Top 10 Ways to Write Without Pay and Still Respect Yourself in the Morning

by Christie Halmick

The next time a non-paying writing opportunity slithers by offering fame, exposure, and good karma stop and answer this question: Is there something better I could do with my time and writing talent than give them away to a stranger? I think so.

Here are 10 respectable ways to channel your non-paid writing time into fame, exposure, good karma, and eventually, money.

Number 1: Write a Big Fat Resume (BFR)
List all the writing you’ve ever done. Include the clip’s title, subject, client, where/when it was published, and what writing skills you used. List computer skills, education, jobs, and hobbies. The BFR is for your eyes only. Please, don’t attach this to a job application. Update regularly.

Number 2: Write the Samples You Need
Examine your BFR. Is it sparse? Rewrite the brochure your insurance company sent. Don’t feel squeamish about adding “fake” projects to your portfolio. It’s your writing, your talent, and it represents what you can do. Just work to replace those “fake” samples with bona fide ones ASAP. Find a nonprofit that supports one of your favorite causes, look here: or and donate your writing talent. You won’t get cash, just karma, and a writing sample. If nonprofit, pro bono work is a little bit to “free” for you, consider helping a relative or friend, instead. Give their business a witty new ad. They might not be able to pay you, but you could trade services.

Number 3: Write and Build Your Professional Website
Who better to write this than you? Find a freelancer’s site you admire and get inspired (but don’t be a copy cat). Check out Kristen King’s site for a great example. Find a web designer, trade services to get your site up.

Number 4: Write an Application Template
Don’t start from scratch each time you send out a query or job application. Create an application template (save as a draft email and in word processing format). If you are having trouble figuring out what to put in your template, look back at your last few submissions. What information (skills, contact info) did you repeat each time? Create multiple templates to highlight separate skills, if needed.

Number 5: Write the Perfect Pitch
Read “The Renegade Writer’s Query Letters That Rock: The Freelance Writer’s Guide to Selling More Work Faster” by Diana Burrell and Linda Formichelli. Use what you’ve learned to make the application template you created shine. To increase your success rate, tailor each submission to the specific job opportunity. If the job ad asks for experience training baboons to write SEO, look back at your BFR, if you need a reminder of your stint at the zoo.

Number 6: Write and Send More Submissions
Always apply to paying gigs first. FWJ lists paying writing jobs five+ days a week. You can search on your own at: 23 Places to Find Freelance Writing Jobs and Freelance Blogging Jobs or via FreelanceSwitch. Use the querying skills you learned in Number 5 and templates you created in Number 4 to speed up your application process. The more applications you send, the better your chances of landing a paying project.

Number 7: Write Your Own Blog
Create your own exposure and bylines while build an awesome blogging portfolio. Pick a topic that you love, or a niche you want to break into, and get started. You might even get famous or make a living from your blog, like professional blogger Darren Rowse. Go to his site for advice on starting a blog.

Number 8: Write for Your Favorite Blogs
Contact your favorite blogger, introduce yourself, link to your blog, and pitch a guest post. Watch for opportunities like this contest to get involved and get your name (or number, I’m #7, by the way) out into cyberspace. Use Google’s blog search to find blogs that speak your language.

Number 9: Write for Fame and Fortune
Flash fiction, poetry, novels, blogs, journalism; whatever your writing passion, there are contests and grants (many with no entry fees) for all types of writers. C. Hope Clark’s blog and her website, offer the latest scoops on these opportunities. Just think how the words “Award Winning Writer” will inspire prospective clients to open their wallets.

Number 10: Write for Free Publicity
Did you expand your services or win an award (see Number 9)? Draft a press release about your newsworthy accomplishment and send it to your local media. You might be surprised by the free publicity you can get. Logo designer Jeff Fisher explains how he uses press releases for promotion. His advice applies to writers as well.


  1. #7 says

    A hat-tip to Jodee for her “I’m a Professional … So Pay Me Already” post which inspired me to write this post.

  2. Misty says

    I like this post… good ideas! I’ve been interested in trying to do some volunteer writing for a nonprofit, but it seems like they’re looking for experienced copywriters! Maybe I’m looking at the wrong nonprofits…

  3. #9 says

    Great post #7! To add to number 3 on your list…invest in the URL of your name (or something that’s close). Don’t do the thing. Even if it’s worked for people, it’s not professional and makes it seem more like a hobby…like a yahoo geocite. URLs are so inexpensive now, so it’s not like you have to pay an arm-and-a-leg for one. Kristen’s site is an excellent example.

    I’d also add…make a media kit. Even if you’re not at a point in your career when you need one, start the template for one anyway.

    Great stuff #7! :) And you are one class act for acknowledging your inspiration in Jodee’s post.

  4. #7 says

    @Loraine A: Hi, it’s me #7 (not Jodee, even though she did inspire the post and do the work of actually posting it to the site.) You’re right, it’s great to have alternatives to working for someone else for free. If I’m working for free I want it to be all about me, me, me (or someone or something I love). What about you?

    @Jenny B & Connie: Thanks for the good feedback.

    @Morgan: Way to go on your guest post over at You’re right, writing IS magical and that magic is what keeps me coming back to writing over and over again, no matter what else is going on in my life.

    @Misty: I’ve had some good, some bad, and some absolutely fabulous pro bono nonprofit gigs. The absolutely fabulous nonprofits make up for the bad! What made them so great? The people and their ability to show appreciation. I can’t pay my bills with appreciation, but a simple thank you goes a long way for my ego. I’ll be happy to point you directly to a great nonprofit, with a director that knows how to appreciate the non-hired hands.

  5. #7 says

    @#9: You’re so right about setting up your website with a professional domain name. The media kit idea is genius, why didn’t I think of that? One online media kit I’d like to emulate is Christina Katz’s for her book Writer Mama: Nothing like making life easy for all our media cohorts.

  6. #7 says

    @theleftovers: I think writing is always worth something. Even if you don’t get paid to do it. Even if it doesn’t make the NY Times bestseller list. Even if no one else reads it. If its only benefit is to help you clear your head, then writing has done its job. If it pays your car payment or gets published in a magazine, then so much the better. Figuring out what you want your writing to be worth (I’d like mine to be worth the bestseller list) is hard part, don’t you think?

  7. says

    Hey #7,

    I’d be very interested in learning about which non-profits are the easiest to work with and donate your time for – I have had the same problem Misty has with trying to find one willing to even write me back, and when they do they all want you to jump through about 20 hoops just to work for free lol.

    That would be an excellent post too!

  8. #7 says

    @Connie: For me, writing for nonprofits has been all about finding a cause I like and good people to work with. It’s been trial and error. (Just like finding good freelance gig.) There do seem to be a lot of hoops to jump through with nonprofits, but the best nonprofits make the hoop routine less strenuous.

  9. says

    This is a great post, Jodee, and I appreciate the link to my site. :) Really, having a website when you’re a writer is CRUCIAL. Thanks for the excellent reminder. :)


  10. Jodee says

    Hey Kristen,

    (Jodee waving) This great post belongs to one of our FWJ Idol contestants, who is known as Candidate #7.

  11. #7 says

    @KK: Thanks for popping by to read the post and thanks for showing by example how to create a professional website (and blog, too!).

  12. Misty says

    Thanks #7. Yes, I would love a little direction. I’ve always heard writing for nonprofits is a great way to break into copywriting, but with all the hoop jumping Connie mentioned, it gets frustrating. Hoop jumping AND no pay??? Wow, sign me up! 😀

  13. #7 says

    @Misty: I’ll have to get back to you on the nonprofit ideas (once this contest is over) … I have to keep my identity secret until then.

    @Kyle: Glad you like the article. Yes, there are lots of actionable items on the list and Contestant #9 added another to the list: make a press/media kit.


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