Being a writer isn’t the easiest of professions. It has certainly always been difficult to find your start and get experience. As a recent graduate with a Major in Professional Writing, I found that suitable, advertised jobs were rare. Most organisations asked for a minimum of five years of experience and I found myself in a cyclical 'chicken and the egg dilemma' - how do I get experience to get a job when I need a job to get experience? Thinking about it too much is hazardous to your health and very demoralizing.
However, in the past few years alone, both employee and employer have discovered that they can advertise paid and unpaid jobs on the internet and not just with conventional job-seeking websites like seek.com or jobsguide.com.au. Websites like freelancer.com and odesk.com provide opportunities to bid for jobs against other writers while professional social networking sites like linkedin.com can provide avenues to network. As amazing and wonderful as all this sounds, the online sphere is full of risks as well as opportunities that every writer needs to consider...
Opportunities in Writing Online
- Writing online allows the writer to work remotely, which greatly expands their horizons for work within their country or abroad without having to relocate or commute a ridiculous distance.
- If you are an emerging writer looking for a way to quickly develop a portfolio writing online on a volunteer basis the internet is an amazing tool to utilise. Many websites have the option to provide content such as opinion pieces or lists. As long as the content is original and well-written the host site should have no reason not to publish it.
- Specialised job auction sites like odesk, freelancer, and elance have hundreds of jobs available for writers of varying levels of experience to apply for. Even if you are unsuccessful in gaining the job it does give you a better understanding of how to present yourself when applying for other jobs online.
- While not necessarily an employment website, the professional social networking platform Linkedin can provide writers with useful contacts across a variety of mediums and industries. It may take a little time to develop but a Linkedin profile is only worth the amount of time you invest in it: the more time spent selling your abilities the greater the chances of employment, plus you can develop relationships with employers and industry professionals who can aid you in your work.
- The great thing about using websites that allow you to build profiles is that most of these sites also let you to link to your previously published articles. You can also include a link to your blog (if you don't have one, get started here) which can give prospective employers an idea of how you write in general.
- Writing online provides a vast and varied landscape of topics to write about. Your niche interest may not get you traction in print but given the size of the internet and its ability to cater to all aspects of culture and society, there's high-odds of a website out there wanting your opinion on whatever topic you know about.
- Not all experience gained has to be unpaid. Sites like Weekend Notes and What Culture actually give you a small percentage of the advertising revenue made from your article. It may only be in the cents and low dollar figures and it certainly is not enough to live off, but there is a strong morale boost to be gained from being a 'paid' writer, especially if you are just starting out.
Risks of Writing Online
- Given that there are thousands of writers out there all looking for work at the same time employers definitely have the upper hand. As a writer you may feel the need to offer your services at a lower rate than advertised so as to appear a better candidate, especially when searching on a bidding site. Unfortunately, this often leaves you in a worse position and vulnerable to exploitation.
- Some websites operate as 'content farms'. These sites utilise a large number of freelance writers to churn out articles to maximise ad revenue through these sites by using specific buzz words that appear to be searched more in search engines. The pay rate for these articles is generally very low and these articles are believed to be of poor quality. While you can make money from them, they can distract writers from focusing on work that will actually further their writing careers.
- Working online can be very isolating. Offline you may find yourself in an office working with others in a collaborative manner, or at the very least in close proximity with others. This social environment can create a positive mood or breed inspiration and creativity. You may notice the absence of people when working online and/or remotely, this can lead to feelings of loneliness.
- Working online means that you will most likely be working from home. In this familiar place you may feel less motivated to work given the connection home has with relaxation and down time. Major distractions such as TV, 'unsupervised' internet use, and games consoles will be in the same room as you and may be hard to ignore.
- Being online decreased the chance of developing a face-to-face professional relationship with employers that can differentiate you from the multitude of writers all vying for the same work. It is easier and more effective to make an impression if you meet up with the employer in a physical environment. While services such as email and Skype can be useful, it's still a substitute for an actual meeting.
- The risk of being unwittingly involved in plagiarism increases as well. Some of the ads I have seen posted on odesk have been particularly brazen and are easy enough to avoid. These ads will generally ask you to rewrite an essay or even write whole paragraphs for some employers. Not all the jobs on odesk are rewrite jobs though and there are opportunities out there if you look hard enough.
Although working online does require writers to have their wits about them, the benefits do outweigh the risks. As mentioned above there are a plethora of freelance sites out there listing jobs that aren’t otherwise available, and just about every website that has written content has a 'write for us' button that many of us ignore. As with writing offline there are pros and cons, but given the rewards, such as reaching a larger audience and having more opportunities to write on subjects you care about, the risks are certainly worth taking.
linkedin.com (professional social networking)
You may also want to explore our Advice for Writers page, which has an array of articles offering tips on everything from how to get your work out there, to how to avoid being exploited.
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