Why Most People Never Make Money as a Freelance Writer

Freelance writing is one of the most rewarding careers I can think of. I get to set my own hours, choose my clients, and work from anywhere in the world. As a person who regularly grabs a backpack and wanders the world for months at a time, it’s hard to imagine doing anything else.

Just as I found starting a freelance writing career to be one of the best and most rewarding decisions I’ve ever made, there are thousands of other writers out there who feel the same. For every person making money as freelance writer though, there are a thousand wannabes who fell along the way and never got back up.

It’s easy to see why so many people fail at becoming paid writers. It takes countless hours of dedication to improve your writing skills and, in the beginning; the majority of these will be unpaid. Starting a freelance writing career often means you will deal with tons of rejection long before you get your first job and long after. It also takes a certain kind of discipline to steadily produce work on time when nobody is looking over your shoulder.

Take a look at what I think are the 4 most common reasons most people never make money as a freelance writer and see if you find yourself being waylaid by one. If so, it’s time to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and get back to the grind.

1. Spend More Time Reading About Writing Than Actually Doing It

A lot of us fall into this trap and I must admit that this was probably one of my biggest problems getting started as freelance writer. It’s so easy to waste a couple of hours a day researching and reading articles about what it takes to become a freelance writer; especially for newbies.

We think there is some magic answer that will help us to start landing great paid freelance writing jobs right off the bat. I’m sorry to be the one to tell you this, but there isn’t. There is no shortcut. You are going to spend months, if not years, starting your writing career and if you have any bills to pay, you’ll need to keep a day job while you’re at it.

Now that you know you’re wasting time reading tons of articles about how to make money as a freelance writer, you may be wondering what you should be doing instead. Well, that brings me to our next point. Start writing any way you can.

2. Aren’t Willing to Write for Freeget started at a freelance writer

A big problem for many people trying to start a freelance writing career is finding paid work. Instead of writing on a daily basis building up samples to show employers and publishing articles on our own blogs, we spend hours sending out application e-mails that never get a response. We never get a response because we don’t have a portfolio and we have no samples to show clients.

I know writing for free sucks. It feels like a waste of time and it’s hard to get motivated to do it after working all day trying to get money to pay the bills. Unfortunately, it’s a necessary evil. Ask any full-time freelance writer out there how many unpaid articles they have written and I guarantee you’ll get a double digit answer.

This may sound strange, but writing for free is one of the best ways to make money as a freelance writer.

I told that would sound strange, but it’s true. You can use your unpaid articles in a number of ways to advance your career. You can publish them on your own blog, offer them as a guest post to popular blogs, try and sell them to publications, or use them to create an awesome online portfolio.

3. Can’t Handle Rejection

If you can’t deal with rejection, you have two choices; abandon your dreams of making money as a freelance writer or get a thicker skin. Rejection is inherent in a writing career. Everybody has their own unique writing style and yours will never please every editor you come across. Some people like short, concise writing while others prefer a lot of fluff and flowery stylings. For some, a simple article with easy vocabulary is better and others like a very eloquent writer who over describes every setting.

The point is, you will be dealing with rejection on a regular basis. If you let every negative comment about your writing get you down, you’ll never make money as a writer.

4. Give Up Too Easily

become a freelance writer

Making money as a freelance writer is all about perseverance. There are times when jobs will come flying in from every angle and you’ll think you are the best writer to have ever walked the Earth. Other times, you’ll be scrounging around for any assignment you can take hoping to land just one so you have enough money to eat.

I’ll give your another strange concept here. Expect to be broke at times if you ever want to make money as a freelance writer. Feast and famine are two words every writer is familiar with and we go through periods in our career where it is one or the other. Even professional writers who have been doing it for years still hit periods where landing a writing job feels like pulling teeth. If you give up as soon as the going gets tough, you’ll never become a successful freelance writer.

Getting Back to Work

Do you find your freelance writing career being hampered by any of these reasons? If so, what are you going to do about it? If you are ready to turn things around and put those fingers back to work, pull out that computer and start writing. Once you are ready to apply for paid writing work, check out our daily job listings.

For those special few who persevere, you will find that earning steady money as a freelance writer can be a reality. Soon you too will be making money as a freelance writer while sipping fruity cocktails on some warm, tropical beach with crystal clear emerald water.

Brett has been a full-time freelance writer since 2012, when he quit his day job and moved to Cambodia with his trusty sidekick, a 140lb. mastiff. Currently he enjoys his life as a digital nomad and can often be found writing an article on the beach while sipping a Jack and coke. He also runs the website WanderGoGo.com

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4 comments

  • Number two is okay if you write for your own portfolio. But if a potential client asks for multiple samples that aren’t paid, there’s goes a few dollars of your time and effort.

    Lots of cheap and abusive people do this just to have articles to free. They can afford websites and software, but they can’t pay writers??? This is a major downside of freelance writing.

    • Hi Diane,
      You are totally right. You should only write for free when doing so for your own blog / portfolio or if you are guest posting on another site to try and drive traffic to yours. Never writer free sample articles for clients. Many just take all the submissions and use them rather than actually hiring anybody.

  • Hi Brett,
    I’m stuck currently between Numbers 1 and 4. Now that I’ve reached 80,000 words on my debut novel, I have an attack of the self-doubt that Stephen King talks about in “On Writing.” I’ve read so much about How To Write it’s jumbled my brain. My husband says each day, “Close that book and start writing!” I took a webinar from Writer’s Digest and that helped me focus again. I have magazine articles floating around in my head and if I don’t give up on my novel’s first draft, I plan to write them as the ominous First Draft chills on my shelf. I’m a neophyte at creative writing; made my living as a technical and legal writer for decades. You mention a blog can help with freelance. I started a blog, but not about writing. I use it for practice. Not sure how to focus the blog, any suggestions?

    • Hi Lois,
      How to focus your blog depends on what you want it to accomplish. Are you trying to use it as a springboard for paid writing work? Do you want it to start building an audience base before you book is released so you will be drumming up so pre-publishing attention? Or is it just a way to vent your thoughts and feelings? If you want it to help you bring in some paid freelance writing work, your best bet is to start writing blogs/articles in the areas you want to land paid writing gigs so it can be your online portfolio.

      You have to decide what you want your blog to accomplish before focusing it. Once you have the answer to that, it will be much easier to construct a relevant plan of action for it. Post a link to your site and I’ll take a look at it to see if I can offer any comments or constructive feedback.