Be a Writer, Not a Waiter

Carol Tice

Don't Wait for Freelance Writing SuccessI have a writer friend I’ve stayed in touch with over many years. We recently met for lunch and caught up on who we’re writing for these days. She’s always struggled to earn as much as she needed to support her family, and our lunch reminded me of why.

She rattled off a list of very interesting prospective projects that seemed to be waiting in the wings. Some were potentially very lucrative.

The problem? I’d heard about many of these same projects months back. She was still in a holding pattern, waiting for them to materialize. In the meanwhile, she hadn’t earned much.

“I’m still waiting to hear,” she told me of many of the projects.

Which reminded me of one of my rules of earning well as a freelance writer: Be a writer, not a waiter.

My mentees bring this home to me as well. Often, they’ll get a nibble from a prospective client or editor…and then…paralysis. Weeks of waiting. And maybe that nibble turns into a client…but often, it doesn’t. Personally, I got four really awesome-sounding emails from four different, new possible copywriting clients late last week. I was kinda stoked! And then Monday came, and none of them got back to me. This happens — it’s just a reality of life as a freelance writer. There’s a lotta flakes out there.

To avoid wasting time on prospects that don’t pan out, here are my rules for coping with prospective projects that aren’t confirmed yet:

Don’t get excited about them.

Don’t “leave room” on your schedule for them.

Don’t stop marketing your business.

Don’t turn down other firm assignments, even if they’re not as good as the nibble.

Don’t expect them to pan out.

In my experience, many businesses that explore copywriting don’t ever end up doing their projects. Editors who make vague noises of interest but never translate that into an actual assignment are also not uncommon. So don’t get your hopes up prematurely, as it can put you into a deadly waiting game that costs you big money. This way, if a new client actually inks a deal with you, it’s an exciting and pleasant surprise — as opposed to the disaster that occurs when you pencil in a chunk of pay and mentally count it as income you expect this month…and then it gets delayed, or never happens.

When you have a signed contract, a confirmed assignment, and/or a deposit check in hand, then put the article or copywriting project on your calendar and consider it a “go.” Until then, remember — writers earn from writing, not from waiting.

Photo via Flickr user batega


  1. P.S. Jones

    This is so true! If I were a hobbiest, that would be fine. But I write for a living and I can’t pay my bills on potential projects. So you’re right: Unless it’ a confirmed (and for me, paying) project, it doesn’t get on the calendar and it don’t waste time in my day worrying about it. I have ongoing work to worry about and if I wanted to work for free on a project, I do volunteer work once a year and have my own side gigs. Counting your chickens before they hatch is definitely not the way to build a successful freelance career.

  2. Brian V. Hunt

    Re: “Don’t “leave room” on your schedule for them.”

    Along those lines, I don’t like to let potential clients know I have room on my schedule. If I have a blank spot that I think I can fill with the job a client just gave me, I’ll tell them I can do it by moving things around a little. I might be moving my cold calling around, but I’m still moving something in order to accommodate them and it lets them know I’m a busy copywriter.

  3. leah shepherd

    Carol, I just wanted to say that this blog is one of the best blog I’ve seen for freelance writers. Top notch! Thanks for your insightful advice.

    • Carol Tice

      Thanks Leah!

  4. Anne Wayman

    Yeah, well said Carol… I’ve always got a few “in the wings” as it were. I never count on them until the contract is signed and the deposit paid.

  5. Toni Star

    Excellent points! Like some, I’ve learned the hard way but now I don’t wait a “mini-second.” I move on!



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