Have you ever wondered if you should just give up on freelance writing?
There are people who should. After nearly a decade mentoring thousands of writers inside Freelance Writers Den and elsewhere, I’ve come to the conclusion that there are a few specific types of people who aren’t cut out for this.
If you’re one of these types, freelance writing is not going to work out for you. Ever. Unless you change the type of person you are — which may be tough.
Here’s what I mean…
Yes, I realize saying this is not going to make me popular with every aspiring writer on the planet.
Let me clarify: I’m talking about people who hope to earn a full-time living from freelance writing, and pay all their bills.
If you’re working on a novel, or just like to write the occasional article for the local paper, this post is not about you. Write on!
Regular readers know I like to be encouraging and upbeat. But I also don’t believe in spreading false hope.
If you’re dreaming of making ‘freelance writer’ your job title, you should know there are certain types of people who predictably do not become successful freelance writers. I’ve seen it over and over AND over again.
And no, it’s not because you’re not a ‘good enough’ writer. Mediocrity is rampant in this industry!
Here are the three types of people who fail at freelance writing:
1. You lack self-discipline
Are you one of those people who, when left home alone, binge-watches Game of Thrones until your eyeballs hurt, declutters closets all day, or methodically empties the refrigerator — into your mouth?
That’s a bad sign.
See, in freelancing, it’s up to you to sit yourself down and make your freelance business happen. Nobody is standing there with a whip, or threatening to fire you.
If you do nothing, you earn nothing. Soon, you’re broke and back to the day job. The end.
Successful freelance writers have a strong, internal need to achieve. They’re hungry and driven.
Nobody has to tell them to get going on writing that blog post or sending that query. They don’t lounge around watching funny videos they saw on Facebook all day.
Motivated writers make to-do lists — and then do what’s on them. They find ways to create accountability, prioritize what will help them get the best-paying clients the fastest, and then execute on it.
I wish I had a dime for every email I’ve gotten like this:
I have huge dreams of being a freelance writer, but I really hate marketing. I was wondering if you could tell me some easy way to find clients that pay really well, or to get a steady position.
If I just had clients, I know I could write for them and make a career of this. Could you subcontract your writing work to me?
No, I can’t. Freelance writing is not a career someone else is going to hand you. You’ll have to knock on (real or virtual) doors, write your butt off, and spread the word until you find clients.
If you hate marketing then your job — as someone in business for themselves — is to figure out how to get over that. How to either fall in love with marketing, or at the very least, learn how to suck it up and do a lot of regular marketing, despite your distaste for it.
Change is hard
I also see a decent amount of this:
I joined Freelance Writers Den a year ago to begin my journey as a freelance writer. Now, a year later, I’ve had to go back to the corporate life I hated, because I never started. I never wrote anything or pitched anyone!
This is a typical outcome for undisciplined people who try freelancing.
If your house is littered with half-finished projects, think hard before you hand in your resignation.
The habit of never sitting yourself down and making yourself do difficult things for a long-term positive end result is tough to develop overnight.
Make no mistake: Freelance writing is hard. If it wasn’t, everyone would be doing it.
You might fantasize that once you’re up against it financially, you’ll suddenly grow a backbone and get down to business…but my experience is, you won’t.
If you want to be a freelance writer but you’ve never been a self-starter, try working on the side. See if you can make yourself get some gigs, write some assignments, please some editors. That’ll give you an idea whether you could make yourself do it full time.
2. You’re emotionally fragile
This group falls into three basic types:
- You’re frozen in fear that your writing will fall short or you’ll otherwise be embarrassed, so you never take action.
- You’re able to send out query letters, but each rejection destroys you and takes months to get over. As a result, it’s slow going.
- You’re able to pitch and get gigs, but only for teeny-tiny rates that leave you starving. You don’t believe you’re worth more.
If not getting that gig you saw on Craigslist makes you cry, or hide under the covers, or feel generally worthless, freelance writing is not for you. If you don’t have the gumption to ask for pro rates, you’re going to be in financial trouble.
Comments I see that are a tip-off to this sort of syndrome include:
I’ve been writing and writing on my first blog post, but I just can’t seem to press ‘Publish’ on it. I’m scared people won’t like it!
I know it’s not supposed to bother me, but when an editor never responds to my query, I’m devastated. How do you get over this?
I was afraid to ask for more than $25 a blog post because then they would pick someone cheaper.
So. Being in business for yourself requires a certain emotional toughness. Self-confidence is required. Boldness, even. Mistakes and missed opportunities need to bounce right off.
Seriously, I don’t want anyone ending up jumping off a bridge because I encouraged them to try freelance writing, and the rejection destroyed their soul.
Be honest: Do you have a tough time believing, deep down, that you deserve a freelance writing career? Are you grappling with so many self-confidence demons that it’s hard to get out of bed? If so, talk it out with a good therapist before setting a course for a freelance writing career.
3. You’re not fluent
You might be an amazing writer in your native language.
But you’re trying to earn a living as a freelance writer in a second language you haven’t mastered — usually, English. And that’s not going to fly. I want to warn you that you are banging your head against a brick wall, and it’s never gonna give.
I get an email or blog comment like this pretty much daily:
Hi! I’m Kateryna from Ukraine…and I’m hungry writer. I can write about Ukraine, about situation in my country for your blog. Is it interesting?
How do I get these clients yet am not from an English Native country?? I have been writing for content mills and agencies for 5 years but I want to break into a bigger league.–Wangubi
I am passionate on writing about environment, health and specially mental health, society and more. (I also have education on those fields), but i am not a native english speaker, and my english is not perfect.
Is there any chance for non-native english speakers to be able to make a sustainable living out of writing? Is there a list of such sites you could suggest me?
“Silvia” in Nepal
I get asked this last one a lot, so let me spell it out: There is no list of English-language websites that offer great rates to writers who don’t understand basic English grammar. I’m not aware of any site that pays well for work they’d have to substantially rewrite and re-edit to make publishable, much less enough sites to make a list!
Changing SEO tides
You’d think it would be obvious that you can’t get great pay for writing a language you don’t know well.
So why the confusion? There was a moment in time where you could make good money writing in English, even if you didn’t really know English and your sentences barely made sense. So a lot of Third World writers hopped on the train.
It was the heyday of short, SEO keyword stuffing posts to drive website traffic. Think 2006 or so. These were posts designed for search-engine robots to read, rather than people to read. So the grammar, expressiveness, and creativity of the writing didn’t matter.
The problem is, this SEO gambit is now dead. It’s been dead for well over a year. Google got wise.
As a result, this type of work is evaporating fast. I’m hearing every week from writers who used to scratch out a living creating hundreds of quickie SEO posts on what is now UpWork, or Media Shower, or hundreds of other sites. They now report the work has dried up.
That’s left a legion of writers in the Third World trying to figure out their next move. I feel like you’re all emailing me, and it breaks my heart — because I can’t help.
The vast majority of these writers are not going to be able to find good-paying gigs for English-language clients. That party is over. Excellent, longform writing is valued now, and junk SEO content is not.
The good news is that means great opportunities for talented writers who’re fully fluent.
What about the rest? There’s hope for non-native writers, too, that could pave the way to earning well as writer. But it’ll take a major change in mindset. Strategies that have been proven to work for ESL writers include:
- Get clients in your native country and language. There are businesses everywhere!
- Partner with a native English-speaking writer who serves as your editor.
- Use your location as an advantage, to write about destinations, fashion trends, or business stories other writers don’t know about. Editors may be willing to work with your language challenges a bit more if you bring them a scoop.
- If you have an expertise area — medicine, technology, law, engineering — become a subject matter expert and partner with an English writer to collaborate on more sophisticated writing gigs in your field.
The key here is realizing the old days of semi-literate writing that paid are over, and setting a new course. Instead, the ESL writers I encounter all seem to think begging and pleading around the Internet and asking other writers to send them work will result in an income. It won’t.
If you don’t recognize yourself in one of these categories, then good news: 2016 is going to be a banner year for freelance writing. And you’ve got what it takes to be part of it.
Should you give up on freelance writing or not? Make your case in the comments.