Newbie Writer: 7 Great Reminders to Cure Your Freelance Jitters

Carol Tice

If you’ve been working full-time jobs, the idea of becoming a newbie writer and jumping into freelancing can be both exciting and terrifying.

It’s like stepping off the ground to walk a tightrope where one false move will send you plummeting to your death. There’s more glory, a higher degree of difficulty — but also what feels like a huge amount of risk.

The good news is, freelancing doesn’t have to be so scary.

The fact is, the independent-contractor economy is booming, thanks to COVID-19 changing the way we live and work.

  • An estimated 59 million adults in the U.S. are part-time or full-time freelancers, according to a recent Forbes article.
  • To put that in perspective, that’s about 36 percent of all adults old enough to work.

So you’re a newbie writer trying to figure out how to be a freelancer?

Welcome to the Gig Economy.

There’s plenty of opportunity. So what’s the trouble?

A lot of the anxiety about being self-employed comes from inside you. From fears you have about how hard this is that are unfounded.

If you’re full of doubts about whether you can ‘make it’ as a newbie writer trying to build a freelance business, here are seven key ideas that helped me get over the fear hump and launch my freelance writing career:

1. You are human.

You may be freaked out by the idea that you will make a mistake, and then your freelance writing career will be ruined forever. But that doesn’t happen. Perfection is not expected when you’re a newbie writer.

Instead, expect to make mistakes — and to learn from them. That’s the adventure and the journey that is freelance writing, and being a solopreneur. Entrepreneurs at tech startups talk about learning to fail fast, and fail forward. As a newbie writer, decide right now to learn from your mistakes. Then keep going, and you’ll be fine.

2. The whole world isn’t watching.

I used to have terrific stage fright, back when I was a performing singer-songwriter. And if I was about to throw up before I went on, the thought I would cling to that helped me get up on stage was, “No matter how bad I blow this gig tonight, a billion Chinese could care less.”

If you live in China, you could substitute 319 million Americans that will be oblivious to your errors. I think you get the picture.

We tend to feel all eyes are on us, especially when you’re a newbie writer. But as one of the editors at one of my staff-writing gigs used to tell me, today’s mistake is tomorrow’s fishwrap. The online equivalent is that today’s mistake gets pushed down the blogroll and vanishes from the home page in a few days.

You’ll be surprised how many people won’t even notice your errors when you’re a newbie writer, or experienced writer for that matter. If they do, people have short memories. Unless you lie or make things up, you will live to write another day. Corrections can be issued and apologies made. It’s OK.

There is no Universal Editor Network that one grumpy editor could use to blackball a newbie writer from ever getting another gig. Doesn’t exist. So relax.

3. Every writer started at zero.

It’s easy to feel that the world is full of long-established freelance writers with impressive portfolios, and that the newbie writer can never, ever break in and get started from scratch now.

But that’s provably false. Because every writer working today once was exactly where you are now. They had no clips. They knew no one. You may feel you are alone in this, but in fact, every freelance writer out there has had this same experience.

They each found a way to get that first client to hire them to write. You can, too.

4. You know something useful.

I often hear from newbie writers who worry they’re either too young or too old to get started in freelance writing. No such thing.

No matter what age you are, there are markets that want you. There are youth brands, there are brands that market to the 60+ demographic, and there are magazines for these age groups, too. Are you a newbie writer and mom who’s been out of the job market a while? There are parenting and women’s magazines, too, and niche product companies whose goods you probably use and love.

Somewhere in your life experience or job history, there is information that would make you the perfect writer for some client, somewhere. Figure out what you’ve got, and then use it.

5. New writers are needed.

Not every prospect can afford to pay a seasoned copywriter $125 an hour, and not every magazine can pay $1 a word or more for articles.

There are smaller clients everywhere, in every town and city in the world, and they need more affordable writers. Editors at small publications are also more willing to work with newbie writers, to mentor them and teach them how to improve their writing.

Nonprofits, associations, and organizations need you, too. Do a few of these lower-priced gigs, and you’ll be ready to move up and earn more.

Never think that there is no place for newbie writers in the freelance ecosystem. Writers retire and move on to other things, too. Fresh blood is always needed.

Stop thinking you’re bugging prospects when you pitch them. They need you.

6. You can write your way there.

You may feel overwhelmed by the scope of your freelance-writing dreams. It can feel impossible to earn your living this way, especially if you’re looking at an empty portfolio right now.

But here’s the fun thing about freelance writing: Each thing you write is a building block for your career. Write your writer website, and presto — you have a clip that shows you can write web content.

If you have a plan for where you want to go, you can build your own yellow-brick road and travel down it to the destination you have in mind. That’s exactly what I did. I knew no one, had no credentials, and started with nothing but my brain, my pen, a love of writing, and an eagerness to learn.

I’ve been paying all my bills with that since about 1993.

7. No credentials are required.

I wish I had a dime for every writer who emailed me to say they never pursued freelance writing because of their lack of formal training and credentials in this field. Or to tell me they’re going back for their MFA or Master’s in journalism, because they feel that will finally qualify them to do this for a living.

I’m sure glad I didn’t know a degree in English or journalism was required when I started, since I don’t have one. In anything, actually.

Definitely would have kept me from pitching Forbes, Costco, Alaska Airlines, and probably many of the other blue-chip markets I’ve written for over the years.

There is only one credential required in freelance writing: You can write well. You have command of the language, you can write to suit a client, and you can tell a compelling story.

Clients want to look at what you’ve written, and if they like it, they hire you. That’s it. Nobody cares how you learned to write well.

So if your heart tells you this is how you’re meant to make your living, draw up your plan. And then start writing.

What thoughts inspire you to get your writing done? Leave a comment and add to my list.


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  1. Kevin Carlton

    Hi Carol

    I’ve always been amazed by the fact people think you need an English or journalism degree to become writer.

    Let’s face it. It’s no good having an English degree unless you actually know about some other specialism – which then gives you something concrete you can write about.

    So what I’ve done so far is sell the fact I used to be an engineer, worked in IT and have knowledge about web development languages.

    And guess what? I’ve got loads of work from web development and digital agencies so far – by making good use of our common ground and affinity. But it wasn’t boring writing work either.

    So let that be a lesson to all those aspiring writers.

    I actually wasn’t even any good at English at school. But that’s not what my clients really care about.

    • Carol Tice

      Ooh, former engineer! That’s totally juicy. People have no idea how much demand there is for people who can write all the dorky, low-glamour stuff, and how well that can pay.

      • Kevin Carlton

        Yeah, Carol, I really need to get my name in front of those engineering clients as well.

        This highlights perfectly why I’m in The Den. I make good use of any writing opportunities I get, but don’t do enough to create them in the first place.

        At some time, I’m gonna need guidance sleuthing out these types of clients. And I know where I can get it.

      • Wesley A. Whittaker

        I downsized myself in October 2007 during a staff meeting. I was totally burned out from 24 years in the electrical power design and construction industry. I had started as a manual drafter in an A-E firm and had worked my way up to Design-Build Group Manager for one of the nation’s largest electrical contractors. I have a lot of experiential knowledge regarding best practices in power and lighting design, construction, and the perilous condition of this nation’s power distribution infrastructure. What I don’t have is an idea of how to harvest that knowledge in my writing career. Any pointers would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.

        • Carol Tice

          Wesley, you might take a look at my Get Great Clients e-book — it goes over exactly how to find quality clients, which is what you could do with these expertise areas.

          There are so many green energy providers and consulting firms, and trade publications that serve these industries — lot of great potential markets. And my experience is the energy companies and trades are always hard-pressed to get writers who both know and are interested in their space. Best of luck with that!

  2. Jake Mcspirit

    Hi Carol, great post. I especially like the “you are needed” theme.

    When people are constantly seeing the same names crop up, it can be easy for them to forget that there’s a bunch of up and coming writers just behind them.

    Only way to know if you can make it as one of those up and coming writers is to… Well, write!

    Plenty of reassurances here, thanks!

    • Carol Tice

      Yes, Bob Bly cannot take every gig there is. 😉 Really.

  3. Willi Morris

    Thanks Carol! This is inspiring for completely different reasons! haha Needed this.

    • Carol Tice

      Different than what, Willi? 😉

  4. varun

    Thanks Carol! amazing article “Every writer started at zero” inspired para to blogger like me.

  5. Christy Mann-Iiames

    Thanks once again for the motivation! I needed this post today.

  6. Charlene Talcott

    Number 5 says write for smaller publications. Regional publications are a good way to start. Many are on Facebook where you can get a feel for the subjects they covered. Comment on things you like so the editor gets to know you. A correction I made to one Facebook post about a misidentified bird led to an article, which may turn into a regular birding column.

    • Carol Tice

      Love that success story, Charlene! You know, Jon Morrow got his job as an editor at Copyblogger by commenting on their posts. 😉

      I got my start writing for alternative papers — I find them a pretty wide-open market willing to take a flier on new writers.

      • Leigh

        Alternative papers?

        • Carol Tice

          The Village Voice. The Stranger. Seattle Weekly. You can see a directory at the Association of Alternative Newsmedia:

  7. Clyde Bearss

    I felt the need to get more specific about how I know something useful. I expanded “things” I know to: I know useful facts, procedures, techniques, processes, methods, and subject area information. Each of those still broad categories provides me the direction to drill down even further. Just the “facts” list is extremely long given my mature years and the other categories are equally deep.

    Knowing I have this rich supply of “things” to offer a client readily links to the idea of finding the clientS(!!!) that need what I have right now. That insight is very empowering and motivating.


    • Carol Tice

      Clyde, sounds like you have a lot of great technical info — seek out the companies that use those types of techniques, and you’ll probably find clients that are thrilled to meet you.

  8. Gina Horkey

    Great post Carol! I’ve written before on the transition from a W2 to 1099 economy and am a firm believer that’s what our future is going to be more like. No jobs are really guaranteed anyhow, so we mise well take our employment into our own hands:-)

    I also find it encouraging that you don’t have any degrees (especially in English or journalism). I think writing is more about telling a compelling story or conveying an idea or message than about perfect grammar anyhow (as much as the “professionals” would disagree!).

    • Carol Tice

      I did have a *great* high school English teacher, so I had my grammar pretty well nailed. And I’d be in the camp that thinks it’s important. 😉

      I did attend 2 years of college and took some English and creative-writing classes, and then took a few courses at UCLA Extension, once I knew this was what I wanted to do.

      But most of what I know I learned the old-school way, writing for papers (a lot!), first as a freelancer and then as a staffer. I think I was the last person they let do that before the mantra became that everyone needed a J-school degree, ideally from Medill or Columbia. But for freelancing, you definitely don’t need one.

      I think good freelance writing requires a broad set of skills — aside from writing, you need to be a strong idea generator, a great interviewer and listener, and if you’re writing for publications, have a nose for news and what makes a great story.

      And of course, willing to market yourself.

  9. Evan Jensen

    I’m actually one of “those” writers with an MA in Journalism. When I was a newspaper edtior, I regularly assigned stories to freelancers. Loved it when freelancers pitched ideas too. And you know what, not one of the freelancers I worked with had a journalism degree. It just isn’t a requirement.

    Also agree that smaller publications like local and alternative newspapers, or regional magazines are a great place for new writers to get a byline and paying assignments. You’re also much more likely to get some mentoring and constructive feedback from these outlets, along with a decent check, compared to getting hosed by content mills.

    • Carol Tice

      Thanks for providing an editor’s POV that degrees don’t matter, Evan!

  10. Katherine Swarts

    Here’s a comment from the other side of the “credentials” line: I DO have a master’s degree in written communications; and I still went virtually jobless as a writer for years afterwards. My advice to the 18-21-year-old and “second career” crowds who are thinking of enrolling in a journalism program: don’t do it without ALSO (1) hiring a qualified job/life coach and (2) making time to start submitting your first freelance queries right away and on a regular basis. Here’s why:

    -A degree will NOT guarantee you an automatic ticket to the best writing jobs, any more than your first published article will have other publishers immediately standing in line to be your next client. The statistic that “you earn more with a college degree” has been tossed about so flippantly that many students develop a false feeling of entitlement and think they’ll be able to sit back and let the earnings find THEM. Life doesn’t work that way.

    -Many college programs pay little attention to the larger picture of long-term career development; they won’t teach you how to cultivate a professional appearance, grow your soft skills, tell a good job opportunity from a bad one, or handle time management on a 30-40-hours-a-week, 50-weeks-a-year scale. Remember, in college YOU pay THEM, so they HAVE to give your work a thorough evaluation regardless of how it compares to others’ work or their own standards; in the business world, they aren’t under any obligation to even look at things that don’t interest them.

    -Even the more career-oriented degree programs tend to think in terms of preparing people for full-time staff writer positions, not for the entirely different challenges of freelancing. And it’s primarily the employers that ARE hiring full-time that care at all whether you have a degree.

    • Carol Tice

      I am really angry at the colleges and universities of this land, personally. I realize they aren’t trade/technical schools…but their disconnect from the reality of journalism these days is breathtaking to behold.

      As you say, they do still seem to be training people to go get a staff job on a paper, an opportunity which is increasingly rare. Nobody learns how to write a query or market themselves in any way. I’ve been astonished at how many people with advanced degrees I end up mentoring, because they have no idea how to connect their writing skills to the marketplace after they graduate.

  11. Otiti

    Yes, so much yes. I’ve also found that making the ask is a surefire way to get things started. My prospective client may say yes or she may say no, but I’ll never know for sure unless I give her a chance to try me out.

    This post is particularly helpful for me right now, so thank you for writing it. Here’s to us being braver every day we put pen to paper. 🙂

  12. Katrina Cureton

    The advice that you gave was wonderful. Thank you for sharing your experience and inspiring me to do more.

  13. Chelsea

    I really liked the idea that the whole world isn’t watching.

    One of the easiest ways to take the pressure off yourself is to conduct it as an experiment – so if you fail once or twice, it’s no big deal. You learned something and you can adjust moving forward.

    And thankfully, the brutal truth of it is that literally, almost no one is watching. In the whole span of things, the number of people who read every single thing you write will probably be zero. (Not even your mom will want to read every article you finish after a while.) So if and when you do mess up, you can wipe the sweat off your brow knowing that hardly anyone noticed and you can just keep moving forward like nothing major happened.

    • Carol Tice

      Right on — you know, I meet writers who’re scared to make their blog public or push “publish” on that first post.

      And I want to say, “Go ahead — almost no one is going to see it, anyway!”

  14. Nora

    I have been interested in writing since I was young but journalism and writing in general was not taken seriously in my family, so I did not consider pursuing it seriously until I lost my job around 15 months ago. (Wow, it has been that long?). With this, I am having more difficulty in taking the leap, as I have internalized so much negativity.

    • Carol Tice

      Well, I hope this post can help you bust some of those fears, Nora!

  15. Elke

    In my experience – I’m talking more about fiction writing here – people with degrees in writing seems to have more fears about having their work out there in the public domain, than those that don’t.

    Some of this fear seems to be associated with a deeply-entrenched belief that their writing is still just not good enough – and about being judged harshly by their peers – especially fellow students.

    I don’t have a degree in writing, though I do have three in other areas. And I admit I was very nervous when I first started publishing fiction. What initially worked vey well for me was publishing my first 10 stories or so under a pseudonym.

    • Christine

      That’s so true. We do actually have more fears because we’ve been cut down so many times and although that’s essential for growth, sometimes it can be a bit too much and actually become discouraging. When I discovered NaNoWriMo, I was instantly put at ease…this idea of writing and not editing as I had been taught to do seemed revolutionary! Writing without correcting (until later) actually curbs procrastination in some cases because you’re determined to just go and let everything come out the way it will rather than trying to sculpt it to perfection before you even have all the pieces!

      • Elke

        So true. I also remember reading a study that showed that those who had attended universities were often less confident, more hesitant than others. Whereas those – gung ho people who are just willing to give writing a try – simply get on with it.

        I have a law degree – and studies also showed that those with completed law degrees are more cautious (and depressed) and less willing to take risks than they were prior to commencing the degree.

  16. NoahDavid

    #3 and #7 are especially encouraging. The felt need to be credentialed is overwhelming sometimes, but it helps to remember that everyone indeed started at zero with the rest of us.

    Thank you!

  17. VK

    Thanks for this timely article. This year, I am letting go of the fear of failure. I have started my own writing business.

    • Carol Tice

      I always say, stop fearing failure — because it will *definitely* happen! So why worry?

      The good news is, you can fail forward. You can learn from your mistakes, and keep going.

  18. Kyle W. Weckerly

    Very Inspiring!
    Good to know you don’t need credentials to get started in this field, because I have exactly 0.
    But I love to write!

  19. Christine

    This is great. I actually did complete a university degree in Professional Writing and did an internship at a publishing house, in my mind, I thought that if I could get close to the industry, I could be a real writer and I could actually make a living at something I’d loved doing since I was a kid. Well, one thing I did learn was that nothing is guaranteed, not a single thing, not even the things universities tell you to entice you into going to their schools. I have to say, I was so completely disappointed at the difficulty of the job market and stumbling upon the realisation that the work I did at university was completely irrelevant in terms of finding a job in my field.

    So I started writing on my own, reading a lot of books, journalling as a way to get over my disappointment and frustration and it kind of left me with something to say to people in my age group struggling through the same issues. I started taking business courses (outside of the university setting) and figuring out that it was about helping people and offering them assistance with something I was already good at (even before I attended university). When I do an assignment now for a publication, I typically look at what they’ve already got published and what is doing super well in the market in terms of format. Then I look at what they want and see if I can find a new angle. Most of all, I’ve been really getting into writer’s blogs to discern the secret of making a living at this kind of work and honestly, it seems to be that whole being real thing (authenticity) and being clear and concise with a message are the keys. It seems to be about digging deep and figuring out what people want and at the same time, finding where you’re coming from and what you want to say. (and hopefully not rambling too much as I have here ^^)

    Anyway, thank you Carol for writing this. It’s true. You’re right. It’s funny how often people will ask me if I’m going back to school though to do a Masters… I’m not settled and I’m not doing as well as I could be I suppose, but I’m doing the best I can and I’m putting myself out there and I think that’s really important for writers to do.

    • Carol Tice

      Yeah, unfortunately a Master’s is not going to help.

      You wouldn’t believe how far you can get if you can be concise. Most businesses hire writers because they can’t do that themselves — they know too much about what the company does, and can’t organize or prioritize all the knowledge.

  20. Timothy Torrents

    But I’v seen some people market their degrees for English on various job boards and they seem to be getting more responses than the people that don’t show their degrees. I know it’s the exception and not the rule, but having a degree definitely does not hurt.

    • Carol Tice

      People trying to get jobs on job boards…generally aren’t earning very well. Maybe that’s an edge in the race-to-the-bottom world of bid sites, but who wants to play in that court?

      • Christine

        That’s a good point. It’s funny, I’ve applied to many jobs via job boards in the past and usually they don’t pay all that well. More often than not it’s the invisible job market that you want to find jobs in or create your own work via pitching to a company something of value.

  21. Andrea

    Hi Carol,

    Your site is so helpful! Thank you for putting this information out there to help other writers.

    I’m a freelance beauty writer and right now I have 2 steady clients. I earn about $60 per post and I’m eager to get more blogging work. I have a niche in green beauty writing but am stuck on getting new gigs.

    How do you go about pitching a new client? Do you send the same (edited appropriately) email with a couple of story ideas to the digital editor in charge of online content or an introductory email first? I have the skills and the knowledge to earn so much more, I’m just stuck on what to do. Say, what would be my first step tomorrow morning to get a lot more work?

  22. Terri Cruce

    My comment before didn’t post, I don’t think, so if you see double, my apologies.

    I just wanted to say that this post is very timely for me right now. I fall into a few of the categories you covered. One being age, as in I worry that I waited too long and I’m too old now. I don’t feel old, but that doesn’t stop me from worrying. The other is that even though I believe my writing skills are solid, I still fear they aren’t good enough.

    It’s nice to know that I am not alone in my fears and this post gives me more confidence to believe in myself, something I know I should do, but often struggle with.

    Thanks for a great post!

    • Carol Tice

      They say worry is like rocking in a rocking chair — you feel like you’re doing something, but you’re not getting anywhere. 😉

  23. Vicky Poutas

    Hi Carol,
    Thanks for all the great tips and encouragement in this article. I love that you said every writer started at zero, because sometimes that’s where I feel I am. The remarks about age not being an issue helped as well since I’m an “empty nester” and sometimes feel too old for the market. This article hit all the high notes! I never even considered my blog posts, like this one on pet therapy, could be considered a clip.
    Thanks again!

  24. Elizabeth Manneh

    I especially like the idea that new writers are needed. I think I’ve been a bit guilty of thinking that no-one will want to hire a new writer, so it’s great to hear that that’s not true.

    I’ve found Carol’s book ‘How to get great freelancing clients’ very helpful. I’ve made a (scarily long) list of actions to take and I’m planning to carry them out over the next few weeks. It’s a really practical book.


  1. Carnival of Creativity 7/12/15 - […] Tice presents 7 Inspiring Thoughts to Cure Your Newbie Writer Jitters posted at Make a Living […]

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