Why Idiots Make Good Freelance Writers

Carol Tice

A clueless freelance writer leaps before they lookIt’s hard being a freelance writer.

I mean, there’s so much to worry about. Do I come off arrogant on Twitter? What does it mean that I got no response to this query letter? What if people laugh at me when my story comes out?

So much anxiety.

Unless, of course, you’re clueless.

Maybe you don’t know enough to know you should be worrying about these things. If you’re a bit of a moron, you just plunge ahead, blundering around until you figure out how to make the whole freelance-writing game work for you.

And that, folks, is me.

Don’t believe me? Let’s review the hilarious blunders I blithely committed while switching from songwriting to being a freelance nonfiction prose writer, and how those errors failed to discourage me.

Diary of a simpleton

The first prose piece I ever published was an essay about my songwriting life. It won a contest put on by the L.A. Weekly.

Right after it came out, I asked my editor if I could report a story about an upcoming protest that was going on in downtown L.A.

Hello? Writing an essay in no way qualifies you to be a reporter. But I was utterly ignorant of the world of journalism, so I didn’t know that.

I just knew I dug being published and wanted to put out more articles. And they said, sure, give us 500 words on it. So I did.

After it came out, they gave me a bigger assignment, which I completely screwed up. So it got killed.

But I didn’t know that this failure should make me crawl off in shame and never report a story again. I was more like a crack addict who’d had their first hit. I had tunnel vision.

I just needed to figure out how to get more of that byline high.

So I pitched the Weekly‘s competitor, the L.A. Reader. Then I ended up writing for the second paper for years, eventually including cover features.

Lather, rinse, repeat

I repeated this whole process with the real estate section of the Los Angeles Times. Entered a contest, won, essay published, and then the editor wanted me to write articles for them.

I thought he was nuts, but that sounded like a fun challenge. Like a happy idiot, I just smiled and went with it.

I’m sure if I’d sat down and thought, “This is the third-largest newspaper in the entire United States, and I’m writing articles that appear on the cover of a section, when I’ve been writing prose for a big nine months,” I would have been too intimidated to continue.

Also, did I mention I was s l o w ? It would take me about two or three months to write a single feature! I have no idea why my editor put up with that, but fortunately, I was unaware I should find my production rate embarrassing. So I just plugged along until gradually, I got up to speed.

Editor without a clue

Next thing I knew, I stumbled onto a gig editing a small alternative paper in San Pedro, Calif. The locals included masses of scowling, Republican, chain-smoking, dock-worker Croatians.

As I’d walk down the street to grab lunch, they’d stop me and make rude comments about stuff they didn’t like in the paper. One time, the publisher got clocked on the street by one irate reader who didn’t like his progressive editorials.

My favorite week was the one where I misspelled “Requiem” in a headline about 70 pts high, after a prominent local citizen died. And boy, did I hear about it.

“Oh, look who it is,” the Croatians sniggered, flicking cigarette ash my way. “The girl who can’t spell requiem!”

Probably that sort of incident should have indicated to me that I wasn’t cut out for an editor’s detail-oriented role. But once again, bullets bounced right off.

Merrilly, we roll along…

Apparently, the part of my brain that should register the feeling of being unqualified to do something is permanently broken.

Next up, I got a staff writing job that required a bachelor’s degree in journalism with a Park Avenue, New York City-based trade magazine chain — even though I’m a college dropout who studied music the two years I was in school.

Later, I got a second full-time gig. Same deal. Needed a degree I didn’t have.

When I got back to freelancing in 2005, I started writing for businesses. I didn’t know what I was doing, so I asked a lot of questions of my clients — which turned out to be exactly the right thing to do to succeed at their assignments.

More recently, I started a blog, despite not knowing a thing about blogging and being completely non-technical. And you all know how that worked out.

There’s magic in tuning out the outside feedback. Don’t think about how you don’t really know what you’re doing.

Be a happy freelance idiot. Just write something, pitch something, learn something, try something. And see what happens.

How do you disconnect from freelance worries? Leave a comment and tell us your story.

Freelance Writers Den


  1. Tarissa Helms

    Thank you for this, Carol!

    I let myself get a little bogged down this week by how much I don’t know and the mistakes I’ve made. Your post really lifted my spirits and inspires me to keep putting one foot in front of the other – write, pitch, learn, try – lather, rinse, repeat. I love it! πŸ™‚

    • Carol Tice

      Hi Tarissa – thanks for my first-ever comment on my first post up on a Sunday! Experiment I’m trying after WordPress got out of the mood to publish my post Friday, speaking of mistakes and fails. ;-( Sort of perfect for this post, though, hm?

      It got me thinking about my publication schedule — Going to see what happens if I publish Sun-Tues-Thurs instead of M-W-F.

      Recently, I got an email from a writer who asked me, “How long did it take to perfect your writing — six months? A year? Five years? More? Please give me a sense of how long this will take.”

      My answer: “Still working on it.”

      There is no arriving in freelance writing – we can always improve. And today’s mistake wraps tomorrow’s fish (or online, gets buried by the next post or Twitter cycle). Like Dory says in Finding Nemo, “Just keep swimming. What do we do? We swim…”

      • Lisa Baker

        I wondered about you posting on Sunday! I love it. Such a serendipitous great this morning. πŸ™‚

        • Carol Tice

          I mean, it was kind of a hilarious question. Yeah, I’ve achieved complete perfection as a writer — you can tell by my Pulitzers and Nobel prizes, right?

          People who think writing is something they can brush up and master quickly and then coast for the rest of their lives don’t understand how this craft works. And how you need the drive to keep improving.

  2. Lisa Baker

    LOVE THIS. And it’s really timely for me, too. πŸ™‚ I’ve been avoidng following up on an amazing opportunity because I’m too intimidated and I’m afraid I already made a fool of myself. But I’m gonna send that email this week. What’s the worst that can happen? They’ll ignore me, and I’ll be no worse off than I am now.

    • Carol Tice

      Right on. We’ve really got to unplug the part of us that worries about everything and imagines people are noticing and laughing at our mistakes.

      I try to be like Milo in The Phantom Tollbooth — if nobody tells you it’s impossible, you may just plunge ahead and do something amazing.

      The happy idiot attitude can take you a long way in freelancing.

  3. linzi

    Loved this article. I have been very lucky to get a recommendation for my blog after only six months and now feel paralysed with fear! Your article has inspired me to keep going despite the fear and self-doubt.

  4. Jim

    Thanks for this post. It’s really encouraging to know that you’ve gone through (and quite possibly are still going through) something that I’m learning about – how to write about something that I don’t feel ‘expert’ at.

    • Carol Tice

      Jim, your expertise is writing. My joke is “give me 3 days and I’ll BE your expert in WHATEVER.” The Google makes it so easy to find experts to talk to and quote, on any topic. πŸ˜‰

      • Missy

        I bet this article got a ton of click throughs from RSS feed readers – with your awesomely compelling and “grab you by the cockels” headline. I just HAD to come over and read it.

        I can so relate to this article and was looking to see who wrote it – thought for sure, it was a guest writer. But I see it isn’t. Great stories as usual Carol, quite enjoyed this one.

        p.s. The comments are even better. Lol. Thanks again and I surely will merrily roll along as a happy freelance idiot. πŸ™‚ It has fared well for me, so far. So roll along I shall. πŸ™‚

        • Carol Tice

          I had no idea how many writers would want my idiot training…should have made this a course! πŸ˜‰

          • Karen J

            If that course ^^^ includes “How to turn off your ‘But, you’re the smartest kid in the class! Why don’t you rock at this, yet??’ voice”, I’ll take it – in a heartbeat!!

  5. Mahala Church

    I am a charter member of the Idiot’s Club and proud to be one! Seems like I’ve spent a great deal of my life flying by the seat of my pants, which makes me a good pantster.

    Funny article and soooo true.

    Thanks for all the reminders to not take ourselves too seriously.

  6. Michael Agene

    When I saw “Idiots” in the headline, I was wondering what Carol was up to this time.

    Well, I’ve been a complete idiot (in your view) for a while too. Sometime ago, I pitched a potential client and without any form of trying to know who I was, he said “yes”. It was a pretty awesome time for me but guess what?

    He asked us to see in 5 days. By the time we met, I’d not written the article. What was my excuse? I didn’t know much about the company and wanted him to tell me a little more so I won’t give a wrong piece. *Ashamed*

    How ‘novice-like’ or idiotic is that?

    I almost killed my chances but he believed I could deliver and that was how I did it.

    I enjoyed your story and love your sincerity, Carol.

    • Carol Tice

      That was a good instinct, Michael, that you needed to learn more — your only flub was waiting the 5 days. Ask immediately, I say!

  7. Anthony Izzo

    I love this post. As writers, too often we overthink the whole process. You’ve sold me on being an idiot.

    • Carol Tice

      Trust me — try it, it’s funner!

  8. Peggy

    Wonderful post! Vastly encouraging! This is one to remember forever!

    It reminds me of the great hockey player Wayne Gretzky’s words: “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”

    • Carol Tice

      You can see why I was bummed when it didn’t go up Friday. But seems like plenty of my readers are online Sundays…was curious to see.

      Love your quote — πŸ˜‰

  9. Jeanni

    I was a professional journalist for 16 years. I started freelancing before that, and looking back I believe I was an idiot. However, I’m a full time freelancer now. You can’t be an idiot and run a successful freelance business. I’ve taken what I’ve learned working for newspapers and magazines and launched a full-service business with professional subcontractors for jobs I can’t or aren’t qualified to do.
    I believe that searching for and taking on big protects takes a lot of confidence and experience. But in the beginning, I suppose you have to be an idiot, otherwise the rejection and the fear would knock you down. πŸ™‚

    • Carol Tice

      Oh, definitely NOT an idiot about how you run the business back-end of it. Just an idiot about being scared.

      Just disconnect the overthinking and worrying part and put it out there more, I say.

  10. David Gillaspie

    I opened my Sunday email and found a message from a writer looking for writing career insights. I directed him to Make A Living Writing before I saw this post, so I sent another email with the link.

    Carol, your Sunday experiment is working great here. Thanks.

  11. Wendy Burnett

    Carol –

    Awesome post! I giggled most of the way through it, because it so perfectly describes the freelance experience. I’ve got to learn to turn off that self-critical part of my brain that says, “are you crazy, you don’t know anything about THAT” or I’ll never get anywhere as a writer.

    • Carol Tice

      You know, I forgot another one of my idiot moves…when I first started freelancing in 2005, I had a startup CEO ask me to ghostwrite his blog.

      I didn’t actually know what a blog WAS at the time…but of course, I said, “Sure!” Then I went and learned a bit about blogs and off I went.

  12. Karen

    Your title “Why Idiots…” caught my attention. It’s easy to over-think or take mistakes too seriously and use them as a reason not to try. Your post made me realize we are all human, and we simply need to keep pressing on toward our goals.

    Thanks for the insight and encouragement!


    • Carol Tice

      Yes, that is always the hope with my headlines. πŸ˜‰ Glad everyone is enjoying this one!

  13. Rohi Shetty

    Hi Carol,
    Thanks a ton.
    This is absolutely one of your most inspiring posts.

    It reminds me of the US Army slogan during WW2:
    “The difficult we do immediately; the impossible takes a little longer.”

    I’m going to print this and pin this up next to my computer screen.

    • Carol Tice

      Boy, this seems like a ‘keeper’ post for too many overly self-critical writers!

      • Rohi Shetty

        You betcha!
        It’s inspiring and funny.

  14. Daryl

    Seriously? Many of the “issues” that freelance writers face aren’t actually issues.

    They’re only issues if YOU make them issues.

    Too many times people let “rejection” affect them far too deeply, and take professional critiques personally.

    Don’t let it get to you – learn from your critiques and don’t take it personally!

    • Carol Tice

      I so agree – the whole thing where writers are crushed by rejection and go curl up in a ball for six months…you can’t be like that.

      I always remember Steven King’s story about how he started a nail on the wall for his rejection letters, and then he had to replace it with a big spike because he had so many.

      You need to know inside that you have a valuable skill and something good to share with the world, and just keep going until you connect and see where that market is.

  15. Shauna L Bowling

    Now I don’t feel so bad about being an idiot. I need to exercise that side of my brain and get it running in full I-don’t-have-a-clue-and-that-won’t-stop-me mode.

    Thanx for the pep talk, Carol!

  16. Deborah Drake

    “Merrilly, we roll along”…LOVE it. And appreciate your post completely for the humor and candor you write with. For two and half years, I facilitated a weekly event that was literally titled: The Writer’s Support Group for the Reticent Blogger and it had one essential mission–to get people willing to not overthink but to get writing for themselves and as themselves. A lot of writing got done by people who gave up thinking too much and ho jumped in to write. I would SO have featured this post if you had written it anytime before September of 2012, as a valuable perspective and resource. I follow your blog and truly appreciate your unending support and enthusiasm. As one writer to another, I appreciate my own willingness to “just ask, for if you don’t the answer is no…” Here is to not knowing better and surprising your Self time and again! Thank you Carol!

    • Carol Tice

      My rule is, if you think you can do the gig (or quickly LEARN and do the gig), just go for it.

      Sorry I wasn’t fast enough for your group!

  17. Jackson Anderson


    Those were some crazy stories on how you got to the position you’re in now!

    Talk about ‘bumps on the road’ but you never let them even slow you down once!

    Being naive and thick skinned really was your road to success and I think sometimes that may be all it takes if you’re willing to learn, work hard and ignore possible rejection!

    It’s time to become more idiotic on the way to success and just ignore rejection like it’s not even an option!

    Great write up!


  18. Mich S

    Hi Carol
    What a ride!
    I love your guts! Thanks so much. I needed to read that!
    I am a newcomer to your blog, but so glad I found you!
    Thanks once again.

    • Carol Tice

      Me too Mich! Great timing on joining — got some fun stuff coming up in the next couple weeks, so stay tuned.

  19. Bliss

    Oh that’s fantastic! I love it, we writers need to focus on being a bit more “moronic”- all those fears and self doubts, criticisms…if only we were foolishly blind to them all, we might stumble into success more often. Great post πŸ™‚

    • Carol Tice

      Exactly — what if we just forgot to be scared about how writing gigs would turn out? A whole world opens up…

  20. Sherry B

    Hi Carol,

    I just love this post! It is so encouraging to read. This came at a great time since I keep getting that nagging doubt wondering if I’m able to do this or not. All the “what ifs” and worries have been doing a number on me lately.
    I realized that because of all these doubts, I’ve been doing something I know I’m good at, procrastinating! I’ve been busy doing a whole lot of nothing for awhile now when I think about it. Well, I’ve been doing a lot of reading, checking emails, etc. which was not what I intended to be doing when I set out to go write a new post.
    Thanks for sharing and inspiring me to get back to my writing Carol!

    • Carol Tice

      Sherry, I’ve got a post coming Tuesday that you are going to love. πŸ˜‰ No additional hints…just watch your email.

  21. Nicolia Whyte

    Haha! This post is so timely! I’ve been feeling like a bit of an idiot for the past day or so πŸ™‚

    The important thing is to keep trucking, even when you make what seems to be the biggest mistake possible. Just call it it a lesson learned and move on. Tomorrow is another day to start fresh.

    • Carol Tice

      As long as you don’t have angry Croatians yelling at you, you’re ahead of me, Nicolia.

  22. Melinda Crow

    Thanks for the Sunday affirmation! I have four published guidebooks and a 25 year career as a freelance writer by being just on the edge of idiocy most days.

    • Carol Tice

      Exactly — thanks for sharing that success story, Melinda!

  23. Erin

    I have always said I got started as quickly as I did with no degree and zero experience because I was too naive and stupid to realize that I had no business trying to pitch the people I was pitching. My first copywriting samples were “ads” I scribbled onto notepad documents for friends’ companies. I emailed everybody. I eventually landed an ongoing gig with a company I’d never heard of writing catalog copy. The editor said my samples were “quite impressive (Whaa?). He then proceeded to call me every single day, sometimes more than once, to tell me everything I was doing wrong.

    Since then I’ve written for dozens of other companies doing the same type of work, including marketing firms on accounts for Fortune 500 companies. And I still hardly feel like I know what I’m doing at least half the time.

    Oh yeah. I also once contacted a large catalog firm/agency in San Francisco… gave the guy my number. The next day I had a missed call which I looked up. It was from San Fran. I had no set up my voice mail box yet. Never did get whoever that was back on the phone. #marketingfail

    So yeah… being an idiot truly helps.

    • Carol Tice

      I think the idiot’s response to constant criticism is, “Ooh, good, I can learn some new stuff.”

      Instead of “This is a sign I suck and should quit.” Which is the worrier response.

  24. Danyelle C. Overbo

    This is great advice, especially for us women writers. At a recent conference, I attended a talk regarding gender in publishing. One of the things the editor of a literary magazine said there stuck with me. He felt that women may not get published as much as men because they take rejection so hard. He said that, in his experience, men are far more likely to come back with more material after getting rejected than women are. This also applies in business. I have heard the theory that part of the reason women aren’t paid as much as men is because they aren’t going for it as hard as men do. We may be taking criticism much more to heart. This post is a great lesson, not just on writing, but on our lives in general. If someone rejects your work, go back and swing harder! Keep at it. Allow yourself the blissful ignorance that Carol is talking about and go at it till you make it.

    • Carol Tice

      That’s a fascinating insight, Danyelle. Is it not ladylike to keep on pushing? Well, I was too dumb to know that too, apparently.

  25. Teliha Draheim


    Thanks so much for your morning post which I laughed my way through. It greatly raised my spirits after receiving a disturbing email last night from a new client, new to working with freelancers. I was given guidelines for two assignments, due next week, which I followed exactly and submitted early. I received their email acknowledging that I had, indeed, followed their directions. However, after reading my submissions, they realized they wanted something completely different than they had assigned! This was a red flag for me. I decided it may not be a good match and offered them a way out of the contract.

    That’s when I read your morning post. About an hour later the client called, very apologetic, after reading my reply saying that I wasn’t very good at mind reading and that the situation wasn’t worth splitting hairs overβ€”especially considering my hair is four feet long and bad hair days are a big deal for me. Meanwhile, I read your previous post on the 40 questions to ask a client before you start a job. Though I had covered most of them, it gave me the opportunity to think up a few more. Bottom line, they really want to work with me, and now that I have set some boundaries I have more leverage for future negotiations. Sometimes you must have a β€œtake it or leave it” attitude to get what you want. Though this was not intended to be manipulative on my part, it gave me the knowledge that I am not readily expendable. Perhaps this could be #41 on your list of questions. How committed is your client to working with you, and how is your perceived value determined?

    Another happy idiot on the path

    • Carol Tice

      No, the question to add is: “Have you ever worked with freelance writers before?” You don’t want to be their first, as you’ve discovered. That may even already be on the list…

      • Gail Gardner

        Your comment reminds me of what learned in Negotiating Skills classes at IBM: always have a BATNA: “best alternative to a negotiated agreement”. In other words, be willing to walk away if you can’t reach a good agreement.

        The best deals you’ll ever get are when a sales person is trying to sell you when you aren’t ready to buy. When you really are willing to walk away you will find out how low they will go to make that sale.

        To freelancers and consultants, I always advise firing bad clients immediately to make room for good ones. Sometimes clients are worth training; sometimes they aren’t. Only way to find out is to try it.

        • Carol Tice

          Right on, Gail — people are afraid to do it, but I’ve never been sorry in 20+ years of writing that I ditched a client. Never found myself later saying, “Gee, why didn’t I hang onto that dysfunctional loser?”

          A better client always seems to pop up as soon as you let them go.

  26. Lynn Robbins

    Thanks for brightening my evening! I was laughing out loud. Did I see myself in a few of your stories? You betcha!

    Your timing is perfect. It’s Sunday 8:15 pm and I’m pulling together my notes for a story I need to submit early this week. Yes, I work weekends and late nights. Not complaining, it’s my choice.

    What do I do? One thing: I read your blogs. Another thing, I practice mindfulness. Would like to say more on this topic, but I’ve got to get back to my story. Maybe I could write a follow up later?

    Thanks for bringing some laughs and the encouragement to my computer screen on this Sunday night.


  27. Lynn Robbins

    Hey Carol,
    Have you considered telling one (or more) of your stories on the Moth Radio Hour?
    You would be great. Let me know if you do. ( http://themoth.org/radio )

    • Carol Tice

      Don’t know anything about it but I’ll check it out!

  28. Rob

    Some of the toughest assignments I get come from a magazine that wants me to write at an 8th grade reading level – it’s in their style guide. Of course, the work has to be grammatically correct, but I have to edit and re-edit to shorten/simplify the sentences and find synonyms for words I use every day. According to the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level thingo on Word, I’m usually only 10th-11th grade, but I’ve never had a complaint about not sounding educated enough. On the flip side, I’ve been given assignments to rewrite articles that were way too academic sounding for the average reader.

    Not sure what the moral is, but that’s what came to me when I read your blog.

    • Carol Tice

      True – yet another aspect is to stop using the $10 words…for most publications they want that 9th grade level. And conversational. And simple. Short sentences. I think in our 140-character era, that’s only ever more true.

      • Gail Gardner

        Most writers have a greater vocabulary and are more into words than their readers. All of us have to work at shortening our sentences because it is simply easier to express a complete thought in a longer sentence.

        When I was at IBM the Profs system (early intranet) had a feature that gave you the grade level. We were encouraged to write at the 8th grade level (which made little sense given almost all the IBM people in the field had four year degrees). I suspect that was in case you sent anything to a plant where I presume degrees weren’t required. I used to run it just to see what words it thought were too “advanced” to use. (But I didn’t change them; my co-workers and management were capable enough to understand.) πŸ™‚

        I was one of the exceptions because IBM hired me between my A.A. and starting my junior year. Not that it would have mattered because my major was music (like Carol’s) and I aced their electronics and logic tests. They didn’t care that I didn’t have my B.S. or B.A. yet.

        Even in corporations that require degrees they don’t always follow their own guidelines. They kept trying to promote me into management without it. But they told others who wanted to be managers they had to go get more degrees. (Good way to keep you busy and optimistic if they don’t want to promote you.)

        I say all that to encourage writers to not let lack of degrees stand in their way. College is one way to learn – and not a very efficient one. You can learn more in a few days online seeking out experts than you can in an entire semester at college. I never went back, and have no regrets at all. Reading is what makes all the difference. Writing and teaching prove you understood what you read.

        • Carol Tice

          Right on Gail – didn’t realize you were a dropout too! I grow increasingly proud of it as I go along… πŸ˜‰

  29. Emelia

    Thanks Carol, This post is truly encouraging. Freelance blogging can be intimidating, especially since there are so many people making a success out of it. This post encouraged me to work with anything I have till i reach my goals.

    • Carol Tice

      I would think it would be encouraging that so many writers are earning with freelance blogging, not intimidating. Means there is opportunity, right?

      Remember, idiots aren’t intimidated…don’t know they should be. πŸ˜‰

  30. Andy Nathan


    Then I must be an idiot as well! Have a degree in history and political science. Was a former teacher and mortgage broker who with 3,000 followers decided in 2009 that I would be a good social media consultant.

    Best decision I ever made. Love it when I see people asking for a journalism major. Means I definitely need to apply, because my writing style is so wonky and cool compared to the plaid, boring journalism majors.


    • Carol Tice

      Right on, Andy — now that I coach a lot of people with MA’s in journalism and communications, I feel increasingly glad I didn’t end up going to J-School.

      • Gail Gardner

        Don’t job descriptions make you wonder? I wouldn’t recognize my own most of the time! The funniest one I ever saw was when social media first started. They wanted someone with a 4 year degree and 5 years experience in social media which hadn’t existed that many years. Too funny.

        I actually planned to major in journalism. My father insisted on music. But I was editor of the school paper for 2.5 years and on the staff for 3.5 (graduated early) so between taking all English electives, plus 3.5 years of Journalism and 3.5 years of German I figure that is enough journalism for any task.

        Carol, if you or the writers you train want to be listed on the writer’s board I created just let me know. Fastest way is Skype (username growmap – I’m growmap everywhere).

        • Carol Tice

          Is this one of your Trello boards Gail?

          Folks, if you’d like to do some epic networking, hook up with Gail on Skype!

  31. Jennifer

    I honestly think that most of our success really come from when we are an idiot. If we knew what was involved and exactly what we were doing, most likely we wouldn’t even try. I have made SO MANY mistakes and wandered into so many situations that I didn’t know what I was doing. I love this post because I think so many new freelance writers think you need to have all the answers to be a successful freelance writer. And the truth is that you get to the point that you know everything about what you are doing, then you aren’t pushing yourself hard enough.

    When I first got started freelancing, I had written for a few regional parenting magazines and blogged for the local newspapers mom website. I decided that I wanted to freelance for the same paper and spent six months being a friendly stalker to the editor. Finally he gave me a chance and assigned me a story. Then I had the oh crap moment of realizing that I had no idea what I was doing and that I actually had no idea of how to write a newspaper story.

    So, I spent five hours reading every story that two writers at the paper who I knew were very good had written over the past year. I studied everything about every article from structure to tone to word choices. And then I wrote my article. The funny thing is that several people have commented that my style is very similar to one of the writers. I always laugh because it should be, he unknowingly taught me J101.

    • Carol Tice

      “If you know everything about what you are doing, you’re not pushing yourself hard enough.”

      THANK YOU, Jennifer, for perfectly summing up my whole life philosophy. πŸ˜‰

      And love your story about studying top writers at a publication you wanted to crack. For me that was Bob Pool at the metro section of the LA Times…just loved his writing style and devoured everything he put out. I looked him up recently and he was still there! Amazing writer.

  32. Lynn Silva


    While ALL of your posts are truly awesome, this one, by far really hit me.

    You always tell the cold hard truth, whether it’s pretty or ugly. I now have an excuse to keep going…I’m an absolute idiot and VERY proud to be one! LOL .

    THANK YOU. : )

    • Carol Tice

      Hi Lynn — Glad we were able to get your comment out of the spam blocker.

      Stay stupid, I say. πŸ˜‰

  33. Kathleen

    I appreciate this post, my sense of courage can be really bipolar.

  34. Susan Smith-Grier

    Thanks for this post Carol. Regarding: “Apparently, the part of my brain that should register the feeling of being unqualified to do something is permanently broken” That part of my brain seems to be hyperactive. Just about everything I look at, my head shakes “nope” and the voice in my brain scream, “NO DON”T BID FOR THAT JOB THEY’LL LAUGH AT YOU AND CALL YOU CRAZY!!” Which shouldn’t really matter, because we are all a little crazy anyway!

    I’ve always wanted to be a freelance writer and now that I’m finally doing it I feel like a kid on mother’s milk when everyone around me is eating prime rib – and there’s nothing wrong with my teeth! So, thanks for the encouragement. My sister-in-law has challenged me to bid for 3 jobs that are way outside my comfort zone. That was 2 weeks ago and I haven’t made any bids yet! I won’t be eating very much in the near future at this rate! I suppose if you can do it, maybe I can too!


  35. Rae Botsford

    Thanks for that! I’m in “deliberately clueless” mode, in which I am well aware of the problems and the competition and my lack of journalistic experience and I’m refusing to be afraid anyway. I don’t quit if it’s something important to me and I like to dive into things immediately. I recently read an article somewhere about the guy who started Virgin Records and how truly successful people start before they feel ready, and it’s totally true. My willful naivete got me assignments from a local paper this past week, and all I went in with was on one (unpaid) clip, one friend-of-a-friend pseudo-connection, prayer, and a whole lot of baseless confidence.

    • Carol Tice

      Right on, Rae! It’s amazing how far you can go if you sound like you could do the gig.

      I once contacted a celebrity magazine about an interview with a star I was going to have access to and their response was: “Go. Do it. Let us know when we can have it.” Never asked about clips, who I was, nothing.

  36. Irwin

    One of the stuff I struggle with every day is going ahead of myself. If I see an opportunity to write something, I think about the reasons why I shouldn’t even attempt to do it. So I end up not trying out of fear of negative feedback, etc. What you just shared is just what I needed to just do it anyway and keep on trying.
    Thanks! As always, great stuff.

  37. Erica

    This is one of your best posts. And a necessary one. We over-think things way too often when really, it does us no favors.

    I’m proud to say I’ve screwed up a lot. A. Lot. Seriously. Each time I repeat a key phrase that I heard on a Progressive insurance commercial: “And we’re walking.”

    Just keep going. “And we’re walking.”

    • Carol Tice


      You know, one of my son’s best friends buried his father this past week at age 45. Life is short.

      Do you want to write? Do it. At the end of your life are you going to say, “Wow, I loved writing and all the wonderful places it took me” or are you going to say, “I’m glad I stayed scared and didn’t try to live my dreams.”

      Seriously. Think about it. And stop worrying!

  38. mspinrad

    What a clever, funny, inspired post. I once landed a reporting job because a friend’s editor I met at a dinner was desperate for someone, anyone apparently (my journalism background being limited to reading sports sections and the Onion), to write a feature on a high school marksmen team championship. Hey, what the hell. I stepped up, had fun with it, and ended up in journalism for two years. You never know what’ll lead to opportunities. Just say yes and the rest will take care of itself.

  39. Katherine Swarts

    Another good quote (unfortunately I couldn’t locate the original source through Google; I do remember I read it in Dan Miller’s 48 DAYS TO THE WORK YOU LOVE): “Every mistake I ever made, I made when I thought twice.” While I have experienced the down side of automatically saying yes to EVERYTHING, I also know that the mere commitment to deliver something by a certain date–regardless of whether it would seem the sort of project I’d find “easy”–is generally enough to guarantee a good job. Whereas, you can let an awful lot of opportunities pass you by while sitting around trying to figure out the absolute best, no-miss next step.

    • Carol Tice

      Love that quote!

  40. Leanne Regalla

    Hi Carol,

    What great and funny stories! I love it, and can relate to so much of it.

    I got an MBA and worked for corporate America. But I always had an entreprenurial drive. I tried a few things, and then landed on music.

    I started teaching guitar before I could really play well myself (I know several friends who did the same thing and we are still teachers 10 or more years later.)

    I bought a retail music store without a clue of what I “should” be doing and with no idea about the true functionings of half of the instruments and gear I was selling.

    I started writing songs just as cluelessly – I even wrote one (on my first CD) called, “I Don’t Know What I’m Doing, I’m Just Doin’ It.”

    Now I’m launching a blog and pitching all these high-profiles sites (just had a great post on Copyblogger) – and you’re so right.

    Being a happy idiot is really a huge advantage. Thanks so much for this! πŸ™‚

    • Leanne Regalla

      PS – I stash notes for song lyrics everywhere! πŸ˜‰

    • Carol Tice

      I started out in songwriting myself…love your story! Truly, anyone pursuing ANY creative art would do well to never sit down and think about their odds of hitting it big, the competition, etc. Just not productive.

  41. Holly Bowne

    Carol, this is one of the most encouraging posts I’ve ever read. Thank you!

    When faced with a new type of writing project, I often experience moments of intense hyperventilation. First, I attempt to calm my breathing. Then I start some intense studying, and break down the new project into baby steps to reduce the feeling of being overwhelmed.

    Take one step. Breathe. Then the next. Breathe. And so on.

    The only worry I’m not super successful at disconnecting from is the voice whispering in the background, β€œYou’re taking too long. Nobody else takes this long!”

    But thanks to what you shared in this post, I believe I’ll be able to ignore that whisper now as well. Again, thank you!

    • Carol Tice

      Hi Holly —

      All I can say to the “you’re taking too long” thing is — Ha!

      Good thing I was never thinking about that, since I am the world’s latest bloomer. I never wrote a word of prose until I was around 30, wasn’t on the school newspaper, nothing like that. If I’d sat down and thought about what a head start trained journalists had on me and how much faster they could probably write and report a story, I never would have written for anyone.

      I thought it was funny how many people thought a post about being an idiot was encouraging. But once you apply the “be an idiot” standard, you see you’re doing OK no matter how many mistakes you’ve made or how long it takes you to turn in an assignment. πŸ˜‰

  42. Jesse LaJeunesse

    This is probably the most inspiring thing I’ve ever read. I know I massively overthink absolutely everything. I wish I didn’t. But wishes or not, letting it stop me from achieving is something that is under my control, whether I believe that or not. You make the excellent point that knowledge of how the world is supposed to work is, quite frequently, wrong. You cannot know if you don’t try, right?

    Thank you!

    • Carol Tice

      Wow, glad I could help with that! I was blown away by how much people got out of my tales of stupidity. πŸ˜‰

  43. Tanya

    Thanks for this piece, Carol. I tend to over-think everything, and talk myself out of trying for certain writing assignments rationalizing that I don’t have the experience. When I was younger and started out writing I just took every assignment. I’d pitch big magazines. Someone would say, “can you write a radio script” and I’d say,”sure” not having ever written one and then do it and it would be fine. Somewhere along the way (I really think it was my time away from writing in a non-writing job where I was absolutely miserable), I lost my confidence. I’ve been saying to myself lately that I will be that happy idiot again and just go for it. Thank you, thank you.

  44. Sherri

    Love this post! You know, it reminds me of the movie “Forrest Gump”. Forrest decided he was going to be, of all things, a fishing boat captain. He didn’t think about it, he decided he was going to do it, and he just did it. Proves that a little naivete and being a bit clueless can definitely pay off. πŸ™‚


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