Help me find non-paying writing assignments.
November 29, 2005 2:45 PM   Subscribe

Help me find good non-paying writing assignments.

I'd like to be a freelance writer, and my family's offered to support me for a few months while I get started. Since I don't have to worry about getting paid, I'd just like to build up a decent portfolio of published work. If it'll get me published someplace reputable, I'll gladly write for free.

So where should I start looking? Writer's Market just seems to list paying markets. Google turns up so many "opportunities" and "job boards" that I can't tell what's for real.

I'd especially like to hear from people who started out writing for free and later broke into paying work. Who did you write for? What worked? What didn't?
posted by nebulawindphone to Work & Money (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Just look around for web zines. They all need content, and very few of them pay. I started out doing free stuff for various online places, got something into McSweeneys, and managed to ride that into some paid writing gigs. And into running a non-paying webzine which is always looking for content, if you catch my drift.
posted by COBRA! at 2:49 PM on November 29, 2005

Start a blog while you're at it. You might end up getting a lot of work that way. I'm not a writer, but I've had quite a lot of business success thanks to my (personal) blog.
posted by wackybrit at 2:51 PM on November 29, 2005

I wrote for a local magazine called the Boston Book Review, now defunct. They actually did pay a meager amount, but not the kind of sums that would make it unnecessary for your parents to support you. Having a series of clips from them was very useful when getting jobs at bigger, better-paying places. Your profile says you live in Pittsburgh: here's
a page of litmags in the area. Usually it's hard to convince such places to print your sensitive poems but easier to get them to take reviews and such...
posted by escabeche at 3:11 PM on November 29, 2005

You might want to check into local non-profits or charities in your area that publish a newsletter. Ideally, you'll have to know something about the area they work in to contribute some content, but many NFPs and charities are understaffed and would love fresh blood to write some articles for them. In many cases, newsletter (and to a lesser extent, web writing) form a big part of the communications work of these organizations and many of them have a high subscription/ penetration rate.

I'll second the webzine suggestion as well - almost all my creative writing has been for non-paying webzines.
posted by Cyrie at 3:15 PM on November 29, 2005

Speaking as a writer, if it's not for a nonprofit or other deserving charity (or zine, ok), why write for free? There are tons of reputable and paying markets out there, even if only token payments - as well as tons of unscrupulous "businesses" that would be happy to take your writing for free. Why support that?

Sorry, it's just that there are so many people are eager to get published. Every time one of these fly-by-night operators (often online) gets someone to do something for free or less than market value, it makes it harder for the rest of us out there trying to charge the going (and liveable) rates.

Don't let me discourage you - you have a unique opportunity, make the best of it. Just don't undersell yourself just because you can.
posted by gottabefunky at 5:26 PM on November 29, 2005

This site is recruiting writers.
posted by theora55 at 5:37 PM on November 29, 2005

The online Writers Market allows you to sort markets by payment, type, genre, etc., etc.- for $2.99/month or 29 bucks a year.

For free, there's a non-paying markets forum at AbsoluteWrite that has a variety of leads, for both fiction and non-fiction.
posted by headspace at 8:40 PM on November 29, 2005

If you have a local free daily paper (ie the Metro chain of papers, which are in 87 cities around the world), they are a good possible resource for free work. Likewise, many many newspapers have intern programs, where you get in and work for free in order to get a foot in the door. A friend of mine interned at Metro Toronto 3 years ago and now he's one of their main reporters.
posted by antifuse at 1:26 AM on November 30, 2005

Crikey, theora55, those people are asking for the moon:

write 10 original, focused, and timely 400- 500-word articles over the course of a month

update the topic’s welcome page weekly with timely and topical features, polls, images, contests, and news of interest to readers

invite guest writers to contribute expertise/articles to the topic

initiate and respond in a timely manner to readers’ queries and posts in their Forum

employ web-centric promotion to improve audience metrics: #page views, click through rates on ads, length of time on the page, reader return rate, #search engine queries

ensure content is search engine- and reader- friendly (appropriate keyword density, # incoming links, 20-character transparent titles, links to other articles on the site) and monitor traffic to meet 50,000 page view monthly targets

posted by different at 7:37 AM on November 30, 2005

To really answer the question - as a writer, I agree with gottabefunky. I was talking to a (non-writer) friend about a newspaper piece I'm working on, and happened to say something like, "Oh, I really need the money right now" or some throwaway comment like that. She said, "Oh, they pay you? I thought you'd just do it for the experience."

Experience? How much "experience" do you need before people start paying you? And can I eat that?

Don't sell yourself short. I like the idea of writing some pieces in a blog format - you don't have to provide free content to someone else's site in order to get some good work out there. And the sorts of places that won't pay you are generally not going to give you good-looking clips that you'll be proud to show around.
posted by different at 7:40 AM on November 30, 2005

Try the absolutewrite forums. The site lists paying and nonpaying markets. Also, has market info.
posted by cass at 10:05 AM on November 30, 2005

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