements right if you want to attract fans of your genre.

Get the design of your book cover wrong and you make a bad first impression.

Readers won’t even see your perfect blurb, your amazing hook, or that engaging first chapter because they never click on your cover. Without a great cover, your dream of doing something meaningful with your life by becoming a self published author is probably over.

Know what service your expert can and cannot offer.

Because technology has made the process of self publishing so much easier, many, many people have begun designing book covers, and offering self-publishing services, or book marketing services.

Not everyone is trying to run a scam. Some folks are simply trying to earn a living doing book cover design, something they’ve discovered they’re good at. They have that eye for visual design and produce great looking covers.

Others are trying to make money using their skill in technology to convert a manuscript in Word into an e-book in Kindle, Mobi, or some other format. The conversion of a manuscript into this format can be a frustrating thing to learn, so many authors would rather just pay someone to do it for them. Many of those offering design services are highly experienced in their craft.

Technical skill and publishing industry knowledge don’t always align.

But someone who is phenomenal with book design might not have the knowledge about the importance of those genre elements of cover design. They may give you exactly the book cover design you want, without realizing it’s the wrong design for your genre and will tank your sales. So it’s up to you, as the author, to know what the design elements are right for your genre and make sure they are in your cover design.

If you are considering self publishing a book, whether fiction or nonfiction, make sure you do your homework first. It’s your responsibility to know about genre, cover design, and the actual publishing process. It’s perfectly fine to pay someone else to do the tasks you don’t want to master. But the more you know, the better questions you can ask when you are vetting those experts.

For solid information on cover design, marketing, and the self publishing process, I turned to YouTube and found Derek Murphy of CreativIndie. I’m not affiliated with him in any way, I just feel he knows a lot about the industry, has experience, and is sincere in trying to provide the best information about self publishing he can.

If you’re going to self-publish, give your book a fair shot by making sure you choose the right experts for each part of the process.

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