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My Big Break Story: How I Went From Nervous Wreck To The Guardian In Just 4 Months

 

Do you just wake up one day in a life you’ve had enough of and decide “I want to be a writer”? I did. And four months later, I’d been commissioned by the Guardian to write an article for them. Six months on with several other national newspaper commissions under my belt, I gave up my public sector job completely and went into full-time self employment as a freelance journalist.

I suppose I’d come from nowhere, into the career of my dreams. But I get so many people asking me what happened in that four month period, that I decided to write this post.

I’m hoping my story will be a source of inspiration for you, regardless of your own career choice. But for would-be writers, you’ll find some practical tips here too. Be warned though, this post is long! Make a cuppa.

The straw that broke the camel’s back

If you’ve read about why I started Butterflyist you’ll see that several years ago I was in a gloomy place. Depressed isn’t really the word, but I was a stressed out, nervous wreck.

I’m telling you this not for a sympathy vote, but so you can understand why I was so motivated to take control. Without being this desperate, the turnaround might never have happened. We all need a catalyst to make drastic change, and this was mine.

Since around 2000, I was working in a demanding job as an alcohol and drug advisor with young offenders. Many of the young people had very deep-seated issues and the most horrible backgrounds. It could be emotionally-draining work, and often unrewarding because it felt like I was banging my head against a brick wall on many levels.

My son’s father, Bob, died suddenly in 2002, when our boy was 9 years old. He had a burst appendix which wasn’t discovered until his body was riddled with septicaemia. In my opinion, it could have been avoided had the doctors performed investigative surgery earlier. Whatever the truth though, Bob was gone.

So on top of my work, I found myself dealing with the tragic loss of Bob, the most painful I’d ever experienced, and trying to help my little boy through his grief too.

I had a lot of support from family, but managing as a single parent, getting my son to school, then working in a job that dealt with other people’s problems, picking my son up late, then having a tiny amount of time to spend together – whilst also coping with our bereavement. It wasn’t easy.

I was exhausted, drained, and my world felt chaotic. In May 2004 something snapped.

Firstly, at work one of my long-term clients had died in sad circumstances, aged 18. More emotional turmoil. Then, I went to a gig (The Streets, as it happened) and I came out of the venue to find my car had been broken into – the driver’s window and door all smashed up. Worse, I had boxes of Bob’s CDs stored in the car. Music was Bob’s life, and these CDs represented him. But they’d been stolen.

I was supposed to have been sorting the CDs to file them, but hadn’t managed to find the time. My car now being a write-off, the CDs being nicked, the client having died at work – the last straws. I felt like I could no longer cope with the world, my job, or anything.

The next day, I phoned my manager in tears and told her I couldn’t come to work. I was in pieces. I went to see the doctor a few days later who diagnosed me with an anxiety disorder. This was a shock to me as someone whose perception of myself is a ‘strong person’ (and I know other people see me like that too).

I didn’t realise then that I was about to spend the next two months off work before I felt able to go back. And to be honest, the idea of going back at all made me feel sick to the stomach – I was no longer able to ‘switch off’ from emotional demands of the job.

I want to be a writer”

I couldn’t bear that I didn’t have the energy or time to be a parent when my son needed me more than ever. He had been blessed with the most wonderful and loving dad that a child could have had, and seeing his tormented face as he came to terms with the loss of his father was excruciating for me, especially when I barely had a moment of ‘calm time’ to offer him.

I knew that I had to start thinking about altering my life completely so that I could be around more for my son and also, have more time for little old me. I wanted my life and work to be on my own terms. I wanted to work from home. I wanted to do something that I wasn’t just good at, but that I had passion for – that I wanted to live and breathe through.

Ever since being a little girl, I’d been interested in writing. It was a part of myself I hadn’t really accessed in a long-time, although at various stages in my life I’d written in different forms.

I remember creating a little illustrated book when I was about 11 that I sent to Penguin. I got a rejection letter back, of course, but they let me down sweetly and I had hope that one day I’d be a published Penguin author. (Still working on that).

I’d also posted fully-drafted pieces in to magazines, not knowing that sending unsolicited articles is one of the clearest signs of an amateur writer, not having a clue about pitching appropriate ideas. Basically – I was complete novice with no portfolio whatsoever and was ultimately thinking…

…WHERE would I start?

At the beginning

I am ultimately quite a positive person and I hadn’t seen it possible that I could ever been diagnosed with anything that could be classed as a ‘mental health issue’. So in those two months I had off work, while dealing with the anxiety, I started taking action.

I knew I could write, but how would I break in?

I bought a rubbishy antiquated ‘how to’ book from Amazon (not knowing what to look for) which was clearly written in the day when we had typewriters and posted manuscripts off to editors. Still, it appeared to me to have some ‘useful’ advice about starting out. So, wet-behind-the-ears, I made some first forays into this new world.

My newbie mistakes, now I look back, are excruciatingly embarrassing.

I did things like send in article ideas by letter, with an SAE! Yes, a pitch, typed on paper, popped into an envelope with a return, stamped, addressed envelope inside, and then dropped into the postbox. What a laugh. And a waste of stamps. I think I only ever received one reply.

It was only when I bought a different book, which turned into my freelancing bible, that I started to get the hang of what I was meant to be doing in order to forge a way into freelancing. This book was the single most pivotal piece of inspiration and guidance I had in assisting me do all the ‘right things’ and create my new career.

It was called The Renegade Writer: A Totally Unconventional Guide to freelance Writing Success, by Linda Formichelli and Diana Burrell. I’ve been recommending it to newbie writers ever since (I should be on commission! Alas, I’m not).

There isn’t space to review the book here, this post is going to be long enough as it is, but if you’re interested in writing for a career – get a hold of a copy of this book right now! I think an updated version has been published since, which I haven’t seen but I’m sure it will be wonderful.

How did I get published?

Devouring books on freelance writing is all well and good, but unless you actually get off your butt and follow the advice, nothing will change.

As you’ve gathered, I was incredibly determined to start living a different life, and I had never wanted anything more than this in terms of a career achievement.

In fact, until I started to freelance, I realised I’d never even properly known what I wanted to do before.

Still, I didn’t even imagine at this point I’d be writing for the Guardian ever, never mind in such a short space of time. Before I got that golden chalice of a commission though, I’d already had a few features published.

So – what were some of the key things that I did?

 

  • I built myself a portfolio

I knew I could write, so that box was ticked, but I needed a portfolio of work samples before I could make contact with editors that might pay me for my articles.

I decided I’d just get a few things onto the web, on some writing sites (without pay, of course), so at least I had a few links. Here is the first thing that I ever had published online, for the purpose of beginning a portfolio:

http://www.hackwriters.com/technomum.htm

Hah – I felt SO proud! But not exactly the most literary piece of work you’ve ever seen is it? And quite simply, anyone can get anything on sites like this.

But what’s really crazy? This is actually the only link I sent to the editor that I pitched at the Guardian (as you’ll soon see) when I got my ‘big break’ in the newspaper. I had been doing other stuff by then, but I didn’t have any online links to those articles, so this is what I sent!

Back to where I was though. In building my portfolio, I also started approaching publications that I felt that I could contribute to with ideas, such as parenting and health magazines. And a friend of mine was editing a freebie listings magazine at the time, so I wrote a couple of pieces for her.

As with my friend’s mag, I offered to write for magazines for free. Not big ones who could afford to pay, just small fry so I could get my byline in print. Local and charity publications are good for this.

Once you’ve got enough of a portfolio of course, you stop writing for free and start charging. But as my very first step on the ladder from nowhere land, it was essential.

  • I made connections and contacts

None of us exist in a vacuum, and whatever you think of writers sat in their pyjamas all day at their desks, they still need to schmooze.

When I began my quest to be a writer, I did not know ONE SINGLE PERSON who was already doing it. I did not have one single contact in the media world (oh, except my friend on the listings mag, but I only knew she was doing that AFTER I started asking around).

I pretty much started from scratch.

One of the best sources of information and advice I found in those early days was other freelance writers. If you didn’t know it, they’re actually a very supportive bunch.

So I searched the web for friendly-looking faces and for those who were writing in fields I wanted to write in, and sent off a few polite emails. I asked these lovely folk all kinds of questions and some were even generous enough to offer me editorial contacts.

I bet she won’t remember it now, but I think the first freelancer I ever approached – who was amazingly responsive and offered me tonnes of advice – was a talented journalist called Rachel Newcombe

In fact, I soon started writing for a magazine that Rachel then worked for, called Berkshire’s County Child. It no longer exists and paid peanuts, but hey, it was part of my humble beginnings as a paid writer.

Another fabulously helpful writer I approached in those early days was Jan Murray. She is an education journalist mainly for the Guardian. Similarly to me, she didn’t come into freelancing from a traditional route and she was very giving in the advice she provided me with.

I also made contacts with the people who could provide me with ideas – like PR companies, interesting businesses, and charities. And through finding this stuff out from freelancers, I got myself onto news services like Newswise.

  • I pitched, and pitched, and pitched…

Remember, I was off work. I had time to focus on me, and writing pitches and articles was the best therapy ever. I sometimes sent a hundred pitches a day, variations on ideas to different editors, and always had many ideas in circulation.

I found markets and magazines through sites like Media UK, and I honed my pitches to make sure they caught attention.

I did this through researching the web (following articles about pitch-writing), reading books (Renegade Writer offers good advice), and through asking journalists to check my pitches and see where I could improve. Sometimes nice editors would even tell me where I was going wrong.

I developed a very thick skin and did not let any rejection deter me. If I received a “no”, I just sent the idea elsewhere, having looked to see if I could improve the pitch first.

Of course – it’s important to know who to pitch in a magazine, too. The biggest no-no is to send an email to a generic address, such as editor@glossypublication.com – hence why making contacts with helpful people is, well, helpful.

Before I went back to work, after almost two solid months of research and pitching, I’d received my first proper commission. That is, paid work. I was ecstatic. It was a travel piece for Virgin RedHot magazine (no longer in existence) about how to see Amsterdam with children.

This felt like the true beginning of my writing career. I was getting paid for my words!

Now I am a real writer

By the time I returned to my job in July 2004, I had that ‘proper’ commission to be proud of, and it gave me some klout when it came to contacting other publications.

I then started getting commissioned in other magazines, such as Take a Break, the aforementioned Berkshire’s County Child, as well as some US publications.

My confidence was growing rapidly, as were my contacts and idea-pool. I was being a very diligent new freelancer, reading all the newspapers and magazines to ensure I knew the potential markets, so when I got wind of a good story, I knew where I could pitch it.

No doubt there was a whole heap of luck when it came to getting my break in the Guardian. But I like to think there were things that I did myself that sealed the deal, once that opportunity came my way.

And then – the Guardian

Through my ever-important contacts and interest in psychology and women’s issues, and being in touch with university research departments, in August I managed to find out about some research that was way ahead of publication (before other journalists knew about it).

It was pretty ground-breaking, about how women are treated at boardroom level when it comes to recruiting into high-risk of failure jobs – the ‘glass cliff’.

I knew this unpublished research would make a great story for a section that used to be in the Guardian called ‘Office Hours’ and I was in touch with a journalist who wrote for this section (contacts, contacts, contacts!).

What’s important here is that I had no preconceptions of the media world before I came to it. So I’d never assumed that I had to ‘pay my dues’ and start small (other than establishing my portfolio), as many newbie journalists believe.

Those hundreds of pitches of mine were going out to editors of all sizes of publications, and when I found this story I had no qualms about pitching it ‘big’.

The journalist acquaintance told me which editor I needed to pitch, but I needed to be quick – this editor was about to go on holiday.

I scribbled my pitch together and sent it off. Amazingly, I still have that pitch. Do you want to see it? It’s here (I’ve just taken out my contact’s name):

http://butterflyist.com/images/glass-cliff-office-hours1.doc

When that commissioning email came through confirming I’d ‘got the job’, I could hardly believe it. I phoned my boyfriend and just screamed down the phone at him while whizzing round the front room in circles.

Yes – I was a lucky sod. But I think several factors worked for me that day, and surely covered for the fact that I’d included that bloody Hackwriters link in the pitch (and I have to be honest, since the editor was rushing off on holiday, she probably didn’t even click on that link).

***********************************************************************************************************************

I’ll tell you 5 things that I think got me this commission through that pitch, in case it helps you:

1. Even though I was actually only a meagre scrap of a writer, I already saw myself as an accomplished one, and so I wrote my pitch very confidently.

2. I knew the editor was going on holiday, and it was a Friday afternoon, and so I kept the pitch as concise and pithy as possible.

3. I used the name of my contact in the pitch. This journalist had a good reputation, wrote for the section and the editor would have respected her work.

4. I made sure that my pitch came across as urgent and timely, as it was, and that the idea could be lost if not acted upon very soon.

5. I followed up by calling the editor exactly when I said I would, to plant my idea and myself into her brain.

***********************************************************************************************************************

On the 13th September 2004, almost four months exactly from the day I went onto sick leave, I screamed again with utter joy when my article ‘Women on the Edge’ was published in the Guardian.

And I bought a zillion copies to hand out to every person I know (I probably bought them all). It felt like the best moment of my life (other than my wonderful son’s arrival into the world, of course).

From there and with that article published, things just started to roll. No longer did I need to use the Hackwriters link in order to try and sell myself, haha.

I continued to build my freelancing career, doing more of the things I was already doing such as expanding my network and gathering ideas. And even though I was still in my stressful job in drug and alcohol work, everything was looking brighter and I was happier.

For a while, I was actually working harder than I’d ever done previously and had even less time for my son than before – but I saw the bigger picture and knew it wouldn’t be long before that changed.

And because I was doing what I wanted to do, I was able to devote more to him anyway in terms of my emotional input.

I made many mistakes, as well. Hundreds! Too many to go into here but just to say, you’ll make mistakes too. You just have to learn from them.

Rolling on into early 2005, there came another stress point in my ‘day job’ with a young girl who I’d been working with. I spent the weekend in tears about her situation, and my boyfriend said to me “why don’t you just leave?”

On Monday, the first day back after my tearful episode, I handed in my notice.

Exactly ten months from the moment I said “I want to be a writer”, I left my job and went full-time as a freelance writer. But there’s another huge post to write.

If you’re a wannabe or newbie writer though, carry on reading…

8 tips to pave the way to that big break commission

1. Never, ever doubt yourself. I didn’t doubt I’d achieve my goal to be a writer for a minute. Maybe it was because I felt there was no choice, so this was the only path. I was completely single-minded – there was no Plan B, I was just going to be a writer and that was it.

2. Never give up. It can take a thick-skin sometimes to be in the media world. You have to endure countless (and I mean countless) rejections before you reel in a stickleback, never mind a big fish. Don’t let anything put you off. Just keep on going.

3. Surround yourself with positive people. Some people become envious when they see you realising your goals. They say negative things as ‘a friend’, unwittingly aiming to sabotage your efforts. They don’t realise they’re doing it. Ignore it, and listen to the words of encouragement instead amongst successful, positive people.

4. Be prepared to work your socks off. Yes. REALLY work your socks off. Until you wear holes in your feet. I had two months off work to delve into my new career, and once I was back at work it was a whole lot harder. But many people have achieved it while working, so you can too. But you might have to be at it every minute initially.

5. Stay alert for ideas all the time. Keep your eyes and ears peeled. You’ll probably need a cracking story to break into a big publication for the first time, so make sure you have as much access to all sources of information in your interest field as you can (news feeds, blogs, PRs, people in the pub, research departments, etc). Tell people you’re looking for ideas too.

6. It obviously matters that you can write. But they do say that the people who land the jobs are often those who market themselves better, rather than necessarily the brilliant writers. If you doubt your writing skills, ask a kind freelancer to check a draft you’ve written to see what your standard is like. Consider a writing course if it’s not up to scratch.

7. Practice your pitch writing. An ill-written pitch can lose a good idea. Again, ask other freelancers to look at your pitches (see why they’re so useful?), or even a nice editor that you’ve built a rapport with. Make your pitches sing out.

8. Don’t be afraid of the phone. Making that first phone call to an editor is never easy but just do it. This will make you stand out from others, and give you more of a connection. Send your idea to the editor, then a few days later (depending on how timely it is), follow up by calling them to see if they had time to consider it yet. Remember to ask if they have five minutes to chat first, though.

Incredible Journalist & Freelance Resources You Can’t Do Without!

It actually took several years to glean out the most useful resources from the many that exist. Here are my favourites, in one handy place and no time involved on your part other than reading this post.

Hope you find this list useful.

JournoBiz – Jan Murray is behind this forum. It operates as a virtual meeting place and lifeline to many freelancers. Here you’ll find people to connect with, find out what’s going on the media world, and hopefully make useful contacts.

Response Source– Looking for information, experts or case studies for a feature? This is the place to come. You can send a request out to thousands of PRs to help meet the requirements of your articles.

Gorkana – A news source about the media world, the movers and shakers, as well as another way of contacting PRs for your material for articles. Get on their list for alerts. News of media jobs here too, and you can put out a notice that you’re looking for work , or ask PRs to contact you with ideas.

Newswise – As mentioned, a news service on latest medical advancements, social science research, business news and so on. Register here and get embargoed press releases that could provide ideas for articles. Also good for finding experts.

Journalism.co.uk – Editorial jobs, freelance jobs, media news and a journalist request service. You can also advertise yourself as a freelancer here.

askCHARITY – A media service that puts you in touch with charities to help you with case studies for your articles as well as expert opinions.

Media UK – A database of British magazines, newspapers, and broadcast media. An excellent resource when it comes to researching possible markets, and where to pitch ideas.

The Renegade Writer Blog – How could I not have this in my list? Lots of useful tips to keep you inspired and motivated, and offer advice. You can also obtain a ‘free query packet’ (query is the US term for pitch) of Linda Formichelli’s own successful pitches to show you how it’s done.

NUJ – Ever wondered how journalists get their press cards? From the NUJ. You can join while you’re building your career as long as a certain percentage of your income comes from media work. They offer legal support, advice, professional training and more. I know some journalists who have never joined but the NUJ has helped me out several times when I’ve not been paid by publications. Worth considering.





  1. Whoa! Talk about an anchor post! Inspiring stuff, thanks for going into such detail.
    I think it’s always heartening to read how people have broken through relatively swiftly without following the traditioanl route of working at a staff job for years, paying their dues etc.
    Like you I’ve taken a slightly round the houses path to freelancing, and it’s taken/is taking me much longer to get established. And guess which book is sitting on my bookcase? I’ll start it tonight! :)

    • Butterflyist says:

      Thanks Jools! This post has been waiting to be written for a long time! It ended up being lengthier than I’d expected but I couldn’t finish any sooner :) Yes, get Renegade read & let me know what you think? I’m sure even if you’ve been writing a while it’s still motivational.

  2. Incredible story!
    I am in a difficult situation right now, like you were when you decided that you want to be a writer. I have the same dreams and the same passion for writing.I also have a 8h/day job which has nothing to do with my passion but my big problem is that I live in a country(Romania) where “freelance writing” is underrated.I’m currently writing a novel and I also started a blog where I write about my other passion-Travel but it’s very difficult to manage my time.I’m working hard to improve my English and to break in.
    I began doing some guest posts and to write for a few magazines but it’s too much for me(I sleep 3 h/night)and still not enough to afford quitting my job and.
    Anyway, I just felt like telling somebody:)
    I admire you, I found your post very inspiring and motivational and I thank you for that.
    I’m happy for you, your experience is also giving me courage.
    I hope you’ll become a famous journalist or writer or whatever makes you happy.
    Best regards,
    Miruna

    • Butterflyist says:

      Miruna,
      Thanks so much for taking the time to comment & I’m happy you found my post inspiring. In terms of your location, I don’t think that should stand in your way for freelancing. It may be more challenging but you can approach UK & US press with ideas. Some of my first commissions were with American magazines. Why don’t you approach travel publications here or the States with original story ideas about Romania, for example?
      Good luck!
      Andrea

  3. This is fab and just what I needed. I left a well paid, exhausting, high profile public service job in July to break into freelancing. Some women used their redundancy to pay for cosmetic surgery (really). I spent mine paying for a journalism qualification. Lots of lovely (and very young) students all hoping to land the dream job as a staff/sports/mag/fashion writer. Not for me! Thank you so much for the tips – I will buy the ‘bible’. In the meantime I am reviewing bands I have never heard of, luxury travel guides and dog pampering parlours – for free! I will stop sending unsolicited material to The Oldie and Community Care.

    • Butterflyist says:

      Hi Mary, love the sound of the dog parlours! I continue to be amazed by the unusual & fab experiences I’ve had as a freelancer. Some of the travel ones are the greatest! Luxury hotel reviews especially :-) Congrats on taking that step.
      Andrea

  4. Hi Andrea;

    it’s a great story this, must admit. I’ve hit a stage in my life where I need to sit down next and think too what I want to do next as I’ve let my own writing develop at it’s own pace and i think it’s starting to head in a direction i am generally happy with (and I am not just talking about poetry). I know for example – I am not a performance based poet like Dominic Berry for example (who I admire) but rather a more moody, story telling poet whose work is now starting to branch out into plays and stories (Projects on the go with several people currently).. Maybe someday I will become that best selling writer – we’ll see but yours is a excellently wrote article which is a good start for this.. will keep my eyes open for future updates defo

    • Butterflyist says:

      Thanks Andy. I think the only thing you can do is focus on the stuff you’re most passionate about, there’s no point in trying to push yourself down avenues that don’t feel right. Good that you’ve recognised where you most see yourself in the writing world. Now you have to go for it!
      Andrea

  5. Elnette Lucas says:

    THIS is the article I needed to read! Thank you for all the references, advice and words of wisdom.

  6. Hi Andrea,
    Thank you so much for sharing your story. I did indeed have a cup of tea while savouring every word of your post. There are so many people who do not have formal qualifications but are getting work as writers. I am one of those people and your post is a great motivator.

    Thanks again. :)

    Victoria

    • Butterflyist says:

      Hi Victoria, am really pleased this post provided motivation for you! You are right that there are many ways into the writing world without formal training. I think especially now with there being so many possible outlets on the web. Thanks for reading!
      Andrea

  7. Wow, your story was so powerful and inspirational. Thank you for even sharing the really personal bits, which brought tears to my eyes. I am amazed at your strength and what you have accomplished. Thank you so much for sharing this and showing that it IS possible to make your life your own.

    • Butterflyist says:

      Thanks luminous! Aww & thank you for getting involved with my story as you read it. I wanted the post to bring across the emotional whirlwind of my life when I started out to show people how possible it is to make change even when you think your world has crumbled! Nice to see you back here.
      Andrea

  8. I can’t tell you how inspiring it is for me to read your blog. I have a job and 2 young children but desperately want to write. I am currently building a blog and have been following your blog journey in the guardian. I am also half way through a freelance writing course. I feel like there aren’t enough hours in the day to achieve my own goals when so many other things take priority. However after reading your story I am more motivated than ever to keep plugging away at it and not give up. Thanks Andrea

    • Butterflyist says:

      Hey CityGirl thanks for the comment. What I wanted to show was that if I can do it, anyone can. I know what you mean about not having enough hours in the day. So I’d say look at what things you can cut out (like ironing! Honestly, I never iron! I just make sure I get the clothes out of the machine straight away then dry them) and use the time you free up to write :) In my first few months of freelancing also I just didn’t have a social life anymore, at all!
      Andrea

      • You’re right its all about being dedicated to the cause I guess! Life’s to short to iron, anything not just bed linen and tea towels like my mother! 2 young girls = no social life anyway so evenings free..full steam ahead then.. as long as I can stay awake that is!

  9. Great article – so motivating. Thanks for your generosity in sharing.

    From another public sector worker-cum-writer :)

  10. Brilliant post! I’m about to leave my last conventional job in a couple days (PR) and am planning out a writing career.. You story really gave me some more confidence.
    One of the few good things about having worked in PR is probably knowing how journalists and the press tick and how pitching works. Apart from that, I’m really not proud of my profession..
    I’m really looking forward to approach writing from a completely different angle! Thanks for all that info!! :)

  11. Lovely post! Another journalism site that’s really useful is Hold the Front Page, http://jobs.holdthefrontpage.co.uk/ :)

  12. Absolutely brilliant! Thank you for such a great (informative) post and for the inspiration.

    Your statement “Devouring books on freelance writing is all well and good, but unless you actually get off your butt and follow the advice, nothing will change.” resonated with me so deeply. I found myself reading book after book; wondering why nothing was changing. Well, Duh! If you don’t put into practice what you read, it does no good. Intent is great but action makes success!

    Thank you!

    • Butterflyist says:

      Thanks Shannon! Yup, there’s no point in letting all those books just collect layers of dust, you have to utilise the advice! Get them off the shelf :-)
      Andrea

  13. This is excellent. I love the advice about seeing yourself as a writer even BEFORE you feel like one. That mental shift was huge for me.

    • Butterflyist says:

      Thanks Jeff! I agree – it’s kind of like that saying “fake it ’til you make it”! Makes a big difference in how you present yourself.

  14. Another inspiring post. Thank you. Some great ideas and advice. Good to know that it is possible to follow a dream. I have followed a few of your ideas already, been on the writing course and had two articles accpeted by other sites – for free of course! Then there is my blog…

  15. I just can not imagine with strong your blog greatly that warned me! God bless you “Faced with what is right, to leave it undone shows a lack of courage.” – Confucius

  16. Thanks for this really inspiring post. I will get round to it ( and stop just saying I will!) and when I do I look forward to quoting you as one of the sources of advice that made me act!

  17. Writers looking for ideas and people willing to act as experts for writers come together in HARO, a US based list that provides opportunities for free-lancers in a variety of fields.

    Thanks for your inspirational story, Andrea!

  18. What a fantastic post! I’m at the stage of writing for peanuts to get stuff in my portfolio, having just started out, and it’s very inspiring to hear the story of someone who’s made it work. Loads of useful tips, which I shall follow up on and I’ll definitely get that book. Thank you.

  19. This has some of the best advice for new writers out there, if you follow it you will definitely see results in your career, and it doesnt matter where you are currently. If you want to get published, there a plenty of writing course out there, but this contains all of the specific infomation you need to know. Love how you turned what most people would see as a terrible situation, into pure opportunity.

  20. Hi Andrea. I really enjoyed your blog post, it was informative and thought provoking and I will definitely seek out, ‘The Renegade Writer’.
    All the Best.
    Julian

  21. Hi Andrea – Fabulous post. I must dig out my copy of The Renegade Writer and have another read.

    What really struck me was the part where you wrote that you once sent out 100 pitches in one day. How did you do that? My max seems to be about 5. I am so impressed.

    All good wishes – Helen

    • Butterflyist says:

      Hi Helen!

      I had the time of work when I was sending that many queries out – a lot of them were just the same idea, tweaked to fit a different publication! I’d never have the time to do it now :)

      Andrea

  22. Hi Andrea,
    Thank you for sharing so much information. You’ve inspired me, and I have ordered a copy of The Renegade Writer, Gretta

  23. Michael Stoddart says:

    Hello Andrea

    Thank you so much for this generously informative and inspiring post. I manage a wine shop in Liverpool, and write a warmly received weekly e-mail to the hundreds on my shop database. So many of them – including writers, journalists, even the Deputy Editor of the Liverpool Echo – have encouraged me to start my own wine blog, but I find myself making excuses to put it off. This post has shown me that I’m capable and well-enough connected, and that I’m my own biggest obstacle! I’m off to WordPress forthwith, even if I have to do it for stolen moments between working and washing up. I’m looking forward to the holes in my feet!

    Thanks again,

    Mike Stoddart.

    • Butterflyist says:

      Thanks for your comment Mike and it sounds like your wine blog is something that MUST be done! Please let me have a look once you’ve got it off the ground – and include a section on vegan wine too :) Would love to know which really excellent vegan white wines you recommend!

      • Hello Andrea,

        Back in February I read a post on your blog that I found hugely inspiring, and your reply made me realise that I had no more excuses to defer starting my own blog. It’s taken three months, for the usual reasons that I might not need to explain to you – I imagine the exigencies of working at the ends of the candle are familiar both to yourself and to a great many others here! There’s still any amount of tweaking to do and what have you, but I “launched” the night before last, and yesterday I got 130 views. There are only four pieces on there so far, (with more already written, to be posted at strategic intervals), and a friend who writes for Harpers Wine Magazine has put a piece up on their online version. Thanks once again for setting such a marvellous and inspiring example!

        Mike Stoddart.

        http://wineandvinyl.com/

        and

        http://www.harpers.co.uk/home/12216-michael-stoddart-explores-the-qeconomic-deceptionq-behind-supermarket-wines.html

        • Butterflyist says:

          Hey Mike – good to hear how you’ve got things off the ground! And the Harpers Wine Magazine piece is a great start. Once you get out there doing some guest blogging too Wine and Vinyl should really build up an audience. Am very glad that post was a kick-start for you :)

  24. Thanks for writing this Andrea. I am due to head back into freelancing next week after a bit of a break and dreading it because my skin is far thinner than it needs to be – and also because I hear from so many freelance colleagues that it’s a bit of dire industry to be in these days – but this post has given me a bit of a boost! Hollie

  25. Thank you so much for this post. I have been freelancing for ten years but, after the birth of my daughter, I have struggled somewhat to recapture the highs of my early days (I started my career writing for New Woman and more recently have ended up being paid peanuts for local mags writing about lifestyle assistance aids – the reverse journey!). I am going to try to start again and get some confidence up.

    I was so sorry to read about what happened to you in your life but kudos to you for turning it into something so positive. You’re an inspiration!

    Sam

    • Butterflyist says:

      Thanks Sam – tough times can certainly bring about surprising life changes. At the end of the day we have no choice but to go on though do we? I think you need to take the ‘try’ out of that sentence though – cos I know what you *meant* to say is “I am going to start again and get some confidence up” :)

  26. A great post, Andrea, and very inspirational.

    Of course I remember your first emails and it’s great to see how well you’ve done since then!

  27. Hello Andrea!

    Thank you for sharing your experience, strength, and hope for all of us women who are starting out in the writing work force. I’m a college student, and I can’t help but be inspired by your words to act now rather than later. :D

  28. Hello – having been directed to your blog by the fab guardian articles on setting up your own blog, I was really interested to read your post, above, about how you got into freelancing.

    I’m currently in a bout of post- redundancy reappraisal, and have decided that I could do a lot worse than trying to develop a freelance writing line – at best, I might make a few quid out of it; at the very least, it will give me something sensible to concentrate on, while I ping pong back and forth between claiming JSA and working rather dull temp jobs.

    I’m concerned that I don’t have a very thick skin, and don’t take the whole ‘rejection’ thing as well as I might. On the plus side, I’ve had pretty positive responses, feedback and results from the isolated bits and bobs of writing stuff that I’ve done in the past, so….I emailed my first pitch (to Mslexia magaszine) yesterday, and am just following up a couple of leads for a second.

    If anyone’s interested, I can add Catherine Quinn’s NO CONTACTS? NO PROBLEM and READY, AIM, SPECIALISE by Kelly James Enger to the recommended reading list – I found Catherin’s book, in particular, a really useful, practical approach to getting published.

    • Butterflyist says:

      Hi Sarah – thanks for your comment. and those recommendations. I know Kelly James Enger but haven’t heard of Catherine Quinn’s book, shall have to check it out! If you’ve been getting some positive responses that sounds fab. Do some mind training on the thick skin part!

  29. Aidan Phillips says:

    Hi Andrea,

    Im an aspiring young journalist about to embark on a Journalism undergraduate degree, so thanks immensely for the advice and contacts. I’ve always wondered how to get a hold of case studies and possible information for investigative articles, so I cant stress enough how useful that final list should prove to be.

    Im ambitious, and my aim is to investigate wider issues in depth in the aim of producing one or more articles worthy of national publication. In your opinion, do you think that an editor would be biased against my age (late teens)? This is including the fact that I can provide evidence of my byline in publications (mainly reviews) and freelance article into my own personal investigations.

    Again, thanks for writing this. Its a trademakr of a good journalist that you made it as useful as it was interesting to read

    • Butterflyist says:

      Hi Aidan, thanks for commenting! I don’t think you need to let an editor know your age! As long as you are a good writer with quality work samples and good ideas that’s all they need. Just be confident and professional in your approach, don’t be apologetic in any way, and let your pitch do the talking. Remember journalism students can be all ages so if it’s relevant to mention you’re studying that’s fine, but no need to bring up numbers :)

  30. Dear Andrea,

    thanks for sharing this. I’ve been following your story in the Guardian and on Glen’s site, and it has encouraged me to finally start up my own, long planned, never realised site, http://www.morethansausages.com about German food. It’s gone live this month and I’m really proud of it. Just having it up feels great, and I’m full of ideas on what to put on it. Thanks for playing a part in getting it done!!

    LInda

    • Butterflyist says:

      Linda, thanks for commenting. I’m glad you enjoy my blog, and the column while it was running! Good luck with your own blog – keep up the writing while you are still brimming with ideas!

  31. Andrea, thanks for the Renegade Writer shout out, and congrats on your success! This is a REALLY good post — chock full of great information for new writers. I’m glad the advice in my book and blog has helped you.

    • Butterflyist says:

      Thanks for commenting Linda! Renegade was definitely the thing that helped me onto my career. I love recommending it! Glad you like the post ;)

  32. Advice to your younger self? says:

    Hello Andrea,

    Before I say anything else, I’d just like to commend the simplicity and quality of this post. I feel as though I know you already, which I’m guessing is the point of it all.

    I’m a 20-year-old male (who will be 21 in August) and I’ll be going to Newcastle University in September to study for my BA in Business Management. I’d like to start a blog which explains business-related concepts, to males aged 16-25, through the use of pop culture. I read a lot about business, especially economics and recently marketing.

    There are four years available (the length of my course) for me to get my blog running successfully. I am lucky enough to not have any commitments beside my studies. Do you have any advice, for me specifically? Additionally, what advice would you give to your 20/21-year-old self?

  33. Dear Andrea,

    Such a fantastic story. Well done on such a successful career. I’m sure we’ll see more of you :-)

  34. Hi Andrea,
    Truly inspirational story, in fact it was just what I needed to keep me going.
    I have been trying to turn my passion for writing into a career but sadly living in a country like Pakistan, there are hardly enough options to explore.
    What makes matters worse is the fact that due to whole political scenario not many UK or US clients are keen on hiring freelancers from this part of the world… irrespective of their talent or work. :(
    Would appreciate suggestions if any?

    • Butterflyist says:

      Hi Kiren,

      Thanks for your comment and I’m glad you found the post inspiring! Do you need to let clients where you are based, while you are pitching ideas? I don’t see why it is necessary until it comes to being paid. The other possibility is to exploit your situation based on pitching ideas about Pakistan, offering to be a ‘writer on the ground’, travel related pieces or otherwise. Finally, I would suggest focusing your efforts with online writing and work until you have enough of a portfolio, and then pitching print press.

      Hope this helps!

      Andrea

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