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Back to School: The Benefits of Freelance Writing Courses

By Kylie Jane Wakefield August 18th, 2014

So you went to college and got your degree in journalism, creative writing, or English. Afterwards, you decided to pursue a career as a freelance writer, and each day, you go through a routine of working in coffee shops, pitching stories, conducting interviews, and writing.

It’s very easy to get comfortable in that routine and forget about innovating, learning new skills, and building new relationships.

Fortunately, there are courses popping up in cities across America that don’t take place in traditional classroom settings. Transcripts aren’t required for admittance, and tuition costs won’t lead to harassing phone calls from Sallie Mae. Everyone from the parent who writes for fun to the professional essayist can be found in attendance.

Journalist Rebecca Webber teaches two courses, “Develop a Freelance Career” and “Advanced Freelancing,” at Mediabistro. “There are two ways to learn something—the hard way (trial and error), or through someone else’s experience,” she said. “I try to share my own experiences as a freelance writer for students to learn from.”

Webber, who has written for OThe Oprah MagazinePsychology Today, and Glamour, teaches her students about the importance of familiarizing themselves with publications so they know what kind of pitches to send. She also recommends connecting with editors on a personal level. “A great idea can get you one assignment, [but] a great relationship with an editor can get you a steady stream of assignments,” she said. “So I think it’s wise to spend time meeting editors and cultivating relationships with them.”

Jennifer Keishin Armstrong, author of Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted, and a stringer for Fast Company and Fit Pregnancy, teaches a two-week long course on how to freelance at Gotham Writers’ Workshop in New York City and tries to stress the importance of not only building relationships with editors, but other freelancers as well. In Armstrong’s classes, she encourages her students to network alongside one another. “Nobody wants to go to actual networking events,” she added. “Classes are really great. You can meet people at the same level as you. You can have a nice reciprocal relationship­ [with another student].”

According to Jennifer Mattson, a freelance writer who moonlights as a teacher for Mediabistro, GrubStreet, and Brooklyn Brainery, cultivating camaraderie is very important to the freelancers in her classes. “They can get a sense of community and understanding that they aren’t alone,” she explained. “It can be lonely and isolating. A lot of people in my classes really enjoy knowing they aren’t alone. It’s nice to know when you’re experiencing something that it’s not you, it’s the norm.”

Webber tells her students to stay in touch with one another after classes end. “Relationships are so important,” she said. “Other freelance friends can share their tips about how to work successfully and about gigs that might not be right for them, but are perfect for you.”

Armstrong and Webber echoed similar sentiments: The students are concerned about making money. Some do it as a side job because their full time gigs aren’t enough. But even for the full-time freelancers, there are plenty of intricacies to pick up, like learning how to approach an editor via email with a quick introduction that’s easy to respond to rather than an eight-paragraph plea for work.

Classes may offer practical solutions for freelancers, but they also encourage them to push themselves. “If you get stuck writing for yourself or you’re trying to pursue it as your career, sometimes you need inspiration,”Armstrong said. “You can go talk about writing and get inspired again.”

Image by Jim Fitzpatrick
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