Are You Addicted to the Heroin of Freelancing?

Carol Tice

Doing heroin

It started innocently enough.

“I need a little money, and I want to get a byline,” you might have thought. “I’ll just write a couple articles for this content mill.”

The pay was miniscule.

But there it was. Your name. You were published.

And you were hooked.

The low pay meant you were flat broke again soon, so you needed to get another fix.

It’s so easy to do. Your drug of choice is legal and readily available.

Just sign into that dashboard, grab a few titles.

Or maybe you bid against thousands of other writers all over the world on places like Elance, to get gigs for a few quick bucks.

Or answered Craigslist ads that got hundreds of resumes, and paid a pittance.

You maybe felt a little scuzzy after you wrote low-paid articles that you knew were mostly for search-engine robots, not people, to read.

But you started to hang out with other mill or bid-site writers on chat forums. They shared your pain.

“This is what rates are now,” they told you.

That made it seem normal to live this way. As if really, there wasn’t any other way to earn from writing, anyway.

Then, the thrill wore off

Sometimes you had to get up at 2 a.m. to get any assignments. The mills got more and more competitive. Some mills went bust and cut off your supply of quick, low-paying writing work. Others cut their number of assignments or their pay rates.

You’d end up feeling strung out after an 18-hour day of writing mind-numbing topics in 20 minutes apiece.

Drained. Out of it.

Good for nothing else except to get up and find your next hit. More of the same.

Soon, you realized this was a dead-end lifestyle. You’d never make enough money to be comfortable. Or have enough free time to enjoy life.

The clips you got weren’t good for moving your writing career forward, either.

Also, the editors at these sites often weren’t fun to deal with.

Like any hardcore junkie, you probably ended up with some bruises…only yours were to your ego.

Maybe that’s when it dawned on you…

Low-paid writing is a dangerous addiction

It’s not like work you do for free, like that novel you write for the sheer joy of it. Where you never imagine it’s going to pay your bills.

Trying to make a living off $15 articles (or $5 ones) both starves your wallet and impoverishes your soul.

I didn’t come up with this drug analogy myself…I’ve heard scores of writers over the years refer to their attempts to move up from content mills as “kicking the content mill habit.”

Everyone who’s spent any time down this low-pay hole knows it’s a bad situation, and wants to climb out of the content-mill trap.

But when you’re broke…how do you break the cycle?

How to kick the habit: The 1-month challenge

Once you know you want out of the low-pay trap, you’ve got to make an escape plan.

We all know the best solution for beating any addiction is to go cold turkey — leave the mills and bid-sites and lowball Craigslist ad trolling behind.

Deal with the withdrawal, and in a short time, you’re over it.

That’s why my key advice for writers looking to kick the content mills is this:

For one month, don’t go on any mill sites. Don’t bid on Elance. Don’t check Craigslist.

Instead, use your new-found free time to proactively market your business to find your own, quality clients.

Publications with advertisers, and readers.

Companies that sell a real product or service, in the real world.

I have yet to meet a writer who’s tried this who didn’t end up making more money very shortly.

Once you break the habit of turning to these low paying markets for a quick cash fix and find a decent client or three, you’ll quickly wonder why you ever lived the mill-junkie life.

Of all the writers I’ve mentored to get off of content mills, not one of them has ever told me they want to go back.

But…if you can’t go a couple months without your mill money, you have to do it another way.

The alternative: Weaning yourself off

Start laying the groundwork for your departure.

Get a day job if need be, or lower your expenses to save up a little cash.

Then, start gradually scaling back the number of hours a week you’re willing to spend on content mill and other low-paid work.

Use all your free time for marketing. As you find better clients, taper off more.

This method is harder because your self-esteem keeps taking a hit from how little you’re paid and how you’re treated.

But keep at it and one day, you look back and realize you don’t write for mills anymore.

You’re clean.

Have you kicked the low-pay writing habit? Leave a comment and tell your story.






  1. Dave Megan

    Writing is always healthy to the brain. But when we are tortured by not being paid fair, it’s unhealthy anymore.

  2. Steve

    I think Content Mills actually do a great service to aspiring writers.

    Aspiring writers need to realize that they, and their hopes and their dreams, DO NOT MATTER.

    • Carol Tice

      Not sure where you’re coming from with this statement, Steve, but I believe writers’ hopes and dreams matter to THEM, for sure.

      I think content mills often do writers a service because after writing for mills, writers realize they want to write something more meaningful, challenging, and lucrative than they’ll ever get at a mill. And so they move on.

  3. Matt Rowland

    Try this. It takes you thru blogs from start to finish, at your own pace. It’s awesome.

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