Exploding The 10 Biggest Myths About Freelance Writing

Freelance writing is a line of work cloaked in mystery. With the rise of the Internet, false rumors about how freelance writing really works have spread.

So today, I’m here to bust the toxic myths that might hold you back from pursuing a career as a freelance writer.

Here are the ten biggest freelance-writing myths:

1. You’ve got to have ‘connections.’

I knew absolutely no one when I started, and found my first editors by entering contests. Since then, I’ve coached literally hundreds of writers who’ve gotten clients through cold reach-outs. Once you learn how to pitch effectively, you can start from zero and find clients.

2. You need a degree in journalism, English, or communications.

Speaking as an N.D. — that’s No Degree, people — I am living proof it’s a lie. My take: You go to J-school for the relationship-building, but when it comes to writing I’ve yet to meet an editor who cared whether I learned my craft at an elite school or under a freeway overpass. Either you’ve got it on the page, or you don’t.

3. If you screw up one freelance writing gig, your career is over.

Good news — there is no Universal Editor Network that alerts the world to your failures. In fact, I wrote for years for the online site of one major magazine where the print editor had banned me from writing for their print edition! Often, even at one company, the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing. Much less that word would spread throughout the entire freelance world.

I can tell you, I’ve had writing gigs I failed at — and not just at the beginning of my career, either. And it’s had no impact on my ability to get new clients.

4. You have to put in years as a staff writer first.

I know quite a few writers who never took a staff job and are doing just fine, thanks. That includes my longtime co-teacher and The Renegade Writer co-author Linda Formichelli. Some folks are good self-starters.

5. You’ve got to start at the bottom and slowly work your way up.

Not necessarily. The first business I wrote for was a small, local software startup — and the second was a global, $1 billion consulting firm.

If you have knowledge of any lucrative industry from your past work history, it’s often possible to get great clients off the bat. Now and then, new writers get assignments from top magazines with a great query letter, too.

6. You need to be in a major American city to earn well.

Not hardly — I have great-earning writers in my mentoring programs who live in small-town America and in cities all over the world. This is a global business, and thanks to Skype, Zoom, and other online videoconferencing tools, you can easily connect with clients anywhere.

Not a native English speaker? The good news is, there are publications that need articles and businesses that need marketing help in every country.

7. It’s easy to quickly become a six-figure freelance writer.

Ever heard that saying about ‘If it sounds too good to be true…’? Yeah. If it were a snap to be a well-paid freelance writer, the cubicles of corporate America would all be empty. So watch out for charlatans who make unrealistic promises online about easy, instant success.

That said, if you write well and are willing to market your services, you can build a business and learn how to earn a real living from your writing. It takes some time and effort, but it’s definitely doable.

Funnily enough, the next myth is the opposite of this one…

8. No one really earns a living as a freelance writer.

This is possibly the most persistent, irrational myth out there about freelancing. But if you hang around content-mill chat boards, or ask your job-holding friends about it, you’ll probably get a skewed idea of how viable freelance writing is as a career.

The fact is, 57 million people freelance in America today, contributing $1.4 trillion to the U.S. economy. And freelancing is growing fast. The Freelancers Union forecasts that freelancers will make up half the U.S. workforce by 2027.

That wouldn’t be happening if all freelancers were starving, or it was only a viable side gig.

9. If you write for companies, then you can’t write for publications.

I used to think this too, until I asked a writer-friend who I worked with on a Seattle Times special section where else she wrote. Answer: Ford Motor Co.!

The only thing you can’t do is write for publications about your company clients, while not revealing that company paid you. That’s a no-no.

10. When you freelance from home, you have a lot of free time.

Ha! Not right away, especially if you’re trying to earn serious money. When you start any business, you tend to put in a lot of hours as you find those first clients. It usually takes a little time to build your portfolio to where you can up your rates and cut back your hours.

On the plus side, you do make your own schedule. So you can get to your kid’s soccer game, or take a weekday trip if you like. When you do the work is now under your control.

The reality

To sum up, freelance writing is a real business for motivated writers who want to chart their own destiny. It’s not a super-easy, fast-money scheme.

If you want in and are willing to learn how to run a successful, home-based business, you can literally write your way there. That’s exactly what I did.

I’ve earned far more freelancing than I ever did in a day job, enjoyed total freedom over my time, and have no regrets. Not having a boss is awesome!

Think freelance writing is for you? Then ignore the nay-sayers, don’t fall for freelance myths, and go for it.

Photo via stock.xchng user ozdv8

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22 comments on “Exploding The 10 Biggest Myths About Freelance Writing
  1. Jen L says:

    Love this list.

    I think, like Susan, I need to improve the way I sell myself. I’ve got writing experience, I’ve been a staff writer, all that stuff. Hell, I even have a master’s degree. But I don’t know how well I’ve been doing in convincing editors to sit up and take a good hard look at me.

    I’ve been thinking that maybe I need to focus more sharply on how I want to market myself and my writing, too. For awhile, I was trying to be more general, in terms of marketing myself as a professional writer, and then I realized, hey, maybe I need to bag that idea. Maybe I need to sell myself in a more specific fashion. Maybe I need to make sure that would-be clients understand what my more-specific expertise is and why they should work with me.

    This post was brought to you by the word “maybe.” 🙂
    Jen L recently posted…To CSA or not to CSAMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      Hi Jen —

      I know a blogger who’s all about being a generalist, and I told him when I meet a generalist who’s earning as much as specialists I know, I’ll get interested. It seems like increasingly in recent years, specialization pays off well. My secret: More than one specialty — real estate, finance, small business, franchising, legal, higher education…

      • Jen L says:

        Yes, I’m seeing that. I have started putting “health care” down as my specialty because…well, it is! I’m a member of a professional health care writers organization, I’ve covered health care for several different publications over the year (both full-time and freelance). I need to go with my strengths.
        Jen L recently posted…To CSA or not to CSAMy Profile

  2. Wonderful site you have here but I was curious if you knew of any message boards that cover the same topics discussed here? I’d really like to be a part of group where I can get suggestions from other knowledgeable people that share the same interest. If you have any suggestions, please let me know. Thank you!

    • Carol Tice says:

      Funny you should ask, Gillian. I do have a group like that for participants in my mentoring program. But in the next 60 days I’m planning to take that further, and create some membership levels here on the site that would allow for member-only forums, along with a host of other helpful goodies.

      Look for a poll in the next couple of weeks as I gather information about what would be most useful to readers in terms of a structure and offerings. There’ll probably be three different participation levels…will be ironing out all the details soon, and I’m SO EXCITED about what’s coming next here on this blog!

  3. I’m living, breathing proof that all ten myths are just that—myths. 1) My first paid writing gigs came not through my non-existent connections but through cold calling and attending conferences; 2) I don’t have a degree; 3) I’ve never been a staff writer; 4) I live in a small(ish) Midwestern city; 5) my writing projects have been orphaned by editors leaving more times than I can count but I’m still writing for those same markets; 6) many of my ‘first’ writing projects in a new arena (white papers, case studies, business plans, etc.) have been for top dollar; 7) I write for corporations, nonprofits, government agencies, and book publishers and no one has ever so much as hinted at a conflict of interest; 8) I’m about to self-publish my first e-book and consider it as real as my traditionally published work; 9) I don’t have ANY free time, and; 10) any time I put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard), I consider it real writing, and so do the clients who pay me for it — and pay me well.

    The one big secret to overcoming all of myths about freelance writing is, I think, valuing your work. Not just having (or projecting) self-confidence but really, truly seeing value in the work you do and owning the importance of what you, as a freelance writer, bring to the table. If you don’t see the value in your work, if you downplay your contribution, or buy into the belief that “it’s only writing and anybody can do it” you give potential clients permission to treat you—and your work—as inconsequential and unworthy of respect or fair compensation.

  4. For the record…I’ve been a reporter/journalist for 15+ years and have no related degree. (My degree was in sports medicine…)

    Great post Carol. It’s all about commitment.

    Amy Parmenter
    The ParmFarm

  5. I’ve been working real hard the last four years. Some days I’m on the computer over 14 hours. This is the hardest job I’ve ever had. Writing. Proofreading. Editing. And it seems to be (so far) the one with the smallest rewards. And I keep doing it anyway. There is just something about it … I know it’s the occasional acknowledgements from colleagues and friends that keep me going. Your article gave me just the ‘umph’ I needed to get through the rest of today. I don’t have to have an MFA and contacts in NY and one of the ten best blogs to be successful. Thank you.

    • Carol Tice says:

      I’m sad to hear that much writing and editing work isn’t bringing you a good living. I’m working a lot, but also making a lot. Hope some of the Webinar and ebook products on the blog here might help you earn more! Which is what I’m all about.

  6. Susan says:

    This is all SO true! And I am coming from the opposite (myth) side. I have the degree, experience, and supposedly I have contacts, and guess what? I can’t find any work because I don’t market myself well and don’t have the entreprenuial skills it seems to require.
    So I agree with this post. I think confidence and marketing ability are much more important.

    • Carol Tice says:

      In this new-media economy, marketing skills are essential for survival. Hopefully you’ve got the 40 Ways to Market Your Writing report!

  7. Debbie Kane says:

    Great list. Another myth is charging lower fees because you’re “just starting out.” If you can write, meet deadlines & know what you’re writing about,you’re worth the money.

    • Carol Tice says:

      Well…not sure I totally agree with this one. Writers usually do earn less when they’re just starting out. Many publications will offer a lower rate when they see your portfolio and list of credits is small.

      I think the myth that ensnares many new writers is that you are trapped at that low pay level for ages. You can move up fairly quickly.

      I had one participant in the ’40 Ways to Market Your Writing’ Webinar who said he’d been writing for small businesses for years and didn’t understand how he could make any more. I said, “You need to write for medium-sized and large businesses now. It’s time to move up.” And you could almost hear the lightbulb turning on. Writers get into a groove with the type of markets they’re serving, and forget they should keep climbing to earn more.

      • norby says:

        Thank you for this post! I meander forums and sites on writing looking for these little tidbits…those little things that just…make sense…all of a sudden! The epiphany-invoking words 🙂

        I’m not currently in this situation…but I could completely see me ending up in it if not for this single post, even though the concept is so very simple and obvious! 🙂

  8. Laurie Boris says:

    The myth I hear over and over is that there’s no money in it. I simply refuse to believe that one!
    Laurie Boris recently posted…Some Popular Wisdom Charlie Sheen Should ConsiderMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      Oh, there’s definitely money in it, and more all the time. I know publications where the print edition is no longer making money…but the website is, and they’re assigning more and more online pieces at very decent prices.

      Corporations are committing BIG dollars to creating authoritative online content — they’re really seeing the value. I’m working on a launch right now for a big financial-services firm where they are planning to run about a dozen topic channels with daily content, at professional rates for blog posts. SO much opportunity is out there, and I think we’ll see it explode this year. It’s exploding because it’s becoming reallly competitive — so rates have to rise to attract the best writers to your site and away from competing sites. The virtuous cycle is back! And the downward rate spiral is ending…at least if you know where to look.

      And if you don’t, get my How to Break In and Earn Big Webinar recording… 🙂

      Particularly with the change Google just made to their algorithms that weighs against junk content, we’ll see more and more real assignments online at real rates.

  9. +1 to Bill.

    Great post Carol. I wish I had read something so encouraging when I was just starting out. I fall into a lot of those categories. My background is in writing fiction and studying literature, no marketing or commercial writing to speak of. Instead of letting that stop me, I realized that the elements of fiction made for good content: compelling characters, vivid detail, action etc.

    Also, to those who think they need a degree, think on this: if you’ve been doing this for a year, you’ve already learned everything they were going to teach you in school. Don’t get me wrong, I loved college (I’d go back if I could), but there is no replacement for hands on knowledge. Use your lack of education as a selling point and don’t undervalue everything you’ve learned in the trenches.
    Brendan McCrain recently posted…Email is Your New Old Best FriendMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      Exactly!

      After I got one of my first gigs, writing features for the front page of a section of the L.A. Times, I wanted to go back and get a journalism degree. But my editor said, “What do you think they’ll teach you that you haven’t already figured out?” It was sort of too late — I’d already graduated from that program, but in the school of life.

      I did take a few classes on ethics and magazine article format, which I think helped me a lot…but it’s about the skills, not the degrees on the wall.

  10. Bill Swan says:

    You forgot one….

    The “just throw some words together and you get paid because it’s that simple” myth. Hence the reason for the content mill quagmire. People think all you need to do is string words together to get money and that’s it.
    Bill Swan recently posted…Business Lesson From Google to Content Writers – It’s About the MoneyMy Profile