Is Being a Freelance Writer Really Hard?

Carol Tice

Does trying to make it as a freelance writer
seem overwhelming sometimes?

I hear that a lot.

But today, I’m going to be real straight with you.

Sometimes, I think it’s b.s.

I think some writers make it a lot harder journey than it really has to be.

Take this question I recently saw:

I can usually find writer’s guidelines and editor contacts for the pubs I want to query… but am having a tough time finding anything for [X major company magazine].

If anyone has that info to pass along – I’d appreciate it!

As it happened, I had a business card from the editor of this publication, so I dug it up. But then I got curious, and started searching online.

I learned he was gone, and there was a new managing editor (often the best bet for who to pitch).

I also got the new guy’s name and email. And it took me a big three minutes to find it all.

In fact, in this case, it was right on the masthead of the online version of the publication.

So I have to ask: How tough was this to do, finding this contact?

Where-all did you look, if it was “tough” to find this? Do you just not know where to look? Never seen a masthead before?

This sort of market research is only hard if you make it hard, by refusing to lift a finger to help yourself.

I’ve got a name for this kind of thing:

Hands-to-shoulders syndrome

Imagine that you’ve just thrown up your hands and gone, “Oh my gosh! I can’t handle this another minute.”

Then your hands get stuck to your shoulders there. And you can’t move them anymore.

That’s hands-to-shoulders syndrome. You can’t do much in this position, can you?

It’s a symbol of how some people act helpless when they could take action instead.

So I have a few hard questions of my own to ask today about the root causes of hands-to-shoulders syndrome:

What’s up here? Do you not have the research skills to find the contacts you want?

Or are you procrastinating on that research because you are secretly afraid of putting yourself out there?

Are you using excuses for hanging back, like “I don’t have a journalism degree”?

Do you feel nervous that you don’t have enough training to get the good assignments?

My guess is it’s not really laziness behind most of these “I can’t find the editor” questions.

It’s something else that slows down many writers’ marketing plans: fear.

As long as you don’t have the name, you don’t have to send a query — and find out you don’t cut it.

How to overcome the fears

Here’s something a lot of writers don’t want to hear: This is a business.

When you’re in business, you have to do marketing. If you’re not willing to commit to that, you have a hobby.

You also have to do professional development, just like teachers and doctors and every other type of professional. You need to keep adding to your skills and knowledge.

How do I know so much about those fears? I was once a brand-new freelance writer, too — without a college degree of any kind, much less one in journalism.

I was constantly worried somebody would figure out I didn’t know what I was doing.

So you know what I did?

I went back to school

I took a year’s worth of journalism classes through UCLA Extension. (This was before the Internet and online Webinars, or I’m sure I’d have gone for that.)

It cost me nearly $1,000 to do it.

I learned how to write a magazine article. How to do an interview. The basics of copywriting.

It gave me enough confidence to start plugging myself and getting gigs.

Pursuing freelance writing suddenly seemed a lot easier and less scary. I felt more legit.

I find there are basically two types of freelance writers: the ones who understand they need to invest in their career and keep learning, and the ones who don’t. You can probably guess which ones end up earning more.

If freelance writing is hard for you, consider ways you could make it easier.

What’s the hardest part of being a freelance writer for you? Leave a comment and let us know.

P.S. If you think a quick shot of training could make your road easier, check out the new course Linda Formichelli and I have created — 4-Week J-School. We’ve designed it specially to eliminate hands-to-shoulders syndrome.


  1. Theresa Cahill

    Hi Carol, you hit so many points – and the comments really fluffed out all sides to making a living writing online – that you were the inspiration for my latest post.

    Thank you!

    So many opportunities to write. I love the fact that you’ve got a following willing to take the plunge and do it!

    When someone says there are no opportunities to make money online, well they just aren’t looking hard enough (or perhaps looking in all the wrong places).

  2. Jessica Benavides Canepa

    Great Post Carol!

    The hardest part for me is deciding what story to pitch to which editor. As a travel and lifestyle writer I am fortunate enough to be invited to plenty of events and press trips to keep me motivated to write. This said, when marketing my writing services for an exclusive story angle, I often need to decide if I will be using the research gathered to approach a new client, to write on my own blog or to keep up the relationship with an editor that I am already working with.

    Truth be told it’s a balancing act that I rather enjoy having 😉

  3. Lauri meyers

    When I ask that question, I secretly mean “can you tell me something amazing about this editor, so I can put a cute quip in my query letter about that time we met at a conference even though I havent yet gone to a conference and I don’t know said editor.”. It’s 1 part wishful thinking and 2 parts naïveté.

  4. Howard Baldwin

    Without a doubt, the hardest part of my freelancing life is getting paid on time. For one client, it’s not the accounting department, but rather the project managers forgetting to submit my invoices. The process is always the same: I wait the requisite four weeks, politely check in, and get a response that they either forgot (at least they’re honest) or they didn’t see it (not honest).

    One of my other clients is a Fortune 500 company that’s gone to NET 60 in paying invoices because they know they can. Extremely annoying, but at least it’s an ongoing gig so it’s easy not to notice after a while.

    My favorite clients are the ones that pay net 15. They have a special place in my heart.

    • Carol Tice

      Mine are the ones that pay 50% up front before I get started… love getting paid for not having done anything yet. 😉

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