What Bodysurfing Taught Me About Freelance Writing Success

Carol Tice

Ariella rides one all the way to shore

On my vacation last week, I got some freelance-writing inspiration from a fun activity I haven’t gotten a chance to do since I was a teen: I went bodysurfing and boogie-boarding with my kids, in southern California.

Those waves keep coming, and they can be fun to ride — or they can pick you up and pile-drive your head into the sand. (I got to experience some of each.)

The ocean is ever-changing…just like the freelance-writing scene today.

We’re seeing waves of change that seem to come faster and faster. The recession. New media. Social media. Content mills. Bidding sites. Magazines folding. New online sites.

As in surfing, there are a limited number of responses you can make to the approach of the oncoming change-waves in our industry:

  1. Get out of the water. If you can’t cope with learning social media and writing online content, you might want to go into another line of work. These changes are here to stay. I think many writers have simply moved on in recent years.
  2. Stay where you are and take a pounding. If you’re halfway into the water, you’re going to just keep getting smashed into by a terrific force. It won’t be easy to hold your ground as it will be sucked out from under your feet and drawn toward the wave. You can keep doing what you’re doing, but you’re basically fighting the tide.
  3. Swim as fast as you can toward the wave. This option gives you a chance to get on top of a wave before it gets any bigger or crashes down on you. It carries the risk that you will fail and be mauled by a wave that breaks right over you and rips your boogie-board out from under you…but also holds the promise that you could rocket past the wave into calmer waters.
  4. Move sideways across the wave. This is what boarders do when they shoot the curl — instead of fighting the wave, they ride across it and let its energy carry them along parallel to shore. In freelance writing, I’d compare this to learning a new specialty niche such as technical writing or white papers.
  5. Dive under the wave. If you swim along the bottom of the ocean just as the wave approaches, the wave’s force will pass right over you and you can come up on the other side. It might not be pleasant, and seawater could go up your nose. I’d liken this to getting a day job for now, in hopes that the freelance markets will improve later.
  6. Get out past the waves. It’s not easy to do, but once you’re past the breakers, life is fine. You can float along, enjoy the sun, and then pick which wave you want to surf back to shore. It’s like being a fully-booked freelancer — you’re in control and pick and choose your clients.

Both in the surf and in freelance writing, I liked that third option — swim hard, straight into the wave. Often, you can surprise yourself and get over the crest in time.

Sometimes I feel like I’m out past the waves. For example, I haven’t had to do much active marketing in the past year, as my passive marketing strategies — referrals, SEO for my writer website, my LinkedIn profile — have sent me enough business. But then a new challenge tumbles me back to the beach, and it’s time to fight the swells again to get back out there.

When I was having trouble getting past that final set of far-off waves, my teenage son Evan gave me the answer: “Sometimes, you’ve just got to let the waves beat you up, mom. Just keep fighting your way out there.”

What’s your approach to the changing world of freelance writing? Leave a comment and describe how you’re surfing the waves of change.


  1. Ali

    good one Carol ๐Ÿ™‚ btw what if there is a storm?

    • Carol Tice

      Great question — guess I think there sort of is one now. Kind of a high-surf situation…and we each have to decide if we’re going to stay in the water or get off the beach, hm?

      • Ali

        so, in a way, storm is good huh?

  2. Lori

    I loved this post. A SoCal gal myself, I take my kids to the beach and subject myself to the pain and joy of the waves. I think another parallel between body surfing and freelance writing is putting yourself out there in the first place, joining the kids and holding your own. I’m sure you laughed and felt years younger doing it. Letting loose and going for it is huge. I’m going to think of these waves as I catch myself diving under or running toward the freelance waves and hope it keeps me in check!
    BTW, no fear of storms here.

    • Jodi Hughey

      I like how you put it, Lori, “Letting loose and going for it . . . !” That is so true.

      There are times when I have to convince myself not to be afraid to get into the water. I just need to “let loose and go for it!”

      To put it in surfer lingo . . . I just need to get amped up for those gnarly waves and not be such a junkyard dog.

      • Carol Tice

        Hi Jodi —

        I just found a couple of your comments trapped in my spam…apologies for the posting delay!

        • Jodi Hughey

          Hi Carol,

          Not a problem! I somehow manage to make it in a lot of spam boxes, even emails I send to close friends ends up in spam. Any idea why this happens? Do I smell bad? ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. Linda Bryant

    Your posts are always outstanding, but recently they’ve reached a whole new level. This one is perfection. Makes so much sense.

    No. 1 is a tough one. I think a lot of writers, at least the ones know (laid off reporters and editors) are confused by the changes the writing field is going through. They are willing to learn social media but overwhelmed by it. They need educational communities like your Freelance Writers Den. Sort of like ongoing continuing education.

  4. Gip

    It’s interesting that I like this post. I’ve never spent much time in the water, so I can’t really relate to the concept. And I don’t like to think of life as a struggle or use violent images. Still, though, I very much relate to this post.

    I understand the value of going with the flow — and the need to sometimes make your own flow. I think that the idea of this post.


  5. John Soares

    Carol, thanks for refreshing my memories of the three years I lived on Kauai. I did a lot of body surfing and some boogie boarding, but I especially loved big-wave swimming, including swimming several times in 15-foot-plus swells.

    Just one caveat: always be careful in the ocean to not get in situations beyond your abilities.

    With freelance writing, I agree with you and response 3: go for it.

    When actually dealing with large waves in the ocean, it’s safest to dive under them; I would often dig my fingers into the sand while under water to keep from being dragged back to shore.

    • Carol Tice

      Thanks for adding these tips for both bodysurfing and freelance writing! It’s true — we can take assignments where we are really beyond our capabilities. I believe in stretching and taking on new challenges, and it’s always hard to know the difference between that and just plain kidding myself I can do the gig ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. Sarah Wight


    This is the first post of yours I’ve come across and I must say I really enjoyed it. I look forward to combing your site!

    • Carol Tice

      Well welcome aboard! Do have a look around. You’re just in time to enjoy my awesome new header…I feel like a real blogger now!

  7. Ayo Oyedotun

    Hi Carol.

    My own approach against the tide is ‘personal development’. The race may get tougher; the tough people have to get going by upgrading their skills. You know what Sylvester Stallone said in a movie,

    “Sometimes, life beats you down really hard, but the way to succeed is to rise up every time you fall”

    That’s a challenging post Carol. Thanks.

  8. Ruth Zive

    You didn’t broach the subject of sharks! ๐Ÿ˜‰

    I’m all for #3, the risks notwithstanding.

    • Carol Tice

      Try to select non-shark-infested waters for your bodysurfing and/or freelance writing ๐Ÿ˜‰ Not always easy to tell…I’ve definitely had at least one gig where it turned out to be dangerous waters, and I was happy to get out quickly!

  9. Karen

    Great analogy. I’m a total water babe. This year we bought a wake slider to tow behind the family boat. Now I think about it that taught me some things that apply to writing too. Mainly that it’s really hard to go flat out and still stay balanced ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Carol Tice

      Oh, good one! We could really play with this analogy all day, couldn’t we?

  10. linda stephens


    Always an inspiration! As a former Southern Cal gal, I found the body-surfing analogy is excellent and right on the money! Keep it coming – you’re a constant source of information.

  11. Tiffany Barry


    I just wanted to say that I just recently found your blog, and your posts have so inspired me! I think I’m basically swimming straight toward the wave right now. Last weekend, I completely redid my website to better work for me, upped my SEO, and started marketing myself like crazy. Using the tips and inspirational articles on your blog and after only a week of really digging in, I’m already negotiating an on-going contract with one client and working with 3 other prospects on potential work! I can’t believe it, and I am so grateful that you put all this great information out here in the blogosphere!

    Thank you so much!

    • Carol Tice

      Thanks for sharing this story — really makes my day to hear people are taking the tips and making more money — because that’s what it’s all about.

  12. Srinivas Rao


    As somebody who is known across the entire blogosphere as the guy who is “obsessed” with surfing there was no way I could resist commenting on this. I know exactly what you mean about getting pounded because it happened to me on a 10-12 foot wave in Nicaragua. The interesting thing about taking a pounding is it prepares you for the next wave and you’re much more equipped to ride it or get past it. IN many ways, people people in the blogosphere have to be willing to wipe out or take a few on the head before they hit their stride. One thing to also note is that waves come in sets. The life of somebody doing anything entrepreneurial is a constant roller coaster ride and just as in the ocean we have to go with the flow

    • Carol Tice

      Thanks for coming on and commenting…and adding to our wave analogy!

  13. Philip

    Funny How We relate what we do in life to our careers! Awesome article!


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