The Credentials You Need to Be a Freelance Writer

Carol Tice

Freelance writer credentials that matter most. Makealivingwriting.com

Note: Think you’re missing the credentials or qualifications to be a successful freelance writer? I wrote this post five years ago, and I still see a lot of writers struggle with this. The credentials that really matter have nothing to do with writing, and everything to do with mindset. Enjoy! —Carol.

If I’ve learned one thing mentoring freelance writers, it’s this: Writers are hung up on qualifications.

I wish I had a dime for every time a freelance writer told me:

“I’ve always wanted to pursue a career as a freelance writer, but given that I lack a journalism degree, I felt unqualified.”

To which I can only say: Hey. Me too. Both on the no-degree front (I’m a college dropout with a degree in nothing), and the feeling inadequate thing, too.

Except I just plunged in and started writing anyway.

Do you think lack of qualifications or credentials are holding your back from being a successful freelance writer?

Are you thinking about going back to school, taking another course, or talking yourself out of pitching higher-paying clients because you don’t have an impressive resume?

Everyone should be a life-long learner. But you don’t need a degree or credentials to learn how to become a freelance writer. Nor do you need any special qualifications to start landing beginner freelance writing jobs. Here’s what you really need to find freelance writing jobs:

Be a risk-taking freelance writer

When I decided to pursue a career as a writer, without the “proper” qualifications, it was a risk. But that willingness to go for it anyway and expose my writing to the world, despite not having traditional reporter credentials paid off in, among other things:

  • Appearing in the Los Angeles Times and Wall Street Journal
  • Two staff-writing jobs that definitely required a bachelor’s degree
  • Winning a national business writing award for the first time in my newsweekly’s 25-year history
  • Writing for national magazines and Fortune 500 companies
  • Becoming a freelancer and cracking six figures in income

Desire is more powerful than a degree

Here’s the secret: Freelance writers never feel legit. We all feel like frauds.

The successful writers just do it anyway.

I was reminded of this during a very funny presentation at the World Domination Summit a couple years ago. Top blogger Darren Rowse of ProBlogger put up a slide explaining his qualifications for starting his blog:

Darren Rowse's credentials

My favorite one has to be where he couldn’t figure out how to even bold text! His point was he had absolutely no business starting a blog. But he wanted to blog, so he called himself a freelance writer and got started.

Freelance writer credentials that matter most

You see, writing isn’t a career where credentials matter. I wish more writers knew that.

Or not the traditional kind, anyway.

The credentials you need to be a successful freelance writer or blogger aren’t earned in a university. If you have the credentials I list below, you are on your way as a freelance writer and a lot of doors are going to open up to you.

Here are the three credentials you really need:

Curiosity

When you’re told a piece of news, do you find yourself asking questions about it? Wondering what will happen next? Why this thing has happened? And then, do you feel compelled to learn more?

This is an essential for any writer. You need to explore. To ask questions. To know. And to share what you find out with the world through the written word.

That natural curiosity will take you far. I’m always joking that I am the original cat that curiosity killed. And brought back. I drive my family nuts with my questions about everything.

That drive to learn and understand will give you a steady stream of interesting stuff to write about that nobody else has thought to explore.

Courage

Let’s face it — you can’t be a freelance writer unless you are willing to put it out there and face rejection. You have to be willing to hear “no” and not crumple up in a ball and cry yourself to sleep.

You have to keep pushing, even though there’s a ton of competition out there. You have to be brave and confident that you have something unique to offer the world in your prose.

You could be a brilliant writer sitting in your back bedroom typing alone. But without the courage to publish, you can’t build a career as a writer.

Hunger

I recently heard from someone who wanted me to give them some coaching. He announced he had $1 million in the bank and wanted to start freelance writing for something fun to do.

I didn’t even respond, because I know this would-be writer is never going to do this for a living. Why? Because being a freelance writer (or a successful blogger) is hard.

Freelancing and building a blog both require hustle, and if you already have a fortune in the bank and have never felt the drive to write before now, you’re probably not going to bother.

One top blogger told me you’ll only become a successful blogger if you have no other way to feed your family. If you have any other option, you’ll take it. Because writing for a living is tough. You have to want it, bad.

You have to crave that recognition and urgently need the money your writing could bring you. Or you’ll write novels in a garret that are published after you die.

But if you have these three things — curiosity, courage, and hunger — you can write your way to wherever you want to go.

What credentials do you think freelance writers need? Let’s discuss on my Facebook page.

Get your writing questions answered. Banner ad for freelancewritersden.com

66 Comments

  1. Belinda

    Carol:

    I just stumbled upon your post and I have to say I absolutely love it! This is so inspiring, I want to print it and tack it to my wall for daily motivation.

    • Carol Tice

      Well, feel free, Belinda! You’re not the first person to tell me they print and post my blog posts…it always makes me feel so happy to know my posts are that useful to people.

  2. Joseph Rathjen

    Carol, I think one thing an aspiring writer needs to possess is the ability to accept and learn from rejection. I’ve had article proposals rejected over a dozen times in the last year, but recently had a new book proposal accepted.

    But I don’t look at those rejections as failures. I view them as pitstops to the finish line.

    Plus, along the way, I’ve made quite a few important connections and have learned how to spot and deal with the intricacies and quirks of magazine, book and newspaper editors.

    Fearing rejection is the leading cause of not getting rejected at all. If you don’t submit (or query) you won’t get anywhere.

    If you learn how to expect and accept rejection and work it, you will have obtained one of the greatest writer’s gifts of all.

    • Carol Tice

      Exactly, Joseph — I think of it as playing “Match Game,” and just looking for that match.

      Congrats on the book!

  3. Jennifer

    Hi I am glad I read this article cuz I have been wanting to write freelance and be my own boss, choose my own topics. Also I have that hunger to find out more about things I wanna write about. This helped as I have never written for anyone else. I need to turn one of my passion into success. Where do I start?

    • Carol Tice

      Jennifer, the answer to that depends a lot on you, your interests and experience, and the types of freelance writing you want to do. I put together a book with all my tips on how to launch your business — it’s called The Step by Step Guide to Freelance Writing Success: https://makealivingwriting.com/ebooks

  4. Dan Reinhardt

    #4 Stubborness – A willingness to keep going when no one else (including family) believes in you or that what you’re doing is a “real” job. Most naysayers are unhappy with themselves and subconsciously want others to be as unhappy as they are. Below the surface, the doubt you receive from these people is evidence that you’re on the right track. Especially when these people have never even attempted what you’re doing or anything remotely as big. First, many naysayers are not even writers; and second, these people have consistently settled and accepted mediocrity, so how would they know what it takes?

    I think of it like surviving in nature. The well beaten paths can lead you to water and other resources. But if you never veer off the beaten path, you’re at the mercy of what the majority finds. Which means you have to share those resources. The majority will laugh at you and think you’re crazy, but will never discover new resources and opportunities. Pave your own path while remembering where to find the main watering hole.

    I can go on and on about the benefits of not being a “follower” as you can probably tell.

    “If the path before you is clear, you’re probably on someone else’s.” -Joseph Campbell

    • Carol Tice

      Ha, I love that quote! And your addition. 😉

Related Posts

You CAN Write a Query Letter That Gets a “Yes”: 5 Resources

Freelance writer getting a gig after learning to write a query letter.

Love them or hate them, queries are one of the most important marketing tools for any freelancer who wants to write for magazines. And the skills you learn from writing a good query letter also help business writers and copywriters pitch their potential clients.

If you’ve been sending queries off into space and never getting a reply, you may think it’s impossible to break into new magazines. But it’s not true! Editors are always looking for new talent.

To help you learn to write a query letter that will get you the gig, we’ve pulled together a collection of five of our best posts on pitching:

Can’t Write? Try These 9 Ideas for Writing Motivation

It’s the bane of every freelance writer’s life: You know you need to sit yourself down and get some writing done, but nothing happens. The writing motivation just isn’t there. Sometimes, you can't even make yourself sit down with the computer -- even if you...