Is This Irrational Fear Crippling Your Freelance Writing Career?

Carol Tice

Fear slows down your freelance writing progressFreelance writers deal with a lot of fears. We have to push through those to do this type of work.

But there’s something funny about the fears freelance writers have.

Funny peculiar, I mean.

To give you a sense of what I’m talking about, here’s a selection of actual comments I’ve gotten recently from writers:

“I’m getting started and I’m just terrified!”

“Of course, I’m dealing with the fear and the insecurity.”

“That whole fear thing keeps getting in the way.”

“I’m really scared to send this query letter!”

“The big, ugly monster in my head, fear, is my biggest obstacle.”

“I am a hopeful, yet scared-to-death writer…”

“I need to crawl out of the usual dark places and get writing.”

Did you notice what’s odd about all these statements?

They all leave out one key item:

Fear of what?

I think it’s revealing that none of these comments say what the writer is scared of.

They can’t even name or describe this fear. It’s just “the fear” or “I’m scared.”

It’s a big, amorphous blob of undefined terror. And it’s stopping so many writers from living the life they want, where they can pay their bills from writing.

Seeing all these comments together made me wonder what it is about this fear that makes it so hard to describe and name.

Here’s what I think it is:

Really, if you sat down and thought about it, you’d have to admit there is nothing to be legitimately scared of in the world of freelance writing.

Nothing at all.

Why we have fears

Let’s stop a moment and think about the feeling of fear. Why does it exist?

Early humans who acted on their very real, primal fears tended to live.

Fear helped us remember we shouldn’t go to the watering hole at dusk, because that’s when the lions go there.

We fear lions because they could rip our throats out. So we wisely avoid hanging out where the lions are.

It would be stupid to face down this fear and go hang out with the lions. Instead, we listen to this fear and avoid foolish bravery that would get us killed.

This is sane, rational fear that has the concrete purpose of keeping us breathing. And it’s good.

Why fear of writing is crazy

Fear is appropriate to life-threatening situations.

And the thing is, with extremely rare exceptions, your life is generally not put at risk by being a freelance writer.

What’s the worst thing that happens if you send a query and it doesn’t get you an assignment? Nothing happens. You get no answer. The end.

What if your article has a bad error in it and you have to do a correction? A week later, nobody remembers.

What if you fail to earn enough from freelancing and you end up having to move back with your parents, or take a day job for a while until you can save up and write some more?

A little time was lost. You had a setback. You survived it. That’s it.

What’s behind the scary curtain

Let me show you what’s hiding in the dark recesses of your brain’s unnameable freelance-fear chamber.

Here it is: Nothing. There is nothing to be afraid of, because no lives are at risk here.

Fear is inappropriate to the world of freelance writing. You’re taking a primal, life-saving emotion and experiencing it where there is no true danger.

Will you really starve to death if you pursue freelance writing? In any country with public assistance programs, that’s highly unlikely.

Will you be shot by a firing squad for being a bad writer? With the rare exception of writing in dissent of a totalitarian or Communist government, unlikely.

You’re trapped by phantom fears that if you faced them, would dissolve into the air.

You might make mistakes as a writer. Or write something that’s crap now and then. You might get embarrassed sometime.

But you would survive. You live to write another day.

I know because every possible mistake you can make as a writer, I’ve done it.

The real thing to fear

There’s only one fear freelance writers should acknowledge.

It’s the possibility that you’ll let your irrational fears about writing and freelancing keep you from being a successful writer.

You’ll live out your life and you’ll die, without ever realizing your dream of writing professionally.

When you feel those irrational fears creeping up on you, remember that.

No mistake you can make as a freelance writer will ever be worse than how you will feel at the end of your life, if you had the dream of being a writer, but you let fear keep you from it.

Can you name your worst freelance writing fear? Leave a comment, I dare you.

Freelance Writers Den


  1. Lorraine Reguly

    LOL – maybe I will! I may even use some comments here for inspiration 😉
    Fame, freedom, fortune. . . and now FUNNY. Boy, you sure do have it all! (yes, kidding)
    On a more serious note, being a business is what may scare some people, too. The fear of not being able to handle it all is daunting to those who dream of being successful – but I think I’m jumping the gun a bit here since my guest post hasn’t been published yet. (recall the topic)

    FYI, I’m afraid of failure, too. Damn, our fears certainly ARE irrational, aren’t they?

  2. Lorraine Reguly

    Fear of success is probably the worst fear of all since when you are used to a certain lifestyle (ie. one without a lot of extra money), having that extra cash can place a burden on some people. What I’d love to see you do, Carol, is follow up on this topic with a post about how to handle the extra income and possible fame (!) that comes along with it.

    I’ve read all the comments in this this thread and know that this fear is had by several people, including me, and it is one that’s actually rational, too.

    • Carol Tice

      Well, so far I’ve mostly handled it by paying off debts — I adopted kids, have a kid in college, and one who’s just had an exciting $80,000 of advanced medical treatments we were on the hook for $10K of. Excitement for me is paying off a car loan. And somehow, I still can’t seem to get ahead. Maybe after all the kids leave home.

      I am a working class person and have had to work hard all my life and still do…so far the big difference is I can eat out if I feel like it, and I could go see a movie at the nighttime rather than HAVING to see the matinee. Seriously. The glamor really never ends. I can confess I now also buy organic food when possible…no longer think I can’t afford it. So far, changes are pretty small. Not like I’ve bought a mansion or my kids are switching to private school or anything. Not even close.

      Ooh, ooh, I know! I actually bought a new dress recently. It was $79. I love it! It’s got an infinity scarf so you can make a bunch of necklines. This is the stuff that excites me.

      Oh yeah — and when our shower busted, we were finally able to remodel the room. After about 5 years of no upstairs shower. I know, you’re jealous now, right?

      Haven’t really experienced a ton of fame…not like people are recognizing me on the street or anything. That’s going to happen to so few people, where it really affects your life.

      I guess I think worrying about future money and fame that might or might not befall you falls into the category of taking out loans from the future worry bank.

      Do you not have enough current worries, that you need a loan? I try to stay out of worry debt. 😉 Easier to do than money debt.

    • Lorraine Reguly

      This is the Carol that more people should see in your posts. The honest-to-goodness gal who struggles like everyone else. Somehow, you seem to have created an impression in my mind (and if in mine, definitely in others’) as someone who personifies greatness in every aspect of your life. You are also very well known (don’t think you’re not) in the freelancing community (a measure of fame!) and get read plenty each month (like 32000 reads?) and have written posts that have nearly had a million hits (watch you write a headline that goes viral). These things tend to make an impression – however untrue – on others, Carol, of you being someone akin to a celebrity. (Shh. I hear you laughing. But you can’t deny you’re enjoying this.)

      Linda likes “busting” things; maybe she can give you a lesson on how to bust these misconceptions some of your readers have.

      Yeah, I don’t often comment, since I read your posts in my inbox. But I speak up when I have something worthwhile to say.

      And you just bought a new dress? Whoa, now I’m jealous! 🙂

      Good point about borrowing worry, though. 😉

      Thanks for bringing reality back into my world. Perhaps putting people on pedestals can be another post topic. Intimidation may not be a fear, but it is a real emotion some experience.

    • Carol Tice

      Yeah, something like the very distant 4th cousin of a celebrity. Trust me.

      I wouldn’t say at this point I struggle like any other freelancer…I struggle now more like a small retailer. I’m managing a business with some dozen paid employees at various levels of involvement…sort of a different animal.

      And you’d be surprised how many aspects of your life there are where people — like, say, my kids — could care less about your online wins. As my dad says, that and $1 used to buy you a cup of coffee and doesn’t even do that anymore.

      Sounds like the problem of putting people on pedestals could be a good topic for YOU to blog about. I’m keeping my blog focused on practical tips to help freelance writers earn more…don’t see how that contributes.

    • D Kendra Francesco

      Or, you could write the post. Maybe not now, but put it in the back burner until it’s good and bubbly. 😉

  3. Tanya

    Thank you, Carol, for putting this all in perspective. I saw myself in all of the fears and had to laugh out loud. Of course I won’t die if my query is rejected. LOL Of course, I won’t starve and end up living in my car. And, even if I did, what a great adventure that would be to write about and it would make such a great success story later.

    “This writer was destitute and living out of her car, but never stopped writing. Now she’s making 6 figures and living the American dream.” (That’s the local news reporter in my head reporting about my eventual success story.)

    I think that the only thing I should fear is what you said in your last paragraph:

    “It’s the possibility that you’ll let your irrational fears about writing and freelancing keep you from being a successful writer.
    You’ll live out your life and you’ll die, without ever realizing your dream of writing professionally.”

    Thank you for this kick in the butt! It was well-needed.

    • Carol Tice

      I know — everybody loves a comeback story, eh? So why fear getting down and out. 😉

  4. ian

    I see your point Carol, the problem is when I go out there I always think maybe this is not good enough or maybe people will laugh at my writing not because they were entertained but because they could not fathom what kind of person writing this crap? I’m afraid that my writing is not good enough. Well, that’s my fear. I know that’s unequal with lions or shooting troops but as you have wrote, it’s irrational but it’s there. So I appreciate this post.

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