Freelance Writers: Do You Have the Writing Chops for This?

Carol Tice

Can you write well enough to be a freelance writer? Makealivingwriting.comDo you wonder whether your writing makes the grade? Is it creative, compelling, unique, and strong enough for you to use your craft to earn a good living?

These are questions I hear a lot in the Blast-Off Class I teach with Linda Formichelli. They often come from writers who’re looking to move up from content mills, or land their first print-magazine article assignment. Writers make comments to me like:

“I’m just not sure my writing is worth $1 a word.”

“I don’t know if my writing is good enough to write for a national magazine.”

“I’ve written for small businesses, but I don’t know if I’m ready to write for a big company.”

So today, we tackle the big question:

How good is your writing?

You might be wondering how I’m going to answer this question without reading writing samples from each of my thousands of individual blog readers.

But I can tell already.

Your writing is good. It’s good enough earn a living.

I have mentored dozens and dozens of people now, both one on one and through the group Blast-Off class. And I have never, ever found that what I needed to do was sit a writer down and have a conversation that goes like this:

“About your writing…it just isn’t any good. You’re not going to be able to make a living as writer.”

In my experience, everyone who is possessed with a burning urge to make a living as a writer practices their writing a lot. You get better and better at it…and you write well enough to do it for a living.

Here’s how you can tell:

Go down to your local chamber and pick up all the brochures. Take them home and read them.

Some of them totally suck, don’t they?

You can write better than that.

Pick up a stack of magazines in the library and read them.

Some of the articles are wonderful, but some are less enthralling, aren’t they?

You can write better than that.

The reality of what it takes to write for pay

The truth is, there are a lot of mediocre writers making a full-time living from writing. It won’t be hard to write better than they do.

No matter what your writing style and ability level, you can find clients who think your writing is perfect for their needs.

Also, other clients who think you suck.

I still occasionally get an editor who just doesn’t seem to like what I write.

Why are some writers earning well and others aren’t? Often, it’s not so much the quality of the writing.

It’s like the old joke about two campers in the woods who’re confronted by a bear and start to run away.

You don’t have to be faster than the bear — just faster than the other guy.

You don’t have to be the best writer ever. Just a good one, who’s better than some other ones.

So what makes the difference in which writers make a living and which don’t?

It’s all about marketing

Writers who aggressively market their business earn well and have lots of clients.

Those that don’t market their business, don’t.

It’s really that simple.

Do you worry about whether your writing is good enough? Leave your questions and comments below.

Your writing is good enough…but is your marketing?

Get your freelance-writing questions answered. Join today.

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  1. Ruth - Freelance Writing Blog

    There are SOOOOO many crappy writers out there, it boggles my mind! That’s been the biggest confidence boost – recognizing that I don’t need to measure myself against the best possible writer. I rather draw the comparison relative to what ALREADY exists in the market. And in this sense, I’m pretty darn good. Very validating post Carol, thanks!

  2. Jarod Online

    This is so true! I pick up books all the time, and find certain ones boring because they can’t fill their words with energy. Ha, it was just last night that I was thinking about this too. What a coincidence!

    And your line about the bear and the two men was funny! “You don’t have to be faster than the bear – just faster than the other guy.” I remember once time; me and my friend saw a small dog (I was about 11yr old at the time), and it started running towards us. So we ran, and I got away but he didn’t. He got bit, but not to hard because the dog wasn’t much of a threat after realizing how h ard he could bite people. He got away obviously, but after we both got away safely (together), we laughed about the fact that I ran faster than him for the first time ever lol. I was like a speedy jet when I saw that dog!! lol

    Good post though. I really like this post! I wish they had a fav button here, I would probably click fav like 40 times!!

  3. David Worrell

    Hmmm. Carol, I’ve got to call you out on this one. OK, it makes everybody feel good to compare themselves to less talented writers. And yes, pretty marketing can sell a lot of ugly writing.

    But come on people…. let’s write something worth reading, not just settle for mediocre because it is “good enough”.

    All those crappy brochures you picked up at the Chamber — They are either written by — or worse, approved by — employees who have the responsibility to get the materials out, but neither the time nor talent to do it well.

    There’s enough schlock in the world… Some people just were not meant to be writers. And THAT, by the way, is the REAL opportunity for freelancers: To do what others cannot; To write amazing content when others simply don’t know how; To communicate clearly and concisely when others are drowning in detail and drivel.

    Let’s rise above mediocre.

    If your writing is poor — and I’ve met plenty of people who THINK they can write but cannot — then get some help. Practice. Learn. Study. Don’t just read those brochures from the chamber, practice re-writing them. Don’t just buy a magazine, write a journal.

    Getting paid is great, but substituting marketing for quality is a sad way to make a living. If you think your writing sucks… it probably does. Donb’t sell it… do something about it!

    • Carol Tice

      Hi David —

      Well, I certainly didn’t mean to encourage anyone to be a mediocre writer…just pointing out that the bar is not all that high in the freelance writing industry generally. If you have the drive and keep improving your writing, you can do this somewhere…you can find markets you’re right for.

      • Linda Bryant

        I think Carol is speaking to the good writers out there who feel overwhelmed and intimidated by the ins and outs involved in becoming a successful freelancer. Sure, there are a lot of bad writers out there, but there’s also a lot of insecure writers who are more talented and capable than they realize. It’s a unique time for freelancers and there are more and more people are looking for places/mentors/classes to help them develop that talent. There’s a need in the marketplace for them.

        Carol, you are a great voice for this group, and they are finding you in droves!

  4. Cheryl Bryan

    I needed that, Carol. Thanks. And thanks also to David Worrell for the reminder that in whatever we do, we need to strive for excellence — and constant improvement in the craft of writing.

  5. Luana Spinetti

    I loved your self-esteem boosting article, Carol – and I loved David Worrell’s ‘harsh’ comment too. πŸ™‚

    Not really that harsh in the end, because mediocre – but passionate and motivated! – writers can evolve into good writers if they are humble enough to keep honing their skills, learning new techniques to craft their pieces and being open to other writing styles. We need to accept constructive criticism too.

    Carol, I sent three pitches to you so far, and you rejected them all. But with each rejection, a writing lesson came along. πŸ™‚ When I asked you to show me my grammar errors, you did, and I embraced your advice immediately; I opened my English grammar textbook from lyceum and revised. Took the habit to confront myself with a dictionary and a thesaurus again.

    A few days later, I achieved two important personal successes: I won 3rd prize at a Sci-Fi short story writing contest at, and I got a guest post accepted by Nick Daws on his blog

    There were no money involved, but I saw it as a step forward to writing success. πŸ™‚

    And I have so much to thank you for.

    ~ Luana S.

    • Carol Tice

      I think that’s awesome! And keep pitching me πŸ˜‰

  6. Bill Swan

    Well, I am going to agree with both you and David Worrell on this. Yes the marketing is important because without the marketing even the best writer won’t find an audience to keep them fed. But on the other side, the best marketing has also promoted lame words.

    Case in point on the first part – Peter Jenkins (author of five books on his travels) would have just been writing a journal if the work wasn’t marketed enough to be read by millions. He’s a very good writer, who knew the value of his words – but without marketing who would care?

    Case in point on the second part – look at the job boards; they’re full of people who think they can write and promote themselves relentlessly. These are the ones promising “cheap, quick, technically correct” turnout of words. Many times the technically correct writers won’t care if their words need improvement, as long as they get paid for them.

    A common theme with both writing and marketing – those who produce quality can easily make those who produce mediocre look better just by trying a little.

  7. Claudine

    You know what I think is most important? I made a big leap when I realized that I’m paid not to be a grammarian or “perfect” writer…but I’m paid for my POV and my unique voice and my thinking. I work with a lot of C-level execs who went to better Ivy League schools than I did…surely their writing is as good as mine, isn’t it? But the point? Who is measuring that? They want to work with me if they enjoy the process, enjoy the unique insights I bring to the table, benefit from my prior hands-on experience, if I help them meet their deadlines or just take a task off their desk….all of those things and less about whether I made an English mistake or not. It is the big picture, not the tiny details (not that we don’t care about those, but those are not the decision makers in getting the gig or not).

    This was nice Carol.

    • Carol Tice

      Thanks Claudine!

      I was recently having this conversation with a writer about getting Fortune 500 clients. Many writers don’t pitch bigger companies because they figure the big guys have marketing departments, so what do they need ME for?

      But often these days in-house marketing staff is lean, they’re overwhelmed, and need help! Or it’s an assignment where they really want fresh eyes and someone who want speak their corporate jargon.

  8. Susie Klein

    Very helpful and encouraging words, in the post AND in the thread of comments! Thank you!

  9. Tiffany Barry

    I’ve enjoyed reading this post and the comments associated with it! Everyone has so many great insights into this topic. I think achieving excellence should always be a top priority, but I think the message of this post is not that you ONLY have to be better than the other guy or that you HAVE to be an excellent writer… I think the message is you don’t have to PERFECT.

    Writers expect perfection from themselves and are their harshest critics when they feel their work isn’t perfect.

    Wonderful message, Carol!

    • Carol Tice

      Exactly, Tiffany.

      So many writers have massive insecurity and a lot of negative self-talk going on. Realize you’re good enough — and that it doesn’t have to be perfect — and get out there.

      Love your blog name BTW!

  10. Jen

    I love this, Carol – such a simple concept yet so true. It’s very closely related to the truism that you can’t make a living as a writer if you don’t actually start putting your writing out there; saying, “Oh, it’s probably too hard” isn’t going to get you anywhere. Sometimes just getting started is the only really hard part.

  11. Lucy Smith

    Early on, when I was having a rush of I’ll-never-be-as-good-as-X-writer-why-am-I-bothering, I read in a book that all you really need to be able to do is turn out something better than your client could. And if they know they need to hire a writer, dimes to dollars you can do that without too much trouble.

    The rest comes over time.

  12. Joseph

    This is a thought I have all the time. How’d you know? πŸ™‚

  13. Gloria A

    I have my mediocre moments, so I keep writing until the gems start to flow again. Some days it takes a little longer than others (depends on the amount and quality of sleep). I just discovered this little trick in the past few months, and once I gave myself permission to write schlock, I cranked out more of the good stuff!

    • Carol Tice

      You got it — the Editor needs to be turned off while you write first drafts.

      I think the biggest challenge for freelance writers who have never been staff writers is developing the discipline to crank out a LOT of writing every week. Once you’ve had to file 3-5 stories every single week for a few years, you learn how to stick your finger down your figurative throat and spit out your article NOW, no matter what. New freelancers who don’t have that background need to just write tons to develop their deadline muscles and improve their craft. One reason blogging is a great invention, as it gives you that outlet for publication and you can do a lot of posts if you like.

      • Gloria A

        I’ve never been a staff writer, but I’ve worked with plenty of daily and hourly writing deadlines. In these cases, the first sentence of the first piece I’m writing that day, is a mix of schlock and decent prose, and I draft it on a yellow legal pad. The next sentence is a gem and after that, my fingers go to the keyboard. It’s my thing, and it works. I’m not going to question it.

        When I’m writing a personal blog or a fiction piece, the flow is a little more choppy until I dance around the words a bit. The editor wants to be more critical on fiction, than on non-fiction.

  14. Linda A. Hamilton

    This is a great post and I love reading everyone’s comments. I remenber posting a comment to the Forum and Carol’s words reached out and grabbed me when she said, “You can write better than that!” She’s right, I can. It’s made me turn off the editor on the first draft. Pay more attention to grammar, spelling and verbiage. I’ve begun using more persuasive writing when creating content for projects, my own brochure or marketing letters. And I’ve read tons of comments on past blogs that tell me my writing is fresh, clear and inspiring.

    What’s been especially encouraging to me is that I proofread three International newsletters on a regular basis. The editors are now sending me more work. And a second editor of a fourth newsletter for which I proofread gave me a raise last month “because you’re so worth it.” Reading the different writer’s work has improved my writing as well. It all works together.

    We’re all works in progress. It’s great to know that what we write is quality and we are perhaps some of the few better writers out there that know what we’re doing and do it well. It’s all about our readers and rewarding them for reading our stuff. Let’s keep giving them the quality writing that leaves them wanting more.

  15. oldestgenxer

    So what’s wrong with mediocrity? I’ve worked very hard to carve out this niche in the middle. The tallest blade of grass gets cut first. Just sayin.

    Actually, I appreciate how you (and David) put it in perspective. Sturgeon’s Law–90% of everything is crap. But if someone wants to be a good writer–or a great writer–you want to measure from the top down, not the bottom-up.

    I just got here, but I see some really good information that I hope I can use. Thanks!

    • Carol Tice

      Welcome to the blog there, Oldest…but you don’t look that old to me!

  16. Neeraj Sachdeva

    Hi, apologies off the bat if this comment seems harsh, but I don’t think the post delivered what I presumed it promised! You have made some very good points about mediocre writings and the fact that excellence in whatever we do is the way forward – but the post did not mirror what the title suggested. Somehow I expected that we would be able to evaluate if our writing is worth $1 a word standard or not! But the article gravitate towards feeling positive about what we do (and excel in it). I like the tone, but I think it did not add much to what many know.

    Still, it is a great confidence booster and I liked the marketing aspect of writing, which many writers don’t want to get involved in πŸ™‚


    • Carol Tice

      Hi Neeraj —
      I’d love to be able to review all 3,000 of my subscribers work and give them a critique…but obviously I can’t. And there are no secret rules for what would make your writing worthy of great pay. Every writer can find different markets where they might be paid well, based on their unique abilities and experiences.

      I can tell you that if you think you can do it, you probably can. If you think you’re good enough, I’ll bet you really are.

      • Neeraj Sachdeva

        I really like the gung-ho attitude Carol πŸ™‚ And yes, you are quite correct. Quality of writing is usually a subjective matter, would be great to spend 4 years doing a PhD to research what people like!

  17. Miss Britt

    I’m trying to break into magazine writing and this is absolutely my biggest fear.

  18. Pinar Tarhan

    My favorite line from the post is “You don’t have to be faster than the bear – just faster than the other guy.” Sure, I do dream about being faster than the bear. But as I work to improve myself, deal with my fears and manage my career better, I am getting faster.

    • Carol Tice

      But remember, you don’t HAVE to be faster than the bear, Pinar! Just faster (better) than the average mediocre writer who’s making a living from this craft.

      • Pinar Tarhan

        Yeah, I just meant it as the furthest step, as in reaching the ultimate goals:)


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