10 Ways Freelance Writers Can Banish Fear

Carol Tice

To be a successful freelance writer, you need to be truly fearless. If you’re afraid to put yourself and your writing out there, you miss out on opportunities that might have brought you more income.

How To Deal With Freelance Writing Fears

Is fear holding you back from earning more as a freelancer?

In mentoring many writers, I have yet to meet one whose problem is that they don’t write well. More often, their problem is self-confidence. Fear is holding them back from marketing aggressively — from going after the gigs they really want.

If you feel hobbled by fear in your writing career, this post is for you. Today, I’m going to provide you with 10 concrete tools for vanquishing your fears. I hope at least one of them will help you move beyond fear in the coming year.

  1. Live the fear. If you can find a way, try to experience your worst fear. The exercise will end that fear’s power over you. An example: I began my writing career as a starving teenage songwriter. I’d head off each week to an old stone office building on Hollywood Boulevard to have my songs shredded by my writing group. If our instructor sensed I was feeling timid, she’d say, “What are you afraid of?” I’d say something like “Everyone will laugh at me and I’ll be embarrassed.” And she’d say, “OK, let’s do it!” Then I’d sing the song, while all the other group participants laughed at me, quite loudly. Usually, I’d end up laughing too, because it was so obvious that a) that would probably never really happen and b) so what if it does? You don’t die of it or anything.
  2. Lighten up. I find a lot of fear comes from taking ourselves too seriously. Try to have a sense of humor about the mistakes you make in writing — say, misspelling a word in an 80-point front-page headline, as I did during a stint editing an alternative paper. Articles will have errors. Personal essays will be ridiculed. But in the great scheme of things, it’s still pretty minor. We live to write another day, and people’s memories are short. When things go wrong with our writing, we can either laugh or cry about it. Choose to laugh.
  3. Get a perspective. Back when I was that starving songwriter, I used to have terrific stage fright. To loosen up, I would think just before I went on that whether I rocked or bombed that night, I could be certain that one billion Chinese could care less.
  4. Break it down into smaller steps. Do you feel overwhelmed and frightened by all the options out there, and by everything you know you should be doing to move your writing career along your desired path? When you feel this kind of fear, stop looking at the big picture. Take your big wish list and break it down into this month’s to-do list — what could you reasonably get done in the next 30 days? Suddenly, the marketing plan or the writing assignment seems doable.
  5. It’s not about you. So many writers are crushed if they send off a query and don’t get a yes. To which I say: Your view is too self-centered. There are a million possible reasons for the lack of response that have nothing to do with you. That editor may have had a death in the family, quit their job, or just be too swamped to read it. Stop fearing personal condemnation and realize you’re just searching the universe for the fit that’s right, for both you and the publication.
  6. Stop experiencing rejection. Rejection is just a feeling in your head. Make a decision not to react to a “no” on a query as a rejection. Not getting this gig may turn out to be positive in so many ways. Maybe that editor would have been a terror, or that project would have kept you from taking a much better one that was coming shortly. Trust that you will find a match between your talents and the marketplace.
  7. Know that freelancers rule. People with full-time jobs are the ones who should be scared — millions of them have been laid off and have no income. In the past five years of freelancing, I’ve never lost all my clients at once! We are perfectly positioned for the 21st Century economy. Experts believe this is not a temporary, recession-era trend, and that more service jobs will be done freelance in the future. We’re the ones with job security.
  8. Get rid of negative beliefs. Did you know that as a human being, you have unlimited potential for personal growth? We read inspiring stories of human endeavor every day, and yet think “that couldn’t be me.” But it can! Banish “I can’t” from your vocabulary, and simply vow to get out there and try.
  9. Learn more. Do you have a feeling deep down in the pit of your stomach that you don’t know enough about the type of writing you’re trying to do? And that makes you afraid to put your work out there? If so, there’s a remedy for this — take a class. Join a writing group and have your work critiqued. As you learn more, you’ll gain confidence that you’re qualified to handle better-paying writing assignments.
  10. Get spiritual. Do you believe in a higher power, and that you’re not here by accident? Then you probably feel this higher power is arranging experiences in your life for your benefit — these events were put there on purpose for your character development. That means if you screw up an assignment or don’t get one, it’s because you needed to learn a life lesson from that experience. When you think of it that way, you have to ask: What am I afraid of? In my tradition, services often conclude with a hymn that contains the well-known phrase “into Your hands I commit my spirit” and ends: “You are my God; I won’t be afraid.” Harness your faith in the Source to banish your fear.

What do you do to vanquish your fears and move forward with your writing career? Leave a comment and let us know.

Subscribe to Make a Living Writing, so you’re sure to be there when I’m giving out free stuff later this week.

Photo via stock.xchng user dyet


  1. lifespolitikin

    Hi Carol, again great blog post. You really touch on some very important issues. The main driving force in my writing (and many other aspects of my life) is simply getting over the fear of the worst and taking action. As soon as you take some sort of action to reach your goal, things start falling into place. I've recently launched a blog, with a single blog post discussing what pushes me forward and what helps keep me motivated: http://prowriterinc.wordpress.com/ …. What better way to approach the New Year than with optimism and a commitment to succeed? As always, great writing!

  2. Anita Cooper

    As always, a super post, Carol. I really identified with your point about breaking it down into smaller steps. I have so many great ideas flying at me that I know I could use to improve both my writing skills and my writing business that I often feel overwhelmed.

    I have complete faith that I'm where I am supposed to be, and that God gifted me to be able to do what I do, and this really helps me to shake off any fears. Honestly, I couldn't do a thing without Him!

    • TiceWrites

      I know the small-steps approach helps many of my mentees. Thanks for commenting!

  3. Linda Formichelli

    Thanks for #5 — I tell my students all the time that the rejection they're freaking out over doesn't mean they suck — it more likely means that the magazine has that idea underway already, the EIC is reorganizing the magazine, or the editor forgot to get his frappuccino at Starbucks that day.
    My recent post New Year- Fresh Start- 9 Ways to Recalibrate Your Business in 2011

    • TiceWrites

      You know it, Linda!

      In my tradition, there's a character trait we cultivate of "judge favorably when you don't know all the facts." And of course, we rarely know all the facts. So give yourself a break and assume you are not the problem!

  4. sondibruner

    This post is coming at just the right time for me. I'm leaving my job to return to school and focus on my freelance writing career in 2011. I vacillate between elation and panic daily and this is really helpful – it puts things in perspective!

  5. Jenny

    Yes! I particularly like breaking things into small steps. Kaizen. When I'm too afraid to write, I set my timer and write for 10 minutes. I know I can do that much, and since it's such a short time my expectations aren't so high.

  6. Lee Lefton

    Carol, this is such a timely post for me. I have bids out on work for two new clients who are not responding to calls or emails. And of course, I'm going to that deep, dark place that says it's about me. Much more likely, it's about the holidays. So I ought to get spiritual and lighten up a bit.

    • TiceWrites

      That's the spirit, Lee!

    • lisainred

      Lee, I tend to get anxious about bids to new clients, too. But they have probably been flooded with e-mails and need a week or so to sort through them. Even during other months, this is the case.

      Have faith in your talent and God will see you through this experience. That's what helps me.

    • Katherine Swarts

      I know; wouldn't it be nice if everyone else in the world was as interested in your needs as you are? The upside is the old aphorism, "We wouldn't worry so much about what others think of us if we appreciated how seldom they do."
      My recent post Is Your Blog Making These 10 Common Mistakes

      • TiceWrites

        Ha! Hadn't heard that one. Beautiful thought to bear in mind…

  7. Linda R. Prior

    Carol, __Yowser! The funny thing is I didn'even know I needed to banish my fears UNTIL I read your post. Thinking back, I realize that I typically dismiss some projects out of hand, without thinking about the "why." Now, it's obvious…fear of doing something new and different! With your post in mind, I'm preparing a bid on, for me, a new type of writing project. I look forward to expanding my writing repertoire and increasing my earnings potential. __Thanks for nudge!__Linda
    My recent post Does your Rolling Stone Gather Moss

  8. Lisa C.

    Carol, you are a wonderful mentor. I can tell by the way you've written this.

    It's so true that it's not all about you. In my work with the public, I've learned this. Many customers are too anxious about their family, their jobs and a million other teeny weeny details that might not matter to me. But for them, it's their whole world. Then they have personal biases against a certain style of writing, perhaps.

    As an editor, I have had such biases. I also admit to being an editor first and not taking time to read the entire piece before I pick up that red pen.

    Finally, I can't say enough about believing in God. When an assignment doesn't work out or if someone never pays me, I figure that something better is coming next. That way, I get over it in a day or two and don't stew about what I did wrong. Some clients are just high maintenance, and it's better to leave them for someone else!
    My recent post Whats so funny about cancer

  9. Katherine Swarts

    Not many comments so far on the fear of outright ridicule, touched on in point #2 and also in the November 29 post, "What Freelance Writers Can Learn from Sarah Palin." It's a no-exceptions fact that anyone successful enough to become prominent will also become the subject of book, website, and tabloid claims that s/he is a fool, a liar, a crook, an adulterer, a corrupting influence on innocent children, a mass murderer, and/or the Antichrist. And you thought those editors who ignored your queries were being rude!

    Dale Carnegie's classic "How to Stop Worrying and Start Living" has a chapter, "Remember That No One Ever Kicks a Dead Dog," that goes into detail on this point and is worthwhile reading for any writer (or anyone else) hampered from trying by fear of criticism.
    My recent post Is Your Blog Making These 10 Common Mistakes

    • TiceWrites

      You are just full of helpful resources today! Another great saying.

      I think I didn't appreciate the extent to which those early songwriting experiences helped me conquer these kind of rejection fears. Sometimes we'd have everyone ignore the singer and talk amongst themselves, so we could experience that…it's very liberating to live it and go "Oh. I survived, and it wasn't that bad."

  10. Tracy Parker

    Carol, all your posts are great, but this one has really struck a chord with me. Fear has been the number one thing that has held me back from pursuing a writing career. I've ALWAYS questioned whether or not I was "good enough". But your blog helped me to realize that the only thing holding me back IS ME. Why do we sabotage ourselves (especially if you are a newbie) giving ourselves a chance? Well, I don't want to do that anymore. Your post (along with the comments from the others) has helped me to see that I am not alone and that I need to get out of my own way and just put myself out there. Thanks!

    • TiceWrites

      Right on, Tracy!

      When writers tell me they're afraid of all the competition out there, I share my outlook: I only compete with me. I just try to write better than I did last time. It's amazing how far you can get if you just put on the blinders, screen out the chatter, and send those queries, make those pitches, and write your best, keep learning, and getting better.

      I do believe we're really our own limiters. Personally, I came into reporting without a college degree, much less a j-school degree. For years, I kept waiting for someone to tap me on the shoulder and say "Excuse me — we noticed you're not an officially sanctioned REAL writer, and you'll have to leave now." But it never happened. When we leave those feelings of unworthiness behind, good stuff starts to happen!

  11. Sheila Bergquist

    I have just recently subscribed to your newsletter and absolutely love your site! I really needed this particular article right now…thanks. I know I am going to learn so much here and will be inspired and motivated by you.

    • Carol Tice

      Hi Sheila — Welcome aboard! Glad you found my blog.

  12. sanjoy

    Thanks for the post it was quite informative.
    It takes a lot of courage to start anything new and writing as a profession or in other words to earn money is most difficult as you have to spend your intelligence, intellect, time, energy, perseverance and persistence and stealing skill without getting caught.
    I have only one thing to add don’t get into the act just to earn money.
    Only if you love to write and are passionate about playing with words, don’t need to worry about paying your grocery bills tomorrow and you think ideas flow out of our head like a fountain. You can try to develop yourself into a professional writer some day.


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