5 Writing Rules I Broke to Get Unstuck

by Jessica Lunk

When you’re at the beginning of your career as a writer, sometimes an unlikely opportunity can help you gain the chops you need for bigger and better assignments down the road.

If you’re stuck in a rut and unsure about where to find your first few clients, it’s okay to break a few rules.

Here are five rules I ignored to build my freelance writing business:

1. Rule: Never write for the content mills.

They say: “Getting paid $5.00 an article is unacceptable, and lowers the standard for writers everywhere.”

The content mill was my internship. It was not lucrative, but it did provide me with experience in meeting deadlines as well as meeting the needs of a client. It also introduced me to a wildly important acronym: SEO.

2. Rule: Ask permission.

They say: “If you aren’t welcome, don’t go there.”

In 2009, I fell in love with Etsy. But with debates brewing about whether or not digital material could be sold on Etsy, it was unclear if I could market my writing as “handmade” and set up shop.

So I did it anyway. I sold product descriptions and blog posts, in turn landing several amazing clients. These were my first real, non-content-mill writing assignments, and they helped to build both my portfolio and my confidence as a writer.

3. Rule: Steer clear of Craigslist.

They say: “A gig on Craigslist is low-hanging fruit.”

Good clients will post anywhere to find a great writer. I answered a Craigslist ad looking for a content writer for a new website. The description was nice and Craigslist-y, lacking any details to prove the legitimacy of the business or the request.

I took a chance anyway, and it turned out to be a great opportunity. A retired business owner was starting a new recruiting firm and needed a writer with web savvy. He has been a wonderful client, and my experience with his business and the recruiting industry helped me land my current job.

4. Rule: Have a specialty or niche.

They say: “To be highly sought after, you need to have expertise in a specific subject.”

Unfortunately, you can’t become an expert in a day. And while I recognize the value of an expert opinion, I would have gotten nowhere had I waited to develop one.

Every industry is hungry for a fresh perspective. The more you explore, the more unique your viewpoint, and the better equipped you become to make connections between any subject and the rest of the world.

5. Rule: Don’t copy.

They say: “Be original.”

The best formulas always work, and you don’t have to reinvent the wheel to write a great piece. One of my most viral blog posts to date, 5 Habits of Highly Successful Recruiters, follows the tried and true list post structure. It is not an earth-shattering post, but it does its job, compelling people to click and share.

Pursuing a writing career can be tough, so go easy on yourself and avoid turning a ‘rule’ into an excuse not to take action. When in doubt, proceed with enthusiasm.

What rules have you broken to find clients? Leave a comment and share your story.

Jessica Lunk is a copywriter and content marketer at Sendouts. She blogs weekly about the recruiting industry on the Sendouts blog. Follow her on Twitter @jessicalunk.

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