Earn More as a Writer Fast With This Proven Shortcut

This is a guest post by Carol Tice.

Have you ever wondered how some freelance writers seem to shoot to success?

Here’s how it happens.

I know because it happened to me.

Once upon a time (in a decade far far away), I was a starving songwriter living in Los Angeles. Then I entered a couple of essay contests and won them.

The next thing I knew, I was writing features for the L.A. Reader (R.I.P.) and the Los Angeles Times real-estate section.

I was terrified and excited all at the same time. This article-writing thing seemed really fun. And it paid money, a nice change from my songwriting life.

I had no idea what I was doing.

I had been writing prose for about five minutes.

How did I go from there to a six-figure freelance writer?

One word: Mentors.

Two incredibly generous editors at these two publications took me under their wing and taught me how to be a reporter. From scratch.

They liked my writing. They thought I had potential.

I was willing to work my rear end off for cheap, and was thirsty to know

I’d come in the day after a Reader piece of mine came out and say, “I see you changed my lede from this here to that. Why””

He loved that.

When I started, it took me six weeks to write a 600-word feature for the Times. I kept asking if I shouldn’t know more about real estate, maybe be a former Realtor or mortgage broker. I felt really in over my head.

“Perish the thought!” said my editor. “Those people can’t write. You’re funny!”

The Reader editor helped me write a 3,000 word feature for the first time. My first draft was 10,000 words long.

For reasons I’ll never understand, this generous man was willing to show me how to sculpt it into a compelling feature that fit in the paper.

I did mention I had no idea what I was doing, right?

After he helped me and the story came out, I sold a one-year movie-rights option on that story for $10,000. True story. (No, it never did become a movie, darnit.)

Without these two mentors, I might have floundered around for years and years, slowly figuring out how to write an article on my own.

I might have just given up.

Mentors help you keep the faith that you can do this.

Mentors are your career’s rocket fuel.

Ask any successful writer you know how they got started and somewhere in the story, there will be mentors.

If you’re struggling to launch your freelance writing career right now, ask yourself: Where are your mentors?

You need to find knowledgeable people who believe in you and will help you develop as a writer.

They will cut years off your ramp time.

It might be a college writing professor, or a magazine editor, or a marketing manager, or a professional writing coach.

But if you want to speed up this process, get to where you make a living at writing, and cut the agony factor down, you need a mentor.

Looking to launch your freelance writing career in 2012?

Join the Freelance Writers Blast Off 2012 for Newbies on January 17 to learn from two longtime writing professionals how to choose your writing niche, explore potential markets that want your writing, market yourself, and run your freelance business. We now offer three levels of the Blast Off to match your budget: You can audit the course, participate in the webinars, or participate in the webinars and get phone mentoring sessions with Carol and me.

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12 comments… add one
  • Yentl

    Thanks a lot for this article, It really gave me a boost to persist on writing.
    I’m still searching for opportunities to blog post and guess what: I don’t even have a mentor yet… 😀 Time to find one perhaps?

    You’re story is kinda funny on one point, as you had to write on something you weren’t really specialized in. It seems like you could’ve handled whatever niche. (However, I do still think having a niche you’re really good at is important.)

    Well, I’ll definitely join the “Freelance Writers Blast Off 2012 for Newbies” (lol).

    • I agree that developing niche expertise is great. But you have to START somewhere developing that expertise…and those initial connections helped me do that. I’m still writing about real estate today, that turned out to be a great specialization for me.

  • sam

    Ah ha, a mentor! I sure hope I don’t have to start writing for the LA Times to find one. I am at the “floundering around” stage of my writing career at the moment.

  • That seems pretty simplistic. As though one can just suddenly choose to have very powerful people just help them in their career. This article is a bit like saying, “In debt” No problem. Do what I did…win the lottery for 50 million dollars.” Which of course, would do the trick, but one can’t exactly just opt to work hard and win a lottery, and I would maintain that one can’t just wake up one day and decide they are going to go get an influential mentor.

    I grant that one can go about talking to people and asking them to mentor them, and in that respect there is a small degree more of control than one would have over the lottery. Yet you yourself said,

    “For reasons I’ll never understand, this generous man was willing to show me how to sculpt it into a compelling feature that fit in the paper.”

    I think that says it right there. The sort of ultra-mentorship of which you write does happen of course. Yet I am not sure it qualifies as sound advice. A kernel of hope perhaps for some people, like me, who have never had any kind of mentor, but only in the since that, again, I COULD win the lottery.

    I don’t mean to begrudge your success, but a lot of talented people are just not going to run into somebody who “for reasons we don’t understand” just want to help out of the kindness of their hearts.

    • I don’t think finding a mentor is anything like winning the lottery.

      As I say in the post, mentors can be found in many places. I found my first two at publications where I started getting published. You might have a writer friend who’s successful and willing to sit down with you and give you writing tips. At one point I had a scriptwriter friend edit an article of mine, and I’m still using her tips.

      Or you might want to sign up to have Linda and me mentor you — we’re available! And our mentees are seeing great results.

      I guess my real point is a lot of new writers operate in a vacuum. They’re blogging on their own blog, have no traffic, and aren’t getting a lot of feedback on their work. You’re going to progress a lot faster if you can get some pro input.

      And I don’t think that’s a moonshot, either. If you have some promise in your writing, you can usually connect with someone who’s willing to help you improve.

      • And I’m joking a bit about ‘for reasons I don’t understand.’ Of course, he did it because he got a great article out of the bargain. And acquired a writer who cranked out tons of stories for him over the course of years.

        If an editor sees you have the potential to be a regular producer for them, they will help you. In just the few months Freelance Writers Den has been open, we’ve seen several writers find those kind of opportunities, where an editor returns their query with tips on EXACTLY how to rewrite it so that they get the assignment.

        I think if you reach out and show you’re egoless about your work and eager to learn and improve, you can find a mentor who responds to that and wants to help you.

  • If only I had a mentor that doesn’t need me to pay up. Lack of cash. I’d gladly slave and write for my mentor for a year to pay for a mentor. heh

    Very nice post, Carol. So good, it’s tempting.

    • Not all mentoring is a paid situation, Josh. I’ve had editors informally mentor me, and I’ve informally mentored friends of mine, too. See who in your life knows a bit more and has some freelance writing success, and see if you can pick their brain.

  • Carol, this is a great post. You found your mentor because you asked your editor questions instead of just turning in your stories and watching for the checks. If you had done that, it would have been a missed opportunity.

    • Thanks, Gail! That actually happened to one of my recent Write for Magazines students as well…she admitted to the editor of a national magazine that she was a relative newbie, and he took a lot of time to show her the ropes. Her article was a cover story on the newsstands this past fall, and she was paid $600 to boot!

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