Starting out as a freelance journalist: where to even begin!? By Samantha Moolman

Written by  //  April 3, 2012  //  JOURNALISM  //  2 Comments

Cheerful woman smiling at her desk with a laptop

So – you’re committed to this writing thing and you’re raring to go. Good for you! But now what? Do you have a particular article topic you want to write about? Do you have a particular publication in mind? You might feel like you’ve hit a brick wall and don’t know where to begin. You might be drowning in a sea of countless writing opportunities that you can pursue, but you can’t decide which one is right for you. Without a clear-cut vision, it’s difficult to start making money as a writer. My suggestion? A little introspection…

Finding your writing fit

Ask yourself this: Why do I want to write? What are my reasons? What are my priorities? Really think about you. Now consider which answer best describes you:

  • I need to write to make money.
  • I need/want to work from home.
  • I want to pursue a career in journalism.
  • I want to tell people about a subject I feel passionately about.
  • I want to write about anything, as long as I can write.

You may have other reasons for wanting to write. Whatever they are, write them down. Considering these types of questions can help you keep an end-goal in mind – a light at the end of the tunnel for when you’re feeling disillusioned, stressed or lost. Write that down too. An end-goal will give you purpose. It will guide you towards a plan of action.

Once you’ve thought about what you want to achieve, it should be easier to figure out which of the many facets of the writing world – be it an industry, field or publication – suits you best.

Do you have more than one possible field of interest?

Create a mind-map and brainstorm ideas for articles in each field. Laying your thoughts out on a page helps to de-clutter your brain. I create an Affinity Diagram whenever I feel a bit overwhelmed. An Affinity Diagram is almost like a mind-map, just a bit more systematic in its approach (which helps type-A personalities like me put my thoughts in order). It groups your ideas into common themes which leaves you with a visual interpretation of where your affinity lies.

I found the concept on which describes the purpose of an Affinity Diagram as follows: “When you cannot see the forest for the trees, an affinity diagram may be exactly what you need to get back in focus.” Basically, it’s a glorified Pros and Cons list. (Please visit the site to get a detailed ‘how-to’ if you’re interested – these kinds of tools really are helpful.)

Just to be clear though, I’m not at all suggesting that you should choose only one field out of the many possibilities you have. You’re capable of much more than one field of interest! And as a freelancer, you have the freedom to add a lot of colour and variety to your day job. I simply feel that putting your ideas to paper and organising them with a mind-map, Affinity Diagram (or any other method that suits you) will help you to prioritise your writing. This I feel is important, because it will give you an idea of where to begin, what topic to begin with, what to write, and who to start writing for.

Research Research Research

It doesn’t help to just work out why and what you want to write. You also need to find out who would be interested in your work. Do research on the possible publications that could publish your article. Is it for magazines? Online journals? E-zines?

Use Google to uncover the myriad online options. Visit a library or good bookshop. Spend an hour or two browsing magazines and niche magazines. Gather information like contact details of editors, general content in the publication, style, tone and average word count of a typical article.

Once you know what publications are available, and whom you want to target, it is much easier to match your style and topic to a publication.

So take some time in the next couple of days to think about what you want out of your writing career and what you need to do to achieve it. De-clutter your brain and put your thoughts to paper so that you can start working towards your end-goal with a clean slate. Once you feel ready and focused, keep an eye out for my next blog entry about top paying markets in the freelancing world.

About the Author

Samantha Moolman is a freelance writer and editor who is currently responsible for the Family Life articles in Your Baby magazine.

Samantha also works as an assistant lecturer for the University of Pretoria’s Department of Journalism.

Photo Credit: Flickr.com_adactio

About the Author

The Writers' College

The Writers’ College (,, provides over 30 specialist online writing courses tutored by award-winning writers to student writers from around the globe. We have found our method of one-to-one training, with a focus on the student’s writing strengths and areas needing improvement, the best way to achieve a lasting improvement in writing skills. Apart from the individual attention and feedback from an expert in the field, we also give up-to-date industry tips and insider knowledge so that students who want to submit their writing for publication, or who want to launch into a professional field of writing (e.g. Creative writing, Journalism, Copywriting, Social Media Writing, Web Writing, Business Writing, Press Release and Media Writing) can do so with confidence and professionalism.

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2 Comments on "Starting out as a freelance journalist: where to even begin!? By Samantha Moolman"

  1. Ayodele k.steven April 21, 2011 at 9:06 pm · Reply

    Under research research research,you talked about using google and also about spending an hour or two online browsing through some magazine contents.dont you think that as a free lancer,stepping down contents from online sources no matter how well they are edited and watered down,an editor can also key back some words in the content into the same google and it will be clear to him that the free lancer is lazy.

    • The Writers' College
      NicholaT April 24, 2011 at 10:34 pm · Reply

      Hi Ayodele

      Thanks for your comment. To clarify, the point that the article is making is that you use the Internet to research magazines that are possible sources of work for you. The article is not suggesting that you use content from magazine articles. Rather, research aspects like tone, style and format of articles in a particular magazine so that you can match your own writing with the typical style of that magazine. It’s all about researching your target publication.

      Hope that helps.

      Best wishes

      Nichola (Blog moderator)

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