The 10 Personality Traits Freelance Writers Need for Success

Top personality traits of freelance writers. Makealivingwriting.comAfter over 15 years as a freelance writer, and many more years writing for a living as a staffer, I’ve concluded that I’m weird.

Seriously!

There are things other people hate that I strangely seem to like.

I’m kind of addicted to taking on seemingly impossible assignments, for instance.

That got me thinking about what it takes to be a freelance writer, personality-wise.

I asked my audience on this blog’s Facebook page, too, and got an earful.

If you’re wondering if you could make it as a freelance writer, consider whether you’ve got these 10 useful personality traits for successful freelancing:

  1. Self-discipline. Some people will sit down, all by themselves, in their own home, without a boss standing over them, and work all day writing an article to meet a deadline. But they are few. Most people, left to their own devices, will binge-watch all of Game of Thrones, go for walks, fold laundry, visit the post office…anything but write. The rest of these traits you may be able to fake it a ways without, but this one is a must-have.
  2. Love of learning. If you love to learn new, arcane stuff, it’s a big plus. From learning how to use Twitter or how to write a great query to researching odd topics, your love of learning will serve you well. Personally, one of my most lucrative recent projects involved advanced washing machine technology. And honestly, I found it fascinating. Yes, I know I should be embarrassed by that. But — new stuff I didn’t know! Brain…wants…more.
  3. Inner confidence. Your feeling that your writing skill has value shouldn’t depend on an editor’s compliment, or a lucrative assignment. It should come from within, and be unaffected by outside input. I meet too many writers who tell me they can’t charge much now, because they won’t feel confident enough to do that until they get some paid writing where editors give them good feedback. No, no, no. Don’t give the power to make you believe in yourself to anyone else.
  4. Persistence. You gotta be committed to sticking with this, or you’ll have one dry spell, and give up and take a day job.
  5. Curiosity. Burning to know what happens next? What happened behind the scenes? What’s happened that nobody else has figured out yet? This will help you generate loads of story ideas, and drive you to ask prospects all the questions you need answered to create a stellar first draft.
  6. Boldness. Yes, like in Star Trek! Fortune favors the brave in freelance writing. If you’re willing to do things like accost customers in store aisles to ask how they like the shopping experience, pepper top CEOs with uncomfortable questions, or take a flier on writing a query to a big magazine, you’re going to have more work. I get questions every day from writers too shy to speak on the phone to people, much less do interviews in person, about whether they can succeed at freelance writing. I’d say it’s a long shot.
  7. A passion for self-improvement. Freelance writers move up and earn more by striving for continuous improvement in their writing craft. Always asking editors what you could change to create a cleaner first draft in future? Good, because that is the #1 way good writers develop into great writers.
  8. Good listener. The majority of what I do is listen carefully to what clients tell me. Then, I execute on that, and never have to do rewrites.
  9. Openness. Good freelance writers are egoless. They stay open to client input and are willing to work collaboratively with editors to create the writing that best serves the reader. If you are deeply attached to your precious, perfect first draft and don’t want to hear how it could be improved, you’ll have a tough time.
  10. Inner calm. It’s easier to keep it professional and deal with difficult clients when you’ve got this trait in your arsenal. Remember…your client’s immature behavior is not about you.

I usually like to be all upbeat and positive, and always want to encourage writers to get out there and do it. But if you’re an undisciplined, incurious prima donna who’s quick to snap at people, the freelance writing life may not be for you.

The good news is, you can cultivate the traits that make for freelance writing success. My recommendation is to pick one trait a week and focus on it, thinking and journaling about ways you could develop more of that quality.

What traits do you think make for a successful freelance writer? Add your ideas in the comments.

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45 comments on “The 10 Personality Traits Freelance Writers Need for Success
  1. Sunil Bikram Shah says:

    Loved this stuff.
    “If you want to become a writer, you have to write, write and write.” I read this somewhere and I started writing. Of course, becoming a successful freelance writer is not an easy job. Currently, I am fighting with some of the personality traits you mentioned but I am quite confident that I have got your #4 which will bring me other qualities as well and make me a successful freelance writer.

  2. Christopher Jan Benitez says:

    As a freelance writer for years, I agree with every point you mentioned. Personally, the most important personality trait is persistence. A lot of people around me wanted me to take a 9-5 job instead of being a freelancer because it provides a more stable salary and a host of benefits. But I stuck to my guns and became a self-sustaining and financially dependent freelancer. It’s all because I didn’t give up (and I was also a bit stubborn).

  3. Debbie Miller says:

    Tenacity. Self-motivation. Spirituality. Perseverance. Not owning a t.v.

  4. Amy Bachrach says:

    But I did one thing right today: I received an email from someone I used to work with. I left the job but was not happy about the circumstances. She asked where I was working and I almost said “I’m not. I’m starting to freelance.” Instead, I wrote that I’m freelance writing, linked to my portfolio and asked her for any leads.” She wrote back that she’d read one of my pieces: “what a great article! I will most certainly keep you in mind for leads, and good luck with everything – you are a very talented writer!!!” Much better outcome than if I’d run with the first option!

    • Carol Tice says:

      Nice job — and when is a freelance writer “not working”? NEVER in my experience!

      • Sumanto says:

        Yeah the above mentioned qualities are very much required to establish oneself as a writer.Another problem that creeps up from time to time is procastination which I have to come to terms with quite often.I feel a writer can succeed if this problem can be handled firmly.

  5. Amy Bachrach says:

    What I struggle with (she says as if there’s only one thing!) is respecting MY OWN deadlines — taking them as seriously as I take external ones.

  6. Linda H says:

    I’d have to add “trust thyself” to the list, which might be #3 in other words. I have no problem with the self-discipline. I can sit down and work all day completing multiple projects on time and starting others to come back to. The whole list is spot-on.

    Today I got slammed with something that’s going to change my life. And suddenly, I’m committed to freelance work, marketing, completing projects, knowing I’m good and basically the whole list.

    I did #7, #8,. #9 and #10 today when I spoke to a client to finalize her project. At one point I asked about a comment she emailed me and learned that I’d made her mad at one point. After listening, I admitted my mistake, apologized, and she’s all fine and dandy. But it was a lesson learned and held in check.

    Thanks for sharing this Carol. I have to agree with Kat B. too, resilience is essential. Without that, self-confidence and trusting yourself, a freelance writer can become toast quickly.

  7. Melinda says:

    Time management is key, as is being ruthless about respecting deadlines. If you work with the end in mind, you’ll get your work done.

    • Carol Tice says:

      Definitely — I think of this as being in the ‘self-discipline’ department. You learn to get shit done, in the time you’ve got available.

  8. Kat Bautista says:

    Great points! I’d add resilience, though that’s rather related to persistence–one or two setbacks, from tiny mistakes to full-blown failures, can’t make you walk off, and you’ll be making more of those the longer you’re in freelancing (or anywhere, really). Accept that you’ll be screwing up a lot (helps to have a sense of humor), but take responsibility when you do and work towards improving what you need to improve.

    Oh, and a mindset that tells you you can train yourself to develop traits you fall short on.

  9. Ffion says:

    Great list – and good points in the comments,too.
    I’d add two things.
    First, working towards choosing the clients/sector/industry you really want to work with (for me, that’s horses and dogs; renewables, and mining). And second, choosing a daily time structure that works for you and your life choices. For example, I like to work early in the morning, then take off in the afternoon, and return for a few hours in the evening.

    • Carol Tice says:

      Ffion, I think these are more running your business with intent and creating good work habits, than personality traits…but maybe the personality trait is something like ‘a business attitude’ — the lack of that is certainly a HUGE problem with many of the writers I work with.

  10. Wendy Jacobson says:

    Great list and love everyone’s comments. I would add flexible, as in, you have one thing in mind, the client has another, and you are willing/able to be flexible in that situation. Also, flexible as to when you work. If you have school-aged kids like me, it’s great to be able to go to a school assembly on a Tuesday afternoon, or hang out with them on a summer’s day when they don’t have camp. But then realize, the work (if you have it) still needs to get done, so you’ll do it during “off hours” (after they go to bed, a Saturday afternoon, whenever).

  11. Jorden Roper says:

    YES. Love this and totally agree!

    I especially love #6 and the Star Trek reference. 🙂

    I got a tattoo that says “Boldly Go” (yep – I’m a huge Star Trek nerd) on my arm last year after I became a self-employed freelance writer. It reminds me to keep pushing and trying new things – even when those things are scary/intimidating!

  12. Hi, Carol.

    I think that, in order to succeed, we MUST be FOCUSED. We need to know exactly what we want if we try to get it, It sounds obvious, but the vast majority do not think like this.
    Let me give you an example.

    I want to be a Freelance writer with a monthly income of $5000 starting on Novembre 2016.

    or

    I want to be a successful writer and earn lots of money!

    I believe the second one do not know exactly what he/she wants, so he won’t get it.

    We need to be focused, have a plan and discipline to follow it.

    Thanks a lot!

    • Carol Tice says:

      I’m actually not a fan of setting specific income goals, or any other goals we can’t control. Instead, set concrete goals about how much marketing you will DO, or learning about how to write lucrative types or industries, or about getting your website up. The other goals will follow naturally, and you’ll have the win of checking off your activities and knowing you’re taking all the steps you can to move your career in the direction you want.

  13. Marcie says:

    I think patience is crucial. Patience with yourself; patience with clients; patience with the process; and patience with negotiating rates, as Harish stated above.

  14. Ann Walker says:

    Amazingly, although I thought it would be the hardest bit, I can do the self-discipline thing, and I absolutely love researching waaaay out of my comfort zone. You did washing machines Carol, I did burr coffee grinders last week (much less lucratively I suspect!)I even had to Google to find out what they were, never mind how they work – I’m a tea gal too.

    I think it’s the inner confidence thingy that trips me up, being a relative newbie. And knowing how much to charge in the first place. But I’m learning loads and I’m getting there.

    • Carol Tice says:

      Well, knowing what to charge is a fairly easy process:
      1) Charge something.
      2) Track your hours.
      3) Realize you didn’t charge enough.
      4) Raise your rates with the next client.
      5) Lather, rinse, repeat.

      That is the whole way I built my business! I think writers have to stop beating themselves up for overcharging, and just live and learn…and keep raising rates.

  15. I also think the ability to switch gears, as in juggling assignments is important. I think this occurred to me because I’m in the midst of huge home improvement jobs, and I am my own contractor. Like yesterday, I ran out of Pex crimp rings, and didn’t want to go downtown, so I changed from plumber mode to carpentry mode. I think the same thing applies in writing, jumping from one assignment to another, or as I frequently do, jump from a novel to writing about a local business person.

    Love the list!

  16. Chris says:

    This list is right on. I would think a sense of humor would be valuable, to uplift your writing and laugh when you are offered 10 bucks for a 5 month weekly web update job. 😉

  17. I think it helps to know when to say ”No’ and to check out any new clients before you start an assignment. Be brave in writing about new topics but be careful not to burn yourself out by taking on too much work.

  18. Dawn Engler says:

    Great list! Another good reason I don’t watch TV. Nothing to binge. Except ice cream, oh and Good & Plenty, and cat cuddles. Seriously, #4 is my “on the fence” point right now.
    Keep at it! Persistence!

    • Carol Tice says:

      I had several years when I was ramping this blog when I never watched a show, and it’s still a pretty small part of our lives. If I watch more than about 3 hours of TV in a week, it’s a big event. But when your husband’s DEGREE is in television…you end up with TV in your life. 😉

  19. John Soares says:

    I think self-discipline is the foundation of success as a freelance writer. Without that, it’s very difficult to succeed.

    • Carol Tice says:

      I think that’s the make-or-break — if you can sit yourself down and make yourself do it, without a boss standing over you, you can do this. If you can’t, it’s going to be a real struggle.

      • Personally, I’ve never had much trouble making myself sit down and do something I’m already committed to–my biggest struggle is committing to the right things (difficulty trusting myself to make the right decisions, quality #3, may be an issue there), which are also usually the hardest, scariest things. I’m sure there are others of you who find it easy to pat yourself on the back for “self-discipline” over keeping up a regular personal blog (which no one is reading) or sticking with computer solitaire until you’re finally dealt a winning hand–while staying in denial that the things we’re proud of finishing are taking up time we should be using for things that would make a real difference.

        • Amy Bachrach says:

          I can relate to this. When I’m clear about my day’s work, discipline is no problem. But that state, knowing what I have to do today, is a bit elusive at this point. I’m still figuring out my first few steps and should I really be just getting a job. But I’m spending time every day taking steps toward finding freelance work and that feels good.

  20. harish desai says:

    I feel that a good freelance writer should also be a good negotiator. Only someone who is a good negotiator will have work which pays good rates. I find that this trait is lacking in me and therefore, even after spending seven long years with this craft of content writing, I am still saddled with low paying assignments.

    • Carol Tice says:

      Harish, some writers end up in situations that call for a lot of negotiating — I’m thinking copywriting — and others don’t. Most magazines pay what they pay.

      If you’re still writing for low pay after 7 years, it’s probably a question of how you’re marketing and what kind of clients you’re targeting. Maybe a trait like ‘discernment’ would be good to add — the wisdom to understand when you’re wasting your time, and when you’ve found a client who’s the right type, will pay pro rates, and will refer/give testimonials/give you a raise. Because if your clients aren’t that type, you should be moving on ASAP.

      • Troy Lambert says:

        Agreed. Getting better clients with higher pay is hard work, but it is also about marketing and vetting those clients, especially as your talents and abilities improve.

  21. Chanoa Tarle says:

    These points are all so true! Please continue to share such great content.

  22. Sheha Sidek says:

    OMG, yes. I have no self-discipline.

    I binged watched Teen Wolf while working on writing a report for my client, recently. I finished on time and they were happy, but I felt really bad.

    Otherwise, I will try to “shock” my brain with coffee so that I can focus and ended up being over-stimulated, then blitzing through my writing and getting burned out within 2 hours. :/