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8 Steps to Write Your Way Through Uni


You don’t need to be the modern day Charles Dickens to get a job as a writer; you don’t even need to be a writer to get a job as a writer.

I finished my degree at the University of Kent earlier this year, obviously the work wasn’t a walk in the park, but do you want to know what I found hardest? Finding a job that could work around my lectures.

Some companies didn’t understand phrases like ‘I can’t work Thursdays; I have lectures’ whereas other business’ would force you to do the foul work because they know you’re probably desperate for a job. So where’s the perfect balance? You want a job that either doesn’t intervene with your university lectures or one that you can do whenever you like. You want freelance work.

Here’s what you’re thinking: ‘But I’ve never written professionally before

So you’re telling me those essays you work on just managed to type themselves? Yeah, of course they do.

If you’re studying something at university then you’re an expert in it, or at least know more about that topic than the average person, therefore you can write about it. I know how to write creatively because I took a course which did a lot of work in the media and creative writing (funny that), but I wouldn’t have a clue about psychology. A psychology student would be better for that. Right?

In my second year, I found a company that was looking for a freelancer to write up some website content for them. I applied straight away and got the job to write an article, after that I was asked to do more and more work until it became a regular occurrence. But obviously it didn’t happen overnight, so here’s my advice.

1.      Getting noticed.

What I did:

I wrote for my blog and reviewed video games; I’d also regularly put posts up in forums and job websites like Gumtree.com. Eventually I came across a company called Right Casino Media who were looking for a freelance writer who could contribute to one of their websites, Live Roulette. I applied and waited.

What I’d advise:

If you’ve got a blog then that’s fine, but don’t count on it getting you a job any time soon. I didn’t get any worthwhile attention on mine and it just turned out to be a waste of time, that isn’t to say a blog won’t get you a job, but it will take a while. Instead, visit job websites often and keep an eye out for someone who needs quick work. Gumtree.com was where I got mine from, and I’ve heard other writers found their first job there too.

2.      Proving your worth.

What I did:

I got called up by the company later in the day and hadn’t prepared myself whatsoever; they wanted to know how my writing would benefit them over anyone else’s. I was lucky that I was the only person working on a degree that had applied, and they took a shine to that, but I had nothing else to offer, especially since their niche is online gambling (the closest thing I had was video gaming experience).

What I’d advise:

Make yourself a check list of things you can do and what you’re good at in writing. I should have said I’m imaginative in my writing and keep an up-to-date blog, someone else might say they’re an excellent speller and a rigid grammar Nazi, or you might have a large following on Twitter. Have your strengths noted down and play to them, make yourself look like the steaming hot deal on the writing block.

3.      Sealing the deal.

What I did:

I was unlucky enough to be asked to start straight away. Yes, unlucky, for me anyway. I hadn’t prepared anything, so I didn’t know how much I was going to charge for the work or when I would be able to get it done by. Because of this I might have sold myself short and maybe even missed out on some work.

What I’d advise:

When you’re writing down your strengths in writing, note down at the bottom how long it should take you to write and edit 500 words and how much you will charge for 500 words. 500 words is roughly a page and also the standard amount to charge for. If you’re not sure how much you should charge then go with what I did, somewhere between £5-£10 per page, depending on how much research the work would require, but even if you only charge £5 then you’re still in the average area.

4.      Preparing to work.

What I did:

I simply assumed that everything I got told over the phone would also be sent to me in an email. I assumed wrong. When writing my first piece I had to keep asking questions that I knew the answers to, but I couldn’t be sure because I didn’t write anything down or ask for it in writing. This probably made me look pretty bad at my job.

What I’d advise:

Don’t put the phone down/leave the interview until you could explain the work flawlessly to someone else. This will save you so much time and you won’t spend hours looking at a blank screen wondering what there is to do next. Just make sure to write all this down as well, in case you forget. Not all companies are used to fully briefing their writers, so make sure you ask the questions, don’t expect them to tell you everything.

5.      Doing the work.

What I did:

On my first assignment, I spent several hours making everything perfect and probably wasted at least two hours staring at an article which couldn’t be improved any more. Because of this, I lost out on some uni work and fell behind slightly. My second assignment I did the opposite, I made sure all my uni work was done and then did it a second time for good measure, but I had to rush my paid work.

What I’d advise:

Don’t sacrifice one piece of work for another, organise yourself and take a deep breath. Set aside two hours a day where you can get your freelance work done, and if you don’t have freelance work that day then you’ve got a two hour break. Also, get yourself onto Google Calendar, it makes everything easier to organise and you can use it to set alarms as well.

6.      Handing it in Not yet you don’t.

What I did:

I had a look over my work and immediately assumed that the editor would change anything that was wrong that I hadn’t been able to find. Instead, I just got my article back with notes and was told to change certain parts. This happened a couple of times just because I didn’t read through my own article properly.

What I’d advise:

If you get it right first time without any issues then I’ll send you a Twix or something. You won’t get it right every time, but you can do your best to at least make sure the silly mistakes are gone. Check your spelling, your grammar and your layout, if something is sent back after that then it’s probably something that couldn’t be helped (company’s personal preference, extra info for you to include, a fact that might be wrong, etc.).

7.      OK, now you can hand it in.

What I did:

I sent a blank email off to the company with the article attached, and almost straight away I would receive a reply asking about parts of the article which weren’t clear.

What I’d advise:

Take a couple of minutes to make an annotated copy of the article, including notes, highlighted sections and explanations where necessary. If they reply with questions then ask them to call you, it’s easier to do over the phone. Also take the time to format the email properly, addressing your employer properly and signing yourself off at the end.

8.      Get paid.

What I did:

Spent the money on booze and got drunk.

What I’d advise:

Budget for what you need, food, books, travels etc.

Then spend the rest of the money on booze and get drunk.

Flexible times and a dick-load of cash

This may seem like a lot of time spent to get a job, but it isn’t just a job. Some months I’d only make £50 because I had exams or a difficult essay to hand in, other months I got up to £400 because I had the time to spare. I was able to structure the work around me and it made living at university so much easier. I was able to afford ‘actual chicken instead of ‘let’s just call it chicken’; I never worried about bills because I knew I could just get myself more work. Most importantly, I never needed to say ‘but I’ve got work in the morning’ because I could do that work earlier if I wanted to. Get work done, edit the beast, send it off and head to the clubs.

I’ve graduated from university now, and that freelance job immediately turned into a full-time writing job for the same company. I was offered the job the day the company found out I was no longer a student. So not only did freelance writing help me financially when I was a student, but it also secured me a job for when I finished.

I’m still working there today in a professional environment and building up experience for a career in editing. I’ve already got my name out to a few big companies and I still get freelance work that I can do in my free time.

Starting is the hardest part, but once you’ve got a stream of work then you’re in the easy lane.

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