How to become a successful Blogger or Freelance Writer without a degree in journalism

A day in the life of Perth by Jo Castro

A day in the life of Perth! Stories for writers are everywhere, if you look for them.

10 inspirational tips on how to achieve success as a writer or blogger without a degree in journalism

Having a degree in journalism or creative writing is not always a passport to writing success, and although a degree may open doors to the more formal jobs within the writing industry it’s not a prerequisite for freelancers.

Think like a business entrepreneur, write like an artist.

Many moons ago I walked into a magazine editor’s office on the pretext of applying for a job in the advertising department.

With more gung ho than Captain Jack Sparrow I marched in, sat down and smiled sweetly. “I’m not here for the advertising job. I really want to write a column for the magazine,” I said while shaking down to the toes of my pink suede boots.” An entertainment column would be nice, because I’d like to interview rock musicians.”

Where did that bit of brazen confidence come from, I wondered afterwards?

The kindly editor looked at the nineteen year old sitting before him, raised an eyebrow and smiled. “Then write something.  If it’s appropriate and I like it, you can write a monthly column,” he said.

The editor liked my feature article. I was given the job, and I was on the first rung of the freelance ladder that I would follow throughout my nomadic life.

Yes, I was lucky and Yes, I can hear you saying that those sort of things rarely happen today.

But …

It’s not all about Luck

Maybe things have changed in today’s economic climate? Yes competition for writing gigs is fierce, and the print and online media scenes have changed dramatically.

But if you’re thinking, ‘Ah she was just lucky and it’s not going to happen for me,’ I’d like you to think again.

Because, what hasn’t changed are the defining character traits that identify successful writers whether they have degrees, and writing qualifications or not.

Passion and Perseverance

I was passionate about writing, and even more passionate about meeting rock stars (I kid you not).

I was willing to persevere to get where I wanted to be.

Knowing what you want to do and being willing to put yourself ‘out there’ and face rejection, just to be in with a chance of something incredible happening means you have to act bravely. You have to be passionate about what you’re doing in order for the means to justify the end result – which may not always be favorable.

Yes, you may risk humiliation (as I did), Yes you could end up with egg on your face, big time – but you have to take risks and put yourself out there.

Authors, Liz Byrski and Craig Silvey by Johanna CAstro

Well known authors, Liz Byrski and Craig Silvey

Show up and Keep at it

Award Winning author Craig Silvey (Novels: Jasper Jones and Rhubarb) says he gave up a lot to develop his writing. “ Write, read and practice your craft and do it constantly. It requires dedication, stubborness and stickability. It’s tough, lonesome, difficult, and on lots of days it’s hard to believe in. I know lots of authors who still think they can’t do it. You have to promise yourself that you will show up, keep at it. If you don’t cast a line you won’t catch anything, so every day you just have to crystallize something more, until it becomes something substantial.”

These days there is so much more information available not only about how to write well, but also many more ways that you can promote yourself. There are forums to help put you in touch with people, and amazing internet resources to help you find writing markets and new trends.

“The internet allows stories to come out that might not otherwise be published. My Facebook page gets a lot of personal responses and there’s an easy rapport, although I don’t know them personally”,  said author Liz Byrski speaking at The Perth Writers’ festival.

So how can you achieve success as a writer, even though you don’t have a degree in journalism?

  1. Think big, think outside the box, and never take no for an answer. There are writing opportunities in unlikely places. You need to be like Sherlock Holmes, take a chance, go out and discover them.
  2. Find publications (both online and offline) which deal with your particular area of interest, understand what they want, and write a gobsmackingly marvelous pitch to the editor.
  3. Build up a writing portfolio. Aim for smaller blogs and publications before you attempt to contact the blogging superstars or the monthly, high end, glossy magazines.
  4. If an editor rejects your first idea, then rethink your strategy. Send in something else – and make it better.  Once you have established a relationship with an editor then nurture it.
  5. Don’t write just one pitch. Write lots of different ones using various angles – and send them to different magazines. You’ll receive many rejections but you must be prepared to light an insane amount of fires before one begins to burn.
  6. Make sure you offer a unique or unusual angle, rather than a subject. Tip: To find an angle zoom in on a specific area of the subject. For instance after a weekend in Africa spent with a Herero tribe in Namibia I didn’t write about The Hereros of Namibia, instead I wrote Travel Articles focused on; Herero Dress, Herero Culture, Herero Weddings and Herero Food, which were all published in different magazines.
  7. Keep asking yourself: Do people want to read about this? Is it newsworthy? Is it topical? Does it strike an emotional chord? Is it entertaining? Does it tell people something they need to know or might find intriguing?
  8. Always try to be enlightened and original. If you’re writing a Feature Article then think about having a philosophical jumping off point. Perhaps start by asking a question.
  9. If you’re writing service journalism stories, then make sure you are’ serving’ the reader little known facts or things that he would be hard pressed to find out himself. Interview experts.

AIDA Acronym

There is a well known acronym called AIDA, a strategy used by advertisers, which can equally well be applied to writing a blog post or a magazine story.

A – Grab attention

I – Create Interest

D – Arouse desire

A – Action. Make sure you are asking your reader to do or think something when he’s finished reading.

Most of all persevere.

So get out there and fly by the seat of your pants.

Always.

Have you had a lucky break? Or what’s your best tip for writers?

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Comments

  1. I got my first job cos I was in the right pub at the right time. It was a lesson for life . Totally agree about bravery and just doing it.
    seana smith recently posted..Kyeemagh Beach, Baths and Playground at Brighton-Le-SandsMy Profile

  2. Fabulous post Jo. My tips – know the audience of the magazine you are writing for. And always delivery on time or even better before time. Develop your photography skills – pics will help sell your story to an editor.
    Jill Harrison recently posted..Flying High With My CameraMy Profile

  3. Thanks for adding some great tips Jill. I totally agree, and yes photos are so important.

  4. Hi Seana, So great to see you here! Thanks :) Yes we look back and those early lessons are clearly definable as we get older, although at the time perhaps we don’t see them for what they are. I wonder what your first job was?

  5. Hi Jo, All great points and as Jill says, spectacular photos will sell it. Developing photography skills is my top priority over the next few months. I also think it’s worth reading up on media law. It’s a question editors are asking more of freelancers. In terms of travel writing, defamation and copyright are the main legal risks. An understanding of both these laws could also give a writer an advantage when building relationships with editors.
    Tracey recently posted..Australia’s Longest Bike TrailMy Profile

  6. Thanks Tracey. Some very good points for freelance writers to think about :)

  7. Putting yourself out there and pitching yourself is one of the hardest things we can do but the rewards can be so worth it Jo … keep doing your thing!
    Nikki Recently posted: Powerful stuff will happen in Australian blogging over the next 12 months

  8. Pitching can be so heart in mouth, finger nail biting scary but yes Nikki, so worth it in the end. Thanks for commenting :)

  9. Great post Johanna. So many excellent tips here.

  10. Thanks Allison … for reading, and for the kind acknowledgement too :)

  11. Such a great post, Jo. Loving the AIDA Acronym. Will have to remember that one :)
    Linda McCormick recently posted..Interview with an Ecotourism Pioneer: Bulent Saraloglu in TurkeyMy Profile

  12. Thanks Linda! Yes, it’s a good one to remembet.

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