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Freelance Writing is Brutal




There are so many bloggers out there who make freelance writing seem easy, and bank huge amounts of money working from the comfort of their own home. I don’t think I want to freelance full time. I’ve been an eye doctor for a long time, and it’s a good living. However, if an opportunity presents itself, I’m not one to walk away. When Alexa listed a freelance job in her weekly roundup that was perfect for me, I jumped at the chance. It was a great experience, but writing for someone else is not for the thin skinned. Freelance writing is brutal!

How it Works

I’ve never done freelance writing before, but this is how the whole process worked for me. The listing asked for health writers. You had to have a degree in a health care field or have several years working in one. I filled out the application and was approved right away. I got a really nice email welcoming me and encouraging me to read the guidelines and jump right in.

Next you got to choose three assignments from a list of topics, and you had a week to complete them. There were tons of eye related ones, so I picked “Effects of Astigmatism on Vision” and “Retinal Signs of Hypertension.” While those topics might not get the average person’s blood circulating, they are like Pooh Bear finding honey to me.

There was a very strict format that had to be followed. You had to use at least three references. Things like Wikipedia didn’t count. Think more like Trans Atlantic Journal of Ophthalmology. I still felt pretty confident about my first submission. To be safe,  I was going to see how that one went before I sent the other one. The instructions said I should hear back in a day or two, but the days stretched into almost a week.

Editors are Harsh

Since I didn’t want my hypertension assignment to expire, I sent it. The very next day, I got both articles back for rewrites. One had very constructive criticism and said I was too technical with some of my wording. The other one sounded like the editor hated me. It said I needed to be more technical and that my writing was so simple it would confuse laypersons.

OK, that is a bit conflicting, but I tried to follow the advice from both editors and did the rewrites. The article that came back from the nicer one got approved for publication, but the one from the not so nice editor got rejected.

I went ahead and claimed a third title. This one was a higher paying article for a website that was a bit more stringent on what they accept for publication. Imagine my delight when my article about “Side Effects of Steroid Eye Drops” was accepted without needing any rewrites! I thought I really had the hang of it until I found a no reply email from the company in my inbox.

Expecting a big congratulations, I opened it up to find this.

We regret to inform you that your first three articles did not meet the minimum standard necessary to continue as an XYZ writer. You will be paid for any approved articles you completed.

That’s harsh! Wasn’t I showing improvement? I have to admit, it really stung for a while, then I reminded myself that it wasn’t an attack on me or my knowledge. I emailed the section editor, who so warmly welcomed me the week before, hoping for some idea of why they don’t want me to continue. I never got a reply.  I guess I just didn’t fit what they wanted, even though two of my articles are in the process of being published.

I will chalk this up as a learning experience, although I could have learned lots more if I knew what the issue was. It makes me assume I suck as a writer, but you are reading this, so at least someone loves me 🙂

Will I try my hand at freelance writing again? Sure, if the right opportunity came along. I don’t think I will ever be able to knock out 1000 words about something I know nothing about, but I wouldn’t hesitate to do the right article if the pay or exposure was worthwhile. I guess it’s a good thing I grew a thick skin a long time ago.

How have you handled rejection? Aren’t you insanely curious about hypertensive retinopathy now?

About Kim Parr

Kim Parr is a private practice optometrist, freelance writer, and personal financial blogger. You can follow her journey to 20/20 financial vision at Eyes on the Dollar.


  1. I got most of my writing gigs by referral or people saw my writing and hired me, so there was little rejection but it is hard to take on when it happens. Because the job is so flexible you can be in or out quickly. But that is the beauty of it too, you can work from anywhere, it has a cost.

  2. It sucks that that’s how your first job went down but I think it’s because of who you were writing for. I’ve applied for a couple of different roles with them and never got hired. I am an insurance agent and didn’t even get hired when they had insurance slots open. When you write for other blog owners you’re free to be more creative and there’s less rejection. I think if it interests you that you should try again. Out of the 15 clients or so that I have there’s only one that picks through my articles and heavily edits them.

  3. I don’t handle rejection that well, and with freelance writing I would really take it personally if a site didn’t think my writing was up to their standards. I haven’t pursued freelance writing, though I think it’s an obvious potential income for bloggers who have established sites already because of their huge portfolios.

  4. “…it wasn’t an attack on me or my knowledge.” I think that is an important point to remember. For some reason you just didn’t click with those particular people. Others out there you might. It’s just a matter of finding the right situation.

    • If I could just get over the fact that I have to redeem myself. Maybe I need to write a really boring piece for an optometry publication.

  5. Oooh, that’s rough. You’re not the only person I’ve heard about with a bad initial experience with freelancing like that, if that helps at all =)

  6. Thank you for sharing this experience! I’m always reading how much bloggers make freelancing and it always boggles my mind, not only that they’re capable of creating so much content, but that they find so many people willing to pay them for their work. I’ve never assumed it was easy, and I’m glad to know a bit more about the harder parts of the process. Luckily, as an actor, I’m a pro at rejection, so I think the freelancing thing might be a good fit 🙂

  7. Wow, that’s crazy, but something both my wife and I have experienced so know what it can be like. I think part of the problem, at least in our case was dealing with multiple editors who have different standards. That’s just a recipe to make it difficult because you’re constantly trying to figure out what they want. In terms of rejection, my wife takes it much better – I on the other hand, want to punch the person. 😉

  8. Most of my writing jobs are for websites, not blogs. So, I mainly write website content. Editors can be downright crazy!
    I’ve had three different editors from the same company tell me that I need to cite sources three different ways.

    I’ve also had someone tell me to rewrite something two different times then still tell me that they hated my article.

    Don’t take it personally!

  9. Wow Kim…if someone like you, who has a ton of professional and personal knowledge in the articles you chose gets this kind of treatment, God help those who don’t share your knowledge!!

    Thank you for sharing your experience in this matter and hopefully your next round, if there is one, will be a lot more positive 🙂

    Take care and all the best.


    • A part of me was thinking, Screw you, because you’ll never get someone with more knowledge and practical application of this stuff, but making it relatable for their audience is another matter and probably what I failed to do.

  10. Wow that’s crazy! I haven’t had to deal with that so much because I mostly just write for other PF bloggers, although I did have someone with pretty bad writing and grammar reject my free guest post. I thought that was pretty funny but you really can’t take it personally. I was writing for one site that I stopped doing because the posts HAD to be a certain length and quite technical and I found that it really wasn’t worth the time or money to do.

    • I do really well with strict guidelines. I’ve written medical type papers before that have to be very scientific and referenced with a strict format. I actually probably do better that than with posts. I think I get off track and ramble too much sometimes.

  11. I agree that editors can be a little insane and they can definitely come across as unreasonable. That’s the frustrating part to me – when an editor doesn’t act in a way that comes off as logical (logical to me, anyway!). Rejection doesn’t really bother me so much. I think I got over that in college – as a history major just about anything I did for a grade involved writing, and my professors were rarely shy about tearing all our essays, papers, or exams apart. But I’m grateful for that experience, because I learned it wasn’t a personal thing – as you pointed out, rejection isn’t a personal attack. It happens for various reasons, some of which may even be out of your control. It’s certainly a good lesson to learn if you want to be a freelance writer!

  12. I didn’t know so many people were also freelance writers. I haven’t tried freelance writing and I don’t think I would deal well with rejection. Your next post should definitely be on hypertensive retinopathy as I am dying to find out more =)

  13. I know I am insanely curious about hypertensive retinopathy now 😉 It sure sounds like you have the right attitude about all this freelancing stuff and I wish you future success with it 🙂

    • I’m not sure how much I want to pursue in that area, but I feel like I at least need to redeem myself somewhere before I can put it to rest. I can send you my rough on hypertension and the eye if you are having some trouble falling asleep.

  14. I’ve only written for one site and they have pretty stringent rules to follow which I do. I was submitting to the editor who recently told me I no longer have to as my pieces are high quality and she trusts my writing. It was nice to hear that like you said it can be a brutal world out there. We have to give them what they want though, it’s their money.

  15. I once had the opposite happen where an editor didn’t read through my article at all and I ended up with an article that had some “facts” that were a little off and I got ripped big time on Yahoo! Finance. That was a lesson learned the hard way!

  16. You’re always going to run into people who don’t like you. I run alumni events for a private high school in addition to running all mail solicitations. You could do somethings some ways to cater to people from the 80s but then the 60s alums hate it. I can’t please everyone so I just have to learn to try to avoid mistakes and try as hard as I can and if that’s not good enough for them, then there’s not much else I can do. If you’re blog is successful enough to have this many readers, then your writing is obviously good enough!

  17. Of course, I have experienced rejection! I try to place myself in situations where I have a better than average chance to succeed.

  18. Freelance writing is hard! I think some people think it’s easy but it’s hard always thinking of fresh content and writing a quality article usually in a very limited time.

  19. I got rejected for my first staff writing tryout.
    Not even a response actually, so I promised to dedicate everything to my own site. I haven’t dont much freelance writing since. But I might for a bigger site by end of year.

    We shall see. I love editors who edit my content for me and make it better.


    • At least I know no one is going to reject anything on my own site. Maybe no one will read it, but that’s a great way to not deal with the middle man. I wish I did have a content editor. I tend to get a bit wordy and off track.

  20. Love the new site design, Kim!!! Been thinking about you guys and hoping you are okay with the flooding and all. Yes, I agree; freelancing and the rejection that comes with it is tough stuff!!! I’ll probably not do a lot of freelancing right now, for my self-esteem’s sake. 🙂

    • It has been wet, and we’re supposed to get more rain this weekend, but nothing like around Boulder. I think where we live is pretty safe, but if you get 15 inches of rain, there really are no rules. Have a great weekend.

  21. I have an astigmatism and would have enjoyed reading an article about it LOL! I currently write for a Real Estate company and my editor always is harsh in a super sort of nice way…but, it’s always harsh. I keep plugging away with the idea that it’s a rite of passage. It’s possible that I might quit though because she’s getting on my damn nerves. We shall see.

  22. Yikes, that’s tough! I have a hard time with rejection. At least you aren’t letting to get you down or crush your desire to write!

  23. Wow, this does sound brutal. I had no idea freelance writing could be so tedious. I used to be a technical translator, and I remember having to write and rewrite all over again before my clients were satisfied. I used to take it personally in the beginning, but then I realised they just wanted the best content which is fair enough since it’s their money. I do hope though that this was just a glitch and you have more luck in the future. I am sure of it! 😛

  24. Love the new site design. And yikes, this sounds scary. I haven’t done freelance writing before, but this sounds unpleasant. I am interested in freelance writing, so this is a reminder to keep thick skin, or just get out of the game. I wouldn’t take it personally, some people are really particular. You are doing a great job!

  25. I’m glad to read this. Not that you were rejected, of course. That would be cruel. :-). But that you shared your experience. Yesterday I got an email where a website passed on my piece. It was a rather personal piece that had nothing to with finances so I felt vulnerable even sending it. But then to have it rejected. Uff. I pouted all day. But the worst part was that no reason was provided. And no response to my follow up asking why. Why people why.

  26. I had a company reach out to me for a job. They got me from my blog, so they knew exactly how I wrote my articles. They even referenced how they liked my work, but when I wrote a few articles for them, they said that they didn’t want me anymore.

    I dug around about them and come to find out, they do this to many writers. They tell them that they want them, get their articles, pay them, and then post them. They do it, so they don’t have to keep you on staff. It happens!

    • That is really brutal. I guess there are so many sharks circling that there is always someone ready to jump in and take your spot. No need for loyalty.

  27. Hey Kim

    With your professional background and having had a couple of pieces published, I would recommend checking into optometric trade journals. You would most likely have to come up with the topic instead of having one assigned but the editors tend to have a better understanding of the subject matter than the editors at a general clearinghouse. Also, if it is a journal that you read regularly, you will already know what audience they target and their style. Unfortunately, even there, you are not likely to get a lot of feedback until you develop a working relationship with an editor.

    Never assume that a rejection means that your writing sucks – this article demonstrates that it doesn’t. I generally prefer to assume that the editor just doesn’t get it. (Sometimes, it is the editor who should not give up the day job.)

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