28/01/2021

How I Became A Freelance Writer

Ever since speaking more openly about being self employed and a freelancer the number one question I've been asked is; how did you become a freelance writer? So, how exactly did I go from a 14 year old starting a blog to a 23 year old writing for publications like The Independent and Metro? As more and more of us over the past year have turned to self employment I wanted to share my journey of how I got to where I am today. 

At 14 years old I started my own blog just as YouTube, blogging and the concept of influencers was starting up. Shona Louise was originally a beauty blog and for the first 2 years I stayed solely within my niche, until my life was turned upside down by major spinal surgery. Up until that point I'd hardly mentioned my genetic condition, Marfan Syndrome, on here, mostly because it wasn't affecting my everyday life at that point. As I searched for answers to my questions about the surgery online however, I found that hardly anyone was talking honestly about their experience of having spinal fusion surgery. There were a few montage style videos on YouTube but this was almost 8 years ago, before the age of sharing your story to help others. So, I decided I would document the whole surgery process on my blog, and really that's where my career began. 

Shona, a young woman with long auburn hair, is sat in her powerchair wearing a black and white checkered jumpsuit. She is smiling and holding a brightly coloured book. Lots of green plants can be seen behind her. This photo was taken in the Sky Garden in London.

I discovered the power of sharing my story and as a result I became involved with the Hypermobility Syndromes Association, a charity supporting those with conditions such as Marfan, EDS and other hypermobility syndromes. I'd been talking quite candidly about my health for over a year at this point and HMSA invited me to share my story in their printed magazine. I remember when my copy arrived in the post, it was beyond surreal to see my words printed for all to see, and that's when I really caught the writing bug. From that moment on I was keen to get published wherever I could. 

The next couple of years were filled with mostly doing unpaid work, I was not as enlightened back then about asking for payment. I found myself writing for charities and doing radio interviews every month. For a long time though I still thought what I was doing was no more than a hobby, a way to raise awareness. And then came the offer to write for a book in 2017. I remember being absolutely floored when the message came through inviting me to pitch an essay for an anthology book by young people living in Britain. They were specifically looking for a disabled voice and I was suggested after someone at the publishing house read my blog. I'd been writing my blog for 6 years at this point and I couldn't quite believe that a decision I'd made at 14 years old had now landed me the opportunity to become a published author. Working on 'Rife: Twenty-One Stories from Britain's Youth' was an absolute joy and gave me valuable experience of long form writing and having my work edited. The book came out in 2019, just months before I would make the decision to become self employed.

Looking back again though, it wasn't until I was first published by Metro in 2018 that I thought there could be something more in this, that maybe I could get paid to write. For a long time I said yes to every opportunity that came my way, mostly unpaid, and this really helped me to build up my name and portfolio. Whilst I wasn't writing my own pieces regularly, doing interviews with others meant that my name was becoming more well known within the disability community, and soon I was getting the occasional offer to write instead of being interviewed. 

Shona, a young woman with auburn hair tied back is sitting in her powerchair. She is wearing navy jeans, black boots, a black coat and has a grey bag hanging off one of her armrests. She is in the middle of a busy London area, by Trafalgar Square. Red buses and black taxis can be seen behind her.

It's really only been in the past year that I've started going after work myself, instead of waiting for it to come to me. I'd been so used to receiving interview requests and invitations to write every now and then that I had no idea I could actually pitch articles myself. I think there's a huge misconception when it comes to freelance writing that you need have a lot of experience and by-lines everywhere, but actually I've found most editors are really keen to work with new writers. These days I don't think it's necessary to do all the free work I spent years doing. 

It can be tough though, self employment is a fine line to walk for anyone as income is never guaranteed. For me the money I earn is directly correlated to how much work I put in, and some days that can be tough, especially when you're disabled. But the control I get over how and when I work has given me the flexibility over my day that I need. I know that if I have a bad pain day I do have that ability to take a step back, and that is invaluable.  

The best advice I can ever give to anyone wanting to become a freelance writer is; start a blog and just be brave. When pitching a piece the worst thing that will happen is an editor says no, and just because they said no doesn't mean the next one will. I used to pitch a piece and give up on it if the first publication I tried turned it down, but these days I'll continue pitching it until it finds a home. I think it's easy to become demotivated by rejections, I've found that talking to other writers has really helped me see that I'm not alone, we all have articles and ideas rejected all the time. Even the most successful writers don't get everything published. 

Self employment and freelancing isn't for everyone but if you're looking at freelance writing as a career and you're able to take that leap of faith, just do it. There will be hard days when you want to throw it all in, but there will also be days when you get commissioned by a dream publication and do a happy dance at your desk. I feel really lucky that a decision I made as a teenager has led me to my career and I wouldn't change it for the world. 

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