How to Conquer Your Terror of Screwing Up a Freelance Writing Gig

Carol Tice

If there is one single reason that this blog exists, it’s this: Freelance writers are scared.

Of making mistakes. Of doing or saying the wrong thing to an editor.

Afraid that maybe, you don’t have what it takes.

Worried about failing…but also about succeeding.

Like one writer who recently commented in Freelance Writers Den

I am terrified that I will get a job only to discover that I can’t complete the research or (horrors) discover I can’t write.

Or this comment I got on a recent guest post I wrote:

As a newbie, my self confidence is fairly low. So I’m a lil bit reluctant to send [a letter of introduction] to possible clients and maybe even afraid not to be experienced/good enough to fullfill the client’s needs.

Do you have any advice how I can increase my self confidence and overcome fears of rejection?

As a matter of fact, I do. There are only a few basic ways of overcoming these fears:

Build yourself up

Ask yourself: Where is this insecurity coming from?

If you’ve got negative tapes playing in your head, it’s time to replace them.

If it’s because you’re not writing regularly — which I have to suspect is the case with the “I’ll discover I can’t write” comment…you need to start. The more you write, the more confident you will be.

If you work on your writing, you’re willing to market yourself, and you’re committed to improving as you go, there is no reason you can’t do this.

So start telling people, “I am a freelance writer.” The more you say it, the more confident you will feel about doing it. It’s a sort of magical thing that happens to our brains when we hear things spoken aloud.

Do you really think you can’t use the Internet to find sources? I bet not.

If you really thought you couldn’t write, you wouldn’t be here. You wouldn’t even try this.

These are probably irrational fears.

Just recognizing that may help you to de-stress and start moving forward.

Live the fear

Are you afraid people will laugh at your writing (and not because it’s a humor piece)?

Then arrange to make it happen. Have a friend read your work aloud and then ridicule it.

You will realize this is unlikely to happen in real life. And if it did, you would survive it.

Break it down

Maybe you are scared because in fact you are overreaching for where you’re at currently in your writing career. So aim a little lower.

See if that local business you patronize, where you’re chatty with the owner, would let you rewrite their website for a free sample.

Or if that local library newsletter would let you do a quick author Q&A.

Start with people who are likely to say yes.

Build a little portfolio, and you will start to build your confidence.

Slowly, you’ll start to feel like you’ve got some ground under your feet, and taking steps forward won’t feel so scary.

Know that I still pass on gigs where I feel like I don’t know how to execute it. We all do. It’s no crime to say “That gig isn’t for me.”

This applies to marketing, too. If you’re terrified to make cold calls or do in-person networking — then don’t!

Do the types of marketing that are in your comfort zone to start, and gradually expand that zone.

Face it

If you’re afraid of rejection, like that second writer I quoted, I’ve got some bad news for you.

You are going to be rejected. Repeatedly.

It is inevitable, if you are going to write for a living.

The only way to conquer this fear is to be rejected, and to discover that it did not kill you.

Each rejection makes you stronger and more able to withstand future disappointments in your freelance writing career.

The only way to toughen up is to get out there and start pitching.

Don’t be terrified that mistakes will happen or that you’ll get in over your head.

You can relax. Because it will happen. For sure. But it’ll be OK.

Realize every writer is scared and imperfect

Here’s the secret nobody tells you: Experienced pros are also scared.

When I write my first article for a new client, I am petrified.

Every time.

It takes ages to write. I feel like everything’s riding on its being absolutely brilliant.

The only difference is that we just push on, even though we’re afraid.

Also, established pro writers don’t always hit it out of the park, either.

I could write a whole book on my missteps, but here’s one recent one:

I did a Forbes post about franchising, based on some new survey data. My interpretation of the data managed to offend both the leading franchise industry organization and the company that did the survey, among others. I’ve been accused of being unpatriotic and patronizing, to name the printable things.

Several malcontents have left comments critiquing my post that I just have to live with. On a site with 30 million monthly views.

Sigh.

What you write won’t always please everybody. But you have to stand by it, and move on. And keep improving.

Learn more

Sometimes, you’re scared because in the pit of your gut is a nagging feeling that you don’t know enough.

You need to beef up your writing skills and knowledge of the craft to get the work you want.

If that’s you, check out my upcoming course I’m teaching with Linda Formichelli — 4 Week Journalism School.

It’s designed to quickly give you the reporting and writing skills you need to move up from content mills and other low-paying gigs to write good-paying articles for magazines and businesses alike.

It comes with a month of support in Freelance Writers Den, too. Consider it a life preserver in case you get in over your head.

P.S. J-School registration closes tomorrow night at midnight EST, so if you need this (or know a writer who does), head over and check out the course details now.

What fear is holding you back, and how will you conquer it? Leave a comment and tell us about it.

25 Comments

  1. M.A. WItty

    I’m a MASTER at self-sabotage. I procrastinate, even though I know better.

    I fear both failure AND success. Doing nothing is safer. You can’t fail if you don’t try (although not trying IS failure, to a certain extent), and you definitely can’t succeed if you don’t try!

    • Carol Tice

      I think what saved me was figuring out early that doing nothing ISN’T really safer. 😉 Just sort of feels that way.

  2. Anne Galivan

    I LOVE that you admit here that you still experience “fear” when you are writing for a new client. Wow. That kind of puts things in perspective for those of us who don’t have nearly as much experience getting good-paying gigs (YET!)

    I also like your advice about the negative tape-recordings playing in our head. Unfortunately those tapes were often started by people in our lives that SHOULD have been the most supportive…people we trusted to love us unconditionally. I’m having to learn myself (at the age of 50!) to replace those tapes with self-affirming ones.

    And I agree with your comment that we need to start telling people that we are freelance writers. Even write it down when we’re filling out a survey that asks for our occupation! Whether we’re making any money from our writing yet, or not. The more we say it, the more WE will believe it.

  3. Kevin Carlton

    Yep, I’m always terrified when I start working for a new client too. But wouldn’t other readers agree that this is a good thing, as it is a sign that you take your writing seriously and want to give your clients the best quality work you can?

    • Carol Tice

      Well, I wish I felt a little more confident when I do those first pieces! But I know what you mean…and it’s true, we feel that way in part because we have high standards and want to do a fantastic job.

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