The Two Kinds of Fears Freelance Writers Face — and How to Slay Them Both

Carol Tice

Recently, I asked about what scares you.

I wanted to know more about what is holding freelance writers back from achieving their goals and earning more.

Boy, did I get an earful.

More than 225 writers took my survey.

I’ll be sharing more of what I learned from your answers later this week, but for now let’s say this: You’re scared.

In sifting through your comments, I also realized something.

There are two basic types of fears that paralyze freelance writers and keep them from having the writing careers they want.

  • Fears of things that are probably going to happen, if you pursue freelancing

  • Fears of things that are unlikely to happen to most freelancers

An example of a likely fear is the fear that you’ll be rejected when you send out query letters.

An example of an improbable, almost irrational fear is that one mistake you make will ruin your chances of being a freelance writer.

How can you stop the fears?

Though there are two types of fears that plague freelancers, there is really only one solution.

You reduce fear by taking action.

It’s been said that anxiety is uncertainty multiplied by powerlessness.

The more we sit and worry about what might happen and don’t try anything, the more unsure of ourselves we feel. It’s a vicious cycle.

When you take action, you take back control.

You are brave enough to experiment with the world and see what happens.

Instead of worrying, send out some query letters. You’ll see that after they get rejected, you don’t die.

If you write much, you’re sure to make a mistake sooner or later. I’ve made some grand ones.

You’ll discover there is no universal editor network that will be notified never to hire you again.

You will live to write another day.

So ask your editor that thing that you’re wondering about. You’ll be surprised to discover she doesn’t bite.

Ask your prospect 40 questions before you agree to do the gig, even though you’re worried it makes you seem like you don’t know enough. In fact, it makes you look pro.

What if you’re afraid you don’t know enough?

This is actually one of the big fears we saw in our survey.

If you feel like you’re not legit, that may be in your head.

Or it may be that you have some real knowledge gaps and need to learn more.

Much of the good-paying writing work in print, for instance, requires some journalism chops. If you don’t have that skill, you may be getting left out.

Sometimes, a little more training can give you the confidence you’ve been missing, to go after — and land — the big-money writing assignments.


  1. Steve

    Hi Carol —

    Great post!

    The “What if you’re afraid you don’t know enough?” is the one I “own.” But I also know this. I am being hired to write an operations manual for a major firm, and preparing for my first book project with a very recognized person.

    Please know that I’m pushing beyond my fear.

    Hope you are well,


    • Carol Tice

      Good for you, Steve!

      Last year I got hired to write an annual report for a government agency, when I had not previously written an annual report OR done a government contract before. Sometimes you just look at your background and have to say, “I can do this,” and plunge ahead.

      Other times, it’s a question of really not having the journalism or subject-matter chops for a project, though. Come to the call Friday for more on what to do in that situation.

  2. Patti Hale

    This is so helpful to all writers. Just what I need to get me going this morning.

  3. Colleen Kelly Mellor

    ‘My greatest fear as writer?” Carol… Well, it used to be that JK Rawling thing or “The Help,” or Stephen King’s who all shared a saga of too many manuscripts sent out with rejection…rejection…rejection.

    But now, there’s a new fear…With the boatload of publishing vehicles out there, today, in the DIY category or Print on Demand (POD), there’s no excuse for us as writers NOT to PUBLISH…So, we will find out if our stuff is ‘good enough.’

    If it isn’t (meaning no one buys), then it will languish on a virtual shelf of a virtual bookstore (aka the web). Yep…no more wondering. No more excuses..Just publish and see if it flies.

    That means also there’s no more thinking you could have made it, ‘if only…’ We’ve all entered a Brave New World–literally.

    • Carol Tice

      I don’t know if I agree, Colleen — selling books or ebooks on your own is as much about marketing skill as it is the writing quality. I’m sure there are lots of great ebooks out there not selling because their authors haven’t bothered to learn book promotion.

      • Colleen Kelly Mellor

        Carol–I guess I meant that ‘build it and they will come’ is not necessarily the mantra. It’s not enough to simply write the book and hope for audience. You’re right–the promotion and marketing of the book is criticial and that may be the one area where many fall short…

        I’ll have a chance to find out if I am a marketter, my dear…I’ll be shortly doing it, myself, settling on a POD and getting the word out there via my own strategy, meaning hawking my product about which I believe.I’m excited but I know, too, that I need to crack the puzzle of how to effectively market, or sift through the wreckage of “could have been…would have been.” I don’t plan on that happening.

        I will like the challenge for it forces one to think outside the box, so to speak…

        • Carol Tice

          You should read “How to Launch the S(*t out of your eBook” by Dave Navarro and Naomi Dunford…or maybe Peter Bowerman’s Well Fed Self-Publisher in a Box — I’ve got the latter. There are some great books on how to do it.

          You seem to think in terms of “either it’ll be a smash or an utter failure.” I think I’ve fallen somewhere in between. Just keep learning, and writing, and launching, and it gets better as you go.

          Oh yeah, and build a big audience. It’s all going nowhere without that.

  4. Rob

    Thanks for the great blog. You’re an inspiration.

    I recently published Starting from Scratch ( on my own blog. As so often happens when I write about myself, I learned more from the blog than my readers probably will. As I reflected on my 3 year career, I realized that at every step of the way, fear has been my biggest enemy. Each time I’ve let fear overcome me, it has held me back. Every time I overcome fear, I take a few steps forward.

    Just last week I finally sent an email to a client telling him I needed to get paid more for my efforts. I had been putting this off for months because he sends me regular monthly assignments and even pays me a deposit upfront. I was terrified he would cut me off. Instead, he told me I fully deserved a higher payment. Next month I’ll be receiving twice as much from this client as I have been getting for the past year and a half.

    In defense of fear, though, I’d like to say that I waited until I had a solid back-up plan before I asked for greater compensation. In this case, it was two new clients who look like they have long-term potential. I think replacing fear with caution is a better idea than just tossing fear aside altogether.

    • Carol Tice

      Hi Rob —

      I think the fear of being dropped by a client when you ask for a raise is a rational fear! And I’m always in favor of lining up other clients before asking for a raise, so you can drop them if they refuse. I’m actually a very risk-averse person.

      The key is to move forward and line up those clients and ask for those raises. I think you have to overcome a lot of fears to do both. To me what you did isn’t being afraid…it’s just being sensible and smart for your business.

      I’m much more worried about the writers who are still getting that low rate years later because they’re too scared to get out there and market their business and find better clients, which is what allows you to move forward.

      You said it best — every time you overcome a fear and move outside your comfort zone to build your business, your business takes a step forward. But I’m all in favor of that being done in a rational way. You’ll notice my man in the photo here is standing on top of a peak, not preparing to jump off it 😉

      • Rob

        Thanks for replying to my reply! I’ve tried getting “40 Ways to Market Your Writing” twice now. When I click “Download Now”, nothing happens. Could there be a glitch on your end?

        • Rob

          Sorry, I take that back. It worked this time!

          • Carol Tice

            Great – glad to hear you got it working, Rob!

  5. Katherine Swarts

    It’s true–one failure WON’T wreck your career. I recently completed a freelance article for a regular client who wanted PR contact names on which I literally tried everything I knew for two weeks–company websites, information directories, LinkedIn (searches, discussions, Q&A)–and came up empty. The client didn’t say, “you’re through”–she was completely sympathetic, and even purchased the article anyway.

    That said, I have to admit my own greatest fear (in nearly all aspects of life) is missing something vital if I don’t do EVERYTHING in full–and while it isn’t hurting my days off much, and (so far) hasn’t done serious damage to my physical health, it makes my average work day an emotional hell of chasing the end of the To Do list like the finish line of a neck-and-neck hundred-yard-dash. Anyone want to recommend any resources on “working hard without working frantically”?

  6. Katherine Swarts

    This is just because I think I forgot to request follow-up notifications on my first comment.

  7. Ollin Morales

    To MLW readers:

    Ask yourself if your fear is unreasonable.

    Think of maslow’s hierarchy of needs: if you have food, shelter, and water right now, and you’re not in a war torn country, then you’re good and have NOTHING to fear.

    Unless you are experiencing a REAL emergency like a sudden disease or a natural disaster, everything else you are worried about is just melodrama.

    In fact, you’re WAY better off than a huge amount of people in this world.

    THINK ABOUT IT: if you can read and write, even moderately, you are even BETTER off than most people in this world.

    Focus on that blessing instead of focusing on all your shortcomings. If you can read and write you are way head of the game, at least in comparison to those who can’t.

    Think of those people who don’t have anything to eat today. Be grateful that you are able to acquire food, even if it isn’t the “best” food.

    Now, I know you might be afraid that you won’t eat in the near future if you don’t get this assignment, but the future hasn’t happened yet.

    If you have food today then you are good. Use that energy to write another query. Don’t wast the opportunity given to you.

    Living in blessing may be a great way to motivate you forward and vaporize those unreasonable fears.

    • Carol Tice

      Thanks for the perspective-setter, Ollin. I’m always in favor of taking time to do that.

      Having buried my best friend in the past week, who was my age, I feel the blessing of every ray of sunshine and butterfly and hummerbird I see in my spring garden, like never before, knowing they are sights she’ll never see again.

      I was always struck by the idea that if you have a change jar in your home, you’re rich. In most homes, if you have a handful of change, you go straight to the market, buy food, and come home and feed it to your family. Because there’s nothing in the house, and they’re hungry.

      Truly, we have so many advantages. Sending a query places you in no mortal danger. Dare to send one…and then another, and another.

      In my study recently on what’s holding writers back, 60 percent of the writers said they had never sent a single query. That blew our minds. Freelance writing is an occupation for the bold…so put it out there.

  8. Mitch Mitchell

    Unfortunately, you hit the nail right on the head with this one. I work in multiple fields, and since I’m a sole proprietor, the biggest issue I always have is knowing I have to learn how to deal with rejection of some kind better. I know Wayne Gretzky supposedly said he never made any shots he didn’t take but at least it wasn’t marketing! lol


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