How to become a freelance writer in Sri Lanka
I’ve been writing for eleven years now in both a freelance and full-time capacity, and my answer to that is, “There is no one degree/qualification that you can do in Sri Lanka to make it, other than, to write and write and write.”
There are a few things that worked for me, which I’d like to share with anyone who has a passion for the written word and wants to monetise their writing. You may be doing a 9 – 5 job already, but you want to write on the side. Or you are a school leaver who has no clue as to what you want to do or you’re just exploring your options. This article is for you.
Start a blog
We all have to start somewhere, and a simple blog to express yourself online is a great starting point. Write about things you’re passionate about, (I started with research and opinion-based articles on sustainability and a short story series on Sri Lankan ghost stories) write a few well-researched articles that include the interviews and opinions of people on that subject, and even some creative writing on a topic that you love.
These blogs will end up being your portfolio for when clients want to see your writing samples. It will give them an understanding of your writing style, voice, tone, personality and topics that you like to write.
Writing is a skill that takes a lot of practice. Knowing/speaking English and being able to write creatively are not necessarily the same thing. So how do you know what to write? By reading of course!
Read magazines like The Economist, The Times, and National Geographic. These writers break down really complex ideas into palatable English that can be read and understood by laymen i.e. you and me. The Economist has a very valuable Style Guide too.
Make it a point to read at least 10 articles a day online – especially articles on SEO, or digital content marketing, and social media management which not only help you keep up to date on what’s going on in the industry but also improves your English.
You can never know too much English. Have a few sites that you learn from, and learn from them daily, at least an hour a day. Subscribe to Daily Writing Tips and Marriam Webster for new words. Use a paid version of Grammarly to avoid mistakes and help you edit your own work. Learn how to write in plain English and be aware of your audience; for example, in Sri Lanka, we use British English mostly but if your client is an American, you have to use American English.
Some of us, especially in Sri Lanka, like to use big words that are almost academic in nature in an attempt to perhaps display that we know more English. I don’t recommend bulking up anything more than it needs to. Limit difficult words— more than 4 syllables is too difficult. For example, instead of the word ‘illustration’, you can use synonyms such as images, paintings, or drawings. Consider your audience too— if you’re writing for LEGO vs TOYOTA.
Your aim should be to communicate as efficiently as possible. To get the idea across with minimum words (because people tend to skim more) and maximum impact.
Like all other skills, practice. You know your English, but without practice, you’re going to lose out on that spark in you that compels you to write. Experiment with your writing until you create your voice, likely one day, people who’re familiar with your writing will recognise your voice even without reading your name under that title.
Tools you need as a freelance writer in Sri Lanka
Now that you are on a learning, improving and consistent writing curve onwards, let’s now establish what you need to mean business.
- An email address
This is the most basic tool, it’s so basic, that we forget it. Not the one you used in school that goes like. Especially after Covid-19, the way we freelance writers connect with potential clients has changed, sometimes our first and only contact point is our email address. (And that shouldn’t probably sound like the one you used in school that went “email@example.com”
- A portfolio of your work
Add your work on an online, shareable platform such as clippings.com so that you can forward it to any prospective client who wants to see your work. Rather than sending five different types of documents, you now look like you have your stuff together and your client is impressed by a nice, neat, categorised portfolio.
- A LinkedIn account
Yes, the social network where the sleazy uncles who bypass you on Facebook, adds you thinking you will accept because it’s a “professional” network, has its benefits. A professional LinkedIn profile that narrates your journey thus far, where you can gather recommendations from your happy clients gives you credibility and helps you get more work. (If you’re a school leaver, a few projects that you’ve done that involves writing or a few sample articles. If you don’t have samples, you need to roll up your socks and get cracking. Write about a topic that you’re interested in, a trip that you went, a social issue that you thought needs addressing with facts and figures as an analysis.)
- A one-page CV
One-page” is something that I cannot emphasise enough. No one has time to read 3 pages of your life story. Make it simple. Your designation, duration and your main duties are enough for someone to get an idea of what you’ve done. Generally, clients don’t ask for CV’s (unless its a job opportunity), rather, they will ask for your portfolio.
- A rate card
Let your clients know your starting rates through a pricing list or a rate card. It can have pricing for websites, articles, newsletters, press releases, blogs, social media management and so on. Read the guide I wrote on how to price your work as a freelance writer in Sri Lanka.
That’s it for the basics of freelance writing in Sri Lanka. I will be writing more about the freelance writing arena in Sri Lanka from my personal experience as well as my fellow writers.
I’ve also started a group on Facebook called Sri Lankan Writers to rally around anyone who is interested in writing; may it be for pleasure or for pay, novice or professional, in the hope that we can organise workshops, share creative insights on writing, share our work, share posts on how to become better writers etc.
This article is 1/2 articles. The next one is ‘How to find work as a freelance writer in Sri Lanka’ where I talk about what worked for me in building my freelance writing career. This article was also published on my LinkedIn profile as well as an abridged version of it was published on EDEX Career magazine and Sunday Observer Jobs section in 2018.