6 Hard Truths You Have to Accept to Work Smarter as a Freelance Writer

 Almost every day this week (and past weeks), I’ve compared myself to other writers and felt bad.

I’ll be sitting on the couch watching TV after a long day of work, and I’ll feel a compulsion to look at the newest articles on the websites I write for (which is not a great decision for someone like me, I know). I’ll notice some contributors publishing multiple stories a day, and I can’t help but think about how the editors haven’t accepted my pitches much at all.

It’s hard to not feel inadequate and upset in those moments.

I’ll tell myself to work harder. Work longer hours, write more stories, and pitch almost every second I’m not writing. I’ll feel frustrated over the fact my successes feel short-lived, and I’ll feel even more frustrated that I’m so hard on myself.

I imagine these experiences and emotions are common for freelance writers. From what I’ve seen on Twitter, I’m far from alone.

These negative experiences can make us get down on ourselves and ask, “What’s the point?” As a result, we may not always work as hard or as smart, and inevitably we’ll have less success. It’s an awful cycle.

If you’ve been reading this and nodding your head, these next points are for you.

Let them show you how not alone you are. Let them show you the truths that are hard to hear but so necessary if we want to maintain our mental health. Let them point out new perspectives and silver linings that prove all you have to be grateful for, even among the rejections.

And once you see that, you won’t hold yourself back anymore. Instead, you’ll see your success grow.

You can’t be the best on every platform

I want to have multiple bylines, and I also want to be the most successful contributor on each one. See my dilemma?

Since I started freelance writing in June 2020, more and more publications have accepted my work. But as I’ve spread myself somewhat thin — which you have to do, to an extent — I have less time to focus on perfecting my writing and pitches for each platform.

Having more bylines is thrilling, don’t get me wrong. I’m just having to learn that having more bylines also means I have less time to dedicate to each one specifically. I can’t write 20+ articles for every site while also sleeping and relaxing enough in a day that’s only 24 hours long.

It’s impossible to be the best, most frequent contributor in every publication you write for. I hate to say this as someone who values career success greatly, but it’s something we have to accept as freelance writers.

While extra bylines can mean less success on each one, to an extent, they’re still something to celebrate. In my experience, being well-rounded, having multiple streams of income, and not depending on one platform embody your best chances at long-lasting success.

You can only control so much of your success

If you want to be an influencer, content creator, or freelancer of any kind, you have to be willing to do one thing: hustle.

Careers like these are all about putting in hard work, learning new tactics that will help you succeed, and working long or even weird hours. Your success and your finances deal with your work more directly than they would in a traditional job.

But at the same time, you can’t control every bit of your success in these fields, either. While you can work hard to perfect a pitch, you can’t make an editor accept it. While you can write extra articles, you can’t make more people read them.

Some months will be amazing. Some months won’t. That doesn’t necessarily mean your quality or effort changed, and it certainly doesn’t mean your worth changed either.

As cliche as it is, the dark days make the bright days shine brighter. Personally, I realized I wasn’t appreciating my most successful days as much when they happened more regularly. But now, I become excited and proud from less. My self-esteem dipped for a bit, but it’s more regulated now, and I’m grateful more often.

More success can also mean more stress and work

I crave success almost as much as I crave chocolate — which is a lot. As I mentioned previously, I want more bylines, more accepted pitches, more positive feedback, and more money. This is because of the (unfortunate) fact that I put almost all of my self-esteem and self-image into how many achievements I earn.

But what I often forget in this race to having more success is that more accepted pitches and bylines also mean I have to do more work — and potentially experience more stress.

While I am a hustler, I also appreciate having time to relax. I value my hobbies and my relationships almost as much as my work. I’m a “work hard, play hard” kind of person, and I’ve had to realize that working harder doesn’t always mean playing harder.

We have to learn how to find the balance between “I’m satisfied with my work” and “I’m satisfied with my life.” If finding that in-between space is difficult for you, don’t feel bad — it is for me too.

While stress and success aren’t always in our control, they are something we can work on individually and collaboratively. Having writer friends, a therapist, et cetera can help decrease the stress you’re experiencing. If you’re doing too much and find yourself feeling overwhelmed, though, I encourage you to take a step back — even (and especially) when it’s hard to do so.

You have to be more mindful of where you pitch story ideas

When I first started freelance writing, I was only writing for a couple of websites. Given that they were pretty different in the content they wanted, I didn’t have to think too much about where I would place certain stories.

My Instagram roundups of charcuterie boards, for example, easily went to POPSUGAR because those articles had a high success rate there and the site was a better fit for lots of photos.

In contrast, I’d always publish my personal essays and listicles about “breadcrumbing,” a dating behavior in which someone gives you intermittent attention to keep you interested with little work, on Medium because they became some of my most read articles there.

But now I also write for EQ, a relationship publication, and I have to decide if I want to write my dating stories there or on Medium. In addition, I recently started writing for Taffeta, which is like POPSUGAR as far as their verticals.

Each of these publications also has different rates — meaning I have to be more mindful where I pitch ideas that could work for multiple publications if I want to make the most amount of money possible.

And as a freelance writer, I have to care about making the most money possible.

This hard truth is a good problem to have, and it’s something I’ve had to learn is a factor. If and when you write for additional publications, I encourage you to keep this in mind so you can maximize your earnings.

Again, this is a good problem to have. Having to spend a few extra minutes on pitching is a small price to pay for having more money, bylines, and published work.

You need to put yourself out there — and you’ll be rejected a lot

As someone who craves admiration and feels personally hurt by rejection, one of the hardest parts of freelancing is having to put me out there and be willing to be rejected — often.

While I’m grateful to be a contributor for several publications — meaning I don’t have to send cold pitches much— pitching is a major part of freelance writing. It’s the epitome of exposing yourself and not knowing what to expect next. And it happens weekly, if not daily.

Rejection is incredibly common, even for freelance writers who have had success in seemingly endless publications for years. I’ve seen multiple freelance writers with at least 10 high-profile publications in their Twitter bios, but upon reading their pitching stats, I find out editors accept only about 10 percent of their pitches each month.

I say that not to discredit these writers in any way, but to show that you’re far from alone in the rejection you experience.

While the fact that successful, experienced freelancers go through tons of rejection can feel discouraging, it’s also a way to realize we aren’t alone. When editors reject (or ignore) our pitches, it’s easy to believe we’re bad or unsuccessful writers — but clearly, that’s not the case.

Not every month will go as well as the last

The first month I freelanced full time, I made about $29. Nothing fantastic, but a start.

Five and six months later, however, I made over $4000 and over $5000, respectively. My luck was improving, and I couldn’t believe the numbers I was seeing. I was incredibly proud, shocked, and grateful for my success. I was making more and more money each month.

With my increased knowledge about the platforms I wrote for as well as the passive income I earned from sites like this one, I figured the trend would continue upward, minus the occasional plateaus.

But then the new year hit, and my success quickly dwindled. My stats were lower than they’d been in a while. Editors accepted fewer pitches of mine. Several months passed, and my finances came nowhere near to where they were not all that long ago.

I have had some “ups” since, like being accepted at new publications and my stories receiving more reads. But mostly, I’ve had to learn that not every month as a freelance writer is going to be the best one I’ve ever had — and that’s okay.

I’m learning to be grateful.

Seeing the highs and lows of freelance writing is all about forming a helpful perspective. We have to let the bad days serve as a way to feel better about the good ones. If editors accepted our pitches daily, we wouldn’t feel as proud of ourselves and our hard work. We wouldn’t get as excited. Our job would be boring.

Final notes

Freelance writing can be a difficult career. I say this not to discourage you, but to validate you. Your struggles don’t mean you’re a terrible writer or unsuccessful — they mean you’re trying. They mean you’re brave and passionate because you’re working in a field known for its high rejection rates and gatekeeping.

And that’s nothing to feel bad about.

On the tough days, I encourage you to keep going. Work hard, but don’t feel bad if the cards are stacked against you sometimes. Instead of letting the low months stop youget excited about them, because they mean amazing months are ahead. Be grateful for where you’re at and try to see the silver linings.

And you’ll find the success you crave — I just know it.

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