10 Lame Excuses That Keep Freelance Writers Poor

Carol Tice

Lame freelance writer excuses that keep you poor. Makealivingwriting.comWhat’s holding you back from achieving your freelance writing goals?

I’ve heard from a lot of writers lately about why they’re stuck. Why they can’t get out there and find some gigs.

I call them reasons, but really, they’re excuses — barriers writers throw up in front of themselves to have an excuse for not moving forward.

Often, it’s not the economy, or your lack of clips. The real problem is inside your head.

I finally started a collection of the excuses I hear most. Here are the top ten, along with my excuse-busting replies:

  1. I don’t have any clips. Every single successful writer working today once had no clips or experience whatsoever. Hit the Internet and find a website that will print something of yours. Presto! A clip. Build from there.
  2. My clips are too old. I routinely send out 10-year-old clips, if they show an expertise I need to demonstrate. Nobody cares — if you wrote it then, you can write it now. So show ’em what you got.
  3. My website isn’t ready. Mine went up in 2008 and it’s still not ‘ready,’ either. I just redid it, but there’s plenty I’d still like to change. Our sites are never ‘done.’ But you pitch with what you have now, and keep improving it.
  4. I don’t have enough experience. So get some — volunteer to write for a local business. Intern at an alternative paper. There is no ‘enough,’ anyway. We all just keep learning as we go. 
  5. I don’t have a degree. Me neither. I’ve edited the work of people who have master’s degrees though, and I can tell you it’s no guarantee of writing success. Unless you’re trying to be the editor of the New York Times, you’re good. If you really have a complex about this, take a community college course in magazine writing or copywriting.
  6. It’s too late to get started in social media. I recently read that to this point, only 9 percent of America is on Twitter. It’s still early days. Jump in and start learning. And of course, Google+ just started about yesterday, so we’re all newbies there.
  7. I don’t know where to start. Here is the answer: Somewhere. Start somewhere. Try some type of writing that interests you. Promote yourself with some form of marketing you’re willing to try. If it doesn’t work, try another way. Keep trying to get published, somewhere, anywhere, until you do.
  8. I don’t have any connections. Completely unnecessary. Concentrate on your writing. One good query letter can open the door to a lucrative, ongoing editor relationship. Wherever you’re trying to get, you can just write your way there.
  9. You can’t find good pay in this economy, so why try. Good thing I didn’t buy into this fable, or I wouldn’t have grown my writing income every year since 2006.
  10. I hate marketing. More than you hate starving? It’s not my favorite thing, but it’s sort of like going to the bathroom — probably not your favorite thing either, and yet you do it each day. Marketing should be like that. Just suck it up and do it.

What lame excuses have you heard lately? Feel free to add to my list in the comments.

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  1. Linda Bryant

    This is completely kick-ass Carol. I felt the boot in the rear all the way across the U.S.

  2. Bill Swan

    This is Carol’s way of walking up to a newbie writer, smacking them in the face while saying “Snap out of it!” Which of course, you wouldn’t expect any less of Carol Tice.

    Both you and Anne Wayman need to write a book.

    • Carol Tice

      Hi Bill —

      I did write a book — you can see it here.

      I don’t usually take the tone of smacking people around, and hopefully it’s not quite that bad here! Hope it’s more of a mind-opener about what might be holding people back.

      But maybe this post is like that old shaver commercial (or was it aftershave?) where someone gives the guy a little smack and he says, “Thanks — I needed that.”

      • Linda Bryant

        When I called it kick-ass, I meant it was right on, great, good in every way. Not heavy handed, just the truth. One of the best blog entrees I’ve read in a while.

      • Bill Swan

        No, it wasn’t heavy handedness I was talking about. You just refuse to let people forget the common sense part of life.

        The Nike commercial comes to mind – “just do it!”

  3. Marsha Stopa

    Thanks for exploding all those excuses.

    I’m printing out this line BIG and setting it where I can see it all the timeL


    Thanks, Carol.

    • Carol Tice

      Well, it worked for me, anyway!

  4. Jane

    “I don’t have enough experience” – is what most newbie freelancers say and hold back. As you say they must get some and for that they should start. There is no point in holding back. Great tips here.

  5. Carrie Schmeck

    One of my favorite things you’ve written is where you said “I marketed my a*& off in the beginning.” It might be good to remind us just how many query letters and LOIs you sent in the beginning. One query isn’t going to launch anyone, right?

  6. Greg Scott

    I love what you said about marketing because I hate it hate it hate it. But I don’t like starving either, so there ya go. Add it to the list of things to just do, and then get back to writing. Nice post!

  7. Madeleine Kolb

    Inspirational post and right-on. My take on several of your specific replies:

    1. I don’t have any clips.
    You’ve said it before, but–if you have a blog–you have clips!

    5. I don’t have a degree
    “I’ve edited the work of people who have master’s degrees though, and I can tell you it’s no guarantee of writing success.”
    I couldn’t agree more, and the more technical the field, the worse the writing seems to get. Think engineers. Years of experience have convinced me that translating engineer or other techno-writing into clear, readable English is a rare and valuable skill. What has worked best for me is to interview a subject matter expert on a topic, write it up myself, and go over any questions with the expert.

    10, I hate marketing
    Nearly every job involves some marketing, even if it’s only at performance review time. As my boy-friend always says, “He who tooteth not his own horn, the horn of the same shall not be tooted.” He’s not advocating being arrogant or obnoxious about it, just letting others know what you’ve accomplished.

  8. Sarah Porter-Pennington

    I am guilty of saying or hinting at a handful of these excuses in the Den, but I honestly feel as though I am making so much improvement. I’ve been reading every blog post I can find that will teach me something -anything – about freelance writing, downloaded a copy of Carol’s book (which I hope to finish this afternoon after I take care of some other items on my to-do list today) and I’ve gotten so many amazing tips and suggestions from other, more experienced Den members, as well as Carol, of course. Everything from tips on managing my time better, to advice on building my writer site.

    There’s such an amazing support group of writers there, willing to offer encouragement and advice from their own experience. My confidence has really been growing in there and I’m starting to shed a lot of these fears/excuses.

    I cannot wait for this week’s webinar, sounds like it is just what I need this week, after wondering all of last week if I was doing it (marketing) right.

    • Carol Tice

      I think your head is in a way better place and you’re changing your paradigm very quickly, Sarah!

      One of the things that I think helped me was that I came out of songwriting — and I didn’t know to have a complex about a lot of this freelance-writing stuff.

      Prose to me was just a big playground…I didn’t know I was supposed to be nervous about it! After playing gigs in front of a live audience, sending query letters was like falling off a log to me…seemed so easy. I loved that I didn’t have to be there when everyone experienced my art, and that I could polish it until it was perfect instead of worrying about the flubs you get live that you can’t fix.

      It’s really all about our expectations.

  9. Steve


    Another good one. I hear these all the time to from people starting out.

    What do I tell them? I’m no supersonic individual who is special. I do what I have to do to grow, learn, get work, finish work, etc.

    Do I make mistakes? Absolutely. Do I want to beat myself up? Yeah, sometimes.

    But instead, I move forward — and I’m doubling my income this year.


    • Carol Tice

      Love it, Steve! Would love to see a guest post on how you’re growing your income now, so be in touch if you want to give us one.

  10. Linda A. Hamilton

    I love this blog! I used some of these same excuses until I connected with Carol’s comment from one of the first calls I attended — Start somewhere. After that, every time an excuse popped into my mind I heard those words and saw the lameness of that excuse. So, I started somewhere. It’s led to increased confidence, a clearer mind that got past my writer’s block, and over the weekend I even thought of a case study I can start writing based on one of my client’s. Plus, through networking I won a comp ticket to an all-day sales, marketing, PFseminar where I did additional networking and am working on seven possible projects that could generate long-term contracts. Even these entrepreneurs were talking about the “New Economy” that is a gold mine for online marketing; it was very much what has been shared in our Wednesday calls.

    Recently I was in a forum in Linked In where a writer was so destitute he was begging for help. But the more he got the more excuses I saw him making. Finally, I told him he had to “start somewhere” and how to get started. I was amazed at how many freelancers came back with negative comments about ways to get started that have proved so successful for Carol and our other guest speakers on out Wednesday calls. I suddenly realized how lucky I’ve been to connect with Carol and get past making excuses.

    I’m excited about this week’s webinar, getting my blog restarted, and updating my web site.

    • Carol Tice

      My favorite is when you get the chatter that goes like, “$800 articles? I think that’s too much money. I wouldn’t even want to get paid that. I don’t believe that really happens anyway. It would be too hard to get those assignments anyway, they take too long to pay…” and so on down the negativity highway.

      Your attitude really does influence the sort of work you are going to attract. If you’ve got the deflector shields up to repel good paying work offers, they bounce right off. You don’t take the steps you need.

      The mythology out there is that marketing is soooo hard and not worth it. Dunno — I’m working two contracts worth $20K right now that are for just two months’ time…seems to beat writing for a mill.

      • Linda A. Hamilton

        I’ve heard that favorite excuse about the $800 article that is too much. Also heard the excuse that marketing won’t work, there are no jobs out there and these writers who say they’re making that much money are to being honest. I’m almost to the point of not reading a lot of the forum posts in some networks any more because so many writers are so negative and not willing to do the work. Amazes me.

        Sure I’m scared, I’m afraid of the rejection, but then remind myself that Alex Haley got 600 rejections before a publisher took “Roots”. I dislike marketing because I’m not sure I’ll say it right, but I have to start somewhere. And I know I’ll make mistakes, but learning to fail forward builds success. So I guess even my lame excuses don’t hold water.

        I like your contract work pay. Wish I had just one of those right now. Look forward to that post where I can tell you I got one that pays $800 an article or $10K for a month’s project. Works for me!

        • Carol Tice

          I think you’ve summed up the whole edge Freelance Writers Den gives you. A lot of folks on free chat boards are sort of gadflies — they WISH they were freelance writers and earning a good living, but they’re not really committed to making that happen…where everyone in the Den is SERIOUS about earning more.

          So the conversations are really great quality, useful stuff and offer the strong support and advice you need to make changes and get somewhere — been loving the discussions the past few days! As time went on, I personally found the free chat boards more and more of a time-waster. You might score a good piece of advice, but you have to wade through 100 useless comments to get there, too often.

          • Sarah Porter-Pennington

            I couldn’t agree more. The Den community and forum has an extreme edge over any other group or forum I have been to. You get to talk to people who actually want to make GREAT incomes from this career, instead of a plethora of content mill writers trying to convince you to write for a penny per word, or less.
            And even better- at the Den, you’re guaranteed an answer, when at other forums and boards, you may never get an answer to your question, at least not from anyone qualified to give you advice. Personally, I prefer to get my advice from successful writers and not low-paid writers; it obviously makes more sense to pay $25 a month to talk to people who know what they are talking about and can answer your questions and offer advice that really has some weight.

  11. John Soares

    It’s important to just get going. Set priorities, determine which of those priorities will have the highest payoff, then go!

    And Google+ is still in its early stage, but I think it will wind up being quite important for freelancers and people who sell or market online.

  12. Roberto Lebron

    Well done!

    This is one thing that gives me pause when I attend gatherings of writers and artists: one always finds a group engaging in a whine-a-thon. It’s always someone else’s fault, they’re always victims of circumstance, sad, sad, cry, cry. What they need is a good swift kick in the pants, and you have just delivered. It’s tough love, but it has to be done.

    We are the masters of our fate, people!

  13. Harleena Singh

    Hi Carol,

    Interesting post!

    I agree to all the excuses you have listed, though the foremost for me remains just to get down
    to writing! It happens so often when I know I have to get down to it, but some distraction or the other gets the better of me. I have to learn to overcome those and simply leave everything aside, and just write! I think that would make a lot of difference to my profession as a freelance writer.

    Thanks for sharing!

  14. Joseph Putnam

    Hi Carol,

    I love this title. It’s so easy to have excuses for anything, and then to think that they’re really what’s holding you back. This post helps to expose that.

  15. Jools Stone

    Well said Carol. Most of these sound all too familiar to me as well. They all add up to the same, elemental thing really: fear of failure.

    I’ve survived my first year of freelancing, came close to applying for a regular marketing job recently and over the weekend instead decided against it.

    Instead I polished up my CV site a bit (still unfinished, but as you say, it always will be!) and faced up to the fact that I simply have to venture outside of my comfort zone a little more and get into the habit of pitching regularly. So, to help me carry it through, I’ve set up a very simple blog about it: Death by 100 Pitches.

    • Carol Tice

      Sounds like a grand experiment — keep us posted on how it goes!

      My experience is that I don’t know many people who do a LOT of marketing who don’t have work.

  16. Ruth Zive

    I’ve been guilty of most of these over the years – though perhaps the only one that holds me back these days is #10; which is why I plan to join you on Wednesday. Looking forward to it!

    • Carol Tice

      Awesome — just got the materials in from Danny and I cannot WAIT to put this marketing seminar on!

  17. Jean

    Love the style here – it’s straightforward, poignant and no-nonsense. I love it!

    Numbers 1, 5 and 8 are what’s still sort of holding me back. The only “clips” I have are posts on my videogame blog, my “business” blog, some copywriting I did for two sites (and all I have are the screenshots to show for it), and an article at EzineArticles. I don’t know if they’re even considered clips. Sometimes I think a clip is just any published piece, personal blog or not, and other times I think it has to be something published professionally, like in a magazine or some big CNN type site. I don’t know what is what.

    Number 5 scares me too. Almost all the freelance writers I’ve seen mention a BA in Journalism or English, and I can’t afford to get one. I have an Associates in Office Administration, but I don’t know what that proves to potential clients. It’s great to see living proof that you don’t need one to get gigs or be taken seriously as a professional.

    Number 8 is something I’m working on. I pitched to one editor and it worked – they want to hire me on as a staff writer for occasional posts, but it’s not in my preferred niche. Just the idea of marketing and pitching makes me cringe, but it’s a necessary evil, I know. I hope to find that magical editor that’ll take me under their wing in my niche!

    Thanks for the kick in the butt, Carol!

    • Carol Tice

      They’re clips — go out there and use them. Get better ones. Keep upgrading your portfolio. Lather, rinse, repeat.

      Or as Dory in Finding Nemo says, “Just keep swimming, swimming, swimming…what do we do? We swim.”

  18. NextGen Writers Blog

    Hey Carol,

    I also keep struggling with a couple of these; especially I feel that I am late for Twitter 🙁 but I feel better after reading your post.


    • Carol Tice

      Well I haven’t managed to learn a single thing about Google+ yet and people keep sending me notes that they’ve connected to me there and I don’t even know how to go look it up, really, so I know I’m a loser…but we all have to carry on anyway.

  19. Linda Bryant

    I just realized one of my excuses is that I don’t have a fancy enough computer. I’m working on a fairly old laptop with issues. In my mind I’ve tended to always say, “I’ll start making more money when I get more sophisticated equipment.” Kind of the chicken and the egg. I guess this one is pretty lame too.

    • Carol Tice

      Oh, great addition to the list! I’m always about 2 OS levels behind whatever’s hot, but you certainly can’t let that throw up a barrier.

      Maybe it’s easier for me since I can remember when I faxed in stories I typed on an electric typewriter. Before that I carved them on a rock and then a dinosaur took the tablets across town… just about.

      • Linda Bryant

        Carol, when I first started working at newspapers we corrected galleys by printing the correction out on a sheet of paper, carving it out with an exacto knife and using a hot glue machine to make it sticky. I’d stay up all night once a week to make those corrections when I worked for the Orcas Island weekly.

        • Carol Tice

          Ooh, I remember the exacto-knife era too! I edited an alternative paper in San Pedro back then. I remember touring the Valley News in L.A. right at the time it was going out.

          There was a hush as we toured the layout room, full of old men whose jobs were about to vanish. The tour guide clearly felt awkward as she quietly indicated that no one knew what would happen to these longtime newspaper employees.

          We aren’t the only ones who’ve had to grapple with change in the world of publishing, eh?

          • Linda Bryant

            I think we are in an elite club Carol.

  20. Jonathan

    All these are really lame but common excuses. Perhaps the best way to overcome all of them is to think why do you really want to do what you are aiming to, not that much on why you wouldn´t. In the case of writing, either on a blog, on a paper or in your own diary (personally I like blogs) is because I like to write, and I always liked. I remember a couple of times when I tried to write for a local newspaper and they rejected me because of my “style”… it was frustrating. Later I tried to write for some other electronic publications and they accepted me! It was exciting. Recently I discovered the pleasure of writing a blog. Writing on it is something I like, and this pushes me to ask me how can I do it. Perhaps this helps me to deal with all these excuses… because they do appear!

  21. Anna

    What an “excuse list”! 😀 Wow. It is really a challenge for all of us to overcome our excuses, but once we can do it, a whole new world opens up in front of our very eyes.

  22. Danica

    Hi Carol,
    The one that was lame and held me back was “I don’t know how much to charge”. That one kept me playing with all the ‘make money’ scenarios until it was more frustrating than just doing something. Two books that helped me get over it was Overcome Underearning by Barbara Stanny and of course Writer’s Market 2011.

    When I looked at a post you did on what to charge, and got the mindset that I can do this, the rest fell into place. Thanks for the great advice.

    • Carol Tice

      Thanks for adding another great excuse! I love the sound of that Overcome Underearning book.

  23. Clark Minn

    Hi Carol…This is what I am before…But I changed those kind of attitude…

  24. Sheila

    Great rebuttals for these lame excuses. I really enjoyed them. Very frank, which is exactly how it should be delivered.

    What I like most among your rebuttals is this: “There is no ‘enough,’ anyway. We all just keep learning as we go. ” Very true. Same thing with the idea of waiting “to be ready”. The more one waits, the more time is wasted.

  25. Jodi Hughey

    Great article Carol! Fantastic! Really got me thinking. So much so that I had to write a blog post about it with a focus on an audience of one . . . and that ‘one’ was ME.

    Thank you for sharing your wisdom! 🙂

  26. Ayo Oyedotun

    Hi Carol.

    This is really challenging. I guess we should learn to be more determined, decisive and disciplined; and avoid flimsy excuses.

    Thank you Carol for the post.

  27. Jason

    Carole, I had a question after reading this post…

    You have mentioned “clips” a few times, and I’m wondering what that is. Judging by context, it seems like they’re writing samples. Am I right? Do guest posts on other blogs count? I’ve gotten a couple guests posts published (including one on Problogger which I was pretty proud of), and those would be all I have at the moment to send to a prospective client.

    Thanks for all of your writing tips!

    • Carol Tice

      Hi Jason —

      That’s right, clips mean your previously published articles or in your case, blog posts.

      Congrats on the Problogger guester!

      My philosophy is whatever clips you have, you send. If they’re all blog posts right now, that’s what you’ve got. Some companies and publications pay pretty well for blogging, so you might go after those kind of gigs first. You may be pleasantly surprised at how much mileage you can get out of appearing on a well-known site like Problogger. Give it a try and report back to us on how it goes!

      Best of luck with it —


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