10 Non-Fatalistic, Real-Life Tips for Freelance Writers

This is what my cubicle looks like at the beginning of a day of writing copy at the office.
This is what my cubicle looks like at the beginning of a day of writing copy at the office.

I may look back on this blog post in a few years and cringe that I was callow enough to compose an advice article about writing professionally when I have been doing it for only five years. But a growing number of people have asked me for advice.

While this is aimed primarily at writers, I have an inkling that the same principles apply to current or aspiring professionals in graphic design, fine arts, photography, or any number of fields.

FYI, this ain’t a tutorial on the Art of Writing. It’s not about the pros and cons or financials of freelancing. And I am not a fiction writer. This is about finding and keeping freelance writing gigs in journalism, PR, marketing, copywriting and related fields. And each of the ten tips is accompanied by a holier-than-thou example from my own life – I am not foisting ideas upon you that I wouldn’t try myself.

Just so you know, I have no degree or formal training in writing, besides a Bachelor of Arts degree in Theater Arts and English (I know, I know, I practically have to beat the high-paying employers off wherever I go).  This is all stuff I learned on the job.

Also, nobody start salivating about using my tips to make tons of money. I am not rich. What we’re talking about here is paying the bills with enough left for an occasional movie or dinner out.

1)  Be a spider.

Ew, spiders.

Are you done?

Each person you build a good relationship with is a thread in your web. Each gig they hear about and each job list they subscribe to is like a bug flying into your sticky trap. (Like my stellar analogy? You’re welcome.)

Some people will advise aspiring writers to endlessly thumb the Writer’s Market and pitch, pitch, pitch (sell editors on a story) if they want to get published. I think your energy is just as well spent in building a network that will give you a shot at the assignments editors already have in mind.

Make lists. Set contact goals. Be friendly and bold. The worst someone can do is say no or ignore you. Do not be afraid to reach out to people of a different age, race, or sex. Don’t just stalk your idols on Twitter. Write to them. Swallow your shyness and brashly introduce yourself to the VIP at the party. If I can waltz up and introduce myself to Dr. Mehmet Oz that time we wound up at the same church service, you can too.

Unfortunately, he does not glow like this in person.
Unfortunately, he does not glow like this in person.

Ask people out for breakfast, lunch, dinner or coffee – even if you’ve never met. Spark friendships and pick their brains for opportunities or resume tips. Maintain the relationship with occasional friendly e-mails and invitations and always thank others for their time.

Holier-than-thou Example:

In the last five years, I’ve written for at least twenty different editors. Out of those, how many did I approach out of the blue with a pitch?

Only one.

The rest became interested in giving me an assignment when I contacted them via tips from my network, or because I had already worked with an editor or a writer they knew.

Maybe I’m a just a good networker and a bad pitcher. But if you’re pitching nonstop and getting nowhere, maybe you should work your way in with a different approach.

If any of my current editors are reading this, feel free to try and figure out which stick figure you are. If any future editors are reading this, please be assured that I am extremely respectful.
If any of my current editors are reading this, feel free to try and figure out which stick figure you are. If any future editors are reading this, please be assured that I am extremely respectful.

2)  The Networking Sandwich

And now you’re saying, “OK. Crap. It’s not what you know, but who you know.”

This is only partly true.

Finding gigs is a networking sandwich:

Quality work earns you admiring contacts. Network among those contacts to find new jobs. Then prove yourself to your new contacts with more quality work.

Holier-than-thou Example:

Even with a strong recommendation, those editors I mentioned in the first example began by asking me if I could provide some clips as a test of my skill and style.

If my work was lousy, those connections would be useless.

3)  Marshal the Troops

Once you’ve had some practice building your own network, position yourself as a leader. Think of ways you can bring people together to share the resources in your fields, and be an affirmative facilitator of the conversation.

Holier-than-thou Example: I joined a writers’ networking group that was about to fizzle because the original organizers didn’t want to continue the effort. I saw an opportunity and stepped up to take charge of it, organizing meetings and maintaining and expanding the contact and RSVP lists. It takes a lot of time of and effort, but the friends I’ve made and the work opportunities we’ve all shared have been worth it. I helped other members find new markets for their essays, and other members helped me find new work as a copywriter.

4)  Get in Their Faces

It can be easy for a freelance writer to slump behind a computer and a phone to meet the day’s deadlines. Nowadays, it’s possible to work with an editor – or your fellow writers – for months or even years without meeting face to face.

But don’t be that writer.

Invite your editors and colleagues out for lunch. Take advantage of local industry events. Be more than an e-mail address or another byline to the people you work with. Making that effort will give you one more way to stand out in a competitive field.

Holier-than-thou Example: I had written for a publication for about two years without meeting my editor in person, so when the publication began to host events for its readers and contributors, I made a point of going and introducing myself. Now, the relationship with that editor, plus my continued work, has grown into an Associate Editor job offer. I start next week.

5)  Think Hyper-Local.

Your career will never start until Psychology Today accepts your pitch, right?


Major newspapers and magazines aren’t hiring. Thanks, Internet. But the flip side of online media is that there are lots of new, highly-targeted local markets that are probably looking for good freelancers.

Is there a local news site in your town or a locally-focused magazine in your city? Research the site or publication and pitch that editor with your hometown knowledge, or leverage your network to get in touch.

Holier-than-thou example: About two years ago, the branch of NPR media in Philadelphia was launching a new series of websites targeted to specific neighborhoods. A former co-worker of mine was a former co-worker of one of the new editors, and I asked for an introduction. I now write a wide range of stories and essays for several editors there. Riches and glory? No. A paycheck and entertaining work? Yes.

6)  Work for free. (For awhile.)

You thought you could start your career with a big, fat contract? I admit, it’s not unheard of (I am beginning to suspect my downfall is my disinterest in young adult paranormal romance).

But get real. You need to get your foot in the door somewhere, and build up a body of bylines. It’s ok to volunteer your time and skills when you’re just starting out, if the experience is relevant to the career you want to build.

But be careful. You will run into people – even editors – who claim to think that the privilege of a byline in a competitive market should be more than enough compensation to you. Or they might tell you that the entry you get to shows or events as a writer should be enough of an incentive for you to provide your work for free. They are wrong.

You decide the line between unpaid experience that benefits you in the long run, and an editor or publication that tries to exploit your skills.  Once you’ve made the transition to paid work (unless you choose to volunteer for a good cause), stick to it.

Holier-than-thou Example:

I wanted to become an arts writer, so when I heard about a website that needed theater critics when I was a year or so out of college, I jumped. They didn’t pay their writers, but over two or three years, I amassed hundreds of bylines and took in hundreds of professional shows – a better education than four years of college. But I slowly quit writing for the site when my growing experience allowed me to pick up paying gigs. The editor tried to coax me back earlier this year, still without compensation, and I said no. I am grateful for the start I got, but right now I have too many assignments to spend time on work that doesn’t benefit my bank account or my own platform.

7)  Volunteer, Altruistic or Not.

If you think you have writing skills but need practice in a real-world setting, don’t have a professional network, or have yet to build your resume, you can kill all those birds with one stone.

Find a small, hard-pressed office of people nearby who are trying to do some good in this world and ask them if they need someone to write their blog posts, website or press releases or handle social media or PR.

Voila: experience, skill-building, and the start of your network.

Holier-than-thou example:

When my former playwriting teacher connected me to a nascent dance company that needed help developing original librettos, I met with the young and socially-conscious artistic director. I ended up joining the board and working on several librettos as well as managing PR campaigns for the company’s shows. It was like a second job for zero pay, but the experience was priceless, I felt good about the cause, and I don’t even know how many gigs I’ve landed over the years that were the result of networking among the esteemed friends and mentors I met through that company.

8)  Be Versatile.

A former editor once told me over Pad Thai that the key to a viable writing career was getting in good with one high-paying magazine.


I know because I did it. I began writing for an international trade journal that sometimes paid me upwards of two thousand dollars per piece. My whole month’s budget was made with one article. I was in heaven.

Then the mag ran into financial trouble and my apologetic editor told me they’d been forced to axe their freelancer budget. Good thing I had cultivated work in several other markets, just in case.

There are no guarantees for the freelance writer: even the sweetest gig could evaporate next month. Be willing to tackle a variety of fields and topics. A big reason I am able to pay the bills by writing is that I don’t let new arenas intimidate me. Arts, science, medicine, aviation, farming, business, architecture: whatever it is, I track down some experts to tell me all about it, and write that piece.

From an earlier post titled "What It Is Like to Be a Freelance Writer"
From an earlier post titled “What It Is Like to Be a Freelance Writer”

Holier-than-thou Example:

Often, to make ends meet, you must be willing to transition between different realms of work. I had been a blogger, essayist and journalist for years when an opportunity to become an agency copywriter came my way (thanks, networking). I didn’t say, “Oh dear, I have no advertising experience.” I showed up, scared witless, and began learning.

9)   Prostrate Yourself on the Altar of the Blogosphere

Yeah, yeah, the whole reason writers’ careers are crumbling everywhere is that witless scribblers are giving their stuff away for free on blogs.


That’s one way of looking at it. But I think that’s a pessimistic, no-fun view.

There are tons of reasons to maintain a blog, as long as you can commit to posts of consistent quality. Yes, any 21st-century writing manual can tell you that you need to build your own platform and audience as a writer – no big ol’ publisher is going to do it for you anymore (hence the difference between writing that builds your own presence and brand, and writing for free for a random publication that’s willing to exploit you).

But reasons for blogging go beyond this. I find that the more you write, the more you write. Blogs keep you sharp between assignments. They’re also an outlet for what’s personally important to you, keeping your drive and ambitions fresh. They can be your editor-free playground (believe me, tailoring your stuff to several different editors every week can get tiring). And on the other hand, I have landed work with new editors or employers because they checked out the blog, or even purchased pieces from it. I’ve also developed pieces on the blog that I later worked into paid, published essays.

And once you’ve built up a modest audience, a blog is a fantastic excuse to hit up other writers you admire for interviews.

Holier-than-thou Example:

I have been a huge fan of bestselling author Mary Roach for years. I got up my courage one day and contacted her through her website. She kindly agreed to an interview for this blog.

I found out that her early career was very similar to what I’m doing now. Later, she e-mailed me to say she had enjoyed the interview, and added “Keep at it. I expect to be saying, ‘I knew her back when…’”


10)  Be Big-Minded

If you want to be a writer, you’ll hear a lot about how competitive the field is. You will feel the impulse to hoard your leads, keep good markets to yourself, and shrug when others ask you for specific advice, lest they threaten your piece of the pie.

People have romantic notions about writing careers, and if you have some measure of success, others will come out of the woodwork to poach you for THEIR networks.

Remember, networking is a two-way street. If your editors are looking for new talent, share that with people who have the right skills. Don’t be stingy with useful tips to people who ask for them.

I had lunch with a contact once who happily took my advice on local editors to approach. But when I asked if my new colleague could offer any contacts to me, the person expressly refused to reciprocate, saying I would be too much competition (yes, I never said it wasn’t a jungle out there).

That is one way of doing business.

But to me, sharing valuable contacts is just one more incentive for me to stay at the top of my game. I don’t mind if editors add my colleagues to the team. I want work because my skills merit it, not because I froze out other people who might also be eligible.

And if you help someone today, who’s to say the tables won’t be turned tomorrow?

Let your confidence in your own skills translate into a helping hand for others, and watch your friendships increase as fast as your work opportunities.

Holier-than-thou Example:

This blog post.

Also of interest to bloggers, book-lovers and linguaphiles:

Pandora’s Inbox: One Blogger’s Favorite E-Mails from Would-Be Advertisers

Literary Lies: The Five Things You Really Mean When You Say, “It’s On My List”

The Linguist’s Comeuppance


Add yours →

  1. Really good thoughts for the freelancer. Rational and practical. That’s a true rarity in the I-want-to-advise-writers regime. Thanks for your words.

    • All my life, I have been hoping to gain power in the advice regime, and it’s good to know I’ve arrived.

      Thanks for stopping by.

    • Thanks for the advice (and the entertainment!) I am new to blogging, but committed myself on my 40th birthday to a year of doing works of mercy and writing about my experiences. Holier than thou moment: I write for Jesus. So even though I don’t stand to make a dime, I take solace in knowing it may get me to heaven some day. There you go a tip from a novice that promises to pay dividends – mercy me!

      • I grew up in an extremely religious community, faith I have drifted away from as an adult. But I still write about religion occasionally. I don’t know if one can blog one’s way into heaven, but it sounds like you have a worthwhile project.

  2. Reblogged this on Emily Study and commented:
    This is good advice.

  3. #11 Call the freelancer’s mother for a reference 😎

  4. I have been freelancing way longer than Alaina, and yet I think she has more to teach me than I have to teach her. I wish I had had this advice when I was starting out. Underline her point that, no matter how well you network, you still need to be able to write — and she certainly can!

  5. This was very helpful. Thank you!

  6. Great food for thought. You and I can’t just wait to be discovered?! Damn!

  7. I’m not a professional writer and I still really enjoyed this piece! I write a blog because it’s a satisfying way to share my personal transformation through a life-changing experience, and I love the connections it brings. Thank you for sharing your experience!

  8. Thank you for such insightful tips.

  9. I’ve always been interested in freelance writing, these are great tips! Thanks for sharing! http://mccrackenlove.wordpress.com/

  10. This was fun to read. Thanks! Sincerely, Crazy 🙂

  11. Great advice. I try to devote a bit of time every week to professional networking and wish more people would listen to your “work for free advice”. I’ve had so many creative friend (graphic artists, photographers and writers) who refuse to work for free or discounted rates and who are offended by the suggestion but then can’t understand why they can’t find work. They don’t understand the power of getting your name out there by volunteering or aligning with startups or offering the first piece free to prove themselves to an organization that will have continued needs and then following that up with strong networking skills.

    • Yes, it’s such a tricky balance. I think that in today’s competitive digital world, the hunger to get your name out there drives many writers/artists to devalue their skills by working for free or for too little. On the other hand, you’re not likely to get your start without some unpaid work. What you say about identifying relationships that will be productive/lucrative down the road is key. It’s not just about what you’re doing NOW, it’s also about where that will lead you. As a freelancer, you always need to get yourself to the next gig. Allotting our time/work for free is a matter of what our goals are – what will we get out of this in the long run?

      Thanks for weighing in.

  12. This might be a silly question… but what exactly does a copywriter do? I mean day-to-day. Is it the same as being a journalist? Do you get assignments and then write about random stuff for other people or do you get to pick your own subjects?

    • Not a silly question – I’ve actually gotten it a lot. I should do a blog post about this, since I actually just finished my first major copywriting contract. Obviously this does not make me an expert, though. In short, copywriting is very different from journalism, which is ideally the objective pursuit of current events. I bet you can see some copy from where you’re sitting. Copywriters write brochures, the text on websites, radio commercials, social media updates, advertisements, and lots more. If you see a good ad with a three-word slogan, be sure that an advertising agency’s whole creative department labored over those three words.

      Copywriters might work in-house or on staff at agencies or any number of businesses that need written material, or they might freelance, taking specific projects or contracts as they come. So you get to pick your own subjects…sort of.

      Thanks for stopping by. Feel free to follow up with more questions, or your own experiences.

  13. Thanks for blog.. it was really nice to read!! I will keep your tips in mind if I decide to become a dedicated freelancer.

  14. Hi Alaina, I admire those that have the skill to be a freelancer and to be able to write! Awesome!

  15. Reblogged this on ananthavijayan.s and commented:
    Since i am a beginner, this article is helpful to encourage beginners like me…..
    Thanking you

  16. Funny this would pop up in my feed today. I’m hoping on giving writing a serious attempt come 2013 as I am graduating from university this month and will have a good deal of time free up. Thanks for sharing your insight. The only thing I’d add is trying is to figure out what inspires what motivates one to write so that they maintain the drive to keep practicing and producing. Best, ❤

    • Yes, everyone should find his or her passion – while also remembering that ultimately a paycheck will probably lie in producing the work that others need. That’s why blogs are great! They keep those interests and passions fresh, no matter what your assignments are, and that improves your writing all around.

      Thanks for visiting, and best of luck on your transition to post-school life.

  17. This is really great advice and a great read. Thank you! I’m writing a book right now so this will help a lot.

  18. Thanks for posting this advice piece. I’ve been teaching for a while and writing on the side, and I haven’t gotten around to really breaking out of the article-mill sites yet – they pay pretty well if you’re a good writer, but the work isn’t regular and you don’t get your name out there.

    Unfortunately, I’m one of the least social people on Earth, and so I’m really bad at networking or even meeting new people. I know it’s something I have to do to advance myself as a freelancer, even if it’s painful. Thanks for reminding me that I have to step up and get on that as soon as possible.

    • I have friends who can certainly relate to the shy factor. I think it’s probably like everything else – you can get more comfortable with practice. I am pretty outgoing naturally, but my work experience has increased that exponentially.

  19. Congrats on being freshly pressed! (If it is still freshly pressed: I’m still on the fence about the new layout.) But quick question: any suggestions on where to send your writing? Newspapers, magazines, where should you begin?

    • I’m really pleased by the number of questions this post is generating – how nice if I could answer all of them! Right now I’m just going to say thank you for visiting, and I will return with a better answer when I have a moment.

      • I agree about the new Freshly Pressed layout – this is my third FP go-around and I’m not sure it has the same magic. Grateful regardless, though.

        For your question: you can try newspapers and mags if you want (I currently write for a couple), but you’re probably better off focusing on the web, especially if you’re just starting. Some writers are tempted to turn up their noses at being published online, in favor of print, but they need to get with the program. It’s how the world runs now, and online stories are much easier to share than print ones. But if you want to go for a newspaper, is there a locally-focused one in your town? A community newsletter, even? Do they need someone to report on local events, arts happenings, hearings or meetings? These are great places to learn about the responsibilities of doing this type of work well.

        Check out locally-based websites. For example, AOL has a hyper-local news empire called Patch that operates in tons of neighborhoods across the country (I’m assuming you’re in the US, though of course you may not be). Each page should have an editor and they are often looking for reliable people to work as hyper-local reporters, on a fee-per-assignment basis. Not a large fee, but good experience. I have written a little bit for them, and also worked as guest editor.

        Best of luck to you!

  20. Reblogged this on Jane likes to write.

  21. Hello! Thanks for the advice, I want to ask you: what do you think about publishing yourself e-books on itunes, Amazon and similars? is useful or not?

    • I am not a good person to ask about e-publishing, because I have never done it. I am curious, though, and want to learn more about it. My friend and fellow blogger, Merry Farmer, , is a fiction writer and has successfully e-published a couple of books for a growing audience. You should check out her blog, where she often writes about that process. Sorry I couldn’t help on this particular topic, but thanks for stopping by and thanks for your topic.

  22. I’m not pro-writer, but I have been published in the scholarly field, that could be a way in, to do lit reviews. Otherwise networking and volunteering are two ways anyone can get their foot in the door.

  23. This is just brilliant! Like you, I don’t believe in formal training, I don’t take care of the twitter’s tips, I adore spiders!… in fact I have a spider with a red ribbon called Azucena… well, it’s a plastic spider that has joined me during four years while writing my novel. Now I’m blogging about it, as a “Day 1”, “Day 2”, you know… I’m about self publishing now, and amazingly the big publishers of my country have not paid attention to me, until I earned my first star at the Blog Of The Year 2012. Well, it’s been very interesting finding someone else that is not good at pitching, haha, I’m not a pitcher at all, I just wrote a novel and will release it, with or without VIP editors. Wonderful reading, thanks and good luck to you!

    • Yes, I love spiders too – glad I’m not alone.

      I wouldn’t say that I don’t believe in formal training – just that there’s more than one way to launch a career. It happens that I did it without formal training, but I have a good friend who got her degree in journalism and is doing the same work that I am, so obviously there’s more than one track to this.

      Maybe I’m bad at pitching – hard to say b/c I actually don’t pitch that much. If I had less stuff assigned to me, I’d go after more new editors. I’m afraid I’m getting lazy – sometimes I pass an essay around to a couple markets that know me, and if one turns it down, I know another’ll take it.

      Good luck with your novel. I can’t begin to fathom the work of writing fiction!

      • Oh of course there are wonderful journalists with formal training as well. As you said there is more than one way. You are a great communicator, just see the thread! Fiction is something special, my current phase. Thank you very much!

      • I fantasize about challenging myself with fiction someday – like doing a workshop or a course and seeing what happens. I do occasionally read novels, if they’re good, but prefer nonfiction on the whole.

        Thank you for weighing in – I hope to “see” you again.

      • Years ago I used to say the same as you about fiction…, never say never 🙂 And I’m following your blog, so I hope you will see me coming by. Cheers!

  24. Thank you for sharing. This is really helpful

  25. While I am not a freelance writer in the normal sense, I am an avid blogger. I publish about 3 article per week. As with any blogger, these posts come and go in spurts. I appreciate the information and advice that you have put together into a thoughtful schematic. I hope to improve my writing skills and may freelance a bit, just to get practice and to help build traffic to my personal blog about our farm.
    Thanks for sharing!

    • Three blog posts a week is a great rate, especially on top of everything else a person juggles in life. I can rarely update this blog so much – it’s once a week if I’m lucky, b/c I am so busy w/ work. Keep it up!

      One benefit of publishing articles online is that some sites will put a link to your blog in your byline or bio, and then readers can click through! So it can be a good way to build your blog audience.

  26. This is so great! Thank you for sharing. I love to write and I envy your career. I look forward to more of your work.

  27. I don’t know if I’ll ever be a freelancer, but I really like the advice, and I feel it applies to a LOT of other things. Thank you so much for sharing!

  28. **Glad you got pressed because I enjoyed reading this…For insight & confirmation. Started my blog a little over a month ago because I love writing N wanted to share my lifelong evolution with the youth(hoping mayhaps they can get tips to help with their life journey) I’ve said often writing is an itch I can’t resist scratching..

    • Yes – it does feel like a compulsion. I often get to a point where I forget to eat and have to force myself to sleep, because my world has shrunk to the essay I’m working on.

      • **I can so totally relate to that..Find myself getting up earlier N earlier in the mornings to write! In a minute I won’t even need bother going to bed lol!

  29. A very useful, inspiring and generous post – thanks for sharing:-)

  30. Reblogged this on Oyia Brown.

  31. Some sage advice there. I am still balancing on the tight rope between unpaid and paid work. I did some freelance copy/SEO writing for a local marketing firm earlier this year but they had to make cuts. Guess which of us were the first to go..?

    Since then I’ve been concentrating on my ghostwriting project (first draft done. I’ll get to re-drafts soon I swear! After Christmas…) as well as keeping my personal blog up to date. But I am definitely interested in getting back into copywriting. It pays the bills at least. Or some of them, rather…

    My thing is to look on Gumtree.com (Britain’s equivelant to Craigslist) and that has served me a couple of times in the past. Even managed to get my first paid gig from it.

    It’s a tough ol’ world out there. Here’s to better luck in the new year…(I wonder how many times I’m going to be repeating that last sentence…)

  32. My own Holier-than-thou Examples / Comments:

    (1) I hate spiders but I am a mad-keen networker. I co-founded a business women’s network in my home town 15 years ago and, even though I don’t live there any more, the connections are still strong.

    (2) There’s not much point building a network unless they have some great experiences of your good work to talk about. To borrow another author’s terminology…you need to cultivate “raving fans”.

    (3) Community groups are a great training ground if you’re just starting out. Expectations can be lower if they are struggling to find people to help and they can be more open to a bit of experimentation.

    (4) In my 9-to-5 job, I regularly get up from my desk and visit my co-workers rather than shoot off an email. I don’t do it ALL the time because that would just be annoying, but getting in their faces gets me quicker results and gives me the opportunity to build better relationships.

    (5) I live in a small town (pop. 9000) and, as far as I know, I don’t have any competition, so “local” makes a lot of sense right now. As I build my business, I can start looking a little farther afield for clients.

    (6) & (7) Part of my overall life strategy is to give back, to make a difference. Each year, I choose one “good cause” and offer whatever services they need. It feels good, provides me with experience and builds the fan base.

    (8) I’m not happy unless I’m learning something new, and if that means jumping into things with little more than blind faith and a willingness to learn, then all the better.

    (9) Blogging is challenging! I like writing but I have difficulty writing unless I’m inspired. Being a perfectionist, I can comment until the cows come home but writing something from scratch for others to read feels impossible at the moment because I can’t decide on a “perfect” topic.

    (10) I’m a big fan of the saying “You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours”. You have to give out what you want to get back.

    (My apologies for the long comment – you inspired me!)

    • Your comment is welcome, in all its long-winded glory. You sound like a woman after my own heart and I think all your suggestions are great. So true that you can’t shore up your connections if your connections aren’t fans of your work. And I love your attitude about new fields – that’s the story of my life as a writer and boy is it interesting.

      Feel free to visit and comment (at length) again. And it sounds like you have more than enough to do a blog post of your own on this topic, so go for it! Don’t let the perfection demons get you down – I am well acquainted with those little bastards.

  33. I have favorited this post and I will print it out and read it carefully. I am not a writer, but I do like to write on my blog so I am sure your article will be very useful. Greeting from Sicily! I am a new follower!

    • Excellent, I love the international component. I think you are not alone in following the blog from outside the US. My husband is not from this country, so I have two homes in the world.

  34. Reblogged this on themodernidiot and commented:
    Hey writer-followers-great tips here.

  35. I also studied theatre and English, so I know exactly what you mean about high-paying jobs just hunting you down…while I’m more interested in kick-starting my acting career, I’ve also been thinking about freelancing, and I think your tips here are great. It reminds me of something I’ve been thinking about for awhile, that writing and acting aren’t so different; you have to work to get discovered and get work either way, something I’m planning on doing much more of in the new year.

    • Yep. I know a lot of actors, many from my college days. So many things about building their careers are similar to mine, though thank God I don’t have to do auditions. Sending your clips or making a pitch is nerve-wracking enough.

      Writers and actors are both storytellers getting at important truths, they just use different mediums to communicate. You should stop by again and let us know how your career goes in the new year.

  36. Nice piece, thanks for posting! No.8, I feel, applies to me at this point… I’m in the fortunate position that my entire monthly paycheck comes from one source, and it’s been like this for years and years. But I’m conscious of the fact that this great gig could come to an end any day.

  37. Lots of good advice, Alaina, thanks!

    I have a lot of respect for your attitude (10.); it’s actually what I try to live up to myself.

  38. This is awesome advice! Thanks for the great article. And congratulations on being FP!

  39. They are awesome! but being a freelancer means no support from news agencies. A freelancer may face lots of obstacles, especially in repressive countries.

  40. Thanks for the great advice!

  41. I really like your blog and would love you to feature on mine, http://www.5thingstodotoday.com. All you have to do is write five suggestions along with a link back to your site. Please check out the blog and see the sort of things people have written about.

    • Thanks for visiting, following, and for your kind invitation. Your 5 Things blog looks neat and I’d like to contribute. I’ll write something fun for you and follow up by e-mail.

  42. scores of thanks for brilliant recomndations

  43. Thanks for all the great advice!

  44. Excellent post. I’m glad you made a point that all the networking in the world will do you no good if you don’t have talent. Too many who haven’t done their homework think it’s all about who you know. On the other hand, many published writers have a difficult time with the social aspect. Holing up in front of the computer in your bathrobe is so much more fun. 🙂

    • Yes – about 95% of the writers in the world should probably disabuse themselves of the idea that writing is an ivory-tower pursuit. Networking, reams of research and interviews are required to do it right, which means leaving the house – even in the digital age.

  45. Reblogged this on Miriam Miles and commented:
    Great, simple, entertaining and enlightening advice for us newbie writers 🙂

  46. You had some great stuff in here, thanks for sharing.
    It’s always helpful when you see an article like this and realize that you are doing some things right!

    • Yes, I get convinced that I am the worst writer in the world on a regular basis, or that my career is totally defunct after a few days with no new assignments. I’ve been really happy to see the feedback on this post. Thanks for visiting.

      • I’m a writer and an artist.
        I practice both tattoo art and cartoon art.
        I am usually displeased with my work, always noticing the errors (both writing wise and art wise)

        I’ve talked to others that write and make art, and as it turns out, most of us aren’t convinced we’re any good.
        I’m always surprised when someone pays me money for one of my creative endeavors.

        So, I’ve put a lot of thought into this phenomenon and come up with an answer.
        Those of us that create know that our finished pieces aren’t what we intended.
        They evolved as we worked and we have to adapt to the changes. We can see where the blunders are that we had to correct, and where we had to completely rebuild an idea. We forget that the viewer can’t see those.
        I think that just once it would be amazing to see my work through somebody else’s eyes and see what I think of it then.

      • What a fascinating idea. Too true that we’re our own worst critics.

      • Talk to other writers yourself.
        I bet you’ll see the same thing.

      • Nah, if I talk to them they might guess all my career secrets.

      • lol.
        I can relate.
        That’s why I don’t have my real name on my blog.
        Those that know me tend to take the articles more seriously that way.

  47. Ah! Finally… tips writer can use. 🙂 This is good and practical, and far from the fluff articles I see so often when it comes to writing. Definitely sharing this with some folks!

  48. Reading your post gave me the feeling that I’m on the right track, especially in regards to finding that line between free work and paid work. I like how you point out that there isn’t one solid answer for that, it’s each person’s own situation.
    I have to poke around on your blog more, to maybe find this out, but do you accept blog awards? I don’t, and part of the reason is that I feel they look unprofessional to anyone that might look at my blog from a query (if the most recent post happened to be a blog award, it would look much different than a polished essay). But at the same time, I love my blogging community and want to support them through accepting and giving those awards. I’m curious about your thoughts! 🙂 I’m super glad this got freshly pressed, congrats!

    • What a thoughtful question. I have been honored with the Versatile Blogger Award twice. The first time I got it, I wrote this essay suggesting ways we could reform this “award” for everyone’s benefit:

      The second time I was FP, someone gave me my second Versatile Blogger. I thanked them but said I didn’t have the time to deal properly with the award. They were a little offended. Actually, you can read that thread in the comments of this page on my blog:

      And if you skip both those links, no problem, b/c the bottom line is this. Your point about how blog awards look to scouting editors is interesting, but my primary consideration is my readers. If someone gives me a blog “award” and I have to follow certain instructions to accept it, i.e. linking to a certain number of others, I will seriously question if that is interesting reading material for my own subscribers. If it’s not, I’d rather skip the award and just keep writing essays that my readers find interesting, because my first responsibility here is to them, not curious editors or other bloggers, though of course it pays to be a gracious member of the community wherever possible. Does that make sense?

      Thanks for your thoughts on this.

      • Thank you for the links, I read both of them. I do like how you made the award very interesting by really describing each blog that you nominated and why. It also really did dawn on me that if someone came to a blog on the day of an award, that yeah, they may be far less likely to stick around since the post is only interesting generally to those who have been following for quite some time. It’s a strange world, thanks for adding to the clarity of it!

      • I like to think that everything I utter adds to the clarity of the world. Ha, if only.

        Thanks for reading, reflecting and sharing.

  49. Thanks for talking openly about the issue of competitiveness. What an awful story about the person who refused to reciprocate w/ contacts. I am blessed to be in the Johns Hopkins writing community, where people tend to feel that if one of us has a success, we all do. But it seems the more successful a writer becomes, the more tight-fisted (not talking Hopkins here, just in general). Do you find that? Sad.
    I wonder if you will be so generous w/ your thoughts and advice now that you’ve been Freshly Pressed : -) JUST kidding. Thanks again – congrats!

    • Yes, being Freshly Pressed is mostly about lording it over everyone else and setting myself up as an expert for all generations. Now that I’m famous I see no need to be generous with my advice.

      I think there are writers of all breeds at all levels of experience. I don’t think tight-fistedness is a function of success alone – I think if that is someone’s personality, it’ll play out at any stage of his or her career.

      Thanks for stopping by and weighing in.

  50. Very timely piece for me. Thank you! I’ve only been blogging for about two months but I’m writing more than I have in a long time because of it, as you say. Great tips for those of us without a whole lot of direction or experience, at least with the business end of things. And congratulations on being FP!

  51. Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed. The advice in this one blogpost summarises what I have been reading an learning about freelance writing for quite sometime now. Thank you for sharing your experience and tips.

  52. Awesome….with salt. You took me some 20 years back. Thanks for sharing 🙂

  53. This was one of the best writing pieces I’ve read in a while!

  54. Amazing! I especially love/concur #9.

    • I was writing professionally (though not full-time) before I had a blog, and my husband finally convinced me that I had to start one. And here we are. This is my mental playground.

  55. Reblogged this on Totally Inspired Mind and commented:
    This is a fantastic article from a fellow professional writer. I would love to have a conversation with her some time. She thinks like I do in many ways.
    Paulette Le Pore Motzko

  56. THank youu so much for sharin wonderful tips with us ! This is the best advice I ever got 🙂

    • Well for goodness sake I’m sure there’s better advice out there than this – like don’t text while driving or don’t watch reality TV. But I’m glad you found this valuable.

  57. Thanks for these tips. I like that you encourage others, and that you admit when you aren’t familiar with an area.

  58. Ahhhhhh, this is great!
    Currently I’m a teacher…but I occasionally think while I’m writing late at night, more frequently in the summer, and very rarely out loud where real people can hear me that I would love to be a writer. This advice makes it seem like something that could actually be attainable instead of just a nice thing to think about on the weekends.

    • It is attainable. It is hard, scary, and the hours will wear you out. You constantly have to stretch beyond your comfort zone. You have to be your own manager, accountant, publicist, secretary etc AND do the writing…But if you love to write, you can do it. And it’s not all-or-nothing, as in, I’m not a writer, and then boom, now I am! You can start small, publish a piece here and there while you’re working other jobs. I worked full-time or part-time jobs unrelated to writing for three years while I wrote at night and on weekends. Don’t tell yourself you have to drop everything and write – you can bring the writing into your current life and see where that takes you.

      p.s. My mom is a retired teacher and boy am I in awe of teachers!

  59. Thanks for these thoughts Alaina. I am quite new to blogging and while I have done a little paid freelance writing, I want to build more momentum. So I am soaking up all the practical tips I can find and this is great stuff. Very helpful. It also aligns nicely with the approach that I and my colleagues in the career transition coaching world teach about networking.

  60. Really good post. Thank you for this. I just started a new website and I’ll really take your points to heart.

  61. Been a writer (started as freelancer) for 7 yrs now. I never looked for jobs locally. The Internet was always my good friend and I always seemed to find freelance opportunities as far away from Europe as possible.
    I value LinkedIn for the doors it has , metaphorically, opened for me.
    You said “work for free”. I’d say: start a blog and create a means for you to create and have a portfolio. I only wrote guest-posts for free, which aren’t exactly for free b/c you get a link in exchange.
    Interesting article.

    • Thanks for your perspective. I agree that the internet can be a goldmine, especially if you have some experience and know how to use it to find work. But if you’re just beginning to dip your toes, I still think that a local perspective will serve you best. Otherwise getting started might be a little overwhelming.

      I do say work for free…for awhile. Yes, a blog is a part of your portfolio and you could go the route of blogging for free and seeking pay for the rest from the start. But I still say that when you have no experience being published, there is value to doing some work for free even while you are blogging, because you’ll learn a lot from managing real assignments: you’ll get a sense of the commitment involved in writing for another entity, an idea of what it’s like to tailor your work to someone else’s specifications, practice meeting deadlines, and experience working with an editor – all of which you’re not going to get producing work for your own blog.

      And as I say, this potential free-to-paid process is an individual one, and each writer needs to decide what’s best for themselves, i.e., when the benefits of the experience do not outweigh the drawback of no pay for the articles. It seems to me that most specialized career fields have a student or internship phase where you learn the ropes without pay. People with no prior experience writing could see doing some work for free at the start as a self-administered internship that will open doors later. And I definitely do not advocate working for free beyond the early stage of your career (unless, of course, you choose to volunteer for a good cause or maintain your own blog).

      • My very first freelance job was via a freelancing website (true, hosted in Europe but miles away from where I live hehe). didn’t earn much ($20 for re-writing articles) but opened up opportunities. I continued to do that and then open my own blog hosted by the company I now work for (what a nice coincidence). But, depending on the person, other things might work. I’ve done my “practice” as a student and i wrote, for free, for the school’s newspaper all the way to University, for example. someone who hasn’t written at all might find offering to help for free a good way to get into a routine and learn to work with people, as you said.

      • Yes – it’s all about building the skills you need. If working for free is that foundation, great. If you’ve gotten it under your belt as a student and can then appeal to real-world editors, that’s fine too.

        I am working on a follow-up blog to this one, and part of it will be about the working-with-people aspect of writing. What an adventure.

        Thanks again for weighing in.

      • Really loved your article.

  62. Really insightful post for freelance writers and I agree to the one on reciprocating other’s networking. Sharing itself is already a blessing, after all. Congratulations on being FP! :=)

  63. londonescapeartist December 17, 2012 — 8:12 am

    Reblogged this on The Institute of Wandering and Experimental Affairs and commented:
    A very interesting article and informative article for anyone considering becoming a freelance writer, as I am. Being at the very beginning of this process this article has given me some great tips going forward. I think it’s relevant to freelance work across the field. I’m also seeking to enter the freelance translation industry and from my narrow experience to date, all this certainly applies.

  64. londonescapeartist December 17, 2012 — 8:28 am

    apologies, I didn’t actually mean to reblog this, but I think it’s great.

  65. I have held the job of a journalist for 12 years and am right now working as a freelancer. I agree with every word you have written. I love your humorous style of sharing the tips. thanks for em.

  66. daily life impressions December 17, 2012 — 10:04 am

    just started my old new blog and find tips from all over the world helpful….thanks and good luck

  67. The funny thing is that most writiers already know that this is what they have to do in order to get paid work, the funny thing is, most dont as they fall prey to their lazyness, or lack of confidance in approching the right people. I’d love it Alaina if you’d be able to take a look at my blog, any advice would be amazing!

  68. Very nicely done, your professionalism shows beautifully here. Good quality content. And that’s some thing we can all strive for I think – quality. Because that is what will keep people coming back, and that is what you will be remembered for. So a tip of the hat to your very abiding quality. I also have a question for you, go figure.

    What are some tips you might have to help aspiring writers generate ideas in which to write about? When we take on a blog for example, I think many of us will admit, there quickly comes a moment where we wonder to ourselves, what in the heck are we going to write about! How are we going to keep it up? How can you consistently generate high quality content less your writing mojo runs dry. Indeed, how do you stay inspired?

    • I always say that the more I write, the more I write. Your mind IS a muscle that gets better when you work it.. Sometimes it’s ok to have a break. But if you want to write and don’t know what to write, begin typing about something, or whatever the seed of your idea is. Sometimes it helps me to write by hand in a notebook to start with. Do not wait until your ideas are fully formed to begin putting words together. You can publish it later, when you’re ready – even if it’s months or years later.

      If you want to stay inspired, I say keep an eye on the world. Learn about current events from many sources. Read, read, read. Get inspired by what you learn, see, and hear. Respond to current events. Sometimes I throw questions out to my friends and fans via social media and see what comes back. Sometimes a social media post by someone else sparks a thought that sparks a blog post. Don’t think of yourself as a solitary well of ideas – the world is there to inspire you. Use it.

  69. yaitudia.worldpress.com December 17, 2012 — 12:32 pm

    Reblogged this on Bloggercomunity.

  70. Thank you Alaina. Your read was well worth the time. You have given me things to do and digest. I appreciate you.

  71. Reblogged this on sarah ann and commented:
    Interesting look on Freelancing and the importance of Networking.

  72. I have been reading about writing for years and THIS was packed with wisdom, humor and inspiration! Thank you, just what I needed!

    • Great, thanks. I have read a lot about writing too, but nothing has been more valuable than work experience. If this post does anything for readers, I hope it reminds them that getting some real-life experience as a writer IS within reach.

  73. wonderful post. i want to turn it into a mini-booklet and keep it in my back pocket at all times 😀

  74. Reblogged this on Susie Klein – Writer and commented:
    Alaina Mabaso has written this wonderful piece about freelance writing that is packed with wisdom, humor and practical advice we can all use to our advantage!

  75. Very thoughtful post! Thank you!

  76. thanks, this was very helpful to a blogger, free-lancer, farmer, still- has-to-have-an-hourly-job, writer.

  77. This is very helpful.reminds me of advice from my public speaking class.Am still trying to figure out what kind genre (writing)i fit into,but blogging is helpful especially ridding one of laziness and helping with consistency.

  78. Quite legible. Palatable. Digestible. 🙂 Bit of a tome in terms of blog post, so I bookmarked it. Got you Freshly Pressed, that’s all that counts. Deserved.

  79. I am so happy this was on Freshly Pressed. Such a beautiful insight, thank you for all of your tips! I’ve bookmarked the page so I can re-read it every time I feel discouraged =)

  80. Love it 😀 I’m trying to get my articles published and this is making me rethink my whole perspective. I’ve actually read this over a few times to get my facts straight :p This helped alot – Good work 🙂

  81. For someone just starting out, this was very insightful and helpful. Thanks! 🙂

  82. These are great tips! I’ve been working in social media for the past couple of years, but I’m really interested in seeing where copywriting and blogging can take me. Thanks for the advice!
    -Kat Jost

  83. These are some pretty good tips on networking and looking for those freelance gigs. I’d be interested to see if you agree with my tips on how to write magazine articles that don’t freak editors out: http://drewpan.wordpress.com/2012/07/27/tips-for-writing-magazine-articles/

  84. As a former pastor who was paid (in part) to write good words based on a sacred Word to inspire people to do better, I am now facing a career shift, trying to find an avenue to sell my writing skills for food on my table and clothes on my back. Thanks for the reminder that it can be done and the helpful hints on how to do it.

  85. Thank you, I’m not a writer but still enjoyed reading this.

  86. Hi Alaina, thanks for this post! I’m studying journalism but I’ve taken time out to do what I love best and find myself again- travel! From that you might guess that I would like to be a travel journalist 🙂

    I found your post really insightful. I’ve heard some of it before but it’ll always be information worth hearing over… and over… and over again… until it’s hammered into my brain. Or I decided to change profesions!

    It’s getting a reblog from me!
    Muito obrigada from Rio de Janeiro!


  87. Reblogged this on Travel Making Kai and commented:
    Reality Cheque!… So you want to be a freelance Journalist uh?

  88. Thanks for the good tips. I am a stay at home mom and trying to start my own blog to help people. You have some great advice. I think 5 years is a long time and a decent amount of time to share your success tips. Not many people will take the time to do this. Many kudos to you and I wish you more success. Thanks again

  89. Reblogged this on The Other 55% and commented:
    Very interesting and useful tips here about freelancing. Enjoy.

  90. Great post Alaina! I wish to become a writer in the future, and these points were cool, as I expected. Great luck there! 😉

  91. Alaina,
    Great writing and info. I wonder if you could help me solve a wee problem. I re-blogged your post, but now I have this poll box floating about on my screen. There doesn’t appear to be any obvious way, other than removing your whole post, to kill it. I’d hate to remove your post as I think it is damn fine advice for beginning writers. Thoughts?
    Thank you

    • Hi Leah, how I wish I was a tech guru, but I ain’t. Try Googling the problem – if it’s happening to you, it’s probably happened to others who may have gotten answers. Or maybe WordPress forums have answers? Sorry the poll is being so naughty.

  92. This is so good to hear! I’m a novice writer, and I’ve been pitching stories to various publications for years, with very little luck. You’ve inspired me to change my approach. Thank you.
    P.S. I love the networking sandwich!

  93. Thanks for this. I wanted to add a tip that works for me and that’s working with a group of writers in a workshop setting. It doesn’t have to be anything formal – can even be online – but I get so much out of the feedback I get from the writers I know that know both the strengths and weaknesses within my work. My two cents.

  94. Just brilliant! Congrats on being Freshly Pressed!

  95. Reblogged this on Everyone Wants to Be a Writer and commented:
    This is great advice by Alaina Mabaso. Definitely take a look. My favorite tip was #9.

  96. Great advice. I retired recently from a freelance writing career (the paying kind) to follow my two main passions…blogging and creative writing. To be a writer requires perseverance, passion and sacrifice…and oftentimes creative management of your budget during the lean times…but the rewards make it all worthwhile!

  97. This is brilliant advice. Thank you for sharing the anecdotes alongside the advice. You didn’t come off as a pushy know it all, either. Just another writer on a path, holding up the tree branch so it does not smack another in the face. Thanks.

    • I’m glad you found this worthwhile. I originally was writing a piece that was straight-up advice, and then thought, why should readers believe me? So I knew I should add the true anecdotes. I think lots of people have held the tree branches for me, so I’m happy to grab some for others.

      • I think that connecting with your audience prevents writing from coming merely mechanical and allows it to remain organic. I am very thankful that you have adapted what works for you professionally as a means of allowing others to interact with, experiment with, and grow with in their exploration of writing as their path. I wish you well in your future endeavors!

      • I think writers have a lot to offer each other, so thanks for stopping by.

  98. Thanks for sharing this! I’ve been doing more research on freelancing as it is something I want to venture into. A lot of the advice out there seems to be the top 10 reasons not to do it. As a comedian, I have experienced instances, also, where fellow comics want to hoard their contacts. Tables do turn. Again, thank you for sharing this. I feel inspired to get some bylines.–Charlie 🙂 http://www.charliemccoin.wordpress.com

    • I bet the comedian’s field is even more grueling than the freelance journalists’, but I’m sure they have much in common – the guts, thick skin and motivation needed, etc. People sometimes talk about the phase of their lives they spent freelancing as a sort of war zone, but though the work is stressful sometimes, I have never had work I enjoyed more.

  99. What a great post! Thanks for sharing these tips. I absolutely agree with you on the importance of building your network. The more people I meet, the more opportunities come my way. Not to mention I’m meeting some fantastic people along the way.

    Congrats on being Freshly Pressed!

  100. Great blog post, as an Author and Freelance Writer, my main stream of income is from freelance writing. I too agree that versatility plays a big part when writing pieces for businesses. I also agree on accepting paid work but providing the right fee. Network, network, network, amen. I was amazed at easily I started freelance writing with limited pieces up my sleeve and received paid work.

    I would also note to add professionalism at all opportunities, including quotes and tax invoices – have it all formatted the same to ensure consistency and professionalism throughout. Your writing sells, but also your organisation and professionalism will help sell yourself too. Be confident, don’t underestimate your value but also don’t overestimate. I have also met a few interesting characters, so protecting yourself from potential fakes is also required. But don’t let this scare you, go forth, make some income and do what you love. Great post and great insight into the freelance writing world.

    • Putting those proposals together are one of the most nerve-wracking things a freelance writer does, according to my own experience and what my colleagues have shared. You’re right that professionalism is key.

      According to some of the horror stories I’ve heard, “interesting characters” is an understatement.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  101. Reblogged this on Best of B.A.V.

  102. I am impressed! I’m still learning, so I am thankful for any advice 😉 Have now added your blog to my regulars 🙂 Greetings from Austria (where there are no kangaroos! 😉

  103. Reblogged this on briehaddock and commented:
    I thought this was an amazing post as I find it truly helpful. I have been a writer for a few short months and I am finding that this is where my passions lie. I promise to take this writing and take it to heart. It will be useful in my career. Thank you

  104. Great advice. Just started a music blog this past summer in hopes of keeping my writing skills sharp just as you mentioned in this post. Keep up the good work =)

  105. Echoing so many: thanks for this post! I love the image of the Network sandwich, and as a new freelance writer, I’ve already learned the importance of finding a variety of gigs. The value of blogging–writing increases writing–rings true to me, too. As soon as I started blogging in earnest again, my writing improved! 🙂

    Thanks again, and I hope Mary Roach can say “I knew her when” someday! -Sarah

  106. Thanks for writing this article! As a student who loves writing, has been published before, and wants to have a future career in writing, I really appreciate the tips in this article. I will definitely be sharing this on my blog. Thank you!

    Everyone feel free to check out my blog! All follows, likes, comments, and views are all appreciated! 🙂

  107. I’ve only just come across your blog and this post.

    No time right now, but when the Christmas joy is all done and the fairy dust has settled, I’ll put aside an hour and some coffee and study the heck out of it.

    I’m a freelance cartoonist and I figure there’s going to be some useful stuff in there for me.

    Thanks in advance.




    • The pre-emptive positive comment? Wow! I hope you enjoy the blog when you do get a chance to read it.

      I would love to learn more about the freelance cartoonist’s life. I’ve been drawing cartoons all my life but this blog is the first place I ever published any – although I’m sure my cartoons are meant for the the realm of hobbies.

  108. Reblogged this on geurrillarts and commented:
    A few good tips for writers without permanent ports

  109. Interesting.This post made me sit back and reevaluate a bit. Thank you.

  110. Reblogged this on MissMangue.

  111. Reblogged this on thetruth2013's Blog and commented:
    This is helpful to my current situation. Although I haven’t really looked into the freelance writing, it is an amazing field. It might have just gotten my vote…talk about betrayal to just writing…see you later just writing, hello freelance…:) But still thinking!

  112. Enjoyed the information you shared. I’ve bee blogging for a year now and networking is definitely at the top of my list along with social media marketing. Thanks. 🙂

  113. What a good overview! I love your tips. I am breaking out into the freelance sphere and can see that I have a lot to learn. (I did start a blog first so maybe I am a natural lol.)

  114. Android Developer March 20, 2016 — 1:57 pm

    Great practical tips!

  115. Wow, very informative. I’d love to freelance but not sure where to start. Thanks for being so open about your experiences.

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