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Cheryl writes: "I am a substitute teacher and a parent counselor. I have always loved writing and have been told I am very good. I have a real passion for writing and would love to write for a magazine like Essence or Ebony. I have a Bachelors degree in Psychology and I am in the process of writing my thesis for my Masters degree in Psychology. I have written articles, but it was years ago and I don't have any copies of the articles to submit. My question is, should I start with freelance article writing, taking a writing course or what? I would love to establish an advice column for teenagers and parents. Where should I start? Thank you in advance for your advice."

Some thoughts right off the top: If you have targeted the publications you want to write for, you are ahead of the game. What you need to do is to read those publications, not as a reader, but as a writer attempting to figure out what the editor runs. What type of material does the editor buy, why, how extensive is the research, is it "hard news" or "feature writing," what are the titles of the articles in the magazine? Ask those sort of questions with several back issues of every magazine you wish to write for. And make sure you read the writer's guidelines. If you can't find their webpage, then write the editor and tell him or her you want to submit freelance articles and to please send guidelines. Most of them will do it.

Columns usually develop out of a few years of clips and expertise the writer cultivates. It's a very good goal to have but be patient with it and go step by step. First, publish in magazines, newsletters, and newspapers. Go ahead and try your hand at freelance writing. There are tricks to it, there are things you need to do. Learn, for one thing, how to query editors on story ideas. Learn how to format manuscripts so they are presentable to an editor. Learn how to use market books to find new writing markets that might be interested in your ideas.

I would take a writing course if you run into walls and the whole process overwhelms you. That's the time to take a writing course, a seminar, buy a good book on writing, join a critique class, and so forth. Getting good feedback from fellow writers who have no or little interest in your field of interest can be very helpful. Look in your local area for writing groups to join.

It's very difficult to make a living by freelance writing. It takes years to get to that point. But, you can make income doing it, you can further your goals as an expert, as a column writer, as someone who lectures on the area of interest. It's a very smart career move to freelance write!

Give yourself a time-frame so you can try and write and publish in the markets of your choosing. Then, after several years, start thinking of the column idea and, following that, syndication. The key to all of this Cheryl is the ability to put your ideas and writing in front of the right editor who will run with it. And that can be a difficult task, especially if you have little experience.

Prepare for rejection because that is par for the course. It's a very competitive environment and the editor is looking at a lot of material. So make sure everything looks good, is written well and you have put your writing in front of the right person.

If you are at Barnes and Noble or the local library I would look for a couple of books. One of them is Writing Freelance by Christine Adamec. The other is the ASJA Guide to Freelance Writing. The first one is a very good one for the beginning writer because it tells how to set up a business, how to approach editors, etc. The second one is good for more experienced writers.

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