Writing for Free and Getting Nowhere

Q. I'm a recent graduate from The University of Western Ontario with a Media and the Public Interest Honors B.A. and have found myself knee-deep in recession blues. I've taken to writing for just about every publication looking for unpaid writers ... but I can't help feeling this might not be the most effective avenue of getting a full-time writing gig. I'm 23 years old and hope to work overseas in the near future.

So, Mr. Grimm, what I'm asking is, what do you recommend an unemployed, travel-dreaming, twenty-something does for a next step?

Thanks for your time,


A. First, stop writing for free. It seems to have brought you nothing in terms of money or valuable experience. It has only diverted your time and attention from more productive pursuits.

You've got to go after higher-value work. You'll have a lot less of it, of course, if you go just for paid gigs, but that will do more to help you get ahead.

Working overseas? That is another huge leap. Foreign postings have been decreasing for years and the lines to get them are long.

You can either strap yourself in for a long struggle to catch on as a full-time journalist and then maybe as a foreign journalist, or just go overseas and try freelancing -- for pay. I don't say that lightly. It is difficult and success is far from certain. But this is the way some people end up doing foreign reporting, and it might be your best shot at spending some time abroad.

E-mail me your career question and I will get back to you soon.

Coming Thursday: Here's a resolution you can keep in 2010 -- and 10 links to help you keep it.

  • Joe Grimm

    Joe Grimm is a visiting editor in residence at the Michigan State University School of Journalism. He runs the JobsPage Website.


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