What to Do After You Get Fired From Your Freelance Writing Gig

Fired woman with belongings in boxIt was my second freelance writing assignment ever.

I had won an essay contest for the L.A. Weekly — my first clip ever. Then I got an assignment out of them to cover a protest. That short piece went OK.

To say I was excited really doesn’t begin to describe it.

The paper gave me another piece to do that would be more in-depth, on one of the protest groups.

And I just drowned.

I did a book’s worth of research, then desperately tried to organize it.

Worse, I had a very decided personal opinion about this group…and it showed.

I didn’t know yet that it’s not cool to throw your opinion into a reported story.

I turned in my 2,000-word epic…and they killed it.

Not “you need to rewrite this.” Just buh-bye.

I pitched them a few other things, and got nowhere. Slowly, it dawned on me:

I had blown it

When I look back on it now, I can see that this was a major turning point in what I did not yet even know was my budding freelance-writing career.

I could have crawled off into a corner and never pitched an article again.

I might have concluded that I wasn’t really cut out for this freelance-writing thing.

But here’s what really happened:

I was too stupid to give up

I was so new to freelancing that I didn’t realize this should have been a devastating blow to my ego.

Instead, I thought, “Well, I made a mess of that.”

Then I wondered what to do next. Writing articles was fun!

I wanted to figure out how to keep going.

I got an idea for another article.

So I pitched their competitor

The L.A. Reader didn’t seem to know or care that I’d had an article killed.

Apparently the Universal Editor Communication Network where they all tell each other which loser writers not to hire wasn’t functioning that day.

They gave me a short front-of-the-paper piece. And another. I kept pitching them.

Soon, I was writing something for them every week.

And coming in to bug their editor every week.

“Why did you change this paragraph to say that?” I was a total pest.

Incredibly, this long-suffering, overworked, alternative-paper editor was willing to help me. (Thanks, Eric.)

I kept getting better

I wrote book reviews. I covered city council meetings. Whatever they’d let me near.

After a while, I got some feature ideas, and wrote them a 3,000-word cover story.

My first draft was 6,000 words. I had no idea what I was doing.

But I got some nice clips in course of all thisย  writing.

I used them to get a $35,000-a-year staff writing job.

The writing just kept rolling…into another, better-paying staff job.

Which I also got fired from

The new editor that came along 5 years into my tenure wasn’t my speed, to sum up a lot.

So one day there I was, just like that lady up there with the box. Marched out of the building, lugging my stuff.

I called one of my former editors to look for freelance gigs. I told him I was feeling pretty morose about getting the ax, even though I’d seen it coming.

“Oh,” he said coolly, “I just don’t think you can say you’re a real reporter unless you’ve been fired at least a couple of times. You don’t have enough passion for it.”

And I thought, “Yeah. That’s right.” But still…

It seemed like a disaster

I had three kids to feed.

Then, I started to freelance. Within a few years, I had doubled my income.

When I look back on it now, I can see that getting fired, both times, was the best thing that ever could have happened.

Except the way I reacted to it. Which made all the difference.

What can you learn from my tale of getting fired?

  • Even good writers get fired
  • Getting fired is not the end of your career
  • Getting fired can turn out to be a good thing in the long run
  • This is business — you need the resilience to take a blow and keep going
  • A great mentor may be waiting at the next gig — but you’ll never know if you fold after your first setback
  • When one door closes, just try the other ones

Have you come back from what seemed like a career-killing disaster?ย Tell us all about it in the comments below.

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22 comments on “What to Do After You Get Fired From Your Freelance Writing Gig
  1. I have been down in the dumps lately after I lost my job at Bleacher Report for not doing a good enough job editing myself. A lot of people said they have enjoyed my writing, but it has been had to get motivated after being let go by such a big company. I am still going through the motions but I seem to be coming around. Reading this article really helped me

  2. Thanks for sharing this. Last year, after a devastating divorce, I decided to start freelancing to pay the bills. I was getting over a serious illness (not to mention my life seeming to fall apart!) and writing was something I could do from home.

    I was scared stiff, but got my first paying gig. They had impossible deadlines, gave zero feedback and had me working around 80 hours a week. I worked for them for about six weeks and then, in came a new editor. Who, it turned out, thought I sucked more than a sparkly vampire.

    Apparently, my work was beyond repair, and so I was quietly thrown out like a used Kleenex. I did call her and ask how I could improve. She told me that I just needed more experience, and that she simply did not have time to “hold my hand.” I said, “Okay, and thank you very much.” And went on my merry way.

    I cried. I got over it and I went right on cold-calling and making contacts. Six months down the line I am still going and getting better with each thing I write. I guess being too dumb to stop is a good thing. ๐Ÿ™‚
    Victoria Cayce recently posted…Taking Your First Steps as a Baby WriterMy Profile

  3. LindaH says:

    I love it when you post blogs about your personal experiences and reflect that you are as human as anyone else. This post was so encouraging I was smiling through the whole thing. I have to admit that a year ago I wasn’t quite sure what a freelance writing lifestyle was like or could be. And having been laid off from a 9-5 job was like getting fired, even though it was the best day of my life. But this blog puts it all into perspective and really pushes me forward.

    In the last week I’ve realized how much I love the freelance writing lifestyle. I’ve resurrected two article ideas that I put on the back burner after losing my creativity and allowing the “what ifs” creep in. Now I’m seriously looking for magazines and editors to pitch and working on my queries. It’s honestly been years since I pitched an editor.

    Plus, I’ve partnered with a couple of local businesses and one from another state for support and to complement my business offerings. I’m ramping up my marketing and truly focused on getting this turned around in the next 2-3 months.

    I’ve gotten two clients who keep coming back to me and I’m looking for more. I can’t wait to see where it leads. And if I botch something I know it’s not the end of the world–instead, take a deep breath, shrug my shoulders and move on! That pot o’ gold may be on the next page!

  4. Edna says:

    Thanks Carol for another great post. I believed for quite a while that I couldn’t make a living as a freelance writer so I’d write on the side and take, for the most part, boring 9-5 jobs to pay my bills. And I got fired from several of those, so it took me a while to take the risk to really go after what I wanted.

    Now that I’ve decided this is the road I’m taking, my business is growing and I’ve partnered up with another small business owner who does social media and designs websites. And I really enjoy the synergy we have together as well as having someone to go to networking events with,

    The first article I did for a regional alternative health magazine was a total disaster. The editor and staff had to do a total rewrite and I got quite the call from the editor. They did however, give me a second chance to write for them again and I ended up freelancing for them for 9 years.

  5. Rob says:

    That was the most inspiring “confessional” article I’ve ever read! So many writers become disenchanted and embittered after an experience like that. One of my first writing assignments was for an Australian surfing magazine. It was the largest selling sports publication in Australia They were doing a series on legendary surfboard designers. I happened to live near one, pitched him to them and they gave me the go-ahead to interview him. That led to invitations to write more on the series and even a feature article on up and coming surfers in my area. I was on a roll. Then the publication got a new editor who only wanted to hear from “name” writers in the surfing industry. Writing was just a weekend avocation for me at the time, so I took it in my stride, but it was a great lesson.
    Rob recently posted…Random WordPress Plugins and Other Helpful ThingsMy Profile

  6. Thanks, Carol. This is one to keep in my back pocket. And on my desk. And bookmarked. This is one to be read again and again and again. And I will! Great post idea.

  7. Terr says:

    Carol,

    I always love reading posts inspired from your real-life stories. I also love that you remind us that there is no such thing as an “Editing Mafia”, or “Editors Central Control Unit”. It’s easy to believe that editors are “out to get you”, especially if a writer starts out working for content mills (Although I’ve found that the editing process for each mill varies, according to their style and tastes).

    Why are writers so very hard, almost abusive to themselves? I too have to fight these feelings, by reminding myself that I do not suck as a human being, and I don’t suck as a writer. I make mistakes, but doesn’t everyone?

    Really, if we were able to place our thoughts in the mouths of others, and if other people verbalized how we felt about ourselves sometimes, we’d never befriend them, and we’d think they were the biggest abusive jerks! So why do we allow these thoughts to float around our minds, defining us professionally or personally?

    All in all, I’ve learned that working professionally as a writer will show you who you are as a human being. You’ll be tested in character attributes such as perseverance, endurance, resilience, humility, temperance, and more. While your character is being tested, you also have to be creative. Oh yeah, and you’ll have to learn a ton of marketing skills!

    In short, I’ve really had to question myself about continuing to work as a writer. I’ve had to ask myself why I want to do this, will I be able to earn the revenues I need and deserve, and what type of writing should I focus on? I believe the answers to these questions will sustain me through hard times. There are answers to questions that will sustain anyone who gets fired. Much like learning to ride a bike, you’ll fall and get scratched up. But you get back on the bike, get focused, and learn how to maintain.

  8. Chris says:

    What great advice and encouragement. Thanks!
    Chris recently posted…On Reading in a Foreign LanguageMy Profile

  9. Amielle says:

    I’ve never commented before, but this was exactly what I needed to read. I haven’t been fired from a freelance job, but the fact that I could be is just hovering a little. Now, rolling a little more quickly with the punches is something I’m going to try to do a little better.
    Amielle recently posted…Campfire BrightMy Profile

  10. Tom Ewer says:

    Hey Carol,

    I like the message of this post. I haven’t been fired from a freelance job (yet), but you’ve got to look for the positive outcomes of such situations.

    Here’s the thing – I think feedback from a client can help, but if a client says, “This isn’t working, and here’s why” – that can give you a real shot in the arm.

    We all need a kick up the ass at times, and getting fired can certainly do that!

    Cheers,

    Tom
    Tom Ewer recently posted…Freelancing: a Complete Guide to Setting and Negotiating RatesMy Profile

  11. Carol,

    This is a great story and very encouraging. More and more I’m becoming convinced that persistence is one of the most important traits a successful write can have. I’m really glad you didn’t let your “failure” stop your writing career. ๐Ÿ™‚

    I also wanted to say that I’m excited to be co-presenting the webinar call tomorrow with you. My hope is that we’ll help other writers so that they won’t have to make these 12 mistakes.
    Laura Spencer recently posted…A Review of The Freelance Writers Den & Free Webinar!My Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      I know, Laura! I feel like I spent soooo many years blundering around figuring this stuff out the hard way. I love helping people take the shortcut and get there faster…and avoid some of the dumb stuff.

  12. Ralph H. says:

    Thanks Carol. This is timely. I was offered a gig to write an article for a trade organization’s website on a trial basis. They asked for a fee and after asking around and consulting a well-known freelancer’s book on copywriting, I gave then a bid. It turned out to be way too high and they said, “Thanks, but no thanks.” I offered to let them pay me whatever they felt it was worth, but it was too late. I had blown it. That was weeks ago and I’m still feeling the sting. I have no new prospects and life overall is looking pretty bleak. I wish I knew when I would see the light at the end of the tunnel.

    • Carol Tice says:

      When I submit a bid and I’m not really sure what to charge, I often end with “appreciate your feedback on this rate.” Or “If you’re considering another writer simply based on price, I’d appreciate a chance to know that so I could have an opportunity to possibly reconsider my bid.” Just leave the door open. I know some writers say don’t do that and be firm,…but when I’m in a gray area I feel like that gives me the wiggle room that might prevent your scenario.

  13. This post is great encouragement. Thank you for sharing your experience Carol. Resilience and yeah, the way we react to failures are crucial to bouncing back and gain success in one’s career.
    Jonan Castillon recently posted…Google Penguin Joins Google Panda Against WebspamMy Profile

  14. Steve Maurer says:

    Thanks for sharing your challenges and how you turned them around into success!
    Steve
    Steve Maurer recently posted…Are Discount Text Services Really That Cost Effective?My Profile

  15. Terri H says:

    Thank for this post. I really needed to read this. I’ve been feeling like a real loser lately. This post has seriously inspired and motivated me. I am NOT a loser. I need to get back up and show the world my greatness. This has reminded me that I must live by the words I always tell myself and others: “The question isn’t who’s going to let me. It’s who’s going to stop me.”

    Thanks again.
    Terri H recently posted…Learn to Bite Your TongueMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      Right on, Terri! (And sorry my spam filter wasn’t liking you there!)

      Y’know, so often when a gig blows out…really…it’s not even about you. It was in that first one above, I totally flubbed the assignment.

      But you never know what’s going on in editors’ lives or minds and sometimes, it’s their thing. And in any case, you can’t let it stop you from going where you want as a writer. There are always other markets in the sea.

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