Everywhere you look, there’s someone talking about what you need to be a freelance writer. Computer, check. Google Drive, check. Email address just for work, check. On and on and on the list goes.
But there’s more than just “stuff” and “digital stuff” that you need if you want to make it in this gig. These aren’t necessarily things — they’re more about your mindset. Being successful as a freelance writer does depend on writing skills, and having the structures in place (things like the email address and the invoicing software) will make it easier to get your work done… but if your noggin isn’t where it needs to be, you will go nowhere.
So to that end, these are three of the mental tools you need to have in place — or be willing to practice hard — if you’re going to make it as a freelance writer.
And please note that writing skills is not on the list.
You have to make the decision to do this.
And then you have to go all in.
If you’re just kind of messing around trying it, you’re probably not going to succeed. If you think maybe you’ll do a podcast, and start your own money-making blog, and get in some VA work on the side, and also be a freelance writer… and you’re trying to start all of these things at basically the same time, you will get nowhere.
When you’ve got a limited amount of time, and you’re trying to keep all of those different plates spinning, then basically what you’ve done is created a giant pile of Shiny Objects, and you’ve built in a sense of urgency about all of them.
And if everything is urgent, then nothing is urgent.
So you have all these different fancy projects calling your name, and it becomes entirely too easy to let yourself flit from project to project to project, inching this thing forward and then that thing forward, and then at the end of the day or the end of the week you’ve done all these tiny little things, and you’ve gone nowhere.
Sound familiar? If so, and if you hate this feeling, then it’s time to stop. Pick one. Pick ONE. Decide to do the blog. Or the podcast. Or the VA thing. Or the writing thing. But just ONE of them gets your focus. And go all in on that ONE thing, until it’s humming along. And then you can think about picking up the next thing.
If you think that the freelance writing piece is the one you want to pick, you’re in the right place.
(And I congratulate you, because you’ve made a SMART decision. Blogs and podcasts can generate major money, but they take a while to start bringing in any kind of serious profit. Being a service provider, like a freelance writer or even a VA, can get you money in the door FAST.)
So when you decide that you’re serious about making it as a freelance writer, then you have to remove the option of not doing the stuff that you have to do.
You eliminate all the other non-freelance-writing-business stuff from your to-do list, and you commit to doing whatever it takes to pursue the writing career.
That’s the hard part, the committing to the whatever it takes part.
I have a couple of freelance writing courses and I’m finding that a lot of the chatter and excitement and engagement for each of these courses dies when we get to the module where they have to actually do the work.
It’s fun to play around with websites and branding and domain names. It’s even fun to look at the job boards and think about all the gigs you could apply for tomorrow, or next week, or whenever you get it all figured out.
It’s NOT fun to sit there and draft your first pitch, because you know that the next step is to send it and risk rejection.
So most of us stop there. It’s sad and it’s frustrating, but it’s also predictable. When the rubber meets the road, a lot of people are not committed enough to make themselves do the hard part.
The hard part is the writing. The hard part is the pitching.
The hard part is the stuff that is scary or intimidating for whatever reason. (PS, fear of success is a real thing!)
But here’s the thing: if you are going to let yourself back down because you’re scared or intimidated, then you lack the commitment it takes. Harsh but true.
If you have the commitment, you make a decision and say, “I’m going to do this until I exhaust all my options, or I am successful.” You make that commitment and you don’t let yourself off the hook.
You do not give yourself the option of saying, “I will do it tomorrow,” or “Maybe this isn’t right for me,” or “I need to research more. I need to figure this out. I don’t feel ready yet.” If you lean on any of those excuses and you let those excuses take you out of the game, then you lack the commitment and you’re not going to make it.
Plain and simple.
You will not make it as a writer until you are ready to do the stuff that is scary, even though it is scary. Fact: it’s really scary. You’re facing rejection. You’re facing criticism. You’re facing all kinds of things that we don’t want to face.
But you have to be willing to do it anyway. That’s how you find success.
You have to be willing to say, “What’s the worst that could happen? They write back and say no. Or maybe they write back and say I’m stupid. Okay, that would be really hard but I think I could survive it.” And then you move forward and you send the email. You send the pitch. You write the draft.
You are terrified and you do it anyway.
And that’s what commitment is.
So if you want to be someone who goes out there and gets the work, then you commit and do it even when you are scared, even when you feel stupid, even when you aren’t sure.
Don’t let not doing it become an option.
This is actually one of my favorite things right now. I’ve been working on “cultivating curiosity” in the personal development sense, but I recently realized that you have to have curiosity if you’re going to be a freelancer writer, too. After all, curiosity is what drives you to look into this business opportunity in the first place, right?
I keep hearing about freelance writing. I wonder what that looks like. I wonder if that would work for me. I wonder how that works. I wonder if there’s a way that this can fit into my life. I wonder if I could get paid to write, too. I wonder if I can meet my income goals like that.
Then you follow those questions and you get the answers. Maybe it’s a yes. Maybe it’s a no, but you find out by being curious.
And then, if you decide to go for it, you have to be even more curious. This takes it beyond information-gathering and into testing and analysis. (Don’t freak out! It’s actually fun, the way we do it!)
Testing and analysis just means you have to be willing to try new things (testing) and then see how they work (analysis).
I wonder if I would get more interest if I changed the way that my pitch is structured. I wonder if I include more ideas in my pitch if I’ll get more yeses. I wonder if I include fewer ideas in my pitch will I get yeses? I wonder what would happen if I have a different sign off.
Then sometimes wondering takes you to Google or Pinterest. You start looking for pitch templates and pitching advice and you see what other people are doing. You think about how their different bits of advice might work for you.
That is curiosity. That is flexibility. That is saying, “I am not liking how this is. How could it be better?”
It’s also saying, “I’m really liking this. How could it be even better?”
Curiosity is when you show your adaptability and flexibility — when you go looking for information or input or solutions or ideas that will improve your current situation, and you keep looking until you find what you’re after.
You have to know where you’re going. If you’re going to get there, if you’re going to get anywhere, you have to know where you’re going.
This freelance writing business is not a random road trip. There are times when you can hop in the car and see where the road leads you. Business is not one of those times.
You need to have goals.
You need to be able to say, “I want to start freelance writing because I need an extra $500 a month.” If that’s you, your goal is to find $500 a month through freelancing.
Or maybe your goal is you need $2,000 a month so you can quit your crummy job and come home. That is your goal: to make $2,000 a month consistently with freelancing. And maybe for you consistently means three months or maybe it’s two months with a full roster or whatever. You get to define success, but you have to define it if you want to know how you’re doing.
You have to know where you’re going to know when you’ve got there (or when you’re not getting there fast enough).
I’m not talking about complex goal systems with the notebooks and the bullet points and the sprints and the 12-week-year thing. There’s some real value in those complex goal-setting methods, but they can be overwhelming and confusing when you’re at the beginning.
So it’s really ok just to say you need $500 a month. It’s measurable and it’s specific. Now you know what to work toward. Having that line you can cross is really helpful. It calls to you, and you know you’ve arrived when you get there.
If you don’t have a goal in mind, you don’t know when you can back off. You don’t know when you need to course-correct because there’s no course to correct.
Plus, having that target to set your sights on can act as a driving force to propel you forward when motivation fails you. (Note: Motivation will ALWAYS fail you.)
There’s a lot you “need” and a lot you don’t need to be a freelance writer. But if you don’t have the commitment to making it happen, the curiosity to discover the next right thing for you to do, and the goal(s) to serve as your target, it’s going to be a lot harder to get yourself off the ground.
In fact, I daresay it’d be nearly impossible.
Which of these three things is the biggest struggle for you? Let me know! I love hearing from you. And if you’ve been stymied by logistics and fear of the unknown, I’ve got something free to help you along. Click below to get your hands on it!
Since 2010, businesses and entrepreneurs have turned to me for stronger copy, deeper customer relationships, and great blog content.
Want to be a freelance writer for hire and build your own writing business around your kids? You can learn how to do that here, too.
Please don’t hesitate to get in touch. I can’t wait to meet you!
Come hang out with us in my Facebook group, The Ink Well Guild! Get your questions answered and find supportive feedback from other freelance writers.