The following is an excerpt from my new beginners’ freelance writing course, How to Become a Freelance Writer in 5 Days Flat.

Before we dive into this whole freelance writing shebang, I have to tell you this one thing: MOST OF THE ISSUES ALONG THE WAY ARE GOING TO BE IN YOUR HEAD.

Yeah, you heard me. I’ve been teaching people to start their own freelance writing businesses for over three years now and I can almost immediately tell who’s going to be successful and who’s not. Or at least who’s going to have a hard time and who isn’t.

In my experience, people can basically be broken down into two camps: those who go in with a fuck-it attitude and those who don’t. Writing ability isn’t a deciding factor here – that makes zero difference to which camp people fall into. I’ve seen good writers who believe they can do this, but mostly a shitload of good writers who think they can’t. I’ve also seen poor writers think they’re going to be amazing at this (spoiler: they’re not). So believe me when I say there is zero correlation between confidence and talent. Having one doesn’t automatically mean you have the other.

Of course, it’s extremely useful to be a good writer if you want to, you know… get paid to write. And your concern about whether or not you are a good enough writer is probably the main thing you’re worrying about, am I right? I know, I know. Don’t look at me like I’m some sort of prophet. I’ve just worked with enough students to know that most people don’t think their writing is good enough. Pretty much everyone worries their writing isn’t good enough. Sometimes they’re right, but usually not. To be a good enough writer to get paid to write, you need to understand how punctuation works and be able to write a grammatically correct sentence. That’s pretty much it. To go on to become a wildly successful writer is another matter, of course. But to simply get paid? Yeah, that’s it.

But what if your writing really isn’t up to par? A legitimate concern. However, it’s easy to improve your writing by learning a few simple tricks. In fact, fixing one single problem could improve most people’s writing two-hundred-fold. And that problem? Is being too god damn wordy. I’ve seen it over and over and over again. This is easily the biggest mistake people make in their writing. Sure, sometimes somebody just plain doesn’t get how a piece of punctuation works. (Please god, look up comma splicing and never ever do that, okay? Oh, and just don’t even bother with semicolons, alright? Most people get them wrong and they’re so outdated now anyway. A full stop will do just fine. Another protip: if you can’t replace your semicolon with a full stop, you’re probably using semicolons wrong.) Anyway, mostly it’s the being-too-wordy thing.

Despite my words of wisdom here, I’m betting you’re still feeling unsure about whether you’re a good enough writer for this. So don’t worry: in Day 2 I’m going to address all the main mistakes I see newbie writers make and show you how to fix them.

But honestly? The main thing that will dictate your success is your attitude. Most people just lack the fucking confidence. That is the biggest problem – not a lack of writing ability. Not having enough confidence to even try. Here’s something that may or may not comfort you: you will fuck up along the way. You just fucking will. Trust me on this. I did. Every successful freelance writer I know did. The only ones who didn’t? Never even gave it a shot. They kept holding out till they had the perfect website, the perfect portfolio, a better idea of how all this was going to play out. None of which will ever happen, of course, and so naturally they never started. They just waited around forever. Suckers. That’s not going to be you, right? No. You’re going to try. And you’re going to fuck up sometimes. And don’t you worry about that, because fucking up is part of the deal.

You will have awkward Skype calls with prospective clients. You will quote too low and too high. (Mostly too low.) You will make a really dumb typo in an email to a prospective client you really really wanted to work with. (They probably won’t notice, by the way, or care if they do.) You’ll forget to attach the document to the email. (Your clients won’t care about this either. Unless you like, never send the attachment.) You might even get some nasty responses to your pitches. Though mostly they’ll be ignored. So yeah, this isn’t going to be a streamlined process in which everything goes smoothly.

I’ll say it again: confidence is the main issue here. If you’ve got a go-get-’em attitude, you’re
already about 3000 paces ahead of everyone else, so good on you.

If you want to become a freelance writer but aren’t sure if you’re good enough or if you even want to do this – I mean, come on, is this really the right path for you? – check out my new freelance writing course for beginners, How to Become a Freelance Writer in 5 Days Flat. (It’s not just hyperbole. Promise.)

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    1. Thirty, yes, thirty years ago I was a successful(read getting paid) freelance newspaper and magazine writer. Then I stopped writing, but that’s another story. Last year I seriously began writing again. A friend told me about an online gardening magazine that needed writers. I didn’t even have any samples of my work written in this millenium! But I emailed them anyway and said that I’d been a regular contributor to The Christian Science Monitor, the Boston Globe and other New England publications. I didn’t say how long ago.The editor took a chance and tossed me an assignment. It ran with scarcely any editing, a typo or two, an overlooked misspelling. Today I can’t crank articles out fast enough. So far, the magazine has published five of my pieces. Yesterday I got a $350 check for 2K words. I owe the magazine four articles because every time my editor and I email, she gives me another assignment.

      Getting my first check shot my motivation and confidence to the moon. It meant that people still wanted to buy what I write. Now, I know you’re thinking– some little old lady writing about petunias. Not! I have the biggest fuck-all attitude of anyone I know. I quickly found out that writing about growing marijuana(I’m a dab hand from back in the day) pays twice as much as writing about growing strawberries. I’m as untamed as our darling kick-ass Karen. I knew I could still write, but what I lacked at first after 30 years was confidence. It’s a whole new world now and but nothing still succeeds like success. Get a taste of it and you’re off to the races, so keep pounding that laptop.
      I have two index cards on the wall over my laptop. One says, “If you don’t do it, who will?”
      and the other says, “Set their fucking hair on fire!” which I strive to do with every article. I
      write how I please and let my editor take out anything she doesn’t like, which is precious
      little. Rock on.

    2. Great read. Confidence is definitely key. I am trying to grow a thicker skin as we speak so that I can stop drowning in self-loathing every time someone says ‘no thanks’.

      1. Thanks Tanya! Yeah, I think a thick skin is a pretty crucial part of becoming a successful writer/freelancer.

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