Are you your own worst enemy, as a freelance writer? I think this career is such a head game — and strong writers don’t waste time going down an emotional drain.
It’s hard to earn a living with your craft if your brain keeps kicking out negative self-talk and fixated on low self esteem. I’ve always thought there’s a certain mental toughness you need to freelance, dealing with the ups and downs of different clients.
A few years ago, a post on Forbes about mentally strong people and the activities they avoid really spoke to me. And the fact that the post became one of Forbes’ most-popular ever tells me that if you struggle with keeping positive thoughts, you’re not alone! Turns out there’s a popular book about what mentally strong people avoid, too.
I found myself thinking about how the habits of mentally strong people apply to freelance writers, in particular. Staying positive is so essential to freelance success!
So I came up with my own list of bad patterns that mentally strong writers avoid. Reading the forums inside my writer community has given me a lot of experience with the mental rabbit-holes writers tend to wander down.
Want to be a strong writer? Mentally strong freelance writers don’t engage in these negative activities:
1. Feel devastated by rejection
When a company or publication decides not to use your idea or passes on your pitch to write for them…it’s not personal. It’s a business decision. And there could be 1,000 reasons why.
That’s why it’s absurd to be devastated because you didn’t hear back on that query. Nine times out of 10, the reason probably had nothing to do with you or your idea!
The publication already has something in the works. That editor got fired. They haven’t had time to look at it.
Strong writers understand this fact…If it’s going to take you months to overcome low self esteem after being rejected on one pitch you sent (and I know writers who do this), you can’t do this for a living. You won’t have enough time when you’re up and functioning.
2. Waste time longing for the good old days
Millennial writers, you probably get a pass on this one. But I meet older writers by the score who’ve never gotten over the fact that beloved print magazines are shrinking, or that longtime editors have retired or been laid off.
Also, this darn Internet came along. Now, there are a ton more tools to learn, to connect with clients and file stories. If only we could go back to the days when I used a typewriter, faxed in my stories, and didn’t need to learn any computer programs!
Longing for bygone days is a complete waste of mental energy. The only constant in life is change. The world of freelance writing isn’t immune.
I attribute much of my success as a freelance writer in the past decade to the fact that I accepted that the landscape would be rapidly changing — and dove in to learn how to win at 21st Century freelance writing.
Honestly, I think the good ol’ days weren’t as good as now in many ways.
Strong writers focus instead on the positives we enjoy now — the ease of connecting with clients all over the globe, and the ability to have our writing reach readers we’d never have found 20 years ago.
3. Don’t act because they’re afraid to take a risk
We risk our lives every moment we are alive, yet many writers are terrified to even hit ‘publish’ on a post on their own blog.
If you’re highly risk-averse, honestly, you should probably get a corporate job. Cash a paycheck. Running your own solo business is for the bold and brave, not for those stuck in a cycle of low self esteem.
I’m not saying ‘don’t feel afraid’ — I’ve gotten myself into so many situations where I was flat-out terrified I would fail, as a freelance writer.
The strong writer defense…Take action anyway. You have to be willing to take that risk, despite your fears. That’s how great careers are grown. Gotta try new, hard stuff and push the envelope of what you think you can do.
I would have passed up so much freelance income, including a recent $9,000 e-book deal, if I’d been afraid to take the leap into writing jobs that needed skills I’d have to master on the fly.
4. Constantly compare themselves to others
Writer-friends, this one is evil like the flu virus. Nothing feeds low self esteem and sick at heart like sitting around wondering why you didn’t become J.K. Rowling, or Dan Rather, or somebody.
You are uniquely you, and your writing career is unique.
Smart writers only compete with themselves. Every year, set the bar higher — try to get better clients, better rates, more enjoyable assignments. Try to write faster and better.
Strong writers focus on self-improvement, not toxic comparisons that are never truly apples-to-apples.
5. Repeat mistakes over and over
I’ll admit it: this one drives me insane. Writers come to me all sad and broke because they rely on Upwork or Craigslist ads for all their leads. And it’s only bringing them dysfunctional, low-paying, flaky clients. Or no clients at all.
I gently point out that these aren’t good sources of well-paid, ongoing freelance writing work, since you’re in a race to the bottom on price against hundreds of other writers. They nod their heads, swear they’re going to start doing their own marketing…and 2 years later, I run into them again, and it’s the same story.
“Gee, I just never have any luck on Upwork.” You’ve been trying online mass boards or content mills for years, they don’t build a viable freelance career for you…but you still keep coming back to the same poisoned wells.
Strong writers learn from failure. To get your freelance writing career rolling before you go broke and have to crawl back to a day job you hate, you have to learn from mistakes and quickly move on to make new ones. There has to be a learning curve, where we fail and then progress forward, for this to add up to a living.
6. Work unsustainably
One writer recently told me, “I worked so hard last month, I had to take this month off to recover.”
The crash-and-burn approach does not lead to a writing career that reliably pays the bills. It’s physically possible to write 18 hours a day, 7 days a week…but it’s not a good idea. And it’s only doable short-term.
Adopt strong writer habits. Eat healthy, make time for regular exercise, and get a real night’s sleep. Take at least one whole day offline each week. Remember, you’re in this for the long haul.
7. Expect miracles
My other name for this is “waiting for the luck fairy to bring you clients.”
There’s a lot of magical thinking that lives in freelance writers’ brains. That somehow, without building a writer website or a strong LinkedIn profile, without doing any proactive pitching or networking…you’ll get great writing gigs with wonderful clients.
Reality check: That’s not how it works.
If you find yourself saying, “I haven’t had any luck finding clients,” stop right there. Careers aren’t built on luck — they’re built on work.
At this point, I’ve worked with over 10,000 writers. And I don’t know any who just lucked into a great freelance writing life that magically brought a serious income, year after year.
Strong writers understand it takes persistent action on their part to build and sustain the career they want.
8. Feel sorry for themselves
Maybe it’s because one of my early blogging mentors can only move his face, but I’ve always had a healthy perspective on how much I’ve got going for me.
My personal life has no fairy-tale happy ending going on. I’ve made a lot of mistakes in life, and wasted time on plans that went nowhere. I’m not a spring chicken and can’t see super-great these days.
But sitting around bemoaning what we don’t have is a total energy waste (it only perpetuates low self esteem). And everybody’s got their ‘stuff’ to deal with.
Write a daily gratitude journal, if you find yourself wallowing in your own misery instead of counting your blessings. Get out and help some people who have less than you.
The strong writer mindset…Keep your focus on how lucky you are to have the gift of storytelling. Because clients don’t like to hire people who seem all depressed and ‘woe-is-me.’
9. Give up
If a little rejection makes you think maybe freelance writing isn’t for you, it probably isn’t. People who were born to write don’t quit writing. Setbacks don’t deter them.
My mantra is, “Be an unstoppable force of nature and keep going, until you get the career you want.”
I don’t care if you have to take a day job right now to pay bills. Keep writing. Get a client. Get another one.
Strong writers don’t give up. Nay-saying relatives or the occasional client setback doesn’t derail them. Your freelance writing career is only over if you decide it is. If you keep going, learning, risking, trying long enough… you will find the clients who need you, sooner or later.
Tips to help you stay a strong writer
How’d you do, reading that list? I can tell you I’m not perfect here — definitely some areas I could work on!
If you’ve realized you’ve got some toxic waste in your life, I recommend tackling one negative trait at a time.
- Give yourself a week (at least) to focus on one, single issue. Be aware of negative thoughts or actions on your targeted issue.
- Post positive statements or affirmations to counteract the negative thoughts or behaviors you’re stuck on. Rewrite the negative script and plan out new responses.
- Keep trying. It may be awkward at first. You’ll have to bring a different reaction when things don’t work out. You may need to redirect your thoughts, if you find you’re longing for the past, dwelling on a rejection, holding a pity party, or otherwise indulging toxic ideas.
Nobody said being a strong writer would be easy. But strength leads to success! So it’s worth working on your head game and building a more positive attitude.