Recently, I asked about what writers fear most — and one of the answers surprised me.
Quite a few writers told me they feared taking any action to start trying to make it as a freelance writer.
They were frozen because as long as they didn’t try to get published, they could preserve the fantasy that their freelance writing dream might still come true, one day in the mist-shrouded future.
As soon as they actually tried to be a freelance writer, they ran the risk that it wouldn’t work out. Then their dream would be shattered, forever. So they did nothing, year after year.
Oh, man. That is a disastrous attitude.
Today, I’m going to tell you why you’ve got to snap out of this and go for your writing career right away.
You see, I had a big dream like that once. And it died.
Here’s why that was the best thing that ever happened to me.
I dreamed a dream in time gone by…
The bug bit me when I was about 14. I loved music, and I wanted to be a singer-songwriter. Like Joni Mitchell or Joan Baez or Grace Slick, or ideally all of them rolled into one.
I practiced piano and learned a little guitar. I scribbled lyrics on every available space. I sang in a high-school vocal group.
I dropped out of college because I felt like I was wasting time there when I should be playing gigs. Moved back to L.A., started going to songwriting workshops, and scraped together a band.
Then I started trying to play gigs. And a weird thing happened.
Live rock performance is the ultimate uncontrollable scenario. Anything can and does happen.
Your drummer may decide to take the overnight party bus to Vegas or eat psychedelic mushrooms rather than turn up at the gig.
The sound system may malfunction and no one can hear you. Audience members may hoot, ignore you, or throw things. Or only two people show up, but you still have to play anyway.
You make mistakes while you’re playing. You forget lyrics.
When I say “you” there, of course I mean me. All those things happened to me. Some more than once.
And I hated it.
An unpleasant fact about me slowly became obvious.
I discovered I am a control freak about my art.
I like to deliver my art to the world fully formed and perfect. The randomness of live performance both terrified and frustrated me.
Having everyone watch me while I delivered the song I was trying to get out there made me crazy nervous. It turned me into a scared little girl, a persona that didn’t mesh well with being a woman fronting a rock band.
The other requirements of building a life in rock ‘n’ roll didn’t appeal to me either, like the part where you need to hang around smoky clubs until 2 a.m. drinking and trying to get some club owner to book your band.
I’m asthmatic. Cigarette smoke makes me need my inhaler. Also, I’m good for one, maybe two drinks tops before I curl up under the table and take a nap. Hanging out with drunks is not my idea of fun.
This dream wasn’t working out at all like I imagined.
When you’re doing something over and over that you find radically stressful, your body has a way of trying to stop you.
For me, the performance stress made my voice shut down. I couldn’t sing properly.
The intense fears about what was going to happen during my set — what would go wrong and make me look stupid this time — made my throat constrict.
Within the first couple of songs, I would go completely hoarse. The next day, I couldn’t speak above a whisper. It became clear that getting a regular gig where I’d need to sing every night was out of the question.
I tried voice coaching. I did exercises and sang scales. I did relaxation and visualization. I’d remind myself that no matter how bad my gig sucked, 1 billion Chinese could care less.
But it was no use. I physically and emotionally wasn’t cut out for live performance.
When one door closes…
Right around this time, I entered an essay contest on a lark and won. They paid me $200.
And everything changed.
I had discovered a form of writing where they paid you — as opposed to my having to pay as a songwriter, for rehearsal space and studio time and to four-wall clubs to play gigs.
Even better, writing prose allowed me to tinker and perfect what I wanted to say. When I was happy with it, I sent it out into the world and readers enjoyed it…and I didn’t have to be there while they read it.
I loved it. And I never looked back.
Getting it right
I tried the songwriting dream — tried hard, for most of my twenties. I played the Whisky. I spent loads of money, made demo tapes, shopped tunes, got a couple of them licensed even, played a lotta gigs.
Then finally I realized it wasn’t making me happy, let it go, and moved on to find a new dream.
That new dream led to a ton of fun, earnings, and satisfaction. Years of well-paid freelancing, and then staff writing, and then freelancing again.
And then, starting this blog to share what I knew. Next, launching Freelance Writers Den, and creating a business that helps thousands of people and has made me financially secure.
None of it would have happened if I was still sitting in my room singing songs to myself and hoping some day I might be a singer-songwriter — but never going for it for fear of finding out I couldn’t cut it.
Facing that reality and learning exactly why that career wasn’t a fit for me gave me the insight I needed to find the right path.
How dreams come true
Dreams are born in our heads, but they’re forged and perfected in the fire of experience.
I had a dream of being a kind of writer, and by trying, I became one — just a bit different kind of writer than I originally imagined.
With no experience, your dream stays a vague notion that might or might not even be something you’d like, if you really tried it.
You might discover that though you imagined it would be awesome, in reality you hate meeting editors’ demands, or conducting interviews, or writing business copy, or having to endlessly hustle for gigs.
But there might be something related, two steps removed or just around the corner from that first big dream you had, that you’d love. And you’re wasting precious time not finding out.
Ever have a dream die? Leave a comment and tell us what you tried, and how you moved on.