Freelance Writing – Gaining Writing Experience

Some Catch-22, huh? In the writing business, you can’t get published until you have some experience. If you can’t get published until you have experience, how do you get experience?  How do you get publishing clips to show all those publishers who want to see “previously published clips”?It’s almost as if Lily Tomlin’s telephone operator character came up with this:  “Is this the party to whom I’m speaking? Are you the unpublished writer who has published clips I can look at? (Snort, snort!)”

What’s an unpublished writer to do?  Get published, of course! I’m not being flippant; I’m serious. Think about your life. There are a number of things you can write about right now (essays and travel articles about that great place you stumbled upon last summer). There is a lot more you can write about if you do a little research (an article regarding something that has been on your mind-your mother’s illness?  The stringent standards of learning being enforced upon elementary school students?.  How about doing an article about the writer’s conference you attended?

Now you have your ideas, but where do you get them published?  You might start with your local newspaper.  If they’re like most newspapers, they’re in need of fillers from time to time.  They might even be in need of freelance reporters during the summer and the holiday seasons.  Talk with your newspaper’s editor.  Be frank.  Tell him/her that you need some publishing experience in order build your portfolio.  In addition to putting some published clips in your “clip file,” you’ll also gain valuable experience and hone your craft.  Then when you write that novel starring the investigative reporter, you’ll know the lingo-and the editor can say, “I knew that author when.”

Op-ed pieces are another way to go; and if you query the right market, you could make some good money while acquiring these published clips.  We all have opinions.  If you can write about a hot subject and express your opinion on it succinctly and objectively, you’re in the position to write an op-ed piece.  Let’s go back to the standards of learning issue. While you realize little Johnny needs to get a good education, you also realize the importance of playtime and “down time.”  You don’t want Johnny to be a prime candidate for a stress-induced heart attack at age 32.  Many other parents feel this way.  Some don’t.  Some would say, “Standards of learning?”  Talk with other parents to get conflicting views and write the article.

Though some shudder at the very words “non-paying market,” if you’re an unpublished writer seeking clips, it’s a good alternative.  After you get those clips, it’s not so great to work for free; but at this point, you need the exposure and experience, and they need the articles. I think it’s a fair trade as long as you work for a web site, e-zine, print magazine, newsletter, or even charitable organization that you would be proud to have worked for. It won’t do you any good to have clips with grammatical errors (either yours or theirs) or content that isn’t credible.

Entering contests is another way to get clips, though this is more of a writing sample.  Still, if you win or even place in the contest, this will lend some weight to your writing.  This is especially true if you’re a genre writer. Romance Writers of America even has a contest called the Golden Heart Contest wherein the winner has the “best unpublished manuscript.”  Malice Domestic is a contest for mystery writers.  While these “biggie” contests are great, small contests are a boon to the unpublished writer as well.  One caveat: There are a lot of bogus contests out there.  Before you pay any sort of fee, check out the contest.

Gayle Trent has been writing for a number of years and has published four novels and a children’s book. You can learn more about Gayle and her books at