Not too long ago I was writing another article to celebrate something that I don’t really remember at the moment. Forgive me for the inconvenience, but I am Greek; celebrating comes really naturally to us, even if we don’t have a special reason to celebrate. So yeah, back to the topic! In a previous article I said that it came to a point that I was really discouraged for a while, and I had to face the “Do or Die” question – which is the main theme of this post – “Can you make it as a freelance writer if English is not your mother tongue?”
I love writing. I always have, and I might even have some talent for it really, but I kept thinking “How I will make it as a writer for these English-language sites when English isn’t my native language?” I can speak English, I can obviously write too, but “Hello” I am not a native speaker. “So what do we do now, chief?” I asked myself.
It’s true that if you don’t speak English nowadays, then you have a serious problem; in fact, you’re pretty much fucked. But what if English is your second or third language? Can someone make it as a freelance writer in that case? When I was searching for an answer to that, I couldn’t help but think of how Penelope Cruz made millions, and won an Oscar too, with her funny accent and bad English.
But what does it take to make it as a freelance writer? Is it a perfect knowledge of English that guarantees success? Some of the greatest and most influential writers of all time – such as Victor Hugo and Fyodor Dostoyevsky – couldn’t spell their names in English, yet they influenced generations of readers. If you have talent and determination, then you can succeed, no matter where you come from. Yes, that really can happen, even if English is your second – or in my case, fourth – language.
But before you force the world to translate your writings into forty-five languages to be read by millions, read my best advice for those who want to break in to the competitive world of freelance writing.
1. Use good English
We writers tend to be a little too arrogant and narcissistic with our work. We tend to believe that we have the talent, the rights genes, and the right heritage to make it. But I don’t care if you come from the same country Homer came from, or if you were born at 23 Rue de Sévigné in Paris – and you’d better believe that the editors won’t care either. You’re not Homer or another Proust, and until you become one, you’d better practice your English.
Let’s be realistic; there’s no way you will ever make it as a freelance writer unless you have a good knowledge of the English language. Some people will tell you that Russia and China are taking over, and soon we will all have to speak Mandarin and Russian, and that’s fine. But until that happens, if you are hoping to be published in the next week or month, please make sure that you can write well and make sense in English.
2. Select topics of general and global interest
It’s quite an achievement for your pal Fabio to break the record for most slices of pizza eaten in one night at Mario’s Pizzeria, but I’m not quite sure that Bob in Idaho would care much about such an accomplishment. Don’t take this the wrong way – you should be proud of your city and country, but in the gigantic Internet World you need to touch on matters that will be interesting on a world-wide scale. Factors such as nationality, race, and religion should never capture your work and take it prisoner. You need to think smart, and that means you need to think like a citizen of the world, not a citizen of your town.
Are you from Greece and want to write something about your country? That’s fine, but just make sure you don’t focus on how many ouzos your buddy Nikos drank last night. Instead, write about the ten most influential philosophers of ancient Greece. With such a subject, you’ll get the chance to see your country represented – and Bob from Idaho might be interested in learning something of value too.
3. Do your research
You can write about traveling, cooking, sports, gadgets, comics, history, politics, arts, movies, music – or even all of these combined (if you’re a Lex Luthor kind of genius), but be sure to do the best possible research. Research is what gives prestige and credibility to your writings, so never underestimate it. Remember: you need to show off your work in the best way possible. Research first, then write.
Editing seems to be the biggest obstacle for many foreign writers. Think about it like this: You have a kind of “disability” since your English is not great, so you need to do the best possible editing. There are people who drive without arms, and paint (some masterpieces, too) with their feet, or write books in spite of being blind – so you can write a good article even if English is your second language. If this guy can be elected Governor of California with poor English and a thick accent, then any of us can hope and dream for the best.
Everyone has an English dictionary. Open it. Even if you don’t have one, you can still find free English dictionaries online. Also, if you have friends or family to help you, don’t hesitate. They can be your personal editors – and saviors.
5. Get your writing in front of the public every day
There are plenty of paying sites out there waiting for you, but are you ready? Other than you, who else has read your writing and found it fantastic, or at least decent? Are you an honest critic of your writings? Don’t you want to test the waters?
My advice is that before you submit your writing to a paying blog, you should first post in free sites to see what other people think of your command of the English language, your prose and writing style in general. There’s no better free site than the huge spot where millions of highly opinionated people meet to fight, exchange opinions, or debate about pretty much everything – namely, Yahoo Answers. This place is like a big pool where garbage meets with treasure, and it’s solely up to you to decide what company to keep. The opinion of others matters to a certain degree, but don’t let a few comments make or break you. Keep what you think is useful and positive from the feedback, and then move on.
6. Good English is vital in the querying process
Here we have a truly childish mistake that many foreign freelance writers make. You have to realize that when you are emailing editors to pitch your idea, you are writing to professionals who make their livings at this, and you are basically demanding that they buy your work because, in your opinion, it’s worth money. So the way you approach the whole thing should be professional and written in good English. Remember: your query/pitch email is like a first date. It’s your first impression, and your passport to getting published. Make a good impression; be as clear and concise as possible; and most of all, prove that your English is good enough for them to trust you.
7. Maintain a good relationship with the editor
Regardless of how demanding (or even rude) editors may be, you need to develop a decent relationship with the owners of the sites you are writing for. Some editors may seem indifferent or even offensive (there are a few assholes with inferiority complexes out there), but there will always be good and helpful editors too. For example, Shell from TopTenz is a really kind and helpful executive, and completely understandable because he explains, detail by detail, what he wants from your article. Phil, the founder of Gunaxin, is also one of the friendliest and most helpful professionals out there as well.
My advice to any would-be writer is to give it a shot. You really have nothing to lose. Just make sure that your writing is worthy of payment. Remember … If your articles look good, their sites look good too. It’s teamwork.
Now some might wonder who am I to advise aspiring writers about anything? No one special, I am just willing to help here because fact is that in a little more than six months, I have published more than seventy paid articles, earning a few thousand dollars. Could I have imagined all this back in April, when I was just starting out as a freelance writer? Not quite, but c’est la vie. You never know what will happen tomorrow.
So until the next time, Theocracy’s finest wish that you have a very good day.