6 Things Freelance Writers Can Do When They’re Desperate for Work

Carol Tice

6 Things Freelance Writers Can Do When They're Desperate for Work. Makealivingwriting.comI spend a lot of my time encouraging freelance writers to strive for better pay. But what about when you don’t have that luxury?

I had one woman in my mentoring program ask me recently:

What if I’m desperate for work? What do you do when you just need money so bad — right now?

In today’s market of low-paying mills and bidding-site gigs, it’s easy to get trapped in a cycle of taking low-paying gigs that never seem to quite cover the bills, no matter how many hours you work.

You’re stuck. It’s hard to ever move up and earn more. You’re spending a decent amount of your time worrying about whether you can keep a roof over your head and food in the fridge.

Here are five strategies to think about when you feel the panic rising and you’re starting to feel desperate:

1. Cut your expenses. If you haven’t lately, track every dime you spend for a month. See if you can’t find places to cut back your spending. Less spending can buy you breathing room and the freedom to say no to low-paying gigs and to hold out for better ones.

2. Start saving money. Freelancers need an emergency account — or at least access to credit — that can help tide them over if they hit a bad month. Then, when you’re slow, you can market harder instead of biting your nails about whether you’ll be able to pay your bills.

3. Cold call some local businesses. If you have even one spare hour, you can pick up the phone, call local businesses, and ask them if they need a copywriter. I have yet to meet anyone who’s done a serious round of cold calls and not found at least one client.

4. Work your accounts receivable. Do clients owe you money? Send a few polite emails or make a few calls and see if you can get them to send that check already. Or better yet, negotiate better terms for the future — net 15 instead of  net 45, or direct deposit today instead of a check in the mail in 10 days. Often, what broke freelance writers have really isn’t an income problem but more of a cash-flow problem. Don’t fall into what I call the “bank of Carol” trap, and let clients run their businesses on what they owe you.

5. Take a side job. It may be that you’ve fallen so far behind financially that the only way out is to get an hourly wage job you can count on to add some income, so you can rebuild your finances. I know writers who’ve done medical transcribing or stocked grocery shelves at night to pay bills while they got established as freelance writers. Personally, I typed movie scripts. Ideally, the job doesn’t take too many hours and still leaves some time to pursue freelance writing.

6. Learn more. If you haven’t been able to move up as a freelance writer, consider taking a class and learning more about how to succeed in the business of freelance writing. I know — you feel broke. But the problem is, you may always feel broke if you don’t acquire more knowledge of  how to move up to good-paying markets.

I’ve talked to a lot of freelance writers who seem to think this is a “no overhead” business, where you don’t have to spend any money to operate successfully. But it’s a myth. Freelance writing is like any other line of work — investing in your professional development can pay huge dividends in increased earnings.

What have you done when you’re hard-up for cash? Leave a comment and tell your story of freelance survival.

Freelance writers: Get the FREE E-BOOK: 100+ Freelance Writing Questions Answered!



  1. max

    Good question, HowardB. By coincidence, I saw an ad several months ago…..a law firm advertising for a full-time, night shift word processor…I kid you not. I was totally surprised by the ad. I know of those in other cities who speak of law firm gigs at night, but they’re on the east coast (a few in the midwest). Though the ad stated the ideal applicant had several years of legal word processing experience.

  2. Howard Baldwin

    Boy, your post brought back some memories, Carol. When I was first out of college, I worked for a startup magazine that struggled so much, almost all of us had second jobs at nights and weekends. I got some of these through a temp agency. They were weird and sporadic, but they brought in extra money.

    The best “second” job I had was doing word-processing at a law firm at night. My shift was from 5 p.m. to 1 a.m., and if we went through our entire in-box and there were no lawyers roaming the halls late at night, we could leave early. That left my days free to freelance. Of course, that was in the 80s. Do companies still have word-processing departments anymore?

    • Carol Tice

      I think they do, but they’re all virtual departments!

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...