The Number One Thing Holding You Back from Freelance Writing Success

It’s your attitude.

At the risk of sounding like a Norman Vincent Peale wannabe: If you have a negative attitude towards your job, you probably won’t do very well at it.

I know the writing business is hard, and it’s getting harder all the time. But you can’t discount the fact that there are thousands of magazines and online markets filled with articles that are written by freelancers. Someone is writing those articles…why can’t it be you?

And it’s true that articles are getting shorter, some magazines are going belly-up, and online markets often pay crap. But many writers have adapted. They’re learning to create videos and find photos for their online markets, are diversifying so they don’t rely 100% on magazines, and are finding new, creative ways to market themselves.

Heck, I’ve adapted. Instead of whining that content mills pay one cent per word or national magazines are PITAs or editors often don’t reply to pitches — I worked hard to find a stable of clients that aren’t PITAs, that pay well, and whose editors do respond to pitches. They’re out there. Also, over the years I’ve developed a talent for writing well quickly and being able to switch between projects easily, so I can still make good money by writing more in volume than I used to.

Sometimes I say that anyone who can write can become a freelance writer, but that’s only partly true. Anyone with decent writing skills, good ideas, professionalism, the ability to learn, and a good attitude can be a successful writer. If you’re a fabulous writer and as professional as they come, but you get angry or resentful every time you get a rejection, or when you go through a slow period, or when you see other freelancers seemingly getting all the breaks, you’ll have a hard time being successful.

If you approach your work with a sense or resentment, desperation, or anger, that will come across in your communications with your editors and clients.

So how do you develop a good attitude? Think about everything in your career you’re grateful for. For example: As a freelancer, you get to work where you want, when you want. If you have kids, you get to spend more time with them than if you had a 9-5 job because you can work after hours. You probably love writing (though I know some successful freelancers who don’t…myself included!). You get to interview interesting people on fascinating subjects. Within reason, you control your income. And some say that a bad day at freelancing is better than a good day in a 9-5 cubicle.

I learned this from my life coach Kristin Taliaferro. I told her that I dislike doing interviews, which are a big part of my responsibilities as a writer. She pointed out that resenting interviews could be holding me back, and suggested that one minute before an interview, I consider how grateful I am that these interviews are part of what offers me the opportunity to do a job I like and live a lifestyle I love.

Freelance writing is hard, but all jobs are hard. They’re just hard in different ways. If you want to succeed, quit the kvetching and remind yourself why you wanted to be a freelancer in the first place. [lf]

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17 comments… add one

  • Great post. Applies well to rewrites, too. Instead of griping or complaining, putting on a “I’m on it” attitude goes a long way in making an editor trust you — and give you more assignments.

  • On the money! As always, well-written and certainly 100% true. Thanks for the great advice, Linda!

  • Excellent post, Linda. We could all use the reminder of finding the positives in work and in life. They’re there. But sometimes you really have to make a conscious effort to see them. I recently read the book 365 Thank Yous by John Kralik, and I highly recommend it. A similar message in there about focusing on what you’re thankful for. It’s a small book with a big message.

    Jessica McCann
    Professional Freelance Writer & Novelist

  • You know what? It’s never an ideal time to be anything. When has the market – any market – not been in some sort of flux? You’re right – you deal with the market that’s there, and work it to make your way. End of story, regardless of the times. We can’t control the times, only how we handle them.

  • Thanks for your comments, everyone! Anthony, I always say that the time is never just right, so you may as well take action now.

  • It’s true, freelancing is a mixed bag business and especially sucks for online markets, but a good attitude goes towards anything. I’m working 3 jobs, hoping freelancing turns into a bigger income someday.

  • I noticed several folks commented about abysmal online freelance markets. At the risk of appearing self-promotional… I recently wrote an article about that very topic for The Writer magazine. The piece addresses content farms and it includes insights from successful freelancers on how and where to find legitimate online markets that pay professional rates. Here’s a PDF of the piece, if you’d like to read it. Hope you find it useful.

  • Linda:

    “If you’re a fabulous writer and as professional as they come, but you get angry or resentful every time you get a rejection, or when you go through a slow period, or when you see other freelancers seemingly getting all the breaks, you’ll have a hard time being successful.”

    One colleague on her newsletter write that you MUST stop focusing on another freelancre’s green pasture and hone in on your own.

    This was a VERY fine post. I sat with a publisher at lunch in December and told her all the work I had to finish before the end of the year, and she said, “Stop complaining; you have work. Lot’s of people don’t.” And I wasn’t complaining, but it must’ve seemed so.

    I have found that when my attitude stinks — and sometimes it does — it shows. I procrastinate, the to-do list remains unchecked, etc. However, on the coin’s other side, when I push, the results is good things: payment (on time), more work, and true job satisfaction.

    Pinch yourself, fellow writers, that we have such a good life, and I’ll practice what I preach as well.


    • Thanks, Steve! Many of us DO have a good freelancing life, and we need to be grateful for that.

  • Star

    Which came first, the abysmal markets or the bad attitudes?

  • I vote for bad attitudes. Negative people were around before we came up with markets.

    Part of what I’m doing to help keep my attitude up: 2 idea binders. One is general inspiration — philosophy, interesting articles, etc. The other is writing-specific — handouts from presentations at my writer’s group, conference notes, etc.

  • Great post, Linda! Much appreciated.

  • Staying positive is crucial to staying in this game, so is persistence. If you can stay persistent and positive, well, then, it’s only time until you “make” it in the freelance world. :)

    For me, this was a very timely post. Thanks!

  • Peter

    Until you write for free for certain outlets to market yourself…then you have no reason for the outburst!control your anger or it will control you.! write for free as a freelancer?”! yes i dare say! and soon you will be where you have wanted to be.

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