25 Little Words That Can Ignite Your Writing Career

Carol Tice

Blue sparkler ignitesSometimes, it only takes one simple thought to change your whole approach to freelance writing.

Recently, I’ve been going to support-group meetings as I deal with some personal life issues.

At those meetings, they say a short, simple, well-known, non-denominational prayer. It’s by Reinhold Niebuhr.

It’s a prayer I certainly have known for a long time. I probably first encountered it in my late teens.

But I never thought of applying it to my life as a freelance writer.

Which is too bad, because it contains a powerful message for anyone who is struggling to build the freelance career they want.

Here it is:

The Serenity Prayer

“God, grant me the serenity

to accept the things I cannot change

courage to change the things I can

and wisdom to know the difference.”

Usually, I think people apply this thought to difficult people in their lives. The prayer helps us learn to let go of attempts to control other people’s behavior — attempts that are utterly fruitless.

Because we can only control one thing in this world, and that is our own minds.

Saying the Serenity Prayer recently, it struck me that there are so many ways freelance writers can get off-track thinking and worrying about things they can’t control.

Things like:

  • The global economic downturn
  • The economic slump in your town
  • The stiff competition
  • Your age (“too young” or “too old”)
  • A lack of impressive writing samples

I wish I had a dime for every writer who’s told me they can’t possibly earn a good living as a freelancer because of one of those stumbling blocks above, so I could retire now.

I hear this chatter day in and out:

“You know, I just can’t charge professional rates. The economy in my small town is still really slow.”

“I can’t see the point of trying to be a healthcare copywriter when there are already so many! My local healthcare writers’ association has 800 members alone.”

Obsessing on circumstances we can’t do anything about takes the focus off what we can do to move forward.

Instead of thinking “limited pie and not enough slices to go around,” change your mindset to envision an ever-expanding marketplace where writers can tap into pent-up market demand for writing services.

No matter your age or career point, somewhere in the market there is a client who would love to have your help.

But to make it happen, you have to put your focus where it’s productive. You have to gather every drop of your energy and use it all to take the steps that are within your power.

What’s happening doesn’t matter

For one more insight into how the Serenity Prayer could transform your freelance career, let me share a recent event in my life:

I took my daughter to the drop-off for a three-day outdoor education trip. More than 100 fourth graders were gathering in the gym with their sleeping bags and duffels, getting ready for this highly anticipated event, which parents fundraise for all year.

Most of the kids looked happy and excited, as you’d expect. They were meeting their counselors, putting on their cabin’s bandannas, and chattering with friends.

But not everyone was a happy camper.

Some kids were in tears, trailing parents who had clearly dragged their student there under protest. Others looked angry, worried, or overwhelmed.

And yet, they were all going on the same journey. Their world was exactly the same, but inside some heads, negative thoughts formed which caused some children to miss the chance to enjoy a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

How to get what you want no matter what

As my mom has said to me a million times, it’s not about what happens to you in your life. It’s about what you decide to do about it.

If the economy is tough, you can market harder.

You can volunteer and get more and better sample clips.

You can turn your age to your advantage by connecting with clients who sell to customers like you.

You can send more query letters or letters of introduction, grow your network, ask more people to refer you.

Also, you can take care of yourself. You can eat right, exercise, and get enough sleep.

Then, you can write more, and better.

Let go of the things that aren’t within your sphere of influence. Stop worrying about them.

Just do what you can to grow your writing career. I promise you’ll be amazed at what happens.

What are you focusing on? Share how you’re striving for serenity in the comments.


  1. Kevin Carlton

    Wouldn’t it be great, Carol, if life were a breeze?

    But it ain’t.

    Sure, some people have it loads easier and others go through terrible things.

    But whatever cards you were dealt with, you can still only get where you want to go by simply getting on with it.

    And another thing. Evolution has shown us that those that often have it tough are the ones that adapt more quickly and learn to survive.

    • Carol Tice

      Right on, Kevin!

  2. John Soares

    Carol, I try to apply the Serenity Prayer to all aspects of my life. I don’t always succeed, but it is a very powerful tool.

    There’s a saying I read many, many years ago in a magazine for off-road motorcyclists: “Look where you want to go, not where you don’t want to go.” In other words, focus on what you want and how you’ll get it, not on what you don’t want and how it can hurt you.

    • Carol Tice

      Out of the mouths of motorcyclers comes wisdom. 😉

      The funny thing is, my dad always used to say this to me, “I’m on a search for serenity.” Sometimes we’d want to do things and he’d say we wouldn’t be doing them because it would interfere with his search for serenity.

      As we get older and life gets more complicated, I think serenity and just feeling happy with what you have becomes increasingly important. I buried my best friend a year ago, which helps me keep that perspective. Want to just let go of things you can’t control and focus on what I CAN do…and enjoy life as much as I can.

  3. Colleen Kelly Mellor

    I had no time earlier or the funds in my earlier life to do what I wanted–write stories. Now, I know (at the age of 67) that the Before Time was when I amassed the stuff I’d use in eventual pieces. I stored all my experiences in neat little boxes in my mind, cataloguing them for future use. Did I realize I was doing this? Hell, no. I just thought I was coping (sometimes, barely.) The Serenity Prayer sits right next to my computer, for it’s a principal I live (and write) with…..

  4. Sandra

    Love this post. I’m all about focus. When I’m not working on a project, I’m either marketing, learning more about writing or trying to improve my skills.

    I completely agree that you need to let go of the things you can’t control. Not doing this is probably what overwhelms freelancers the most and causes them to give up.

    • Carol Tice

      So true. I think thinking about things like the bad economy just fills your head with negativity and sets you up to fail. I decided I should be able to keep earning more every year since 2006, so I did. Like John said — focus on where you want to go, not where you don’t, and you’ll steer in the right direction.

  5. Katherine Swarts

    I have a takeoff on the “control” concept. You may have heard the saying “Worry is like a rocking chair; it gives you something to do but it doesn’t get you anywhere.” Ironically enough, the same can be true for planning; most of us have met an exception to the “goals written down are goals as good as achieved” rule, a person who (like the writer whose manuscript is never quite ready to submit) is too busy revising and polishing said goals to do anything toward achieving them. In which case the fact of your own mind being the only controllable thing becomes a liability–things that stay ENTIRELY in your mind are under your complete control (and isn’t that a comfort?), but they aren’t doing you any good with the rest of the world.

  6. Willi Morris

    Yay, Carol! I love the “Serenity Prayer.” I don’t pray it often enough. I have issues with making sure my mental game is in the right place, let alone worrying about trying to control others. So this is HUGE for me. Thank you for the reminder and good luck with your support group.

    Also, I find it helps to be in online small business networking groups. Not only do you learn how to turn your freelance writing into a business, you discover that there are SO many other entrepreneurs out there. Some are struggling, some are doing really well. .But it really reinforces the fact there is *plenty* of business to go around for everyone. There is no shortage of work for folks if they put themselves out there.

    • Carol Tice

      So true Willi — I think most writers go to writing conferences. And I’ve always gone to business conferences…and that has made all the difference. Think “I’m in business.” You probably write pretty well already. 😉

    • Karen

      Hello, Willi and Carol. Great points, Carol. So many good comments; a quick ? to Willi: could you give a heads-up as to some small bus. networking groups, or where to find? Much thanks!

      • Carol Tice

        Well, I’m not Willi…but I’ve been to BNI, BizBuilders, my Chamber, Linked:Seattle and many more. I found the best gigs personally at Media Bistro local events. You have to experiment and try groups until you find the one where your ideal clients hang out.

        • Willi Morris

          Hey! Sorry for late reply. The best groups I’ve been in were usually put together by a mentor after a webinar. For instance, Erika Lyremark’s Daily Whip Group has a Facebook group I’m very active in and I just joined Amber McCue’s Clone Camp. (I met Amber as a direct result of the Whip Group.)

          • Willi Morris

            Haha wait a second, probably write well? 😉

  7. Helen Bradley

    Awesome words, repeat a few times then go put it to work in your life 😉


  8. Mary S.

    Carol, I don’t know how you accomplish half of what you do. Prayers and good wishes — and thank you for all your wisdom and encouragement.

  9. Rebecca Lee Baisch

    The serenity prayer has hung in my kitchen for far more years than I like to count. Someone gave it to me because they thought I was too into trying to change things. I’m still that way, but at least now when I can’t change them I can move on without regret. I apply that to my writing as well. When I can’t get a client to see that their revisions hurt a piece, or their lack of commitment is killing their business, I can shrug and move on. My mother used to have a saying…”If whatever you are upset about won’t matter or even be remembered a year from now it isn’t worth being upset over”. It’s still good advice today.

  10. Miriam Hendeles

    Hey Carol – this post came at a perfect time in my life! Thank you for the wisdom. I love the serenity prayer. Just saying those words daily to myself really helps. I also find that as I get older, it becomes clearer to me (most times!) what things I can control and what things in my life — I can’t control. My job is to let go of the latter and move on. No more fixing of things that don’t work for me! Thanks for bringing up this topic.

    And thanks for having this forum and website. You’re doing a big mitzvah, by putting things in perspective – writing-wise and life-wise for all of us.

    Have a great weekend.

    • Carol Tice

      Thanks Miriam — and it’s true, sometimes the trick is discerning what we can control and what we can’t. We get confused about it. 😉

  11. Amandah

    Thank you for the reminder about the Serenity Prayer.

    I’m focused on improving my writing skills and growing my business and network. I’m also focused on working with my business coach on a monthly basis. Coaching has helped me in more ways than one.

    I’m learning to let go of the things I can’t control, like our 15 year old family dog who barks and barks every day. Yes, it can be disruptive to my writing. But I have compassion for Harriet because dementia and old age have entered into her life. Sigh.

  12. Anthony

    Hi Carol,

    Stephen Covey taught me something I will never forget.

    In the book ‘The 7 habits of highly effective people’, he introduced The ‘Circle of Concern.’ and the ‘Circle of Influence’ in a person’s life.
    The circle of concern is the one you don’t have any control of.
    The circle of influence is where you have control.
    Focus on the circle of influence and you’ll be on your way to reach your goals.

    I was thinking of Stephen’s teaching as I was reading your post.

    Epic piece as always, Carol.
    Thanks for sharing.:)

  13. Lindsay Scheerer

    That is a great prayer. Thank you for the reminder. 🙂

  14. Thomas Hill

    Boy is this true —

    Some editors can be pretty nasty — guess that’s a sign I shouldn’t work for the publication, huh?

    I suppose if they want to bite my head off when it comes to an e-mail, perhaps I shouldn’t try to run a piece by him — guess it’s his loss!

    • Carol Tice

      No, Thomas, it’s a sign you can’t change that editor. You can’t fix them.

      So then you have to decide if you can tolerate their behavior or you don’t want to work with them. It’s in your control whether you work for them…so that’s the choice you focus on.

      I personally worked for a quite abusive editor for five years and it was a great learning experience for me in managing and working with difficult people. I set healthy boundaries with him early on, let him know I wouldn’t be his punching bag, and stuck around. I never let his behavior bother me emotionally. Quite a few writers quit and he had a lot of turnover.

      But he turned out to have a lot to teach me once he understood what I would tolerate. So I chose to develop my skills in response to this difficult editor. It’s about keeping the focus on what we can make of our life, and our interactions with people.

  15. Rahul

    firstly i will say a great post by you and another i totally i agree with you ,,if prayers come from your heart god will also help you in your work.. we all know god help those who help themselves 🙂

  16. Joseph Rathjen

    I find that maintaining a high level of spiritual conditioning works best for me, and in many aspects of life – not just writing. Your current state of spiritual progress (which is living a decent life and helping others) is tantamount for a life of joy and success.

  17. Carol Tice

    I was aware that is not the entire poem…but those are the lines I wanted to focus on.

  18. Jeremy Wiebe

    Thanks for this, Carol. I got another lecture from family just last night on how I should give up my writing career. Reading this was helpful.

  19. Clara Mae Watrous

    Very encouraging, Carol. Sometimes life gets in the way of doing what we would like to do, but to keep on keeping on is the way to go. Worry never gets us anywhere.

    Clara Mae

  20. Roberto

    Very encouraging. I think it was used by Vonnegut in his “Slaughterhouse-Five” novel too. He is one of my favourite writers. Recommended.

  21. Jane Endacott

    Thank you for writing about this! I recently read about a similar idea in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. One of these habits is being proactive and taking control over conditions that we think control us. Just as you said, it’s all in the mind. Negative conditions and influences control us only as much as we let them. We can complain and give in, or we can accept it and think about how best to engage it.

  22. Anita

    Some real wisdom here.
    Thanks for the good reminder of how to keep things in perspective.

  23. K.

    A thought: sometimes, when one is seemingly banging one’s head against a brick wall, yes, persistence is key but the toll can be very high. One might have to redirect for a time or develop a new income stream/work on totally unrelated goals. Options give perspective. As you noted, Carol, as in the camp example, the circumstances may be the same, but, with more life approaches in the arsenal, one is more likely to be the picker, not the pickee; or, one can jump back in when the timing is better, refreshed.

    • Carol Tice

      Agree K – we’ve had several posts on taking a side gig if need be, or doing a full-time day job stint to save up money to pursue freelancing. I know writers who’ve pumped gas, and I worked as a secretary for years to support my writing habit until it became a full-time thing.

  24. Codruta

    Unfortunately wisdom comes too late for some of us – that is a major problem. How could we be wise while we are still young and can do lots of things? I discovered a trick that works for me (ok, sometimes, not all the times): I walk on the street and when I start making excuses for not doing that and that, I imagine myself being very old, and lacking strength to do a lot of things -to support my phantasy I look at some old person around me, I mean not only old but with difficulties in walking maybe in hearing or other, and then I think “hey, your life is passing by, you can still do things NOW”. So I focus on what I would think of doing now if I were very old and helpless today. What would I be dreaming of doing today? By doing this I had a thought of starting to write – in fact not a thought, which is zero, I simply started writing. There were also other amazing thoughts that came to me and still come. So try to imagine that your life is almost gone, just for a second think of that and you will see what energy you can find in yourself, energy to change those things that are changeable and with that will also come the serenity to accept the rest.
    Thank you again Carol!

    • Carol Tice

      I so agree with you. I’m actually someone who reads the obituaries and thinks about what mine would say. Our lives are short and we never know how long…move ahead with what you want to do already!

      I’m a real late bloomer myself…I didn’t go to J-School and didn’t write a word of prose until I was 30. It’s never too late.

  25. Julie

    You are so right! I have heard the serenity prayer but never considered how it applies to my choice to write. I recently decided to give up mourning for the lost regular job I had and concentrate on using the talent I have (writing) to make a living. So I have created a website, and started writing for local publications. I have discovered I enjoy interviewing people and most appreciate a person who takes time to get the correct information. I’m not making much money (yet) but I have gotten off my backside and gotten to work. I’ve also found a satisfaction I never had in my previous career. Thanks for all the advice you offer. It’s a blessing to a newbie who doesn’t know the ropes.

    • Carol Tice

      Hi Julie — thanks for letting me know how my blog helps you. Really makes my day to hear (since I spend umpty-leven hours a week on it!)

      I think you’re smart to move on. I still know way too many families that are slowly going broke while the breadwinner continues looking for that elusive full-time job, or sits around the house ruminating about why the layoff happened or longing for the ‘good old days’ of the corporate tit, unable to move on. And never realizing that so many of those jobs may never be coming back.

      Companies have discovered outsourcing creative services, they love it, and they’re not going back. Learn to freelance now, and you can get a jump on everyone else who has yet to realize their family’s true financial security lies in their learning how to be entrepreneurial and run their own freelance business. And for us US writers, Obamacare exchanges are coming next year to help solve the healthcare piece! Things are only looking up on the freelance side.

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