How can you get writing experience if you don’t have anything to write? If you’re thinking of writing for a living—freelance writing—you might be in a tough spot. You know you can write, but you don’t have any proof of your experience. No clips. No links. No portfolio. And how are you supposed to get better?
Or you want to write a novel or a short story, but you don’t think you’re good enough, and you don’t even know where to start.
No matter what kind of writer you want to be, you need to practice and get writing experience. It’s easy for established writers to dish out advice and tell you, “Write every day until you get good.” Or “practice with writing prompts and flash fiction; that will get you going.”
And you’ve probably seen advice like this: “Just get started! Write in a journal. Write anything. Just write!”
Right. Easier said than done.
A lot of writers (or even most) just aren’t motivated to write for themselves. Maybe that’s you. Maybe you need to have a purpose or you need to write for someone or something.
But you’re not good enough for an online publication or magazine or a full-length novel—yet. Or so you think. But what can you do?
1. Start a blog, whether you’re a fiction or non-fiction writer.
Pick something you’re passionate about and start writing. You probably read tons of blog posts and online articles, so you know what the good ones look like. So why not? Don’t worry about making mistakes, making money, or making a fool of yourself. Just do it.
You’ll get some serious practice, plus your best blog posts can serve as writing samples when it’s time to apply for a paid writing gig. And blogging skills are always in demand; some paying sites expect you to upload your article.
Need help with your headlines? Check out this free resource: Headline Hacks. Honestly, I should use that myself more often; that guy is brilliant.
A creative writing or author’s blog is a totally different kind of blog, but here’s just one idea: find like-minded friends and share your work. You can set your posts to private with a password so only you and your friends can see (on WordPress consider using pages instead of posts so they don’t show up in your blog post stream). Trade comments, congratulations, and ideas for improvement.
2. Comment on other blogs.
Commenting on public blog posts is not only good writing practice, it’s also a way to get people to look at your own site. In most cases, your URL (your website/blog address) can show up when you post a comment. And if your comment (and blog) is interesting, people might subscribe.
Plus, it’s a good way for other bloggers to get to know you. And if you follow certain blogs for a while, you’ll get familiar with their topics and style, and that makes you a perfect candidate for guest posting later on.
One format for comments is to simply state that you like the post or find it helpful and list the reasons. Take some time to make it a great example of clear, concise, error-free writing. Another format is to say something like, “This is really helpful, and I’d like to add . . . ” and then add your own points or opinion in a friendly, nonjudgmental way.
Be sure to keep it professional, especially since anyone thinking of hiring you might see your comments. If you Google me, for example, you’ll probably find tons of blog comments.
3. Get social, and comment on social media.
I don’t mean goofing off on Facebook with cool vids and pics of your kids or pets. I mean professional comments in public spaces.
Twitter is a great place to practice saying as much as possible with few words. Play nice, be smart, and stick with topics your blog readers, other writers, or colleagues might like to read. And be professional: What would you comment on if you were already a professional freelance writer or author? What would you boss think?
You don’t want prospective clients or publishers to see anything too controversial, crude, rude, or nasty or a lot of “Awwww, how cute” posts unless that’s how you’re branding yourself. And to fling around F-bombs, jokes, sexual innuendo, or political commentary (and cute baby or pet pics) as an up-and-coming writer, as part of your personal “brand,” takes some skill. Chuck Wendig is great at it. But you probably don’t want to wield an ax in your profile pic.
Facebook is great, too. If you follow big websites focused on writing or any other interest (publications you want to write for?), step up and offer your opinion. Write carefully, and be concise. Check grammar and punctuation, proofread, and hit post. Who knows? It might inspire ideas for articles or even a novel.
Some of my favorite FB pages are literary agencies like Brown & Miller and PS Literary Agency plus Copyediting, Lit Reactor, and Lit Hub, among others. I also have a group called Fabulous Fiction Writers and my author page as well as my personal FB page. And, of course, I follow The Chicago Manual of Style and AP Stylebook plus a couple of editors from newspapers and magazines. I follow so many I hardly ever see my friend’s posts!
And don’t forget to share your own blog posts on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, G+, and anywhere people are sharing blog posts. Blogging is a social thing, after all, and nobody will visit your blog if you don’t invite them. And they’ll love you like crazy if you visit theirs—and share! (Pssst… Sharing looks good on social, too.)
4. Guest post for other blogs.
Guest posting for another blog is a great way to get writing experience. It’s completely different from writing your own blog posts, and it feels different, too. You might be excited and overjoyed that you got the gig, but you might feel some pressure and anxiety, too. Don’t worry. Insecurities happen. They won’t kill you, and it’s great experience.
At first, it probably won’t pay. But don’t worry. Plenty of writers do it for experience or publicity, to get traffic back to their own blog, to get better search engine rankings, and to advertise services, a course, or a book.
Write the best blog post you can, and ask a few (knowledgeable) friends to take a look before you send it. Is it well organized? Does it stay on topic? Does it fit the requirements? Have you edited and proofread carefully?
The most important part of guest posting is following guidelines and directions exactly and being cheerful about corrections or revisions the blog owner or editor might ask you to make.
And don’t worry: if you’re an honest, straightforward writer and try your best to write a great post, you’ll be fine. You might even be asked to return. What great practice!
5. Get writing experience with writers groups.
Writers groups online are plentiful. Try keywords on Facebook like “writers group [my state]” or “freelance writers” and do the same on Google. On Twitter, try hashtags like #writersgroup or #writers. Check out Meetup, too. I belong to a couple of groups I found on Meetup, and one in particular is really great.
Writers groups often have goals, specific focuses, and insight that will help you get writing experience. Plus, local groups can offer writing time in a social setting, like a coffee shop, which is a nice break from writing alone. And when you’re around other writers who are writing, what else can you do but write? You’ll get plenty of inspiration if you find the right group.
Online, you’ll also get writing experience by participating in forum or Facebook group discussions, and that in itself is writing practice. Plus, a group might offer writing critiques and opportunities to join a contest or write for a prize. Motivation!
Last minute idea!
Why not write an op-ed for your local newspaper? I used to write them regularly, and as long as you’re clear, concise, and have decent grammar and punctuation skills, you have a great chance of getting it published.
If you’re not the type to sit home alone and practice writing for an imaginary audience or keep a journal, get out among other writers—online or locally—and show ’em your stuff. No matter what you write, it’s practice. Blog writing helps you as a creative writer, and creative writing can help a blogger. So don’t hesitate to mix and match. Just get going. And write!
Have something to add? Comments are always welcome.