3 Excuses That Are Keeping You from a Successful Freelance Writing Career
Did you ever think it’s not the economy, of the toughness of the industry, or just plain bad luck that’s keeping you from flourishing as a freelance writer — but your own limiting beliefs? Many aspiring freelancers are wonderful writers with salable ideas, but they can’t break out of the writing-for-cheap (or worse, writing-for-free) stage and make a full-time living doing what they love. And even while they complain about their lack of success, they have plenty of seemingly-reasonable explanations for why they aren’t even trying.
Here are some of the excuses I’ve heard from my mentoring and e-course clients — and how you can bust those limiting beliefs.
Excuse #1: “I have to pay my dues.”
Many writers believe they can’t write for magazines that pay a decent fee until they “pay their dues” by writing for markets that pay peanuts. But who decides what constitutes paying your dues, how long you need to do it for, and even that you have to do it at all? The term “paying your dues” is meaningless, because no one has defined exactly what it is and when it ends.
When I hear someone say they have to pay their dues before pitching the magazines they really want to write for, I know it’s a stalling tactic. I never hear a writer say, “Well, now I’ve paid my dues and it’s time for me to get cracking on my dream markets.” Because there’s no defined limit to paying your dues, writers just keep toiling away at sure-thing markets instead of risking rejection by the big guys. It’s the perfect excuse for not making the leap to better markets.
I’ve never heard an editor, when approached by a writer with a brilliant query and stellar writing, say, “I can’t possibly accept this — this writer hasn’t paid her dues.” In fact, consider this:
* I have a friend whose very first clip was for Cosmopolitan. She went on to have a successful freelance writing career and even write books on freelancing.
* Last year one of my students landed an assignment to write a short for SELF magazine. She had not a single clip before that. Now, she’s working on an assignment for Parenting that’s worth $1,300. She’s had only two assignments and she’s never worked for less than $1.50 per word.
* I recently had a mentoring client who kept “paying her dues” by writing for exposure and wondering why she wasn’t making more money. I convinced her to stop writing for free and cheap, and within ten days she had an assignment that was worth twenty assignments from one of her el-cheapo clients.
* My very first assignment, based on my very first query back in 1996, paid $500. I never paid a dime of dues.
Look: Paying your dues is just an excuse. No one is tracking what you do and judging whether you have written for enough peanuts-paying clients to start pitching your dream markets. If you have a great idea and you present it well, no one will care whether you slogged your way up from the bottom or just burst onto the scene.
Excuse #2: “I need to learn more.”
I hate to say this since I teach e-courses of my own, but some writers take every writing course they can find yet never feel like they know enough to actually get started pitching markets. “I can’t get started because I don’t know every single thing there is to know about query writing.” “Well, now I know how to write a query, but what happens when I get an assignment? I’d better take a course on that.” “I’m not so good on the business side of things. I wonder if there’s a class that can help me.” And on and on and on.
What’s great about freelancing is that there are no major barriers to entry. You don’t have to have a degree or certificate, and you don’t need to have 100% complete knowledge of every aspect of the business to get started. Heck, when I started I didn’t know even one other freelancer, there were no writers’ online networking groups (that I knew of, anyway), and I had one book on freelancing. I made mistakes, but I learned as I went along. In fact, some of my early queries were real doozies. But the “uneducated” writer who takes action has a much higher chance at success than the writer who learns and learns and learns — but never dares to send out a pitch.
Don’t use this excuse to put off pursuing your writing dreams. You’ll never know everything there is to know about freelancing, so don’t even try. There’s so much information online and on bookstore shelves that if you ever do get stuck, help is just a few clicks or pages away.
Of course, I’m not saying you shouldn’t educate yourself by reading books, taking classes, and reading educational websites — just that you shouldn’t get so bogged down in gathering information that you never actually pitch markets.
Excuse #3: “I don’t deserve it.”
I’m guilty of this one. Three of my family members work in retail, and one just retired from a corporate job he hated after 42 years. I always think, “This relative of mine works eight hours a day for $13 per hour doing a job she can’t stand. I work two days per week doing a job I love, and make more money. Who am I to have such luck?” Then the guilt sets in.
I told my life coach about this, and she asked who would be served if I held back so as not to be more successful than anyone I knew. The answer was, of course, that it would do no one any good if I worked for less money doing a job I didn’t enjoy. She also pointed out that I worked hard and invested in my writing career for years before reaching the point where I could cut my hours and still earn the same income. Not only that, but by making a living doing what I love, I can help inspire others to do the same.
True, some people will never get over the fact that you’re more successful than they are. I actually had a writer friend “break up with” me when I landed the Renegade Writer book deal because — and I quote — “You’re always so successful while I always seem to be struggling.” But you know what? A friend who is sad because you’re doing well isn’t a true friend.
So…do you feel guilty about the idea of becoming a successful freelance writer because your aspiring writer friends might resent it if you’re suddenly writing for the big names while they slog away for markets that pay them in exposure? Think of it this way: Once you’ve reached your goals, you can help your friends do the same. [lf]