Debunking the Myths of Freelance Writing, Part 1

When I started as a freelance writer, I had certain expectations. Over time, most of these have proved false. Yet I find young writers still believe them.

Myth #1:“It gets easier as you go along.”

Sorry, but no. While a writer’s skills get sharper, deadlines still remain inflexible, competition stays strong, and cash flow remains erratic.

Other challenges also arise. Just as you establish a relationship with an editor, she will change jobs, go on maternity leave, retire, or die. Just as you become a recognized expert on a hot topic (time management, home health care), interest in that topic wanes.

Worse, just as your new book is released, you will get word that one of your earlier titles is being remaindered. The hustle never stops. If you want a slower-paced life, become a librarian, not an author.

Reality #1
To survive as a writer, you must:

● write every day
● continually develop new markets
● keep current on trends
● always expand your knowledge and experience

Myth #2: “Genuine talent will eventually be discovered.”
I’ve had people approach me at writers conferences with boxes of unpublished poems, stories, and articles they found in the attic of a deceased relative. The material was excellent, but the writer died unpublished.

Reality #2:
Successful writers must also be successful marketers. They:

● seek writing opportunities at all levels
● aggressively make connections with editors and publishers
● use each new assignment as a lever to open the next door

I’ve seen people with marginal ability become published because of determination. They go to writers conferences and put their faces in front of every editor and agent, often buying them coffee or lunch so they can pitch a manuscript idea.

These people grab every opportunity to get a foot in the publishing door:

● covering school board meetings for the hometown newspaper
● writing a book review for a literary quarterly
● writing fillers and jokes for a national magazine

Their goal is to get a break and keep moving up. That’s what they often do.

Myth #3: “Some people are born with writing talent.”
I’ve yet to meet such people. The successful writers I know spend years honing their skills, and they never decide they have “arrived.”

● They read widely.
● They write daily.
● They seek feedback from editors and other writers.
● They revise their manuscripts with heartless professionalism.
● They deal with rejection.
● They study ways to break into new genres.
● They stay current on marketing news.

Talent improves from continuous work and years of experience. Harry Mark Petrakis (A Dream of Kings) studied writing for ten years before he sold his first short story to Atlantic Monthly. “You don’t inherit writing talent,” Petrakis says. “You get it through a self-imposed apprenticeship.”

Reality #3:
Writing is like most other professions. To become good at it you must study, practice, work, fail, and keep trying as you refine your skills.

Dennis E. Hensley, Ph.D., is a professor at Taylor University, where he directs the professional writing department. His 53 books include Millennium Approaches (Avon Books) and Money Wise (Harvest House).

Photo Credit: © Marek –


  1. says

    Thanks Doc,
    I appreciate reading the reality bits – good reminders and encouraging.

    I recently suffered a rejection for a piece about a fellow author. Realized afterward the editor expected a book review not a profile. SLAM! OUCH!

    Lessons Learned:
    Improve communication process w/editor
    Define clearly and understand expectations
    Double check stats, so I can justify using them
    Be more audience sensitive (a stat I included was correct, but it offended the editor and likely would not have gone over well with her readers)
    After crying, move on and live to write another day

    IF YOU HAVE TIME QUESTIONS: I feel like this experience with this particular editor has disqualified me FOREVER with her. Is that a legitimate read of a rejection?

    Is it possible, and if so how does a writer get back into the good graces of a particular editor?

    Thanks for all you do for CWG! Blessings, Carmen

  2. says

    Thank you for telling the truth. As usual, good advice in as few words as possible.
    (I’ve attended your workshops–or heard you on tape Wtg…Soul). Have your How to Write What You Love… on my current reading stack. How do you feel about agents? Do you have one?

  3. says

    Thank you for the reminder to write every day. As a mom of teenagers, I tend to write only when a freelance deadline is looming. How is it that I’m able to carve out the time then–when I NEED to write–but not when I WANT to write? I guess the answer is that I should train myself to NEED to write daily.
    I’ve heard you speak at the Indy Christian Writer’s Conference, and my daughter enjoyed your class at CRAM in 2012. My husband surprised me with the gift of membership in CWG, which we will sign up for this weekend. I look forward to the next year of writing my heart out.

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