3 Big Reasons Your Freelance Writing Dreams Go Nowhere

Carol Tice

Freelance writer dreaming instead of doingMany people dream of becoming freelance writers. The problem is, that’s all most of them do — dream.

Somehow, the idea of becoming a paid writer never gets off the ground.

I find there are three major reasons why freelance writing dreams don’t come true.

You can spot all three reasons in this email I recently received, from a writer who’s been reading my blog for more than two years. This was sent in response to the news that I had a new class coming up:

“I’m not taking this class because I never took the last class I bought. But I refuse to give up hope that the day will come when I can make a living wage from writing. And the day will come that I actually make a plan and follow it, so that my puny dream can come true.”–Lois

These sort of letters make me real sad. This is not what I want to hear from writers who’re years into learning about freelance writing!

Did you spot the three problems here? Let me call them out.

1. No plan

When you have access to materials that could help you create a plan for launching your business, but you never use them, you’re not serious about this.

Action plans are what make dreams come true. Not pie-in-the-sky musings, not trying a bit of this and that. You need a concrete list of proven, doable steps that will bring you closer to your goal.

Many freelance writers I’ve met need help developing an action plan, because the freelance world is complex and multifaceted. Without a plan, it’s easy to gravitate to the Underworld of Freelance Writing and waste a lot of time writing quickie work for little pay.

One of the reasons many wannabe freelance writers lack an action plan is that this is not a one-size-fits-all sort of career. There isn’t one universally workable, best, fastest way to become a freelance writer. Your best moves will depend a lot on you — who you are, what you know, how much writing you’ve done, the sort of clients you want.

The freelance writers who launch successfully take the time to learn enough about this industry that they can create a business plan. It maps out where they want to go, and includes a marketing plan for how they’ll get there.

The freelance writers who don’t make progress are simply faking it along, trying this and that, and hoping to strike gold.

2. Stop the negative self-talk

I’m sure you picked up on the smacktalk attitude that permeates this writer’s message. “when I actually follow a plan…”

So here’s the thing: Sitting around beating yourself up about what you don’t know or haven’t taken action on yet is not going to help you take the plunge into the uncertain world of freelancing.

Negative self-talk is an epidemic among freelance writers. No matter how much we’ve accomplished, our focus seems to be on what we haven’t achieved.

This past week, I coached a successful freelance writer with years of experience writing for newspapers, regional magazines, and trade publications. She’s looking to move up to higher-paying national magazines, but confessed she “feels like a failure” because she’s only billing $2,000 a month.

I know hundreds of writers who’d kill to be in her shoes — to have a portfolio of legitimate clips and steady clients with good assignments, as opposed to content-mill junk. But all she could see was where she hadn’t made it to yet.

If you’re running yourself down about your shortcomings, it’s time to pop that tape out of your brain and install a new one. Create a ‘brag sheet’ of accomplishments you can refer to. Make a list of your strengths.

Whatever action you take to reprogram the negativity, know that there’s only one of you in this whole wide world. Appreciate that nobody else can write it like you — and that out there are clients who would probably love your help.

Instead of being your own worst critic, become your own biggest champion. Then, you’re ready to get out there and freelance.

3. Take your dreams seriously

What really smacked me in the face in this writer’s missive was the phrase “my puny dream.”

Honestly, that statement shocked me.

If you could only take one thing away from the more than 600 posts on this blog, I want it to be this: Your dreams are not puny.

They are huge.

What could possibly be more important than envisioning your ideal life and then striving to live it, in the precious few days you have on this planet?


It’s sad and cruel to belittle what you want most out of life.

It’s also a dodge to make it feel somehow OK that you’re not going after what you really want.

No matter how many sarcastic cracks you make, you know that deep down, your freelance writing dream is still there. That tug you feel in your gut is your soul, trying to pull you onto the road where you belong.

There’s really nothing you can do except either bear that pain, or get started.

What’s standing in the way of your freelance dreams? Leave a comment and let’s talk about it.

Freelance writing success



  1. Deborah J

    Hi Carol,
    It’s funny that this appeared this morning, because last night I gave up on my freelance writing dreams. I laid in bed and told God that I’m done. It wasn’t fear that got to me. It was frustration.

    For the last 25 years or so I’ve been reading on and off about becoming a freelance writer and all the mechanics involved. I’m now in my 40s. I now have the courage to go for it, but something happened–the Internet. I got stuck at the business name process. I have a common name and the shorter version without my middle name is already taken on social media. I did buy the domain deborahlynnjackson.com, but it is so long.

    Without a business name, I have no business. Of course, it doesn’t have to be my name, but every domain name idea I look up to register is already taken.

    • Carol Tice

      Hi Deborah — there’s nothing wrong with your URL or making your business name your name. And if you bought a URL, it doesn’t sound to me like you’ve given up. 😉

      I’ve coached writers in their 60s who’re getting started in this career, too, so I don’t want to hear “I’m too old” next.

      • Deborah J

        Thank you Carol for the feedback. I’ve wanted to do this for so long and was sad to let it go out of frustration. After my vacation this week, I’m going to delve into it full speed ahead.

    • Rob


      I dabbled in freelance writing my whole life, but never imagined I could make a career of it until I had no other options at the age of 60. Living in a cheap country helped, but finally getting off my butt and making a real effort helped more. I’m 66 now and just about at the stage where I could live reasonably comfortably in Australia if I wanted to. I don’t want to, though. You’re still young by my standards. I recently read a story about a man who got his first book published at 93 and the years since (he’s 97 now) have been the most productive of his life.

    • Sabriga

      Hey Deborah,

      This coming Sunday I turn 60 and am just beginning as a freelancer, despite having taken enough courses and classes to have a PhD. I plan that this career will take a few years to develop but plan that that work will eventually pay off so I can freelance all the way to my dying day, if I’m so inclined.

      I totally feel your pain about the biz name – I struggled with that, too, but for the opposite reason – my name is too unusual and confuses people. More than one successful business has changed its name or branding in mid-stream. Starting with your own name doesn’t mean that you can’t change it when your finally find the perfect one for your biz.
      Good luck!

  2. Heather

    What’s holding me back from my dreams? Maybe the fact that history writing is hard to get into even if I had a PhD., which I don’t. I’m trying to decide how many polite rejections from publishers are enough before I self-publish my Holocaust book. I’m not giving up on it, though. I’ve also been talking to John Soares about writing for educational markets.

    I do need to ditch the negative self-talk, however. I’m sure I would be more productive without it. Good points in this post as usual, Carol!

  3. Mike Johnson

    Hi Deborah,

    I have a very common name so had to use my middle name in my domain too. But, you can also buy other domains and “URL forward” them to your domain for free. So when you dream up a shorter, catchier name, for $10 a year you can buy that better name and use that to get to your existing site. MikeLeeJohnson.com is my first domain and WorldsBestWriter.com points to it, which is the same as that being my website. You can buy 50 different names and point them all to your main domain. This would be helpful if you had several niches and wanted a different name to approach different clients.

    Also, at age 39 I had to file bankruptcy due a business failure. By age 48 my net worth exceeded a million. Freelance writing played a huge role in getting me from nothing to everything during my 40s. I started with no formal training and no college. “Do – experience – adjust” is a technique that works.

    Just take the small step in front of you and then the next small step will reveal itself. As you progress through the small steps, you get stronger and over time, become the person with the skills worthy of achieving the dream. The journey itself, makes you the person you dream to become.

    Finally, one of my favorite quotes: “You are never given a dream without also being given the power to make it true. You may have to work for it, however.” – Richard Bach

    Your dream itself, is all the proof you need that you are worthy enough to reach for it and that it is waiting there for you to harvest. You have the power to become either a go-getter or a regretter. Go-getting is far more satisifying and actually far easier than spending your life with regret. So jump in the pool and start swimming!

    Good luck!

    • Carol Tice

      Ha — that’s the same technique I’ve always used, Mike.

  4. Jonathan Holowka

    I would have to say that the only thing standing in the way of my own freelance writing dreams is the fact that I have not yet quite decided exactly what it is that I want to do.

    On one hand I have my What to Do When Bored website where I post fun content and (currently) rely on ad revenue.

    On another hand I have my personal blog, which does not yet have a big audience and I have not yet decided how I want to focus and angle it.

    And finally on one last (third?) hand I haven’t committed that freelance writing is perhaps my overall goal. I have other viable options right now including taking over my dad’s business he wants me to run, and I guess you could say I have not figured out what direction I want to go.

    Fortunately I’m still young and have some time to explore and figure it out.

  5. Cathy Graham

    I love your newsletter, Carol. You always get right to the heart of the matter. You tell it like it is but are kind and compassionate about it. Sure wish I had your chutzpah!

    I, too, dream of making money from writing but have yet to make it happen, aside from a few short stories published and a children’s play years ago. I blog, write poetry, do photography and write fiction for fun and enjoy sharing with other writers. I enjoy taking lots of courses but still have that beginner’s mentality even after years of writing and even after getting published a bit. I guess I don’t view myself a true writer without some piece of paper with credentials from an esteemed university.

    In the back of my mind, I think, could I ever make money doing what I love? Is that too much to ask or should I just resign myself to boring clerical or retail jobs in the real world? I fear failing and therefore don’t push myself out of my comfort zone so it’s always just a dream and not a reality.

    Glad to know I’m not alone and others feel the same.

    • Carol Tice

      Cathy, let me explode a myth for you — I’ve edited the work of writers with Master’s Degrees in writing who could not put a paragraph together. Afraid that piece of paper isn’t the answer. Writing a lot is.

      Could you ever make money doing what you love? Only if you get rid of all the fake barriers cluttering up your mind, and give it a try.

  6. Willi Morris

    I think what’s standing in my way is my focus on finances. Since we are in a pinch in this area, I have a famine mentality. Very hard to focus on growing, but getting better!

    • Marcie

      Man, Willi, I feel you on the finance area. While I accept this financial challenge as part of my right now, I try to focus forward to what life would like when I get paid for all of these story drafts, book sales and commercial writing projects. That future place looks and feels good so I just keep on writing, pitching, calling and following up. Just know that your breakthrough is on the way.

      • Carol Tice

        Marcie, one tip is to write queries instead of article drafts. It’s much rarer to get a previously written story published (and often pays less) than writing off an editor’s assignment.

    • Carol Tice

      Willi…your area is…the world. There are good clients in the world, and you can find them.

  7. Rita

    Great post as usual. I’ve been taking action on a number of the things you’ve taught in Bootcamp. Daily marketing, tweaking the website, and reaching out to businesses I can help with my ever increasing skills.

    One big thing that’s helped me is working on my attitude. I’m kicking the negatives out of my way. Lois should check out Earl Nightingale on YouTube. The Magic Word from leaf the field.

    When we believe we can, we CAN. Just replace the image in your mind that you can’t with something you want.

    Rita in San Diego

    • Carol Tice

      I agree, Rita — the attitude is HUGE. I can’t believe how much negative self-talk I hear from writers…that’s like opening up a vein, pouring in poison, and then wondering why you can’t get anything done.

  8. Kyle Frederick

    Carol, this letter seems to be how I have felt about myself for years now. I just recently graduated High school,although to be quite honest I am not proud of anything I did there, I got entirely too complacent always sure that I would “be just fine”.Now after years and years of doing the least I possibly could while still getting by, It’s hard for me to get up and do any work. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been so close to moving forward with this dream and found some nonsense excuse to keep myself right where I have been for the past few years.

    I was even offered an internship at a fairly large web site and I managed to worm my way out of it. I have been telling myself that I am simply not qualified or “could never get it right.” I think I have finally realized that I will never be truly happy if I keep putting comfort(or a kind of complacency) ahead of my goals and dreams. And for this, I thank you Carol.

    • Carol Tice

      Glad I could help, Kyle!

      I’ve heard from so many writers who turn down opportunities — an editor asks them to send in an article, and they just freeze.

      All you have to do is start saying ‘yes’ and this could all turn around. 😉

  9. Tony

    Hi Carol
    The problems listed in your article are so very true. I have, for many years, been helping small and home businesses during their start-up phases and much of what I do is preparing plans, strategies and campaigns on behalf of my clients. Lots of writing which I thoroughly enjoy. I have since started writing articles on Home Business ideas and concepts for a local newspaper and was amazed at the positive feedback. So at the tender age of 60 I have decided to pursue a writing career and am now on ebook number 3 as part of a Home Business Starter series. With no journalistic training or experience I decided, one frosty Friday morning, to just do it and have faith and belief in my own capabilities. So far so good!

    • Carol Tice

      Good for you, Tony! I run into way too many writers who’ve got the “I’m too old” mantra going on. About the same number have the “I’m too young” problem, ironically.

      But really, we can all do it whenever we’re ready. 😉

  10. Pankaj

    Hi Carol,

    I agree with your points, I think the most common reason of not starting your freelancing career is negative feeling you have about yourself. It’s really important to be serious about your dream and plan carefully, and then start your career. Sitting down and thinking you’ll get your time then certainly you won’t get anytime.

  11. Jason Syd

    Hi Carol,

    I just started down this track and learning as I go. This help put everything in perspective. I am tracking my progress (sometimes too much!).

    Glad that I have the support structure around from my family so positive environment really helps and never forget that passion matters as much as the desire to succeed.


  12. Sabriga

    My biggest obstacle is laziness based on lack of progress. The vicious cycle of not having queries accepted feeding into an unwillingness to be self-disciplined enough to keep trying.

    But today’s a new day…

    • Carol Tice

      I think the key to my success is that for me, lack of progress inspires…panic! And LOTS of action. 😉

  13. Erica

    It’s sad that we (myself included) will champion others more than we’ll champion ourselves. And yet we’re the only ones who can make it happen. There are enough people in this world ready to hold us back. But we’re the ones who have the final say.

  14. Kimi

    Just the dose of inspiration I needed for today, brilliantly written as usual Carol, thank you! 🙂

  15. Sylvie

    Love this post, Carol — the negative self-talk and fake barriers definitely resonate for me! I have a feeling I’ll be re-reading this post several times over the next few months 🙂

    Just took the first step of finishing my writer site, registering a custom domain and making a list of companies to pitch. Tomorrow, crafting the LOIs…

    • Carol Tice

      Great to hear, Sylvie!

  16. David Gillaspie

    I like the brag sheet, something to run through when you wake up in the middle of the night wondering why you do it? Just added another notch on the sheet, but still as far away as ever.

    Thanks, Carol

    • Carol Tice

      No you’re not…you’re another notch closer. 😉

  17. DB Stephens

    Hi Carol,

    I am somewhat new to the writing community. I started out by trying to write a novel and fell in love writing. I’ve written three novels and self-published two of them, only to see them get lost in the Amazon jungle. I am interested in exploring the world of freelancing and would love a good book that gives me the information I need to get started. Does your book explain how to form the plan that you speak of and how to know what to charge for my service? I have many more questions, if you have the time for them. I would love to hear from you.


    • Carol Tice

      You bet — lots of answers you’re looking for in the Step by Step Guide e-book, DB!

      You’re making me feel I’ve got to do an e-book that lays out my book-marketing philosophy and strategy. I’ve sold around 1,000 copies of my e-books, and only got serious about promoting them a couple of months ago! And I’ve definitely done it wrong in the past and learned a lot.

      Our next Freelance Writers Den bootcamp is going to be about self-publishing, so stay tuned for that! My e-book creation team is going to be teaching it. Excited to put that on in the fall!

  18. Joshua

    Hi Carol,
    I came across this article and it has hit several points that have been bothering me lately.
    Recently my confidence is soaring in my writing ability. By this, I mean I am writing with the most clarity that I have ever written with. I have always written as a passion. Falling short on my dreams is not something that I intend to pursue!
    I did not receive a very good education. My grasp of the English language has always been great and nowadays I find myself in forums writing mini-articles a lot. I would like to push forward, pursuing a career in both article writing, poetry and fiction.
    I am 100% confident that with the correct guidance I can make this happen. What I need is to learn to use grammar correctly. Do you have any suggestions on a good grammar course? I am mostly self taught and require guidance to make a plan. Anything you suggest will be welcomed.
    I live in a household in which I do not really have a writing space so my flow can be interrupted by knocks at the door, lawnmowers, noisy neighbours and all of the other joys which a writer competes with. My plan to offset this is to purchase a laptop computer and write away from my home, somewhere in nature, which will be new to me. I feel that this is important. My home is not chaotic. I find that my flow is easily interrupted, my train of thought. Do you have any suggestions on how to maintain the flow of writing after being interrupted? I know writers differ, each from the next. I tend to react to interruptions with resentment which kills my flow! I need to work on this as it will be easy to work past with the right approach.
    I also have a whole lot of written work that is in a clutter. It is mostly poetry as well as some practical esoteric knowledge with a few short stories and many articles on paper.
    I have been hesitant to store my work on the computer as I have often undervalued my work in the past and I worry about security issues/stolen work etc.
    I would also like to learn how to get feedback for what I write without giving it away.
    My last issue is how best to format my work. It will be a big task converting the hand written word into a digital format! I would like to make sure that I get that all right on the first time for presentation to publishers and anything of the like.
    Any advice that you can give me will be greatly welcomed.
    Thanks in advance.

    • Jonathan Holowka

      Hey Joshua, I’m not Carol but I have several suggestions for you.

      1. Where to go to get grammar help and feedback? Check out http://www.reddit.com/r/writing. It’s a great online community filled with everything from amateur writers to published novelists. There are plenty of great resources that have already been posted and you can always start a thread to ask a question or ask for feedback.

      2. The Oatmeal also has a very thorough and entertaining grammar pack on how to use a semicolon, apostrophe, and several other highly common grammar points. http://shop.theoatmeal.com/products/grammar-pack (this page links to all 6 of their grammar comics, which you can read for free online).

      3. What I often do is when I need to find an answer to a grammatical questions is check out passages from a novel and see how the author handles whatever it is I’m looking for.

      Hope this helps.

      • Carol Tice

        Joshua, I love these tips from Jonathan!

        Got a few of my own —

        For grammar, I like the new book How to Not Write Bad, by Ben Yagoda.

        Interruptions? Bad news there — nature has plenty of them, too! The birds, the squirrels, the other hikers.

        More than a change of venue, you’ll need a change of attitude. Stop being interrupted by your interruptions. Knocks at the door? Ringing phones? Mowing lawns? Set phasers to ‘ignore.’ Wear headphones and play music, if need be.

        Just so you know, I really don’t have an official ‘writing space’ in my house anymore either — I used to, but now that I have the laptop I float around – back bedroom, deck, living room couch, wherever. Lack of a ‘special space’ – that’s not the problem — the problem is focus. You need to get into the special space in your *head* where no one can interrupt you.

        Read “Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience” to learn more about how to get into your writing groove and tune out the distractions.

        Honestly, when I am interrupted, it DOES take me time to get my head back into it. Not sure there’s a cure for that, except for refusing to be interrupted as much. I have 2 special-needs kids at home who’d like me to print out a coloring page if they see the computer’s on…so trust me, we’ve all got things competing for our time. You have to learn to say no.

        On that last one…I don’t think you have to worry a lot about people stealing your poetry off your laptop. And Word docs should be fine for typing them up. Unfortunately, poetry is very difficult to earn any kind of regular living at, so you might want to look at some of the more salable writing forms, such as business blogging and article writing — nonfiction is where most of the reliable money is.

        Hope this helps!

        PS – I don’t know about the technique of checking out a novel — would depend on the novelist’s style. Many bend grammar rules entirely in their writing style.

  19. Nadia McDonald

    In the beginning I was very timid. Freelancing was a career that appeared to be tough on the surface. After gaining some experience in writing, and learning the market with comprehensive research the transition has been smoother. I have targeted my niche and will begin writing for a guest blog next month.
    Nevertheless, I encourage newbies especially to find their niche and promote what they are truly passionate about.

  20. Alex Taylor

    Hey Carol,
    Great points here,
    I have plans and goals for my writing and in spite of many health and other personal issues, I continue to work towards those goals. What is the other option you think I have ?

    • Carol Tice

      The other option is to watch the world go by, while your dreams remain unfulfilled. Hopefully that’s not the option you’re taking!


  1. Lumpy's Corner › Writer’s Links 06/15/2014 (p.m.) - […] 3 Big Reasons Your Freelance Writing Dreams Go Nowhere […]
  2. Why we’ve failed, and the secret of success - […] Tice, over at Make a Living Writing, has named lack of a plan the number one reason why freelance…

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