When I started out with freelancing, I had no idea what I was doing. I knew that I liked to write, I knew that businesses needed writing and were willing to pay for it, and I knew that I was capable of doing the writing that they needed, but I wasn’t exactly sure how to connect the dots.
So, I thought I would compile a list so that writers who come after me, and other writers like me, can have somewhere to turn when they want to get started that isn’t just blanket “you can do it!” motivation, but instead practical, actionable resources for them to start using immediately.
It’s taken me quite a lot of trial and error, and I certainly still don’t know everything, but I have found quite a few resources that I wish I’d known about when I was just starting out. These programs are simple and free to use to network, write, and edit.
Here’s my list of five websites and programs that actually helped me start and continue to help me build my writing career.
Yes, I know, everyone hates the idea that they need to market themselves, and believe me, I do too. But the truth of the matter is that you need to have some kind of platform if you’re going to get any work, and Twitter is one of the best ways I’ve found to do that.
Not only is there a thriving community of writers there, which includes everyone from novelists to neuroscientists, but they have their own hashtag which makes it extremely easy to find them: #WritingCommunity. How simple is that? The first time I posted under the hashtag on my professional account, I was inundated with likes and replies welcoming me into the fold.
Twitter writers are unapologetically loud about their works and supportive of other people’s. If you have a particular piece you’re pushing, you can tweet it out and pin it to your profile, and sometimes, people will randomly come through and like or retweet it, without you having to do anything at all!
Even better, if you’re looking to grow your account and advertise your work without being annoying, you can participate in a Writer’s Lift, which is a thread of writers posting their links and liking, retweeting, and commenting on other people’s. It fosters a sense of community that encourages participation and interaction, with many people offering sincere praise and feedback on your work as they go. All you have to do is be willing to offer praise and feedback in return.
Twitter is an excellent way to network with writers, editors, and publishers around the world even when we can’t meet up in person.
Is it overhyped and overadvertised? Yes, absolutely. Is it perfect? Far from it! Is it actually useful? Surprisingly, yes.
Grammarly is one of those applications you hear about over and over again to the point where it begins to sound like an MLM. It promises to make editing a thing of the past, and transform your lackluster writing into works of art worthy of the Smithsonian or the Louvre.
In reality, Grammarly is a glorified spell-checker. It’s basically a slightly improved version of the automatic spell check built into most word processors, checking for spelling, grammar (obviously), word variation, and sentence structure. It’s frequently wrong; the algorithms are terrible about picking up on nuance and complicated structure, and it will try very hard to correct your pop culture references even when you know they’re right. A perfect tool it is not.
What it is good for, though, is consistency. I use Grammarly to pick up on my overuse of commas and my poor spelling. It has the lovely function of letting you sort through your “mistakes” one by one, ignoring the ones that are actually intentional if you so choose.
I also use the very basic free version of it; you don’t really need the premium version (no matter how much it pushes you to buy it) unless you’re really looking for a way to gauge tone and reading level. If you’re using it to make sure that you’re writing solidly no matter what platform you’re on? Free is the way to go.
Please, though, for the love of God, hire a real-person editor if you’re writing a big project.
Don’t panic! I’m not going to tell you to learn to code or build a whole website!
While you can and should definitely have an author website to act as your all-in-one portfolio to showcase to clients, agents, and publishers, and WordPress can definitely let you do that, what I’m getting at is knowing the basic setup and account functions.
I was astounded to see the number of people that asked for experience using WordPress when I started out. My website runs on Wix, so I was out of luck for that aspect of it, but I saw it as a necessary skill and made my own account on the site just to see what was up. It’s a good thing I did, too!
What you really need out of WordPress is the basic understanding of how to edit, format, and post on a blog run off the framework. This is relatively straightforward; you go to “Write,” type your title in the title box, and type out your post. Most of the formatting is clearly labeled, and anything you have questions about is only a quick Google search away. The site makes embedding videos and social media posts extremely easy, which can be helpful when you’re recording news or promoting a product.
You can also run a blog on the site for free. Bonus points: if like me, you already have a website somewhere else, you can just import it! This ties back into the platform thing: having a portfolio is important, and if nothing else, WordPress gives you a pretty place to dump that.
I’m going to be honest: it was pure chance that I found Medium at all, but I’m very glad I did. I was looking to publish things that didn’t fit on my personal blog, and running across Medium meant I suddenly had access to another platform-building tool and a new network of people to put my work in front of.
Undoubtedly, one of the best features of this site is the publications; they make it easy to be published in a well-read, reputable magazine, meaning that you’ll have samples to send to clients, which makes you look legit. It makes you feel legit as well; how nice is it to get to say, “I’ve been published in a magazine with a 750,000 plus person active readership”?
Publications are also amazing sources of advice. I follow several publications on everything from scientific innovation to satire, but for the sake of this article, I’m going to highlight two that are a wealth of resources for the writing industry.
The Post-Grad Survival Guide is fantastic for writers in their early twenties, either fresh out of college or having skipped it entirely, who are brand new to the workforce. It’s got excellent tips on freelancing, getting fair wages, surviving on a budget, and using your finances wisely.
The Writing Cooperative gets right down to the bones of the industry. It focuses on giving you the tools you need to write quickly, effectively, and intelligently, as well as offering opinion pieces from diverse authors about different aspects of the writing world and how they have improved and can improve in the future. If you’re looking for a place to read about writing in a way that doesn’t sound condescending, you’ll want to look here.
There are tons of other helpful publications, but these two have had the most articles that have been useful to me.
This one might look weird and out of place on the list, but NaNoWriMo’s website is actually an extremely useful tool that’s available year-round. It’s open to more than just novelists, as well; journalists, nonfiction book writers, poets, short story writers, and pretty much any person who puts pen to paper or hands to keyboard will find the setup useful.
The site gives you a profile where you can announce projects. These projects contain a profile with a word count, excerpt, and summary that can be an excellent way to work on short-pitching them (especially if you’re using Twitter!). It also lets you set goals for your projects including a deadline to finish and a specific word count, and shows you a progress bar on your home screen so that you have a visual reminder of the work you’ve done and what you have left to do.
There’s also a statistics page that shows you how many words you’ve written each day, your average daily word count, gives you a predicted day that you’ll reach your goal word count based on your current pace, and an estimate of your most productive time of day, all of which can be extremely helpful information if you need to plan out a manuscript and give estimates to clients about when it will be done.
On top of that, there are pages and pages of resources for novelists and tons of discounts available only to members of the site. NaNoWriMo is dedicated to literacy, and as such, has a huge community you can tap into for advice, support, or simple socialization. It’s a wonderful place to go if you don’t want to write alone.