Moving from freelance to staff writer

The freelance life is difficult, what with sporadic income, disorganized editors and the need to be perpetually self-disciplined. Perhaps you’re thinking about getting a staff job on a magazine or newspaper.

There are certainly advantages to having a job. High on the list are steady income and benefits. Also, you can concentrate on writing instead of marketing, you have deadlines to keep you going, and you become part of a work family. You can learn valuable skills without paying for classes or training programs. A job can also help you make connections that will help in the future if/when you return to freelancing.

On the negative side, staff writing jobs can suck up all your time so that you have nothing left for the fiction, poetry or creative nonfiction that makes you happy. You can do both, but it’s hard. You also might have to relocate to find a good job. Where I live, in a small town on the Oregon coast, the only staff option is the local newspaper, which pays barely above minimum wage. I tried it and went back to freelancing. Are you able to transfer your life to another city or another state?

Balancing jobs and writing is a puzzle I’ve been trying to solve for oh, about 40 years now. I spent many years working as a staff writer and editor at various newspapers and magazines, but I always wanted to freelance. When I was freelancing, I often yearned for the security of a job. The grass is always greener on the other side, right?

But if you have to earn a living from your writing and you haven’t yet made it into the national publications that pay $1 a word or more, you might not have a choice. You need a job.

It’s honestly not a good time for magazines or newspapers. Both have cut pages and staff drastically in recent years. If you study the bylines, you may find they use more freelancers than staff writers. Odds are better in public relations, corporate writing or advertising. But you can find a job if you really want to.

It helps to have a degree in journalism, English or a specialty in something like science, business, or technology. It helps to have strong computer skills. These days, staff writers often find themselves designing pages, writing for web sites, or blogging. You’re also going to need some clips and people willing to give you good references.

Where do you look? Some online outfits that promise to find you writing jobs charge a fee and never find you anything that’s suitable. If it sounds fishy or an ultra-traditional person like my dad wouldn’t approve, it’s probably not a real job. Good resources for jobs include:,, and your state newspaper association—search for _________ Newspaper Publishers Association. For magazines, try, where you can read industry news and post your resume. Also try the Public Relations Society of America at, which posts jobs and resumes. In addition, you can find some job listings at,, and other writing sites.

The best resource may be your telephone book. Look under publishers and see what’s listed. Then find copies of their publications to determine whether you’d want to work for them and contact the office to find out if they’re hiring. If they don’t have an opening right now, ask if they’re open to freelance work. Being a reliable freelancer is often a good first step into a full- or part-time job.

Good luck in your search.


Cool sites for writers

I just discovered this great website by the Academy of American Poets that allows you to plug in any state in the United States and find out everything you could possibly want to know about poetry in that state: poets laureate, organizations and publications, poetry-friendly bookstores, poems about the state, and more. It’s Disneyland for poetry lovers. Just go to, click on the Poetry Map and plug in your state with a slash and the two-letter postal code, e.g.,

We have a project going in Oregon called Oregon Poetic Voices. Poets from all over the state have been recording their poems to create a visual and audio archive. I have four poems there myself. Listen and enjoy.

If you want something a little more left-brained, you might want to look at  I hadn’t been there for a while and I was bowled over by everything that’s there. Mediabistro serves as a clearinghouse for jobs in the media, including print, broadcast and online gigs, both staff and freelance. You can search jobs and also post your qualifications in the hope the right employer will find you. The site also has a lot of marketing information for those who write freelance articles. I’m going to add it to my favorites. Yes, it has a lot of advertising, but you might also find your dream job here.

I filled three pages in my notebook today before I started doing this. Have you done your writing today? Go write.