4 Top Obstacles Young Writers Face — and How to Beat Them

4 Top Obstacles Young Writers Face — and How to Beat Them. Makealivingwriting.com

When you’re trying to build your freelance business in a sea of young writers and seasoned veterans, there’s a good chance it feels like you’re floundering. I know I did.

When I first started writing, I spent a ton of time worrying, procrastinating, and making excuses for why I couldn’t make a living doing what I loved. I wanted to break free from the corporate world and find success on my own terms.

For the first 6 months, I let my fear of being under-qualified hold me back. As one of those young writers, I thought it might take me years to earn well as a freelancer. But I desperately wanted to find a way to speed up success.

I took courses, read freelance blogs like this one, and tried to learn everything I could about being a successful writer.

The only problem? I didn’t know how to get out of my own head and actually do the work.

Today, I make six figures, have a full client list, and teach other young writers how to overcome the same roadblocks I struggled with. As I’ve coached students in my Earn Big as a Young Writer course, I realized that my obstacles were very common.

Here are the top four obstacles young writers face (including me), and how to overcome them.

1. You feel your age is a disadvantage

It’s easy for young writers to feel like age and lack of experience are insurmountable challenges. Some writers have been at it for years (looking at you, Carol Tice) and make the whole writing thing look so easy. Yet, when you compare yourself to someone who has already put in the time and effort to make their career successful, you’ll inevitably fall short.

One day, you’ll be a seasoned writer. But right now, your youth is actually an advantage. If you want to succeed as a young writer, you have to treat it like one.

Want to know how being young is an advantage? Well, Business Insider released an article last year titled “Top 100 Brands for Millennials,” which shows that brands (and publications) are targeting our generation. This is because, as of 2015, there were 75 million millennials who wield $170 billion per year in purchasing power. And those numbers are only rising.

The fix: Use what you know. You are a young writer, so use that to help brands that want to reach young customers. Use your knowledge of trends, social media, and content to help companies understand what Millennials want to read.

2. You don’t have writing samples

Hopefully, I’ve convinced you that being young can be turned into a selling point. The proof is in the numbers. But how then, with no clips to show, do you get high-paying writing gigs?

This is one of the questions I hear nearly every day. Young writers fear that, without physical (or digital) proof of their ability to write well, they’re destined to write for content mills while living in their parent’s basement. I’ve been there and I get it, but here’s the truth: everyone starts somewhere. And not having a full portfolio is not always a deal breaker.

If you don’t have writing samples, you can get some. A few simple ways to do that:

  • Write for a friend or family members business
  • Write your own blog
  • Write a sample for a brand you want to work with
  • Pitch a personal essay to a publication like Bustle (this might not be the kind of writing you want to do but my first piece of writing was published on xoJane and that led to me getting a huge retainer client 3 months later)
  • Submit a guest post on a friend’s blog

It turns out, brands and publications alike are often more interested in the fact that you understand their mission and target audience than they are in reviewing your portfolio. Yes, there’s always a chance you’ll get turned down for not having any clips. That’s OK.

Move on to the next prospect and keep going. You won’t ever have samples to show if you don’t at least try to get work!

The fix: Pitch without samples. If you don’t want to work for free or low rates just to get samples, pitch without them. Share your story ideas and show how your age makes you a perfect candidate to create content young people want to read.

3. You lack the confidence to charge pro rates

In a survey of young writers, Carol Tice found that over 50 percent named lack of confidence as a top challenge. It’s important for young writers to understand the value they bring to the table. This seems to be a “catch-22” for many young writers.

You think you’ll gain confidence as you gain experience. But when you charge low rates, you’re actually undermining your confidence — and your professionalism.

The fix: Fake it ‘til you make it. To build confidence, treat your writing as a business that needs to turn a profit. Show clients, through your professional rates, that you’re serious about what you do and sure of the value you provide.

4. You don’t get started

One writer I know has reached out to me every few weeks for almost a year. Her message is always the same, “Ok, I’m ready to do this. Finally. I’m going to start pitching!”

Still, she never follows through. Her excuses range from being too scared to being too busy. I see this all the time with young writers — and I used to do the same thing.

The fix: Just do it. Get writing samples. Pitch with or without them. Set professional rates. Pretend you’re confident until you actually are. Even if you only take one small action a day, do something.

Young writers: Face fear and take action

Overcoming these obstacles may seem scary. And when you overcome one, another will pop up in its place.

But even the most experienced writers have fears they have to face. It’s a matter of deciding whether you’re going to throw in the towel or get out of your own way.

I got out of my head and did the work, so I can confidently recommend the latter. There are plenty of opportunities for young writers to earn big money and do work that they love. If you want it, you have to get started.

What are your biggest obstacles to building a good-paying freelance writing business? Leave a comment and tell us about it.

Christina Vanvuren is an Atlanta-based health and wellness writer. Find her at Christina Vanvuren or check out her course, Earn Big as a Young Freelance Writer.

Earn Big as a Young Writer A course for young writers who want to make REAL MONEY! LEARN MORE

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40 comments on “4 Top Obstacles Young Writers Face — and How to Beat Them
  1. Sarah says:

    Hi, Carol. We spoke briefly on Twitter (I’m SEEaton). You requested details on how I landed my first writing gig. Previously, I voiced the anxiety I was having in submitting articles. You linked me to an article that helped adjust my mindset for the better. Following that interaction with you on Twitter, I submitted several articles for various magazines and websites, and spoke about my commitment to freelance writing on Facebook. One of my former college classmates saw my posts and messaged me, asking me if I was looking for work. I had no idea she worked in the field. I jumped at the opportunity and she loved my work. Now I provide seven articles a week for a fairly well-known website and Facebook page. The pay is decent—more than I’ve earned at any other job, and it came at a critical time in my and my husband’s lives. But I’ve only just begun. This gig is a start to my career as a freelancer and it will open many more doors for me. I am thankful for the supportive role you played in this process!

    • Carol Tice says:

      Wow, glad I could help, Sarah! I’d love to hear what you think ‘decent’ pay is — my experience in Freelance Writers Den is that new writers often have a very skewed idea of appropriate professional rates.

      Meanwhile — thrilled you found this great start!

      • Sarah says:

        $30 an article, for 500 word articles. This may seem low to some, but it’s a huge improvement compared to other jobs I’ve had. I’ve been invited to play different roles in other aspects of the website, too, for more money, so I’m all the more excited. I’m happy to accept the payment as is right now, but as I gain more experience and credibility, I’ll feel more comfortable asking for more money from establishments I contribute to in the future. In the meantime I will still submit pitches to other sites and magazines. …Keepin’ at it!

  2. Amar kumar says:

    Hey Carol,

    You have scattered very valuable tips regarding this topic. The craft of writing offers countless potential problems such as – The story is too long, the story’s too short, revising presents a huge hurdle or writer’s block is rearing its ugly head.

    As a writer, realizing you’ve only got a vague idea of where you’re going or wondering if you’re going to reach your destination any time soon is never pleasant. Eventually, thanks for revealing a light on this topic.

    With best regards,

    Amar kumar
    Amar kumar recently posted…17 Things to Know About Visual Content MarketingMy Profile

  3. I have to admit that I’m not a good writer. Sometimes, I get stuck and don’t know what I should write down. And there are times that I have so many things in my head that I don’t know how to write logically. Thank you so much for these advices.
    Kristi Cathey recently posted…Can You Eat Mushrooms While Pregnant?My Profile

  4. Ronan says:

    The truth of the matter is that making a living freelance writing (as opposed to just making ends meet) is extremely difficult and most likely reserved for people who got lucky through networking with the right people/companies. I reckon less than 10% of writers are able to save money on their income, and that applies particularly to young writers such as myself.

    Some of us live in countries where businesses have zero interest in freelance writers; this makes it almost impossible to earn anything above $2000 per month because networking in the intimate face to face setting required to earn the big clients is just not possible. And I’m from a native English country, btw.

    I don’t mean to come across as cynical; it’s just that the truth is staring me in the face. After a year doing this, at age 26, I still rarely – if ever – earn above $2k in a month, and I’m no less competent than the 10% of writers who earn stupid money.

    Earning 2k would be considered as a great month for me, which indicates the state of the freelance world right now. So many people can just do the work I do for less. Fair enough, their quality is lower, but businesses by and large don’t give a hoot; they just want to save money.

    This doesn’t even apply to only businesses on Upwork; I once spent an entire day emailing marketing firms with large revenues, and when I quoted $0.13 per word for a blog post, they said it was way too expensive.

    There is always a hidden secret as to why writers earn $5k per month, and it’s usually the people they know, who can set them up with high-paying clients, which negates the need to work for content mills or spend hours trawling the net trying to find one business who’ll hire them.

    What the writers earning the big bucks fail to realize is that there are only so many hours one can spend staring at a computer screen looking for high-paying clients before slamming their laptop shut in frustration.

    • Gabriel says:

      I love everything you have written so true Ronan.

    • Carol Tice says:

      That may be YOUR truth, Ronan, but I mentor writers every day who’re earning far more than that, based all over the world. This is a global business, and what’s happening in your town doesn’t matter, if you know how to do proactive marketing.

      It’s NOT about ‘getting lucky’ — it’s about knowing how to market your business. Hope you can take Christina’s course, as she has a system that’s pretty terrific and unique. 😉

      • Ronan says:

        “That may be YOUR truth, Ronan, but I mentor writers every day who’re earning far more than that, based all over the world.”

        And that may just be YOUR experience in running YOUR bootcamp. I speak with writers every day who earn far less than $2k per month, and struggle to get clients. It is far more common to earn under 2k than above it, and I believe the difference is not due to a lack of trying or looking in the wrong places.

        I actually really like your site, and there are some great tips on here for sure, but I still firmly believe ‘who you know’ in the real world, ie outside of your computer – makes the most difference.

        Proactive marketing as I interpret it – is a blanket term used to describe such activities as making/updating a writer’s website, reaching out to clients with a decent LI profile, using social media, and then cold emailing businesses.

        My point is that I’ve done all of this stuff, and still only found a few clients who I manage to scrape by with. I’m not dismissing the advice of proactively marketing my writing services; I’m just saying it doesn’t work for everyone, regardless of how much effort they put into it.

        There are only so many hours in the day to research companies, send random unsolicited emails or PMs to marketing managers and other such people, search Twitter hashtags, and update a writer’s website.

        Eight hours could easily pass from the above activities alone, and most of the time, it leads to the square root of zero no clients. This gets demoralizing pretty fast.

        I’d be interested to see how a few writers who earn $5k or $10k per month would fare when starting from complete scratch with zero contacts. My guess is not that well.

        • why don’t you just raise your rates with the clients you already have? it’s only fair to do so if you’ve been working with them for a while.

        • Carol Tice says:

          Ronan, there’s a saying that you are who you hang out with. When you hang around UpWork or Craigslist or content mill chat boards, all you hear is poverty, poverty, poverty.

          When you know how to do proactive marketing effectively, it doesn’t take forever, and it gets results. That’s why over 1,000 Den members hang out with me, to learn how to do this and to earn a real living as a writer! Of course, most writers don’t want to take the effort required to MAKE those connections, build those networks, and do the reachouts that lead to better income. And that’s why content mills are still around — they thrive by feeding off and profiting from the negativity and insecurity of writers.

        • Chris Delker says:

          Here’s one.

          About four years ago I started from “…complete scratch with zero contacts.” And now I’m comfortably in the earnings range you specified, and have been for a couple of years.

          I’ll admit I went through some periods of skepticism, too. But though consistent, unrelenting effort (even through bouts of skepticism) does not assure success, it is a necessary ingredient for success.

          Success – in the terms you described – IS achievable. At least that’s been my experience.

          And I’m probably the most networking-averse guy you’ll ever encounter. Networking has played no role in my marketing efforts.

    • Ronan, I’ve found that mindset is the biggest obstacle to earning more. When you think you’ll never achieve it, you probably won’t. Try adding one word to your sentence about your earnings: yet. “I still rarely earn above $2k in a month YET.” That subtle shift in mindset helps you approach your writing career with a more positive outlook. A more positive outlook can give you the impetus to seek our companies that will pay better rates. Have you read this post on Carol’s blog: http://www.makealivingwriting.com/get-international-freelance-clients/ It gives some good ideas for thinking internationally with oyur client base.
      Jennifer Roland recently posted…5 Easy Hacks to Write FasterMy Profile

  5. Gabriel says:

    I am not getting clients to write for on Facebook and twitter,please how can I do it,so I can be getting clients? I want to be earning as a writer.

  6. XoJane is no longer publishing articles, just so you know. They shut up shop Dec 30 2016

  7. Hey,

    The first we writers need to build is “Confidence”. We must have confidence in our words and the value we are going to provide. If we feel, we are not worthy of $$$ our clients is not going to give you $$$. Like you said, Fake it until you make. Just believe your gut feelings and get started to pitch, network, and write.

    I think because of content mills and freelancing sites like Elance people are outsourcing at lower price. There are people are ruining it, they are working of few cents and that’s why businesses think they are availability of quality writers (at cheap price).

    What you have to say about this Carol?

    • Carol Tice says:

      I think SOME people are outsourcing at lower prices — and that writers who know they offer value to the market are out pitching better clients and earning a HECK of a lot more. Hope you DO take Christina’s course — it will teach you another way to pitch besides email that’s super-effective in getting gigs with great youth brands. 😉

  8. Ha! Everyone of these things apply to older writers. As a 50+ writer, I feel that younger, more energetic writers beat me out of jobs. But, I just persevere. Thanks for sharing, Christina. Great insight for all writers.
    Carol J. Alexander recently posted…Five Ways to Write with Kids at HomeMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      And the younger writers think ‘seasoned’ writers have all the good jobs locked down. Everybody wants what they haven’t got — but the fact is, the marketplace has a need for all types and ages of writers. 😉

  9. Haneef says:

    I am just two months shy of 20 so this DEFINITELY speaks to me lol
    I’m into the beauty and fashion industry and have a blog of my own surrounding those niches. I’m customizing my blog now that I’ve started self hosting on WordPress. Ive gotten some projects here and there and I currently write for a really popular women’s site. Im very grateful for the money I earn from that. Certainly not enough to live off of completely but it helps. My biggest fear for myself involves taking the plunge to cold pitch and send LOIs to various businesses in the fashion and beauty industries to see if they’re interested in someone to amp up their pre existing blog and write web copy or email marketing for their brand. I just have doubts about whether this niche would make lucrative business for me or not. I’d assume so since these niches are huge among social media and these companies rely on lots of social media marketing and influencing anyway. Surely they’d benefit from having a strong blog for their website too right?
    The way I see it right now is failure is just not an option: I have no choice but to make a living working from home since I’m also disabled, and making a decent living to help support my family since my parents are disabled as well. Can’t keep relyin on their income alone anymore. Anyone that receives disability benefits knows for a fact that you’d be in poverty if you relied on those funds alone. I will write more in the Den forums, I’m looking into a few courses, and since my moms having surgery soon I’ve no choice but to finally buckle down, veer away from most of these job boards, and start contacting these businesses. I really hope and pray I gain enough clients that will pay what I demand and will keep a long term relationship.
    Heres my ultimate plan leading up to my ultimate goal: earn a decent living from freelancing to take care of life’s needs, start earning income from my blog through various ways (ads, affiliates, sponsorships, many possibilities), and build up the blogs income to the point where I no longer “need” to freelance and can focus on my own brand 100%.
    This comment is long lol but that’s basically the outline of what I want for myself. I believe I’ll by this course since the current cost is the absolute best I’ve seen for my budget and it looks like it has some very valuable information. Look forward to what it has in store!

  10. Debbie Otua says:

    Thank you for writing this. I keep telling myself I’ll just do it but I still hold back.

    I know I’ll be able to use my age to my advantage.

    Thank you for these posts, they’re really heartwarming and encouraging.

  11. Maria Veres says:

    Great tips, Christina! I’m not a young writer anymore–I’m getting back into freelancing after a very long break. But a lot of what you’ve said applies to new writers of any age. I especially liked your encouragement to “just start.” Daily baby steps have carried me a long way.

  12. Gabriel says:

    I don’t have the money to create good website,though I have a Facebook page for my poem.

  13. Tamatha says:

    So true!

    Or, as a sign outside a local car repair place says: “The best way to get ahead is to get started.”

    (Strange thing for a sign on a car repair shop? Local regulations require shops that have those portable sign things to always have the sign active, or they lose their permit to keep the sign. As a result, the local businesses put pithy sayings on their signs whenever the signs are not actually in use.)

    Cheers.

  14. Yanni says:

    Dear Carol,

    Thank you very much for sharing the wonderful tips and encouragement! You are full of great ideas for blog posts and online courses. I am impressed by the customized photos (and the content of course) you use for your blog. Did you make the photos yourself? Do you mind sharing some insights? Thank you, again.

    Best regards

    Yanni