Unlock Your Potential With the QTIP Method for Freelance Writing Success

Unlocking DreamsWhen you start a new freelance writing gig, are you full of hope? I know I am.

This gig is going to be great. We’re sure of it.

This is the sample that’s going to really take the portfolio up a notch. It’s a game-changer. Exciting!

Then, things start to happen, and often, writers go straight down the emotional drain.

For instance, take this recent comment from a Freelance Writers Den member (I’ve condensed it here):

 

Recently, I joined a freelance team developing an annual report for a local medical group. This is one of my first copywriting jobs, and I’ve never worked in health care.

The first writer left, and I became the main writer. I had already done a little writing for them, and the project director loved it. So I was feeling good about this promotion.

Now, after producing multiple sections for the report, my confidence has taken a beating.

The project director has rewritten much of what I’ve turned in. I asked her earlier about her changes to see if I could get some feedback and improve, but she assured me the changes mostly reflected political considerations and subtleties of tone.

I need reassurance that this is normal. Is there some way of knowing if the problem is all on my end?

I was thinking this experience might provide a way into future healthcare copywriting gigs, but now I wonder if I’m really cut out for it.

Doubt creeps in, and the next thing you know, you think you don’t have what it takes to be a freelance writer.

Why does this happen? It’s due to a key error that writers seem to be prone to. You can fix it with my QTIP approach.

It’s not about you

Writers have deep-seated fears that we aren’t really talented enough to do this for a living. So if things go wrong, we jump immediately to the conclusion that it’s our shortcoming.

But in my experience, most writers who are trying to do this for a living are perfectly competent wordsmiths.

What we often aren’t is self-confident.

When I read the story above, I immediately thought of many other possible reasons why this writer’s copy is being rewritten. For instance, maybe this manager…

  • …is a poor communicator, and knows it. When they see what they haven’t explained, they’re embarrassed to go back to you for rewrites and just do it themselves.
  • …has too short of a deadline to go back and forth, so they’re just doing their own rewrites.
  • …is a control freak who needs to rewrite everything, just to feel they touched the project.
  • …hates the blank page, and researching and interviewing. They really just want you to create that first draft, and then they’re good.
  • …needs to leave on vacation ASAP, and doesn’t have time to take you through what they need tweaked
  • …isn’t feeling well and isn’t up to explaining what they need.
  • …has an evil boss above them who always wants tons of revisions, and your manager wants to shield you from his irrational rage.
  • …are jealous that you’re ‘the writer’ and they’re not, and need to prove to themselves they’re talented.
  • …thinks rewrites are routine, since they are with most copywriting gigs. They’ve no idea you find this upsetting or stressful.

I could go on and on here, but I think that gives you a strong sense of how many other reasons there could be for the rewrites besides “you’re not a good writer.”

Look at the facts

If you find your confidence sinking during a writing project, consider all the many possible reasons things might not be going as you expected.

Put on your detective hat and consider the facts. In this case:

  • After doing a little writing, this writer was hired to do more.
  • Another writer had already washed out — it’s a tough crowd.
  • Feedback asked for after the rewrites was positive.

Conclusion: This writer is doing great. The client is dysfunctional, but happy. Rewrites are normal, and don’t reflect any lack on the writer’s part. It would be a mistake to extrapolate from this one experience and make any conclusions about whether this copywriting niche is for you or not.

What went wrong? This writer forgot to QTIP.

That stands for Quit Taking It Personally.

Most of what happens in the world of freelance writing is not about you. It’s about your client — their time constraints, their budget, their situation, their personality.

Or, as business owners like to say, “It’s just business.” Not personal.

The decisions your clients make are business decisions, and a million factors go into each decision. Not knowing what’s going on behind the scenes shouldn’t lead you to conclude that you’re the problem.

Ask questions, if your client doesn’t seem happy. Learn all you can, and do the best you can.

Make this change

Beyond that, the key thing to do is reframe how you view your career. Believe in yourself, and don’t be ready to fold your tent and give up if you have a setback.

Think of every client and gig simply as a learning opportunity, or maybe as a crazy adventure. It’ll be easier to get over the lumps and bumps that come your way with that outlook, as opposed to walking around thinking you’re inadequate and just waiting to get busted for it.

When you QTIP, it’s a lot easier to stay confident and keep pitching more clients, no matter how weird any one gig turns out.

How do you view your freelance writing career? Share your outlook in the comments.

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36 comments on “Unlock Your Potential With the QTIP Method for Freelance Writing Success
  1. Irfan. Aldin says:

    Your post is quite relaxing me. I often lost mood after work in project for a while. Eventually, I always quit the job after few month. All I can do is seeking for another project.

    I always think, ‘This is my mistake, I can’t control my self to keep my writing pace stable”. But you give me new perspective. yeah, you’re true if my client keep asking me doing more, things that both I and my client agreed upon in the early project.

    Thank You, Carol. This post cheer me up. Anyway, English is not my native language. I hope you understand well what I want you to know with this comment.

  2. Rachel says:

    True story! Some days I feel invincible, but then there are the days that I feel like I am spinning my wheels and I will never even make it out of the driveway.
    Rachel recently posted…Racing headlong into possibilityMy Profile

  3. Pat says:

    Right now I have a little different perspective in that I was assigned to manage a small group of writers for a couple of sites. I am responsible for gathering articles, proofreading and approving them. “Boss” doesn’t want anything to do with it, so I am pretty much on my own and it’s sometimes unsettling to post someone work from someone else and realize that I am ultimately responsible for it.

    I write, too, and with no editor above me, I live in fear of uploading something awful, so be glad someone else is taking the final responsibility. As long as you get paid for it and given more work, the client is happy.

    • Pat says:

      I need a proofreader for that post! LOL

    • Carol Tice says:

      Ha, I’m with you Pat – I have the ‘publish’ button myself on my Forbes blog, and it makes me a little paranoid that I’ll make a grievous error, without an editor to catch it. I have had to do a correction now and then, too. People should appreciate that editors really are good to have.

      • Pat says:

        I think I need some of that insurance!

        I have had to make corrections after publishing, too. Some days I think I really prefer to have an editor over me, but only some days.

  4. Sherri says:

    I’ve experienced the first draft scenario. At first I was shocked. It felt like somebody was messin’ with my “baby” and then I thought, “Hey, I get paid anyway”. As long as the client doesn’t mess it up too much, it can still be used as a sample. 🙂

  5. I suppose most of us are control freaks at the root: there’s even a philosophical school that says your thought patterns attract literally everything that happens to you, however unexpected or contrary to what you want; hence, if you could just get your thoughts in perfect order and never focus on anything but the best, you would never have another problem. (The old-school version is the theology that says if you suffer misfortune, you must have committed some sin to deserve it.) Complicated metaphysical arguments aside, any social worker or psychologist will testify that most small children have a tendency to consider themselves 100% responsible for how others treat them or even each other–and many never outgrow it.
    Katherine Swarts recently posted…Putting on Your Own MaskMy Profile

  6. renae moyers says:

    Carol,

    Boy, you’ve no idea how much you hit the mark with this post this morning.

    I’ve been trying to land this new client, a beach health-food restaurant owner, for some time now. I finally convinced her to let me write one article at no charge just to get my foot in her door. I sent the article to her 8 days ago, and have heard nothing since. I know it has only been a little over a week, but how long does it take to read 500 words? I was sure the deafening silence could only be because she hated it, and didn’t know how to tell me.

    After reading your post, I screwed up my courage and emailed her. Turns out, the restaurant has been super busy due to spring break (we are in Florida), and she hasn’t had time to read it yet. She promises to read it today. The knot in my stomach is uncoiling, at least for now, and I’m feeling pretty ridiculous at the moment.

    Thanks for helping me see the perspective in all of this. I used to work in the medical field, and writing for a living makes my old job look serene.

    Renae
    renae moyers recently posted…GMOs on Your Plate: 3 Ways to SicknessMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      Thanks for sharing this great example of the need to QTIP in action, Renae.

      If you’ve never run a small business, I think you can’t imagine how busy entrepreneurs are. I had one client like that, a small software niche firm, that I eventually dropped because it drove me so nuts how long it would take to get feedback.

  7. harish desai says:

    hi,

    i am a freelance writer of 5 years and my site mentioned above is a testimony of my work. however, i am not getting regular work and i am not able to make writing my full time profession. in fact, after dabbling in writing full time for one year, unsuccessfully, i picked up a job with a bpo which can give me a regular income. but, i still am continuing my writing work.
    harish desai recently posted…SIX SIGMA CONSULTINGMy Profile

  8. Gina Horkey says:

    Great post. I feel like I’m on the cusp of mastering this (but I’m sure I’ll have many future relapses;-). It’s hard not to take it personally since it’s such a personal gift that you give every time you submit a piece. But in the end (when you’re getting paid), it is JUST BUSINESS!
    Gina Horkey recently posted…What Makes a ‘Real’ Writer?My Profile

  9. You are spot on, Carol. My husband is ALWAYS reminding me that “it’s business, nothing personal.” It’s oftentimes tough to distance oneself, but I’ve learned the hard way that it’s necessary. When I want to express myself without fear of recourse or edits, I pull out my journal. Otherwise, I do the best job I possibly can and keep telling myself that it’s work, creative yes, but work nonetheless…

  10. Amel says:

    Carol,
    I love all of your articles, but this one is probably my favorite.

    There are MANY reasons why an article may be altered or rewritten.

    As writers, we need to remember that our writing is a product and that the client often has a certain vision in mind for how the product will be used.

    If you notice a lot of changes being made to your writing, study those changes and try to incorporate the same style/voice into your next projects for that client. Even then, you might still notice changes, but this is normal when working with certain markets.

    When I worked as managing editor of a small family magazine, all of the articles submitted to us used to go through a certain process. One editor would incorporate certain facts or other information into the text, which then had to be smoothed out by another editor so that it did not look like the information had been artificially inserted. Often we would rewrite the introduction or conclusion or cut unnecessary information. It was basically a team-effort, which is something that many writers do not like because they take it personally.

    What I have learned over the years, however, is that many publications do indeed use your writing as a base that they can add to and mold as they see fit. These days, I do a lot of translation work and experience the same thing.

    So long as no one inserts a typo under my by-line or makes it sound like I espouse ideas that are not mine, I am generally fine with having my worked edited and altered in order to suit my clients’ purposes.
    Amel recently posted…How to Start Writing for Publications that Pay a Minimum of 10 Cents per Word (Step 1: Choose a Publication)My Profile

  11. Youna says:

    Unfortunately, developing the hide of a rhino is par for the course when you’re a writer. Many years ago I used to have an in-house journalist role for a company, and my boss had to re-write everything I handed in. I used to be completely paranoid that he was going to sack me. Until one day I plucked up the courage to ask for some feedback, and he basically told me that I was a great writer, but that he was a complete control freak and had to put his mark on everything. Since then, I have learned to distance myself from my assignments. Sure, I take pride in my work, but once I’ve handed them in they’re no longer mine. Some clients publish them as I submit them, others re-write them, but I still get paid, and I still get called back to write more, so I must be doing something right. 🙂

    • Carol Tice says:

      That’s a healthy attitude to have, Youna. These aren’t our precious babies, when we write for clients. And you should be a bit detached about what they do with the work — it’s their money to spend as they see fit.

  12. On several occasions I’ve gotten freelance writing jobs with a local Chamber of Commerce, and that was an experience. As a journalist, I’ve developed a certain style of writing that has served me well. To the Chamber, though, a lot of what I wrote apparently seemed downright scary. As in “Oh, no — we could never say that.”

    Suffice it to say, I did a lot of re-writing in the interest of political correctness.

    My former newspaper editor had a funny comment about that. Lynchburg, VA, where I worked, gained part of its historical identity for serving as a hospital center during the Civil War.

    Caroline’s idea for a Chamber headline was: “Soldiers flock to new healthcare hotspot.”

    • Carol Tice says:

      We all have to remember that the customer is always right. 😉 Even if we know they could do better.

      You know, at Entrepreneur’s blog, they were always rewriting my headlines into less shareable ones without key words. Tried my best to educate them, but eventually I had to just let it go.

  13. Michelle says:

    Perfect post, Carol. I think, on the whole, writers tend to be intelligent, sensitive folks, which means we’re prone to self-doubt. I always just remind myself that it takes a truly incompetent knucklehead to never doubt themselves or wonder where they went wrong (as per the Dunning-Kruger Effect). It’s just a natural instinct and is fine as long you don’t allow it to cripple you.

    Case in point, I had a magazine client go AWOL after promising more work. Wrote them twice, no response. Wondered briefly if I did something wrong. All but gave up on them, then on a whim two days ago I emailed them one final time. Turns out the editor I was in contact with left the company and they’re behind on their editorial schedule. So it’s true, as long as you’re learning all you can and doing your best, it’s probably not you.

    • Carol Tice says:

      Thanks for sharing that classic story, Michelle!

      There’s a Talmudic saying that you should judge favorably unless you know all the facts — and you never do. So stop beating yourself up! There are so many other things it could be than a problem with you.

      Personally, I find the writers who’re truly incompetent are the ones who don’t care and don’t worry that they’re doing a bad job. If you’re wondering if it could be you, and asking your client for feedback, this is probably a career fit for you. And if they say you’re doing fine, move forward and believe them!

  14. I agree with Jake – this is a life lesson! Thanks for this article. It’s right on, and a good reminder today.
    Sharon Brodin recently posted…The #1 Key to Getting Your Marketing Emails Opened ConsistentlyMy Profile

  15. Right now I see my career as stuck at the gate. I do have a couple of pro-bono clients and maybe one paying client. But my marketing and website have, so far, yielded next to no clients. I feel things are about to take off, but I’m impatient and I hate wait!

    • Carol Tice says:

      Well, most writers’ websites aren’t set up to convert very well, so that could be part of it. There’s a lot to know about copywriting for your site and how to attract the clients you want — we have a whole 4-week bootcamp about it in my Freelance Writers Den community.

      Generally, when you first start, you need to do a lot of proactive marketing, and not just wait for your website to bring you clients, even if it’s well done.

  16. Carol, you’ve touched on something very crucial here.
    It’s not just in writing, but life in general — learning not to take things personally is a great skill. Everyone has their own ‘things’ going on, we can only ever speculate as to why they’re acting/reacting in the way that they do.
    Thanks!
    Jake Mcspirit recently posted…The Minimalist Guide to Self-AcceptanceMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      Right on. There’s just nothing constructive in assuming you’re the problem every time. I think if you have that mindset, you’re not going to be able to earn a living as a freelance writer.

      That requires being able to have self-confidence and soldier on, even when you get negative feedback. Look at how the writer in the article was ready to give up on healthcare copywriting because of this one weird client. That sort of thinking really limits your earnings.

  17. Melissa Weir says:

    Thanks for this reminder. I’ve been at this a couple of years now and I can tell you that my first reaction to rewrites is always TIP! I’m not sure when that reaction goes away (5 years?, 10 years? never?) but until then I will remember QTIP!
    Melissa Weir recently posted…GratitudeMy Profile

  18. I think it’s natural to take it personally especially if you worked really hard on an article and the client says that its basically crap. I encountered a couple of clients like that, always asking for re-writes, and just bugging me all the time. Can’t make everyone happy, obviously. Most of my clients are pleasures to work with. Thanks for the reminder though, it is really important to learn how to take it on the chin, and keep your head up. Thanks for the excellent article.
    Timothy Torrents recently posted…8 Ways to Get Extra Bonus Good Luck From The UniverseMy Profile

  19. Awesome post, Carol! I still have doubt creep in too often, but I’ve been getting better at reminding myself that there are so many reasons a client might change your work.

    I was recently assigned a 600 word post that the client turned into 2,000 word post using my research and ideas as the starting point. The final version has almost none of my actual writing in it, so when I saw it I was freaking out thinking they must have hated my work. But after calming down, I realized the final piece is so totally different from their assignment letter to me, they probably either changed their mind about their blog strategy, or they just want a freelancer to get the ideas together and they’ll flesh it out in-house, instead of paying professional freelance rates for a long blog post.

    • Carol Tice says:

      You’re probably right. I know my teaching pal Linda Formichelli has had ongoing gigs for a major women’s magazine where they always rewrote everything she turned in. Some places, that’s just how they roll. Once again, not about you. As long as they’re happy and keep assigning you, assume it’s all good.

  20. Sabita says:

    You touched my heart with this post. I feel like that many times but keep going.

    I’ve a question to overcome the chunk of anxiety cracking the hell out of me. My contact who recommended to one of my copywriting clients, being a native, stresses a lot that I should ensure my writing is up to the mark as I’m non-native. This thought troubles me every time I work for a new client.

    The client to whom he recommended me has given me more work – both content and design – kinda long-term gig. I also secured guest blogging opportunities from two separate blogs – both international – as a contributing blogger.

    What should I do about this thought? Do I need to practice more ( I know practice should be ongoing) to be at par with a native writer, or it’s more of my mind playing on me?

    Sabita

    • Carol Tice says:

      Sabita, I’d follow the same rules I lay out in this post. Are you getting ongoing work and positive feedback from clients? Then your writing is probably fine.

      But you can always keep working on writing improvement — I like the book How to Not Write Bad by Ben Yagoda for reviewing common grammar flubs.