7 Ways to Kill a Freelance Writing Career

What I’m listening to: Christine’s Tune by The Flying Burrito Brothers

sevens-luckily-1222955-1278x855I finished last week in an unusual position — I had no projects to work on. Given the huge amount of work I had to get done in March, I was actually happy about that. I had time to work on a website migration, taxes, and some personal writing projects.

I had time too to visit some blogs and forums. It’s almost as depressing as cruising job boards. Why am I not surprised by the “writing is dead” or the “I tried that and it didn’t work” statements? Oh, I know why —

Because they’ve been proclaimed for decades.

For freelance writers who are rarely without work, these kinds of declarations have no basis in reality. More likely, the writers who are saying such things are busy killing their careers rather than looking for ways to test such statements out.

Are you killing your freelance writing career? You are if you:

Copy instead of innovate. Isn’t it easy to see someone having success at something and want to try it their way? Oh wait, this guy knows something, too. And hey, how about I try her method for a week? There is no magic bullet to freelance writing success. None. There is, however, a way to really grow a strong business — build it your way. Take ideas, sure, but not every idea. How about just the ones that fit? And stick with them for longer than a minute. What worked for someone else most likely took a few months to really start working.

Never try anything new. Ah, but then there are freelance writers who will stick with the same plan no matter how dated and tired it is. Outdated marketing tactics, overused phrasing, the same tired website design and images just make you look out of touch. How can clients trust someone not working in the same century?

Think proofreading doesn’t matter. I saw a post recently by a self-professed expert that was littered with spelling errors and sentences that made no damn sense. Not the first one like that I’ve seen from this particular writer, either. If you’re taking shortcuts, it will show. Slow down. Proofread. Your clients are watching.

Never act on advice you sought. Time and again I saw the same writers asking the same questions over the span of a year or so. Those writers disappeared. Why? Because they weren’t willing to put the work into it.

Have no plan. When you first start out freelancing, it’s easy to just take the fingers-crossed approach to querying and contacting potential clients. But pretty soon, you’re just tossing darts into a cavern — nothing is landing anywhere. It takes writing down what you want to achieve and what you want to try to make it happen. It doesn’t have to be a full-blown plan. Even bullet points are better than no plan at all.

Promote only yourself. What a narcissistic existence it is when you don’t go beyond your own four cyber walls. Do you comment on other blogs? Share on social media? Make an effort to be part of any community beyond your own small universe? One of the fastest ways to befriend anyone is to help them promote their work or their ideas. It shows you’re human and you give a damn about someone beyond yourself.

Follow every fool who claims to be expert. There are a good number of excellent courses, webinars, books and seminars out there for freelance writers. There are even more people overselling the same recirculated schlock you can get for free with a simple web search. Worse, there are newcomers claiming to be marketing and writing experts when they’ve barely earned a paycheck. Study the people with whom you’re placing your trust — and more importantly, your money. Is their content really that innovative or are they wrapping urgent language around old ideas (clue — more than one exclamation point in any post or ad is a sign of someone polishing a turd). Does that person really have a strong background in what they’re claiming, or have they embellished their resume? Use your common sense — it’s your best business tool.

Writers, how do you see other writers killing their careers?
Was there ever anything you once believed that threatened your career?
What advice would you give to writers who are well on their way to career suicide?

About the author




  • Paula Hendrickson April 4, 2016 at 3:48 pm

    The biggest mistake I see new writers making is underestimating the amount of legwork you have to do – not just to find clients, but to research topics, find credible sources, and then follow through with your pitches and follow up if/when you don't hear back from the would-be clients.

    I like to tell newbies that less than half of a freelance writer's job involves actual writing.

  • Lori Widmer April 4, 2016 at 5:52 pm

    Amen, Paula. Amen. This is not a job in which you'll sit at a laptop sipping lattes and waiting for the check. It's an actual job, and you have to work.

  • Damaria Senne April 4, 2016 at 8:03 pm

    Lori, I think one of the ways to kill your freelance writing career is to rely too heavily on job boards to find work. It seems easier because someone else has already done the search for you. And having landed one or two bloody good gigs from job boards, I can't say it doesn't occasionally work.

    But I find it to be the most difficult way to find writing work. Firstly, I waste time sifting through insulting offers and if I'm lucky there is something that actually fits my skills set. Then I have to compete with the millions of freelance writers who also use the same job board to find work.

    Sometimes I feel sorry for the advertisers, who end up buried under a ton of resumes. Uhmm, no. I'd rather rely on my own marketing efforts to potential clients.

    It requires a ton of research and marketing. I also have to play a long game because it takes me long to go from first contact to a signed contract.

    But the foundation work pays off big time. More importantly, this kind of marketing leaves me feeling positive about the writing business, even when I'm rejected, because I feel in charge of my business. I also deal with people who appreciate the value of what I have to offer.

    Freelance writing is definitely alive and kicking butt. New writers just need to stop relying on so-called "experts" and do their own research on the market. Innovate.

  • Lori Widmer April 5, 2016 at 1:06 pm

    Damaria, excellent advice. Innovate. Amen.

    It is a bit of a race to the bottom sifting through those job listings. I personally find it depressing and it sucks the motivation right out of me.

    You are so right about building that foundation right the first time. It does take time and research. But sometimes the benefits, while a year or so down the road, are so much more worth it, aren't they?