Why it’s So F*ing Hard to Be a Freelance Writer

Carol Tice

Exhausted businessman with computer on head

With all the useful tips on how to become a freelance writer I’ve posted on this blog, you’d think I could sign off and be done. I just checked, and there are nearly 500 posts on here!

Yet, each week I hear from writers with new questions. Why?

It’s not easy becoming a freelance writer.

Writers are always asking me:

What is the one best, cheapest, low-cost, fastest way for me to market my writing and find great pay?

But there isn’t one single, simple answer to that.

What we’re trying to do isn’t easy — to find a place for ourselves in a rapidly evolving freelance marketplace.

The challenges of freelancing

Here are some of the common obstacles freelance writers encounter:

There is one advantage to the complex world of freelancing — if it were easy, everyone would be doing it.

So that cuts the herd a bit for those of us who have the cunning, the tenacity, and the gumption to make freelance writing our living.

What do you think is the hardest thing about being a freelance writer? Add your reason to the comments.

 

82 Comments

  1. Catherine Lugo

    I constantly find myself wanting to have a regular job w/ a paycheck, and be a freelancer at the same time….I have to remind myself I can’t do both-I’m just not made that way.

    • Carol Tice

      Well some people do, but it’s tough to juggle both for any length of time. I used to freelance a little on top of my staff writing job. And I’m glad I did, as that gave me a couple clients to start with when I went full time freelance.

    • Katherine Swarts

      I’m in the same spot–and have just about concluded that I never had the entrepreneurial gift that goes with being a full-time freelancer, I was just in love with the idea of retaining complete control of my own schedule. Make that infatuated to the point I convinced myself the market would do all the adapting to my needs (real and presumed) without my ever having to do anything I didn’t feel like doing.

      Mind you, I’m not entirely a pipe dreamer–I do have three regular long-term freelance clients and am making several thousand dollars a year from article writing. Just not enough to be fully self-supporting–and I should have sat down and gotten the my-priorities/real-world balance in order long ago.

  2. Vincent Nguyen

    I wouldn’t call myself a freelance writer yet, but it is something I’m looking to do to supplement some income. I enjoy it and I think I do a fairly good job with it as well.

    Perhaps the hardest part is simply writing with the same passion when you’re doing it for others. For example, when I write guest posts I don’t feel that same personal connection with my words as I would if it were for my site. Of course, I still bleed into the writing, but it’s not quite as personal so I find it strange as I write for others.

    • Carol Tice

      You bring up a great point — it’s a challenge to get psyched up to nail it on your client assignments. Those of us who fall in love with that challenge, of making clients happy, tend to end up earning the best. 😉

  3. Stephanie Sides

    Without a doubt, the biggest challenge for me – certainly the one I’m facing right now – is how to balance the needs of competing clients, especially when many of them I know well. I find I tend to be driven most by meeting the next deadline. I figure that, when clients’ deadline approaches, they appreciate that focus. However, I find that this approach can cause me to make a slow start on some projects with longer-term deadlines.

    I’m not sure what to do about that other than work like a dog and, at age 58, I find I’m less willing to do that. I think I need to communicate better – ha! – with each client up front about where they “fit” in my queue. Then they can determine whether to hire me or not. I’d welcome others’ guidance on this.

    Also, Carol, it seems your blog focuses on corporate and magazine writing. I’ve been “making a living writing” on research proposals in an academic environment. (I mention this because some in your reader community might want to consider this as a career path.) Even with the tight public university purse-strings in CA, I find many faculty members still have pots of discretionary cash and are willing to spend it on grant-writing services to improve their chances of success, especially on writers that have a reputation on their campus or can demonstrate expertise in some disciplinary area (mine is science and engineering; note I took NO science, engineering, or math in college – it’s all been learned on previous jobs!). Except for two clients that have tugged at my heart strings, I charge top dollar. Amazingly, most potential clients don’t even bother to negotiate. That tells me my “top-dollar” rate is too low! I think I’m going to take Carol’s advice and raise my rates come the fall and try to determine where the bar is too high.

    Stephanie

    • Carol Tice

      Hi Stephanie — I certainly know plenty of grant writers, though I don’t know if I’ve met any with your exact specialty — sounds like a great niche!

      I am constantly talking up universities as potential freelance markets, though, from alumni magazines to internal communications to case studies. Lots of work in there! And of course John Soares of Productive Writers makes a great living writing textbook supplements.

      Putting a little homework in early on a project can really avoid that deadline crunch problem. I’m trying to get better at it, but right now I am going nuts doing two feature articles that I’m behind on. ;-( Linda Formichelli is the queen of starting early. Really prevents stress.

      And yeah, when you never get any pushback on pricing, that is definitely a sign to try a higher rate…

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