When you think about your work as a freelance writer, can you easily identify what it is you lean on? Do you know what I mean by that? I mean: what’s your crutch? What’s holding you back? What’s the thing you use for support or reassurance that might have helped you at the beginning of your freelance career, but may not be that useful to you anymore?
Before I dive into the crutches of freelance writers (goodness, I have to be careful not to write crotch!) I want to tell you a short story about one of my crutches.
As lots of you know, I took up running a little while ago.
Okay, when I say I took it up, it sounds like I’m running a marathon every second weekend.
Believe me, I’m not.
When I started running, I loved the idea of exercise, but the reality?
Not so much.
But as I approached a milestone birthday I realised I needed to do something active.
Long story short, I took up running.
Very slowly. In every meaning of the word.
I started out with an app AND a running playlist on my phone.
Because heaven forbid I could just go for a run with only my thoughts and determination to keep me going, right?
Anyway, for about a year I used the app.
It got me to the milestone of running 5km.
But I always struggled with motivation and wanting to quit.
It was too hard. I was still too unfit. The hills were looming and I hated them.
I looked at the numbers, the distance, the pace and I compared myself to friends who ran and who cranked out 5km in 20 minutes, when I was barely managing to get home in 35 minutes.
Then one day my running armband broke.
I told my partner I couldn’t possibly go for a run without it.
“Just try,” he said.
(And, as a side note, can I just say that he IS the kind of person who could run a marathon every second week without even getting puffed so I wasn’t too keen on taking his advice).
I tried to explain that I needed my armband, I needed my new program that told me to keep going, and told me how long and how far I’d run.
But I was wrong.
When your crutch doesn’t help you
I went for a run without my headphones in my ears and without my phone in my armband and I was totally surprised by how it felt.
I felt free.
This time, I ran longer (I think) and faster (I think) – and for the first time, I loved the run.
I thought I needed my app and the armband to keep me going, but in fact it was holding me back.
Okay, I hear you ask, but what the heck does this have to do with freelance writing?
In my work with freelance writers over the years I’ve seen loads of writers using crutches that they’ve outgrown.
It’s helpful to use scaffolding at the beginning to help us reach our goals.
We might use a pitch template, sign up for a newsletter or join a Facebook community to give us guidance.
But sometimes when we reach our goals, we keep using these same tools or information, even when our goals change.
And actually, we end up dragging our crutches behind us, rather than them helping us get to where we want to go.
Do you recognise any of these examples?
I see (and I’ve experienced) lots of freelance writers with different crutches, like:
- You want to break into different publications, but you pitch the same, old magazines, newspapers or online sites because the editor knows you. Your crutch: It’s safe, comfortable and you’re not sure where else to pitch.
- You’re making a little bit of money from your writing, but you just can’t seem to get any traction. Your crutch: Your wheels are spinning – you’re reading blog posts, listening to podcasts, doing courses, and accepting low rates because that’s all you’re being offered. You’re splitting your attention in a million different directions, unsure of what you should be focusing on.
- You craft beautiful pitches that editors show interest in, but if they ask for more information or for you to follow up when they have budget, you don’t. Your crutch: You’ve done the hard part (writing the pitch) but you hold yourself back from seeing it through.
- You love writing and have had success, but you’re not sure what to do next. You could try something new (either find new clients, try a new niche, look into corporate writing), but you don’t. Your crutch: You’re being held back by a (perceived) lack of time, procrastination, technology or a loss of passion for what you’re doing.
These are just a few crutches that I see amongst freelance writers.
But please don’t think that I’m judging you, because I’m not.
We all have crutches that we lean on and that become our habits.
I certainly do.
I know that one of my crutches is that I’m looking for comfort – I like writing for editors and clients who come to me (who doesn’t, I know!) but it does mean that I don’t spend as much time marketing as I should.
How to discard your crutch
The key to being a successful freelance writer is working out what’s holding you back from the next step.
Because that’s all you have to take.
The next step.
Even though you may have ambitious plans or annual goals you want to hit, all you can do is the next step.
So, what’s the next step for you?
For most of us, it’s thinking about what you might be leaning on too heavily and how it may be holding you back.
It’s not always easy to recognise what is helping and what is hindering us, so take some time to notice your habits and your thoughts about certain things.
When you go to send a letter of introduction to a potential client, what are you telling yourself or what are you thinking?
When you think about this time next year, what thoughts do you have about your freelance writing career?
What are you reluctant to do in your business?
Recognising these kind of blocks is the first step in standing up and letting go.
Do you have a crutch that you’re leaning on? Have you managed to work out what’s holding you back?