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. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. Anita

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

  5. 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.

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