How to Break Through the Barriers That Hold Writers Back

Carol Tice

I needed to get out of the library, but the door was blocked. And I’m claustrophobic.

My kids were acting up and I really needed to get them out of there, increasing my sense of panic.

But a mom with a toddler and infant rolled up to the door of the children’s entrance just ahead of me, reached for the knob, and then lost focus. Her toddler wandered off to explore the book-sale area near the door.

And there this young mom stood, oblivious, for what seemed like eternity, blocking the way.

I felt trapped

There’s something that unleashes the animal in us when we feel cornered, hm?

I don’t know about you, but I can’t think straight.

I tried my usual tactics for avoiding a claustrophobic panic.

I looked somewhere else. I took deep breaths.

Finally, I covered my eyes with my hands to block out the sight of the blockade standing between me and freedom. I stayed that way a long time, breathing, praying my kids would keep it together until we could get outside.

I looked again, and she was still there.

It was time to act. I couldn’t stay where I was anymore.

“I’m claustrophobic!” I said, fighting to keep a whine of panic from creeping into my voice. “I need to get out the door.”

And like magic, she moved her stroller and belongings and children out of the way, and I opened the door and was gone.

How to have a breakthrough

This incident reminded me of all the barriers that stop freelance writers from having the career they want. All the fears that hold us back.

And what makes a breakthrough finally happen.

Here’s what does it:

When your discomfort at being stuck where you are becomes greater than your fear of what you must do to move forward, you jump to the next level in your career.

You become willing to do something potentially embarrassing — like announcing loudly in a quiet library that you’re freaking out because your way is blocked.

You take the risk, because you have to.

Your comfort zone is no longer comfortable.

You’ve got to move forward now, beyond this point, or you feel like you’ll bust.

So the question is:

Are you more scared of sending marketing emails, or more scared that you’ll never earn a decent hourly rate?

Are you more terrified of introducing yourself at networking events, or of never seeing your byline in a quality magazine?

If you have the burning desire to make your living with your writing, one day that tipping point arrives where you’re ready to put yourself out there.

We may not do it gracefully or perfectly at first, but we step forward and start to ask for what we need.

And then, the doors swing open.

What’s standing in your way? Leave a comment and tell us what you plan to do to break through.


  1. Luana Spinetti

    What’s standing in my way? Probably the fact I feel too young, sometimes. Less experienced. Sometimes I picture editors, blog owners and even content networks as old men waiting for a war veteran to join their team. Sometimes I feel small.

    But there are other times when I feel stronger and ready to dare, and those are the times I use to push it forward. Sometimes it works, sometimes not, but each is another step climbed.

    ~ Luana S.

  2. Abby

    I hate talking on the phone to people I don’t know. Like I usually make my husband make everyday phone calls to service people etc. for me.

    But I started calling yesterday because I have got to get this business moving or find a full time job (ie. leave my daughter in full time daycare!)

    The thought of never seeing my baby is way worse than the fear of calling strangers.

  3. Gail Overstreet

    I find this post very timely as I consider “what’s next” in my writing path. I’ve been chugging along for a while as a writer, enjoying steady work, but I am someone (like many writers, I suspect) who needs to continually stretch and grow – so I am beginning to explore things like diversifying my offerings; partnering with other freelancers with different skillsets; and “asset creation” as Sean Platt calls it (ebooks, etc).

    The biggest thing stopping me is the idea of self-promotion: Take the asset creation idea – How will it look – Will I seem desperate? Look like a pest? Seem arrogant that I think I’m an “expert” on something? Just the idea of it makes me clench…

    Not sure whether those emotions are more personal than cultural, but I do know I’ll need to just take some deep breaths and plow through that fear. Just read a blog post called “Confident Women Must Be Men” by Nadia Goodman (one of Carol’s colleagues at Entrepreneur), that taps into some cultural stuff behind this:

    “…Magazines publish far more male writers, so editors are often asked how women might even the score. When asked to explain the gender gap, one of the editors said, “Men write pitches like they are entitled to write the story. Women don’t.'”

    Full post here:

    • Carol Tice

      Hi Gail — thanks for adding a great link!

      I’m the same. In my Jewish tradition, you may know we’re approaching the High Holidays, a 10-day period each year where we reflect on our behavior of the past year and how we spent our time…and think about how we want to change and improve in the coming year. So I’m always asking, “What’s next? How could I do this better?”

      It’s a process I highly recommend to anyone pursuing freelancing!

      It’s so easy to just roll along, but if we don’t steer the ship, it usually won’t end up where we were hoping it’d go.

  4. Lois Mazza

    ‘What is standing in your way?’
    The first thing that springs to mind is a lack of confidence. Next is fear of getting in over my head. Then comes the realization that I will be responsible for living up to whatever I agree to do. These three things are the major obstacles: lack of confidence in my abilities (in spite of the fact I know I have excellent writing ability and skills) fear that I will not be able to do what I agree to do (in spite of my highly reliable nature) and dread of the responsibility for keeping my word, (which is part of number two but some how different). I have an aversion to taking on more responsibility.
    I know I can do it (write articles, books, blog posts, power point presentations, whatever needs to be written, I know I can do it) and yet, I keep thinking about doing instead of doing. I keep reading about how to do it, instead of doing the things I read about writing. I talk about doing it, I tell others I plan to do it, but,it still has not been done. I still have not taken the steps and measures I need to take to advance my freelance writing career.
    I am just loathe to leave my comfort zone due to the fear and stress that I imagine waits for me outside of my comfort zone.
    I have been out of my comfort zone before and did not like the panicky feelings I experienced. I am glad now that I did what I had to do at the time, as I have (finally) landed in a better place. But its hard for me break out of my happy place to go into a place of uncertainty.

    • Carol Tice

      You’ve hit it exactly…as long as your comfort zone is comfy, we tend not to leave.

      The question is, how comfortable can you stay, knowing you’re not pursuing the writing you want to do? Knowing that the finite days of your life are passing by.

      What’s the worst thing that could happen if you got in over your head? You might end up working a lotta hours for a bit (what happens to me) or you might blow an assignment. It’s happened to me.

      And then…you’ll survive to write another day.

      The thing is, the only thing that makes that fear go away is doing assignments over and over…and seeing that you don’t fail at it. It’s one of those where you’ll have to push through it to overcome it.

      Best of luck on smashing through this obstacle!

  5. Jamie

    Hi Carol
    The claustrophobic analogy is a good one for us feeling stuck in our career.
    “What’s standing in your way?”
    It used to be the fear of failure but I’m getting over that the more I learn that all the successful writers out there just kept writing regardless of rejection. I just keep writing and keep learning anyway. Sooner or later I will be getting good gigs, it’s kind of inevitable.

    Finding blocks of time to work in a busy home (kids just came in from school) is another block. Also to work more effectively.

    I overcome the time factor by rising early in the morning and writing before I go to work.
    I am becoming more effective by listening to Writers Den Podcasts while at my day job and implement the techniques I learn when I get home. Such as focusing on a specific niche and looking for pro bono work to build my portfolio.

    I am also bookmarking every useful source of information I find so that I have a growing reference for future projects and don’t have to go surfing again to find the sources.

    Hope this helps.

    • Carol Tice

      Yeah, I hear you on the kids – though we must be in very different time zones since mine just left for school.

      Glad to hear the Den materials are helping you get it on track!

      I like your post over on your blog…but where’s the retweet button so we can share it?

  6. Jennifer

    You nailed my feelings exactly. I have finally come to the point where my “discomfort” over being stuck is so much more powerful than my fear of failure. Thank you for putting my current situation into such a clear and concise post. You have validated my decision to act now and forget about the fear.

    • Carol Tice

      I’ve always thought of myself as someone who isn’t fear-based or fear-driven…but I think you’ve just given me the insight that really, I AM driven by fear — the fear that I won’t amount to anything. Because that fear is bigger, I write and I write. 😉

  7. J. Delancy

    Hitting the “Send” button. Everytime and I mean EVERYTIME I do it, I feel a twinge of fear. I’m sharing this with other writers because my friends would ridicule me if they knew. How to explain that jumping out of a plane, or getting in the water with sharks is different from submitting work to strangers?
    The send button represents, the start of a new conversation, sharing, and putting myself “out there”. It is the social awkwardness I’ve always felt. The “Send” button is my version of claustrophobia.

  8. Margie MD

    “Are you more scared of sending marketing emails, or more scared that you’ll never earn a decent hourly rate?”

    Thank you for writing this–what a great reminder! This is exactly what I’ve been going through lately. This year is the year I’m finally actively marketing my writing business and that fear of failure can be paralyzing, but I have to remind myself I’m not going to move up if I don’t just go for it.

    I’ve become comfortable in continuing to work for certain clients over the years while freelancing on the side, but am now pushing myself to the next level. Fear of staying in the same place and someday having to take a 9-to-5 job again to earn a certain amount strikes fear in my heart, and that fear is much stronger than being afraid of messing up when marketing to prospects.

    I know if I do this right, I’ll eventually earn far more working for myself than I ever did working for someone else–I just have to keep pushing and going outside of that comfort zone to reach new heights.

    • Carol Tice

      You definitely can — I earn twice as much as I did as a staffer now. Your earning opportunity is UNLIMITED when you have your own business…

      • Margie MD

        I believe it! And am gradually getting there…

  9. Ginny

    I am a twin, although my twin has died, and as such I really became an introvert and am essentially veryshy as well as VERY uncomfortable tooting my own horn or, God forbid, being the focus of attention as I lived it as a twin until college. I am horrifiedat the thought of having to sell/promote my novel which is at the final reading stage before searching for an agent/publisher. I realized the other day I was procrastinating the proofing because when it is complete the promotion gets that much closer. (Sigh)

  10. Anita

    Lack of time is the biggest thing holding me back. I don’t regret spending my days with my little ones – they are the reason I quit my job in the first place. So I squeeze work in where I can for now, knowing that this stage of life will be over in a few short years.

    • Carol Tice

      I’m the queen of the 8-to-midnight shift after kids go to bed myself… I also used to get amazing amounts done during afternoon naps.

      My other strategy was mom swaps, where I swapped sitting time with other moms who had home-based freelance work. The babies had a great time and we both got a ton more done.

      Sounds like you have the luxury of a partner who is making a full-time living…I never really had that, so I had to be pretty creative. My hubby’s still trying to figure out who he’s gonna be when he grows up. 😉

      • Anita

        The mom swap sounds like an idea worth pursuing.

        Yes, my husband works hard (I’ve forced him to rise to the occasion – I used to be the higher earner) but we also do a lot of penny pinching to make ends meet. I’ve been accused of being better at keeping money than earning it, but I’m ramping up to work smarter and harder by the end of the year.

  11. Julia

    What’s standing in my way? Me. I used to blame the little ones, but now they’re in school and I have two free hours three days a week. So now I just need to get out of my own way, and prep myself to withstand the impending rejections.

    • Carol Tice

      Well, 6 work hours a week is still not a whole lot…so cut yourself a break and be realistic on how much you can accomplish in your limited work time. Working with Denizens I find it’s a common problem to have unrealistic expectations of how fast you can move it forward while you work full-time still, or only have a few hours around kid duties.

      You might want to read this post: How Writers Can Send Query Letters Without Experiencing Rejection

  12. Amanda

    I just sent this link to a friend! We have been planning to have a “tipping point” dinner, during which we’ll eat, laugh, eat, discuss our writing/entrepreneurial goals, eat, etc. And from the comments, it’s obvious this spoke to a lot of us. Like some of the others, the block for me is mainly time, as is finding clients. But your blog has been the biggest help in getting me on the path to where I hope to be as a freelancer. Thank you!

    • Carol Tice

      You’re welcome — and what a great idea for an event to spark everyone to move forward!

      Maybe I could organize something like that in a virtual way — love the idea of a tipping point dinner.

  13. Sheila Bergquist

    Carol, this is a terrific article. I have an anxiety disorder, so I could totally relate to your panic. I originally broke through my fears and doubt as a writer by just finally jumping in and doing it. I was shocked and so pleased when I actually got paid to write. It gave my confidence a huge boost. I still have my moments of fear and doubt but then I just say, “what have you got to lose?”

    I absolutely love the way you put it: “When your discomfort at being stuck where you are becomes greater than your fear of what you must do to move forward, you jump to the next level in your career.”

    Thanks for this article!

    • Carol Tice

      My claustrophobia arose from a period in my life when I was a severe asthmatic. Thankfully the asthma is long gone, but that feeling of being trapped when my way is blocked is still around!

      I always love when people write Dear Abby asking if they’re too old to start med school or some other long-dreamed-of career path. And she’d always say, “How old will you be in 7 years if you DON’T do it?”

      We really do have nothing to lose, when the alternative is being full of regrets later about the longed-for path we didn’t walk.

  14. Valerie

    Carol, this post is full of simple, yet profound points. All I can say is wow. Especially love this statement:

    “When your discomfort at being stuck where you are becomes greater than your fear of what you must do to move forward, you jump to the next level in your career.”

    I think I’m there!

  15. Kate O'Reilley

    Thank you so much for this post. I’m an anesthesiologist who desperately wants out of medicine. I endured an awful lawsuit recently, and it gave me the courage to start writing. My first novel is complete and ready to move forward. Sometimes, this new step forward seems formidable, but your words were just what I needed to here.

    Btw, if you’re interested in my ordeal, please check out “My Story,” at

  16. Karen

    My biggest barrier is being a complete and total introvert. Possibly bordering on a fear of dealing with people. Which really makes life a bit difficult some days! It’s hard for me to call and ask my insurance agent a question about my policy let alone calling to introduce myself and my services to a potential future client.

    I have, finally, made a step to combat that problem though. I recently applied for (and got) a management position at my day job. I feel this will help force me to take steps to expand my comfort zone and so far, it’s been working. This way, I have no way to give myself excuses! I’m slowly carrying that “no more excuses” mindset from the day job into the rest of my life with the goal of carrying it over into my dream job (freelancing).

    Thank you so much for sharing your own barriers and how you overcame or broke through them! It’s inspiring for the rest of us! 🙂

  17. Karen

    Biggest thing getting in my way is … me… and my fear of leaving a teaching position where there’s set pay check and benefits but where the hours are long, including personal time and, yes, summer time classes and work in prep for new school year. Want out of teaching for a number of reasons. Have a child I need to support. My husband works a full time job, but we need both incomes and I fear not having the replacement income that we would need for me to be able to leave teaching. I need to trust that it would work out. I have faith in my skills. But the unknown keeps me standing still in fear. Hate that.

  18. Adeline Yuboco

    For me, the biggest thing that is standing in the way is the surprising low rates that I discovered a lot of writers in my country are accepting for writing gigs. Based on the stats that I saw in the State of the Freelance Nation 2012, my rates are already considerably low. Yet, I still get a number of potential clients that contact me and complain that it’s too high, pointing to the fact that they have spoken with other writers from my country that are willing to charge only a fraction of what I’m charging (most charge apparently single-digit fees per hour and even per article). Still trying to find a way how to overcome that hurdle.

    • Carol Tice

      No matter where you live or what type of writing you do, there will always be lowballers.

      I generally wish them luck finding what they want at the price they’re offering, and move on.

      To earn more, you need to offer more, and go after more sophisticated assignments. Consider learning a specialized area of writing or specializing in a complex industry. Doing quickie SEO articles is never going to pay better.

  19. Lalitha Brahma

    Thanks Carol for writing such an inspirational post. It is interesting to learn from the comments that there are quite a few persons, experiencing fear.
    What’s standing in your way? Leave a comment and tell us what you plan to do to break through.

    Having worked in a Service industry, I could never imagine myself getting paid for writing, even though I do write blog posts and articles for my website and Ezine. Hence, for me instead of fear, it is the mindset. I am willing to change.

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