When Freelancing is Difficult: Thoughts on Failure and Inspiration
My first writing attempt, I met failure. In high school, I jumped at the chance to write an Op-Ed Column, which the Editor in Chief gleefully tore to shreds and asked if I was certain I wanted to write, because the talent was sorely lacking. Two decades later, I carried this story as if it happened twenty minutes ago.
As a lifelong writer, I’m married to failure. I’ve written about failure extensively on my personal blog and Medium page; today, I want to write about the intersection between writing, failure, and the copywriting business model. How do they all serenade a sea of doubt for beginning writers?
This subject is dear to me due to my lifelong obsession with writing. Shortly after the high school column, I wrote for myself; in undergrad, professors told me I couldn’t write, and I should’ve been an English major. In my MFA program, professors told me I could write, but there was no audience for my content. And as a copywriter, clients have told me that my writing wasn’t high enough for them. I just got my first unpaid invoice!
The reason why I write about failure and entrepreneurship is because this subject is profoundly lacking. Numerous copywriting courses plastered across social media with glorious trips of writers who travel, live a life of freedom where they type articles on exotic beaches charm prospective students to part with their dollars. Millennials have struggled in this job market; we’ve all searched for the answers to our economic woes, and copywriting seems like the answer for how to make money.
What doesn’t get discussed – even behind paywalls – is the difficult journey of client acquisition. There are plenty of posts around amazing inspiration, positive thinking, and manifestations. Accountability groups pop up and discuss the excitement over the future where we can pay off student loans, travel the world, or provide for our families, only for beginning copywriters to sneak away to full-time work and put copywriting behind them completely.
Why are the drop-off rates for such high vibes? A possible answer could be how we view failure and inspiration.
Comparisons with Inspiration
Inspiration for writing is captured in cliched terms. Real writers search for inspiration in lavender fields, on beaches where waves crash, amongst people watching in high traffic areas. As a writer of color, I’ve always found this definition of inspiration to reek of privilege, because not everyone has the time, access, or even the interest to seek inspiration this way. Many aspiring copywriters work non-glamorous jobs for health insurance, to support our families and ourselves. Yet, in the common discourse among copywriters, there’s an assumption that writers shouldn’t work full time while they achieve their copywriting dreams.
The inspiration question – much like writing in “the zone” – has always confused me. The longest I can write is 90 minutes, and after that I need a break because I don’t have six hours to devote to anything. There’s laundry, full time work, personal development, even exercise if it’s a walk in the park to keep myself sane. Copywriting is defined as a great option for stay at home moms without much discussion of how to manage the time between children.
Inspiration and high vibes are easy to feel, but the application to our business is tricky. We have to focus on the daily work ahead of us and then carve out the time to devote to our business, whether that’s six hours or six minutes a day.
My relationship with inspiration can feel like a failure because my journey won’t mirror the copywriting gurus – despite my education and practice. But one thing entrepreneurs must remember is that our journey is ours – therefore, it won’t look like anyone else’s journey.
Nor should it.
The Success Facade
Copywriting courses sell copywriting and freelance writing as the financial and freedom success. This can leave writers such as myself anxious if we don’t achieve that within the first month, or even the first few years. After all, who wants the story of, “Yes, I’m still pitching to clients?” However, selling copywriting as the answer to success means that more people will purchase the course.
I used to believe that purchases motivate people, but the real motivation is within yourself. Like inspiration, buying the course serves as the kernel of inspiration. The hard work comes in when we don’t want to. We judge if we have six minutes in our day to write or work on our business, as opposed to six entire hours.
Copywriting – and starting a business in general – requires a large amount of diligence and tenacity to get through it. Sure it can be sold as easy, but that’s a part of advertising. It’s a magician’s trick on both their parts and ours, where we might underestimate how much work we have ahead of us because it’s cast off far in the future.
Perhaps one way we can get through this difficult leg of the journey is to remember why we started copywriting in the first place. Why do we want to write for money as opposed to work for an employer? Why write instead of bake? Why write instead of becoming an influencer? For me, I want to write copy because writing is my childhood dream. Writing is how I give value to the world. It’s the expression of who I am.
That’s what keeps me up to draft the cold emails, to keep my website up, to do business coaching. Eventually, I hope to make a full time income, but right now, my months are inconsistent. The work will come in as long as I persevere.
Failure with Copywriting
Others' whys might be different, but those are personal. What matters is that we congratulate ourselves for showing up every day, for however long, for whatever we do; each failure is a step towards our dreams and desires.
Failure can be difficult to process because it serves as a rejection. It means we didn’t reach a goal; whether it’s closing a client, sending out emails, or an unpaid invoice. Failure is a horrible feeling, but it’s necessary for building a business and writing, to get close to failure.
The only final failure is to quit. Experience trades off failure. And much like writing, building a business is a series of trial and error, and serves as a living process. We can revise our business plan, our marketing strategy, or anything else we need to change. Failure is a sign that we tried, and the only thing that ends failure is the refusal to try.
As I’m in the throes of building a public writing identity, I understand the shame that comes from setting ourselves up. It’s easy to switch from high vibes to quitting the business. It’s even easier to stop the work once we don’t earn the money or even gather a little bit of debt onto our business. However, perseverance and showing up for yourself will produce results.
So congratulate yourself that you showed up. Even if it’s for six minutes; even if it’s for a cold email or client call. Perseverance and persistence makes the hallmark of a business owner.
About The Author: Christina Marable is a freelance copywriter whose first love is writing. She's been published in Midway Journal, LIVESTRONG, and forthcoming in Midnight and Indigo. When she's not writing, she enjoys baking, swing dancing, and traveling. You can reach her at www.philosophyandletters.com or on her copywriting website, www.christinamarable.com.