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How I Started Freelance Writing After High School (While Having a 9 to 5 Job)

Updated 01 Nov 2018 – By Ng Shen Lee

(Editor’s note: We asked our freelancer, Shen, to share her personal journey on how she got started on freelancing. That’s right, this article itself is a freelance article that she’ll get paid for. And you can, too! If you want to write for us, email your CV and sample works to

Ahem, without further ado, take it away Shen!)

People always rave about the freedom of full-time freelancing and how they escaped the jaded rat race of corporate success. No more office hierarchy, no more evading bosses, no more traffic jams. That’s right, NO MORE TRAFFIC JAMS!

But there’s a lot more to it than just freedom and being independent. Here, I share with you how I managed to freelance on top of my full-time job. Hopefully, this can be useful to anyone wanting to pursue the same vocation. But first...

I didn’t start freelancing right away

Like most students, I’ve done my fair share of odd part-time jobs here and there. Then after SPM, I felt the need to sandwich some full-time experience before starting college so that I could attain a little more experience, really really confirm that my degree of choice was what I wanted to do, and be able to establish a concrete method of earning income so I wouldn’t be as penniless once I get back to school.

So I started working at the gym. Before you ask, no, I’m not a personal trainer. I’m a membership consultant with monthly targets and compulsory OT, just like a real adult! I do face new people every single day and this perhaps was what made the transition to a full-time freelance writer quite hard for me.


Why I chose writing as my freelance gig

Although work and the commute via public transport took up the majority of my time (on top of training at the gym 4-5 times a week), I chose writing because it’s what I knew best, had confidence in and above all, love to do. Writing has always been in my blood, something that comes quite naturally seeing as how the majority of my childhood was spent with my nose in a book. 

Most importantly, it was something I could still work on even during my studies later on. As I was planning to pursue a bachelor in a science field, I knew that time wouldn’t be on my side. My logic was that if I established enough regular clients during my desk job, the transition to a full-time student wouldn’t mean full-time broke student. 


It’s not easy to find clients, but I found a way

One of my gym members, a student and a dear friend of mine, mentioned she was writing for a local guide and was getting paid RM95 per article. At the time, I was looking for extra modes of income that I could do on top of my day job so I tried my luck and applied. Well, guess what?

I never even received a response. 

As a freshie in the field, it’s completely normal for the rejections to outweigh by a landslide. With zero to none published samples of work, it only makes sense that no one is willing to waste time to even reply to my email. But this drove me on and I continued scouring the web. I utilised freelance platforms like Upwork and Favser; job platforms from the big ones like Jobstreet to the smallest, most obscure ones; and even Facebook groups like Copywriter’s Hub Malaysia or this one. While I did manage to find some stable work via these channels, it took up a lot of time, and for little results.

Eventually, I realized that pitching directly to publications was much more fruitful, and for a fraction of the time. I contacted these sites via their “career” or “contact” section on their site. Sometimes, these websites also have an exclusive section for writers to pitch to them, usually “writer’s guidelines” or “write for us.” And even with no writing samples, there will always be employers willing to take a gamble. My first ever client was a travel magazine who first assigned me a non-paid trial article to get a gist of my tone of writing, and whom I now write for on a regular basis. 


Freelancing can be lonely and lazy

Personally, one huge problem I face, as small an issue as it may seem, is loneliness and discipline. Loneliness because other than the occasional meeting or interviewing someone for an article, my only colleague is my trusty laptop. Coming from an industry where I was constantly meeting new people on a daily basis, this transition wasn’t the easiest. 

Discipline also comes part and parcel with self-employment, as most people will agree. Sure, I can work at 2:00 am on my toilet seat. As long as I get the job done, no one’s going to stop me. But with the power to sleep in, wake up late and with my bed just a few steps away, it does require some self-discipline to resist the call of procrastination. I try to prevent this by working at cafes or co-working spaces instead of at home.

Timing is also another issue. Because there isn’t any concrete work schedule, there are alternating periods between lazing away and frantically chasing deadlines. Just recently, I was assigned a major piece which required a lot of research and was expected to deliver it within less than 24 hours! As it was a well-esteemed publication and I had just gotten accepted, I wasn’t eager to disappoint. That night, I sat in my living room at 9:30 pm and only left the seat at 8:00 am the next day. Exhausted, I slept the afternoon away and resumed my day at about 5:00 pm. Pretty much the exact opposite of what my typical workday used to look like! 


But don’t quit your full-time job just yet!

Sometimes, I do miss the security of a full-time job. Waking up early every morning with the knowledge that I have to be at this place at this exact time. Plus, applying for loans and managing taxes would be so much easier with a stable paycheck. Essentially, it really is a matter of stability vs flexibility and it just so happened that I was more in need of the latter at that current point in time. A couple years from now, probably not, who knows? Then again, the extra family time was a refreshing turnover for me, and I even managed to re-attain my love for the culinary arts!

All in all, if you ask me on how to transition to freelancing fully, I can only offer what I have experienced as an advice, which is to start outside of work hours or on the weekends. And oh, contacting clients directly is so much easier than utilizing a freelancer platform. Once you feel like you have a set list of clients who pay regularly, then you can consider making the shift.

As the late Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam had said: “Love your job, but don’t love your company, because you never know when your company might stop loving you.”

But… at least your company will give you a month’s notice before laying you off.

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