Use This Simple Tool to Move Forward in Your Writing Career

Carol Tice

Writers should consider the quality of advice they get online.Freelance writing is a tough career. I think that’s true at every stage — whether you’re a brand-new writer, returning to freelancing after a hiatus, or you’re a displaced journalist learning to freelance.

Google and social media keep changing. Print and online markets keep evolving. There’s so much to know!

And yet, the important thing is to move forward quickly to build your business, so you don’t run out of cash and have to give up and get a day job.

I hear often from writers who’re boggled by all the advice and tips out there. Some of it is contradictory!

For instance, should you have a rate sheet on your writer website? I say no, but some other top coaches say yes.

You have to quickly cut through the confusion and come up with a plan of action. Fortunately, there is a simple way to do that.

Sift through the tips

When you’re faced with conflicting advice, you need to pull out an important tool.

If don’t use it, you’re just going to sit around feeling overwhelmed and never take action to move your career forward.

I learned to use this tool as a songwriter, going to critique workshops every week. We’d get a lot of advice from other amateur songwriters and our teacher.

This advice always ranged all over the place. “Change the chorus!” “Add more verses!” “The verse melody needs work.” And so on.

Then, at the end of the session, it was time to figure out how to move forward with our song. We’d do that with a tool our teacher always reminded us to bring to each session.

It’s a tool you’ve got on you right now. But it’s easy to forget it’s there and let this tool get rusty.

Instead, I’m going to advise you to use this tool all the time. That’ll help keep it sharp, and keep you from making a lot of sad, time-wasting freelance mistakes.

Decide what to keep

What one tool do you need with you whenever you’re getting career advice?

It’s a trash can.

Not a physical one, but a mental trash can.

It’s for discarding advice that doesn’t feel right for you. It doesn’t seem like the right answer.

Your gut tells you this advice isn’t for you. It just doesn’t resonate.

If that happens, you should ignore that tip and move on.

My teacher would say, “Use what feels right and discard the rest.”

I think a lot of writers forget to take out their trash can when they’re learning about writing. But it really pays to keep it handy.

Consider the source

Besides simply tuning in to your gut feelings about whether a tip is useful, another important screen to use is to simply consider who’s giving the advice.

Honestly, there were a couple of regulars in my songwriting critique class who seemed like total morons to me. I always ignored what they said.

The world of freelance writing is no different. In fact, there is sort of an epidemic these days of writers with scant experience putting themselves forward as experts shortly after beginning their careers.

We see bloggers get their first guest post or two — and later that month, they’ve got an e-book out about how to be a successful guest poster.

Before you get in too deep with a writing mentor, ask yourself a few questions:

  • How long has this writer been doing the type of writing work they give advice on?
  • Are they still doing it?
  • If not, how long ago did they stop?
  • How successful were or are they in their own careers?

It’s an unpleasant fact, but there is a lot of just plain bad, outdated advice out there about freelance writing that’s spouted by people who don’t know what they’re talking about.

Some have barely started their own writing career. Others haven’t been a freelance writer for eons and have no clue how it works today. For instance:

  • One writer recently told me he was informed at a national writing conference that all white paper work is unpaid. Good thing I hadn’t heard that one, or I might have forgotten to charge $6,500 for the last white paper I did.
  • A writer starts a blog about earning from blogging, proudly posts their financial reports showing they netted $85 last month or got a big 167 views on their most popular post — and they’d like you to buy their $49 course on how to succeed as a freelance blogger.
  • One writing “coach” with an expensive program informs her students they must have at least 25 articles published in regional magazines before they can even consider pitching nationally, I’m told. Why does this “expert” discourage writers from trying the nationals? Maybe because she never got a national-magazine clip herself, and wants students to stay within her own experience level. Meanwhile, quite a few writers I know got their very first assignment from a national magazine.

Anytime you hear advice designed to discourage you from pursuing this career, you should be on double-high alert. What’s their motivation for being so negative? Maybe they’re afraid of the competition.

Look within

In general, don’t be so swayed by others’ opinions and listen to your still, small voice inside. Are you meant to be a writer? Then keep going.

Does this piece of advice ring true for you? Does it come from someone you trust?

Then take it in and act on it.

Otherwise, into the trash can it goes.

Maybe this is a crazy post for me to write, because it could encourage you to stop reading my blog.

That’s OK, if it happens. It’s more important to me that you start trusting your gut and going for it.

When have you discarded freelance writing advice? Leave a comment and tell us what you tossed out.


  1. Karen J

    Seems like mechanics, plumbers, and the like don’t have the same self-esteem issues writers do, where they start giving their core service away in hopes that one day it will pay.

    That’s a thought-provoking point, Carol! I wonder why it’s so true?
    Partially answering my own question: Because there’s a qualitative difference between plumbers and writers (or mechanics and fine artists, etc.): “They” generally have a defined training and licensing program, Pass/Fail testing systems, and if the faucet still doesn’t work, the customer can tell immediately. “We” provide services that are more highly subjective in nature, tend to be emotionally invested in the learning, the doing and the results, and success depends much more on “compatibility” and “communication” throughout.

    Do grocers and bakers get similar “Stop giving it away!” messages? No. But they also offer *tiny* samples – a quarter of a brownie, a sip of organic milk or less than a spoonful of their new mac’n’cheese recipe. It’s a middle ground – there’s always at least one third option.

    Love this: “Use what feels right and discard the rest.”
    And I add: “Not now” doesn’t have to mean “Never”.

  2. Alicia Rades

    I really like this post because there is a lot of conflicting advice out there. In fact, I thought the same thing when listening to your boot camp on writer websites. What? No rate sheet? But the last person I talked to said you should have one!

    I think you have to look at the advice and figure out what works for you. I love that you mentioned that the source is super important. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Marcy McKay

    Great post, Carol. To me, it’s about our “gut-ometer”, that still voice you mentioned. If it doesn’t hit me in the gut right…TRASH. Thanks for the reminder….

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