That First Writing Job

Wednesday, March 31, 2021


There’s a hierarchy when it comes to landing that first job. Remember your first job as a teenager? Mine was slinging popcorn and sodas at a movie theater and working as a junior employee at a department store in the mall.

It’s never too late to earn money with your writing talent. I’m 44 years old and have never published a novel, but I’ve written a few that I hope to put out in the world one day. In the meantime, I’ve been working for more than 20 years writing marketing copy and newspaper, magazine and online articles. In my day job as a magazine editor, I nurture plenty of writers who may have never written articles before for regional publications, but a lot of them have backgrounds in public relations, marketing, education, etc. I don’t care if they’ve never been paid for their work before—if they can present me with a solid pitch that will fit in our magazine and show me they are not afraid to schedule an interview with the subject, I will give them a chance and a paid assignment. 

When I first started out as a freelance writer I was intimidated. I was leaving the protection of a stable salary where I could get through the day writing press releases for clients and magazine articles for a university alumni magazine that was one of our clients. I read several books on the art of copywriting and freelancing and was afraid my introverted self would never be able to follow through to nab those paid assignments. Fortunately, I proved myself wrong. These days, there are so many more places seeking writers, both seasoned and new. If you’re not subscribed to the WOW! Markets newsletter that goes out once per month, hop on over and subscribe now on our home page. Every month I read it and find at least five places I want to submit, from contests to literary journals to magazines looking for pitches. 

One of the other interesting things I’ve noticed is that over the past few years, I’ve developed relationships with several people who retired from their careers but are still looking for creative fulfillment and supplemental income. I now have a writer who retired from running her own marketing firm but loves interviewing people and writing articles in addition to her volunteer responsibilities. I offered a retired education professor the chance to write his own monthly history column and he’s loving the heck out of it. One other writer had a marketing and public relations agency for many years with his wife, and when they retired, they started up a gorgeous travel blog. He now writes a regional column and uses his contacts in healthcare to write monthly health and wellness articles for our publication catering to residents 55 and older. And I know who to go to for travel article ideas.

Whether you’re 16 or 65, if you want to write and get paid for it, you can do it. There are more and more opportunities to channel your passion for writing into a career you can be proud of if you know where to look.

Let’s have some fun. If you’ve been paid for your writing, what was your first paid gig? If you are new to starting out, what is your dream publication or project? 

Renee Roberson is an award-winning freelance writer and editor who also produces the true crime podcast, Missing in the Carolinas. Learn more at her website,


Sioux Roslawski said...

Renee--My first paid writing "gig" was a memoir about my dad. It appeared in a collection of military stories. It paid a whopping $10, and I was so thrilled, I made an enlarged copy of the check and framed it.

Creativity often runs deep. People do different things at different points in their lives and yet still, there is a river of art that's begging to be expressed... a vein that is desperate to be cut open so it can flow freely.

Renee, you're able to give people that opportunity. You're carving a writing life for yourself as well as for others. You have a podcast. You're a magazine editor. You're a freelance writer. At some point you WILL be the author of a novel, because you don't give up.

And my first job-job? It was at Dairy Queen. When I worked a full shift, I got a meal--a sandwich, fries, a "drink" and a dessert. I'd get a cheeseburger, cheese fries, a malt or shake as my drink, and an ice cream sundae. I also got to eat my "mistakes" (and some mistakes I made on purpose). Those were the days when I could eat stuff like that and remain thin...

Thanks for this post, Renee. It was fun to remember my first writing gig.

Jeanine DeHoney said...

This was a great article Renee that encouraged me to remember how many opportunities there are for us as writers. I also applaud you for all the opportunities you are giving others while working on your own writing career. As for me, the first article I ever got paid for was for a relationship article for a Romance magazine.

Sue Bradford Edwards said...

I loved reading about how the people who are using the enthusiasm to write regular columns! My first sale was a rebus. It was the first one I wrote. I sold it to the first editor who saw it. And I've never managed to sell another rebus or make another sale to that magazine.

Angela Mackintosh said...

Renee, I love this post! "It’s never too late to earn money with your writing talent." - This is SO true. I also admire the work you're doing as an editor nurturing new writers. That's what it's all about! WOW has been the first publication of many freelancers and contest winners. It always warms my heart to hear we were someone's first.

I was a freelance graphic designer for many years before I even thought about writing, so my first paid writing assignment was from a pre-existing client, a sports corporation, over twenty years ago. I'd been doing magazine ads, catalogues, etc and they asked me to create a newsletter for their pro skateboarders. I interviewed team riders, gathered news, events, photos, etc. and designed a magazine style publication, but it was only around six pages. The pay was pretty good--somewhere around 4-5k I think--and I loved the opportunity to suddenly become a journalist. :) My first literary paid publication was short story by a defunct fiction website that I think paid $5. Lol.

Sue, is a rebus a picture/word puzzle? That's so cool. I just remembered my first magazine publication for artwork was Tattoo magazine and they paid me $50 per flash, and I had two published. That was maybe 26 years ago.

Sue Bradford Edwards said...

A rebus can be a puzzle that combines words and pictures.

In children's writing, which seems to need unique terminology for every single thing, a rebus is a story for pre-readers. Certain nouns are replaced with pictures so that the child can help the adult read.

Renee Roberson said...

Sioux--Great, now I'm hungry for some Dairy Queen! I swear I ate my weight in Reese's peanut butter cups, popcorn and Cherry Coke at that first job. I also failed to mention my first paid writing assignment! I believe it was for an article I wrote on the importance of planning meals ahead of time when expecting a baby. I learned this the hard way, and was able to sell that article to a few regional parenting publications at least twice. I think I received $75 for that first article. I wish I had thought to take a picture of that check like you did.

Jeanine--There really are so many opportunities out there if you know where to look and make a habit of submitting on a regular basis. And I love that your first piece was for a relationship magazine!

Sue--Do you remember what your rebus was about? That's a cool idea and I know how hard it can be to break into children's magazines, so I love this. And it's been funny how I keep finding these retired folks who can't stay retired. They're like "Give me work! Please! I'm bored to death!" And it's nice to have writers turn in things early, with little to no edits. I'm building quite the network at this point!

Ang--That was a great price they paid you for that first newsletter. You are one of those special breeds that talented both visually and with words, and it has served you well! There are some of us (me included) that aren't quite so blessed. $50 per flash more than 20 years ago is also nothing to sneeze at.

Sue Bradford Edwards said...

My rebus is written up as a flying contest between three dragons. At the end of the story, you find out it is a kite flying contest when the kids bring in their kites and go home.

Cathy C. Hall said...

When I first started out, I was just enjoying writing. I entered SO many contests...short stories, poems, flash fiction, essays. The first time I actually placed was for an essay about how I coerced my hubs into reading all that (horrible!) stuff I wrote. I won $25 and never looked back!

You are so right, Renee, the opportunities are there. You got to take that first step and put yourself out there!

Unknown said...

Thank you for writing this. At 44, I am finally at a stage in my life where I can attempt to write professionally. I just completed the second rewrite for my first novel which I will begin sending to agents in a few short weeks. Although I have yet to publish, I know in my gut that it's just a matter of time and I will find the correct piece for the correct publication. I feel like opening my computer, rather than cooking dinner...., happened for a reason as this was the first thing I saw.

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