I recently applied for a freelance position as a recipe developer. The website was looking for regularly contributing writers who would pitch and create comfort-food recipes to be submitted as couple-hundred-word articles. The gig was right up my alley for a few reasons: first, I’m a writer (duh) and second, I have my own blog (another one, soon to be absorbed into a different project) where I publish slow cooker recipes.
But I’ve highlighted these credentials before in application emails and gotten no response. So as I was crafting my email in response to their job post, I added a line that had (somehow) never dawned on me:
I also have experience as a line cook, kitchen manager, and caterer.
I have worked in a number of kitchens; my ex-husband and I even owned a restaurant, which I managed and orchestrated catering for.
Now I’m not saying that little tidbit landed me the position, but it certainly didn’t hurt.
And why hadn’t I included this information in food-writing queries before? It was definitely a face-palm moment on my end. Maybe I’d been so caught up with my writing qualifications that my real-world experience completely slipped my mind.
Whatever the reason for my disconnect, I want to make sure you’re not making the same mistake—whether you’re a new writer or a seasoned pro.
New Writers – Use Your Experience
If you’re new to freelancing, chances are you’re working to get your first clips and build your own confidence in your work, so being able to use your real-life experience to land assignments is great news! It won’t completely make up for the fact that you’ve scarcely been published, but it will certainly help.
The first step is to brainstorm your experience, including employment and hobbies:
- What positions have you held?
- What industries do you have insider knowledge of?
- What are your strengths?
- What are your interests?
- What have you done that would be considered extra-ordinary?
- What life experiences have you had?
- What personal experiences could others relate to?
- What have you overcome?
- Do you read a lot on a specific subject?
- Where have you traveled?
- Who have you met?
- How do you spend your free time?
Now, how do you use this information to land assignments? Well, first look for themes in your brainstorming.
Open a new tab and Google [topic or industry] + submission guidelines. If your experience is in a complex industry (like programming, engineering or any medical specialty) editors will probably be relieved to get a submission from you. After all, it’s easier to hire someone who understands the ins and outs of these fields than it is to hire a (sometimes even more experienced) writer and teach them the entire industry before they can start working.
And even if this subject or industry isn’t in the niche you eventually want for yourself, it can be a way to earn clips that at least show your capabilities as a professional writer.
Plus it will boost your confidence—something many new writers struggle with.
Use your bookshelves to decide your niche: Sort your non-fiction by subject. Now which can you see yourself… Click To Tweet
(And speaking of specialties, there’s more to your niche than subject.)
You can also use your experience to land contributor positions, though this might prove to be more difficult if you have no clips to show. Check job boards (you can check out a selection of the best job boards here) for listings related to your experience.
But instead of highlighting your lack of published pieces, focus on your extensive experience with the subject matter. Never lie. Just don’t point out that you haven’t been published. Then include links to the writing you do have online—like samples you’ve written and your blog.
Writing From Personal Experience
While looking over your brainstorm, don’t forget that not all publishers are looking for technical or industry advice. There are plenty of sites and magazines that focus on personal experience and life skills. Chances are you’ve been through something and learned from it. These experiences can be shared, whether it’s through personal essay or an advice article. You can use personal adversity and triumph to connect with readers.
Maybe you’ve experienced a divorce, the loss of a parent or partner, rape, domestic violence, substance abuse, the loss of a child, injustice. When others are forced into the same circumstances, they look to those who can relate for solidarity, comfort, and hope. You can be that voice and it can help others.
Granted, there are also positive life experiences worth sharing! Maybe you lost a lot of weight and beat diabetes, quit your job for something more meaningful, volunteer, raised children, remodeled and decorated your home, worked abroad, found scholarships to further your education, improved your community, found a way to lessen your depression, organized your garage, planted a beautiful garden or came up with an awesome DIY project.
Go ahead, get your brainstorm list back out. 🙂
The best thing about pitching these articles is that no one is more qualified to write your stories than you. Plus, one experience can lead to dozens of assignments.
For example, a struggle with substance abuse might lead to:
- A personal essay detailing your rock bottom and the epiphany or moment that got you started stopping
- An open letter to someone you hurt
- 10 Signs You’re An Alcoholic: Even If You Don’t Realize It
- 5 Sobriety Myths
- Is Cannabis An Effective Treatment For Alcoholism?
- Remember These Three Things When You Fall Off The Wagon
- Staying Sober: Build A New Life That Defies Relapse
- The Art Of Hiding: Alcoholism As Avoidance
- How To Own Your Life And Shed Your Shame
- 15 Slushy Summertime Cocktails
(Just making sure you’re paying attention-don’t do that. It won’t end well.)
But you get the idea. No matter what life experience you’ve had and can share with others, there’s always more than one way to tell it. It’s called slant.
Now let’s imagine that our hypothetical writer pitched and published all or even most of those articles. It could easily lead to a regular gig writing a few articles a week for a substance abuse center’s blog or some other related freelance position. The writer might eventually decide to publish an eBook on the subject or a memoir of their personal struggle. Maybe the writer launches a blog to help others overcome alcoholism or picks up regular content or newsletter work for a non-profit.
My point is that one life experience can grow into a full career—if you pursue it.
If none of your experiences apply to what you want for your niche, that’s okay.
You can still earn some clips for your portfolio—just be sure to slant your topic to the style (research-driven, personal essay, round-up, advice, etc.) of writing you plan to pursue—then stay tuned for Reverse-Engineering Experience: How To Build Niche Authority.
I’ll show you how to get the experience you need to be recognized as an expert in your niche. 🙂