Notes From a Self-Professed Writing Mercenary By Paul Armentano

For the better part of the past four years, I’ve worked as a hired gun. In other words, I’ve financed my living primarily as a freelance commercial writer.

While it may not enjoy as glamorous a reputation as fiction writing or poetry, freelance commercial writing is a practical option for anyone wishing to pay his or her bills via the written word. For those interested in exploring a similar path, here is a look at how I got started.

All my life I’ve been engrossed by the written word, almost married to it. After graduating college, I moved to Washington, DC and worked as a research assistant for a nationally syndicated columnist. His lifestyle, particularly his ability to maintain an almost constant travel schedule while retaining a full-time job, intrigued me. My apprenticeship with him solidified my earlier dreams to someday pursue freelancing as a career.

Shortly thereafter I accepted a job as publications director for a small DC nonprofit. It was here where I experienced my first taste of writing full-time. It was delicious.

It was also hectic, sometimes exceedingly so. From press releases, to newsletters, to research reports, to fundraising letters, and virtually everything in between, my writing skills were constantly being put to the test. In order to keep up with my job’s rigorous and constantly changing demands, I frequently had to adjust my writing styles and develop new skills, such as PR skills, grant writing, and composing effective online content.

In hindsight, it was just the tour of duty I needed to learn and hone the diverse skills necessary to be a successful freelance commercial writer.

During this time, I also began submitting occasional articles to various magazines. Initially, many of these features were expanded versions of op/eds or press releases I’d originally written on the job, but, within a year, I began penning articles separate from the goings-on at work. By 1999, I had amassed nearly 100 published clips, as well as numerous professional contacts from both the publishing and non-profit worlds.

That May I experienced my first “two-fer;” I sold two articles in one day. The exhilaration I felt that afternoon inspired me to give notice at work and prepare for the uncertainties ahead. Fortunately, those “uncertainties” didn’t last long. Despite my initial intentions to pursue magazine writing, I was quickly approached by a contact from my former job requesting me to compose online content for his organization’s web site. That assignment quickly blossomed into others, such as conducting online research, writing white papers, and eventually ghostwriting a book. In mere months, my freelance commercial career was officially off and running!

Since then, I’ve worked freelance jobs as a public relations specialist, copywriter, newsletter editor, researcher, and grant writer, among other activities – often relying on the very skills I learned while working in the trenches as a publications director. Today, however, I perform these duties for a variety of clients, from the small Mom and Pop store next-door up to and including federal branches of government. Most importantly, I’m virtually always paid generously for my writing services.

(For an overview of the going rates for freelance commercial writers, check out Writer’s Market.) And while I still pen the occasional magazine and newspaper article, it’s my tour of duties as a writing mercenary that have enabled me to achieve freelance success.

Paul Armentano has worked as commercial freelance writer for numerous clients, including Health Canada, Creative Xpressions, and District Creative Media. His writing has also appeared in numerous publications, including Penthouse Magazine, The Washington Post, Creative Screenwriting, and Congressional Quarterly. He may be contacted via e-mail at: