How Freelance Writers Can Add Passion to Their Prose

Carol Tice

Headshot of Larry Brooks, creator of Storyfixby Larry Brooks

It’s so easy to get overwhelmed in this business. Deadlines. Writer’s block. Procrastination. Cranky clients. Competition.

And perhaps at the bottom of the barrel, apathy and boredom.

This is as true for freelance writers as it is for novelists and screenwriters. Believe me, I do both. And I’m as overwhelmed as the next guy.

It’s so easy to get overwhelmed, in fact, that we can sometimes forget what this work is about. Why we got into this game in the first place. We forget that this isn’t just a job (emphasis on just, because if you’re doing this for money, make no mistake, this is a job).

At least it shouldn’t be.

Our mantra should be to prove Moliere dead wrong.

You remember Moliere, right? That little 17th century French dude with the cheesy beret who said (and I paraphrase), “Writing is like prostitution. First you do it for love and pleasure, then you do it for a few friends, and finally you do it for the money.”

When that happens, you can be sure you’re heading down a dark and lonely road. Because then it really is just a job. And I’m guessing that’s not what signed up for. Hell, you started writing precisely because you wanted more out of life than just a job.

Some other wise old sage said this: “Happiness isn’t doing what you like, it’s liking what you do.”

Amen to that. You used to like this work. And you can like it again. Even love it.

So let’s hit the reset button today.

Let’s put the bliss back into your writing. Make this fun again. And, despite all those deadlines and clients and connecting the factual dots, I have a way to get there.

It’s a choice you can make. A brand you can adopt. A voice you can embrace.

The great trap in freelance writing is the tendency to start writing generically. Like a journalist rather than columnist. Like a technical writer rather than a creative writer. Like all the other commodity writers out there writing commodity stuff for commodity clients. The commodity-like nature of non-fiction work isn’t completely within our control, but how we position ourselves within the crowd of applicants absolutely is.

Even if we started out absolutely bubbling with attitude, over time we tend to slide into this vanilla writing mode, avoiding risks and playing it safe. We are driven there by our clients and the nature of the competition, sometimes simply to take the easy road and just get the thing out the door.

That needs to stop. And in stopping it, in cultivating your own voice as a writer – even a freelance writer with chops in a wide breadth of fields and niches, some of which are completely antithetical to passionate writing – you will be building the most important thing you can possibly give your writing career.

You will be building a brand.

If you want to separate yourself from the crowd, if you want to build a brand, and if you want to fall in love with the process of writing again, then choose not to be a machine. Instead, be a pro at it, someone who writes with heart and humor and edge and attitude, and knows when and how to lay it on or back it off.

Anybody can research a topic, go deep, make it sell, sell a point of view, elicit a response. That’s non-fiction 101. And it’s necessary… as a baseline objective. The trick is to not stop there.

If you want to bring passion back into your writing, don’t settle for that.

Make what you write interesting to read. Not just for the content, but for the experience of encountering it. Make readers notice the writing, but without allowing the writing to distract from the point.

Make your voice an advocate for the point.

I do some ghost writing for a guy who bills himself as the world’s foremost authority on public speaking. You’d think this respected guru wouldn’t need a writer, and in fact he’s a darn solid writer on his own. But when he needs something to pop, something with an edge, something to publish in a big national magazine, he hires me. He feeds me the content and tells me to do my thing.

Why? Because I give him passion.

I infuse his stuff with energy and juice. I make him look good. I won’t say he doesn’t have to reign me in once in a while, but he wouldn’t have it any other way. And because of that, we’ve been working together for three years, and he pays a premium for what I do.

Of course, this little sauce of attitude that infuses the writing with a taste of attitude can be tricky, it depends on the nature of the piece and the willingness of the client to go there. Less is usually more, but the right touch can change the driest of non-fiction into a joyful and enlightening ride.

Not just for the read, but for you, too.

Suddenly it’s not just work, it’s art seducing craft and erasing the lines that separate them.

So if you’re tired of working at this writing thing and yearn for the days when you looked forward to sitting down before a blank screen, make a shift. A choice. Choose to like what you do.

Choose to do it with love. Because passion is so much more rewarding, and universal, when it comes from that place.

Larry Brooks is the creator of His new book, Story Engineering: Mastering the Six Core Competencies of Successful Writing, comes out from Writers Digest Books at the end of February.







  1. Katherine Swarts

    There’s a passage in the Christian Bible (Revelation 2:2-5) that speaks of people who work hard and well but “have forsaken the love [they] had at first”–who, somewhere along the way, let focus on “doing” replace focus on what they were doing it FOR. A very easy trap to fall into, particularly when everyone around you seems to be stressing achievement, hard work, and high income above purpose and vision.

    My favorite tip for keeping the passion in your work is to write both a “mission statement” (an outline of your primary goals/foci) and a “vision statement” (a description of where you see yourself at least five years in the future), and to start each work day by reading them out loud.

    • Carol Tice

      Great exercise, Katherine. My mission is to experience joy in everything I do, every day. If it’s writing I don’t enjoy doing, I drop it.

  2. Jan Hill

    I’ve always loved to write, and when I began to seek out part-time freelance work five years ago, it was for the sheer joy of interviewing, writing that dynamic lead, and telling an intriguing story. About a year ago, I was laid off from my full-time job and suddenly, without any warning, my freelance job became my primary, full-time job. It was then that I experienced an intense pressure to produce, to write as much and as fast as I could, and keep the wolf away from the door. My writing felt like a job, and not a very enjoyable one at that. Within a few months, I was able to secure full-time employment again, and since then I’ve been building my freelance business slowly, weeding out the work (and clients) I find uninteresting, and consciously putting the passion back into my writing. Through Carol and Anne’s help (that was a great webinar yesterday, by the way!) I’m starting to market and carve a niche that I’m excited about. My goal is to get to the point where I can comfortably freelance full-time without losing the passion, although I know it takes effort to keep the fire burning!

    • Carol Tice

      Hi Jan —

      Sounds like you made the right decision that allowed you to continue building your freelance gradually and keeping the joy in it.

      Come on back and tell us if anything you learned on the blog or at the Webinar helped you land a client…I love guest posts with success stories!

      • Larry

        @Jan – there’s so much truth in your journey, as you relate it here. It’s what I quoted in the article: liking what we do. How many folks do we know that seem to be doing the perfect thing, the perfect job (I know a couple of airline pilots who qualify, at least by my standards), and yet, they don’t seem to feel the passion ‘we would if we were them’. That’s life, I guess, everything comes with a price, and true joy is embracing the whole of it. Sorry about the zen, but the older you get (and I’m a lot older than I look), the more zen makes sense. Happy writing to you, you’re already living the dream. L.

  3. Madeleine Kolb

    There are some very good points and suggestions here, although you should probably not take Moliere too seriously about writing. He did have a great sense of humor after all.

    One thing that occurs to me is the gap you indicate between creative writers and technical writers. In reality, a good writer can often write in a variety of styles. For example, I worked as a technical writer in a government agency for 8 years. Yet last fall I won 3 successive levels of Toastmasters humorous speech contests and competed against 9 other speakers at the 4th level. (It all started with writing a funny speech.)

    Finally, the webinar yesterday was really helpful and encouraging. Well done, Carol and Ann.

    • Carol Tice

      Thanks Madeleine —

      So glad you found it helpful! Surveys will be going out shortly so we can get feedback from everyone.

  4. Sue Dyson

    This was a brilliant read. As a fledgling freelance writer, just barely dipping my toe into the water these days, I have been pondering whether I would be able to write for someone else without compromising my voice. What I hear Larry saying is to stand firm and be myself. Thanks for the guidance. It helps a great deal.

  5. Larry

    Old Bill The Shake said it first (in a little ditty called “Hamlet”), as inspired by Socrates admomition to “know thyself” — “to thine own self be true.” When a writer internalizes that, anything is possible.


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