The Secret Terrors of a Successful Freelance Writer

Carol Tice

Secret Terrors of a Freelance Writer. Makealivingwriting.comEvery writer I meet seems to think they’re the only one who’s scared. That successful freelance writers don’t suffer doubts.

Many imagine that once you ‘make it’ and get some bylines or great copywriting clients, the fear goes away.

Let me burst that bubble right now.

Fear is a writer’s faithful companion, as ever-present in our lives as our laptop or our pen.

The secret is to learn to make peace with your fear demons. Don’t let them keep you from shining your light.

One of the most toxic fears comes from the suspicion that we are the only one who’s petrified.

But I’ve never met a good writer who doesn’t have their own private terrors. To prove it, I’m here to share mine.

But let’s start with the fears I’ve learned other writers have. I asked my readers two questions on Facebook this week about their writing fears — and the floodgates opened.

What scares you?

These two questions together got the most responses I’ve EVER had to Facebook posts:

Successful freelance writer fearsFears of successful freelance writers
It’s a hot-button topic among writers, no mistake.

Some fears are rational — like not being able to earn enough from writing. Others we know are unlikely to happen — but that doesn’t stop them from haunting us:

Successful freelance writer fear

Probably the one that hit me hardest was this one: Facebook fear comment

Clearly, job #1 for any freelance writer is to get a handle on fears, whether you’ve got a fat portfolio or it’s your first week trying this.

The fear problem has bugged me for a while — which is why Linda Formichelli and I created a whole course about overcoming fear. There isn’t much point in my teaching you how to pitch better or write better if, in the end, you’re still frozen in fear and can’t take advantage of that information!

Moving past your fears is the first step to building a successful freelance writing career. And the first phase of that journey is realizing that every other writer is scared, too.

What scares me…

As regular readers know, I got into freelance writing by accident. I don’t have a degree in English or journalism…or anything else.

So when I found myself writing cover features for a section of the Los Angeles Times within my first year of starting to write prose (instead of song lyrics), I was petrified.

I kept waiting for someone to tap me on the shoulder and bust me as a total imposter who had no right to be writing for pay.

As the years passed and my writing career built, fears like that slowly (SLOWLY!) faded away.

If you’re wondering what happens to your fears when you become a successful freelance writer, I’d say they turn over.

Old fears get replaced by new ones. It’s human nature to worry about something.

Once you’re not waking up worried about paying the rent this month, new writing fears arise.

What do I fear now?

  • Mistakes. Committing an error in a major magazine piece that results in a lawsuit and implodes my career. It only takes one bad error in journalism, and the reputation I’ve spent 25+ years building could vanish.
  • Getting trashed. Social media can be a vicious place. And when you put yourself out there as an expert, somebody’s going to think you’re a fraud, or just in it for the money. And it hurts.
  • That I’m in over my head. Even with over 15 years as a freelance writer, I still sometimes ask myself: “Who am I to give advice?” I mean, I try to document what’s working out there and make sure my tips are grounded in evidence, but there’s more than one way to do this.
  • I’m not worthy. Loads of writers try to build a blog-based business and fail, or barely eke out a few bucks from it. What makes me so special, that my stab at this panned out better than I ever could have imagined? I’m afraid the answer is…nothing.
  • My platform — and income — could vanish. My writing income from this blog has transformed my family’s life. What if something goes wrong and it all evaporates? Or I just burn out and can’t keep going? Most blogs have a lifespan — what will happen to us financially if I wake up and don’t have any more post ideas, or just feel like I can’t do it anymore?
  • I’ll let you down. I feel deeply that it’s a huge responsibility to advise writers on their careers. I fear giving a piece of advice that’s unclear or in error or gets misunderstood, and that contributes to a writer’s having to take a day job again. Or ending up broke, or homeless. That would mean my life mission — of helping many freelance writers to earn more, feed their families, and avoid scams — is a failure. That I’m a failure.
  • I’m wasting my talent. Am I really achieving my potential as a writer? Maybe I could have been an amazing novelist and lifted up millions with my creative ideas, but the need to pay bills led me into nonfiction freelance writing…and now the years have flown. Perhaps I had other types of writing I was meant to do that I missed out on, because I’m a big breadwinner — and then it became impossible to find time to write on other passion projects.
  • I could have written it better. I guess this one doesn’t change. I’ve rarely met an assignment I didn’t wish I had more time with to make my piece more concise, more impactful, more meaningful, more motivating for readers.
  • The personal price of online business success is too high. My biggest fear is that my kids — who’re now teens — will never truly understand that what I’m doing for hours on end on the computer pays all our bills, and enables all the fun stuff they love (hello, renting a boat and going tubing on a lake!). No matter what I say, they just think I’m goofing off and ignoring them, and that I’m an uncaring mom. It’s the biggest challenge of our work-from-anywhere generation.One writer/mom once said to me, “If you fail at parenting, no career achievement will make up for it,” and I just cried, because I’ve sacrificed a lot of family time (and sleep!) to be a successful writer, and I’m not sure that was a worthwhile tradeoff. I sense the divorce rate among successful online solopreneur types is high, too.

As you can see, the writer fears never end. Becoming a successful freelance writer does not mean you enter the Emerald City, you’ve “made it,” and everyone loves you.

Fears evolve, along with your writing career.

The stakes keep getting higher. The tightrope is higher in the air, and the crosswinds can be wicked.

The good news is, you’re building up your writing muscles and your thick skin as you go. So staying on that high rope isn’t so much harder than it was when that rope hung near the ground, at the beginning, but you had no idea how to balance on it.

And no matter how scary it gets, I’d never trade it for the fears I’d have if I’d stuck to day jobs — like the fear of being a drone stuck in a dead-end work life I was never meant for.

I’ll take what I’ve got over the fear that I’d die with deep regrets about not fulfilling my creative potential.

How to reclaim your writing power

How can you defeat fear? By not letting it run your life.

By speaking your fears out loud, and admitting they are real.

By making peace with your fears, and taking action despite them.

By finding other writers who will hold your hand as you walk your fear-darkened path, build you up, lift their lamps to light your way, and show you you’re not alone.

What scares you, as a freelance writer? Let’s talk about it in the comments.

Write BIG: A fear-busting e-course for freelance writers. LEARN MORE - Useful Writing Courses


  1. Jennifer K

    Thank you for this! It is reassuring to know I’m not alone and that my fears will never likely “go away” – they will just … evolve.

    As a newbie, my biggest fears are that I don’t have what it takes, both on the writing end (am I really any good at this?!) and on the business end (prospecting and finding new clients is not easy!)

    Some days, the self-doubt can be paralyzing!

    • Carol Tice

      I hear ya. I always say the #1 obstacle freelance writers have is between their ears.

      It’s not the bad economy (which in the US hasn’t actually been bad for years, but people have that idea in their heads still), or that it’s hard to find prospects, or hard to improve your writing — you can do all those things.

      Getting over your ‘I’m not worthy’ complex…THAT’s the toughie. But it’s worth working on it.

      The WriteBig course has DOZENS of exercises and techniques for getting over the hump — excited to make it available to the general public starting today! It was only inside Freelance Writers Den previously. 😉

      • Mariana

        “The #1 obstacle freelance writers have is between their ears”

        Love that Carol!

        • Carol Tice

          Well, it’s true! I hear a lot of whines about the economy (um, US economy has been rebounding for about 7 years now!), the small town you live in (it’s a global business!)…really, it’s all about our attitude. There’s a ton of opportunity out there.

    • Nisha

      I’m so glad I stumbled across this website. I have decided I want to dive in to freelance writing and blogging. Problem is I know nothing about either one! I actually came across this page as I googled “What is freelance writing”. I don’t even know step 1. However I am determined to make this happen within the next year. I look forward to reading more helpful tips.

      • Carol Tice

        Glad you found me, Nisha! You might start with the posts in the ‘We Talk About…’ where you can pick a topic and see posts on that theme. Also check out my ebooks, especially the Step by Step Guide.

  2. Marcie

    I’m currently writing a bio for a tech exec and I have no clue about the terms and responsibilities on his resume. For about 3 days I felt like I was over my head. However, I had a pep talk with self and reminded myself that I was the best person to write this bio, otherwise, he wouldn’t have contacted me. We are almost done and he’s pleased with the result.

    Another concern throughout my entire process is how I can write things better. However, I sometimes get feedback from the person who hired me on how they want things written which relieves me of that burden. When I don’t get feedback, I do the best I know how and it usually turns out better than expected.

    • Carol Tice

      When I started out, I just asked a TON of questions. I used to haunt my editors’ offices the day the pub came out, to ask, “I see you changed my lede from this to THIS. Why?”

      I ask business clients scores of questions before I write. I find that generally solves the problem! If I do fall short, I’m all ears to hear how I can fix it. That’s really how we all improve. Write a lot, find out how to make it better. The end.

  3. Jenette Clay

    Excellent post. Thank you for sharing it. My biggest fears are these three that you shared: 1. The family time invested in my work, 2. Being tagged as an imposter, 3. Getting in over my head.

    But I’m glad I’m doing this because I love to learn, and I love it when a post I write resonates with someone else and helps my client reach people.

    I’m sharing this with my adult kids who are writers.

    Thank you Carol.

    • Carol Tice

      Thanks for sharing, Jenette!

      I also love to learn new stuff — I think that’s a great trait for freelance writers to have. I’m actually planning a post coming up on the ideal personality for a freelance writer, and that’s one of the aspects on my list. 😉

      • Jenette Clay

        Looking forward to reading that!

      • Gabe Turner

        Ooooh…. looking forward to that one, too! Can you just drop everything and write it up today? :).

        • Carol Tice

          Well…still thinking on all the traits I want to include. Nominations?

  4. Katherine Swarts

    I think that the worry habit is the dark side of the vivid imagination most writers are blessed with–and our work almost requires us to feed that dark side. It’s not just fiction specialists who find that worst-case scenarios are virtually essential as part of every project!

    Myself, I’ve worried about virtually everything on the list (except neglecting marriage and kids, which I don’t have) and just about everything on any mind map that could be made from any of them: but probably my greatest weakness is fear of not having time to finish what I’ve already committed to. Worse, my brain counts everything I’ve written down on the planner, however impulsively and privately, as a “commitment.” And I tend to neglect leaving margin in my work days because I also fear not having anything worthwhile to do.

    • Carol Tice

      Well, lots of juicy material there, Katherine!

      Did you see my email on ‘behinderness’? I cured myself of it by STOPPING writing things in a planner, and starting to plug items into my calendar at a specific time. Then, if I dno’t get to them at that time, I move them to a future time. Presto! My day is clear.

      I think we all tend to overestimate what we can get done in a day…but you can always bump an item or two to tomorrow with the calendar/schedule approach, and it feels OK to me.

      I used to be HAUNTED by the fear that I would blow deadlines — I was always just frantic about that. Frequently, I vented about it to my hypnotherapist. One day, she asked me whether over time, I found I actually missed any of those deadlines.

      I had to admit I didn’t! And that was the beginning of letting that fear go.

      Also…what if you DO need to ask for more time on a deadline? So WHAT? Happens all the time.

      I grew up in a family where promptness was super-valued, and we could end up grounded if we were 10 minutes late getting home. But the rest of the world tends to be a bit more flexible about it…so we should relax more. 😉

      • Katherine Swarts

        Great minds think alike: I had just decided, myself, to give up the planner for a trial period and switch to the e-calendar. If nothing else, it doesn’t fill up and leave you with no room to add new essentials!

  5. Cherese Cobb

    Hi Carol,

    I love the tightrope analogy. It really does feel that way. Unfortunately, I can’t remember where I read it. A veteran journalist once said that he was asked his biggest mess ups. His response: what day? I think that has some truth to it. I’ve been in the business for a year and a half. Some of my biggest oopsies: plagiarizing an article by dropping in quotes, calling an interviewee more than an hour early, and having conjunction dysfunction, a disease where every sentence is a compound one.

    And Jenette (What a beautiful name!) I share all of your fears, too. Though, I’d add starving to death or being homeless, again, onto mine.

    On another note, one tiny–probably irrational fear–I have right now is choosing the wrong name for my business. I can’t choose between my personal name or a business name. I’ve done a ton of research. But it’s pretty conflicting. And the business name I have my heart set on has the .com and .net taking leaving me with .biz, which some people think is cheap or sleazy. Any thoughts?

    • Carol Tice

      Hm…can we discuss in the Den? I’d love to know more details. Sometimes you can do a tiny tweak of your chosen name and find a URL you can claim. I just worked with a blogger in my Small Blog, Big Income mastermind who had her heart set on one that was taken…but we were able to tweak it and actually came up with something the group (and me!) all ended up liking even more.

      • Cherese Cobb

        Hi Carol,

        I’m not a member of the den yet but joining is on my to do list. I’m hoping by the new year when I’ve tackled over $10K of medical bills.

        • Jenette Clay


          Thank you, never had anyone say my name was beautiful before, but I’m glad I’ve got one.

          I hear you on the medical bills and also wanting to join the Writer’s Den, it’s on my to-do list too. I already find so much value in this blog, I’m looking forward to being a part of the Den.

          • Monika singh

            Hi carol,
            I am new here in the field of freelance writing. I love writing but i really don’t have any idea from where to start. There is no one who can guide me on this. I need your help. Please tell me how to start the freelance writing career. I would really be grateful to you.

          • Monika singh

            Thankyou so much Carol, this really means a lot to me. I am going to do everything as per your advice.

  6. Sherry Gray

    I’m right in the boat with you. My biggest fear: it will all dry up and blow away, taking my income and hope of retiring (on a tropical beach) with it. I will become irrelevent, or be exposed for the mediocre writer that I am. Or I will find real success, and not know how to manage it.

    yeah..all those things, even though I’m published on a lot of sites and have been working to capacity for years now. My husband wants to retire and that scares me….even though he’s working so part-time that he’s almost retired already.

    What I really need is a unicorn “passive” income that generates money even when I’m sick or can’t write.

    Then, I won’t be scared. Maybe.

    • Carol Tice

      LOL, I feel ya! Why can’t my ebooks just bring in thousands every month by magic, without any promotion necessary?

      And my husband is basically retired, too. It’s all on me, though that was partly my choice, so I can’t complain.

      As I get older, and find myself asking my 14-year-old to show me how to use my smartphone, you do worry — what if the culture shifts again, and again, and new technology comes, and eventually, I just have no clue how to do this? I think that’s a real fear!

      But all we can do is, as Dory said, just keep swimming…and learning.

      • Sherry Gray

        exactly! A lot of my content marketing friends jump on all the bandwagons. Snapchat! Everybody should be marketing on Snapchat! Video is the next big thing! Writing is out! No, wait, livestreaming, that’s the thing. Pokemon GO!!!

        wait, what? Pokemon GO?

        I’ll just stick to writing, thanks. If people stop reading…well, I hope I’ll be long dead by then.

        • Carol Tice

          I love Ed Gandia’s approach of sticking to old-school marketing and ignoring the fads. Too much work to learn all these platforms and how best to market on them!

  7. Jade Miller

    Oh. Wow.Thank you Carol. Such a timely article.
    I’ve started the interview process for a couple of pitches I developed during Pitch Clinic (which was absolutely awesome, thanks again for that!) but when responding to source’s emails when they ask which publications I write for, my mind goes blank and I go “ummm….”

    I’ve been writing for years on the side but am now freelancing full time (mostly ghostwriting…when was the last time you saw a byline on a landing page?) But this is the first time going solo for bigger clients and so I feel like an impostor…

    Gotta just kick those fears in the hiney and knuckle down and do it.

    Thanks for such a well-written post 🙂

    • Carol Tice

      My pleasure, Jade. I think when you have a fear of a specific situation (which is what the whole first module of the WriteBig e-course is about!), it helps to plan ahead.

      OK, so someone’s going to ask you who you’ve written for before. At some point. What is your stock answer going to be? “I’ve mostly been doing copywriting for medium-sized tech businesses” or some such like that works fine, I’d think. But have your answer ready.

      I was a longtime legal secretary, and learned from my lawyer sister that in a trial, lawyers never ask a question they don’t already know the answer to. They have this locked down so there’s no surprises.

      Be the same way — you can anticipate many of the standard questions you’ll get asked in client meetings…so be ready with answers. Rehearse with a friend, if need be! Really reduces the fear factor.

  8. Sophia

    There’s something about knowing that I’m not alone in this that makes all the fear seem a lot less terrifying. Don’t get me wrong, I really hoped that there was a secret magic potion we get handed when we reach a certain level of writing but, barring that, it’s kind of nice knowing that we can make it despite being terrified.

    Thanks for such a timely, inspiring article Carol!

    • Carol Tice

      I wish! Still looking for that potion…ask my husband. I’m basically up at 6 am every day so I can get in an extra hour of worrying before the day begins…just like my dad used to joke to me about doing himself.

      Or that used to be me…and now I’m trying to drink tea, look out at the lake, breath, and think of things I’m grateful for. Maybe say a little prayer. Trying to develop better habits about starting the day from a good place, and accepting that where I am is where I’m meant to be. Instead of worrying about how it might all go desperately wrong.

      My sister likes to call that taking out a loan from the future worry bank. As we project what COULD happen if we do X…just stop! Stay in the present. Most of that stuff will never happen.

  9. Angela Brown

    Getting ripped on social media is the worst. I used to follow an online publication I write for online because they’d promote my stuff on their Facebook page. I got so tired of feeling like I had to defend my writing because people on social media will complain about everything and find something so stupid to nitpick at that it starts to wear you down. I stopped even looking at comments because I realized the vast majority had nothing to do with my writing and I couldn’t handle the anxiety.

    The parenting thing is huge with me. I feel guilty when I’m working because my kids aren’t getting my full attention but I feel guilty when I’m not working on a project for my clients. It really is a tough balance.:)

    • Carol Tice

      I’m in the Facebook group Binders Full of Freelance Writers, which has a ton of essayists, and I gather from them their rule is “DO NOT READ THE COMMENTS.” It’s just too soul-sucking to read what random trolls are saying to tear you down.

      • Katherine Swarts

        I only read the comments on things (like this blog) that are frequented by well-defined groups most of whom know how to contribute real insights. Get into anything widespread that has the remotest chance of pushing buttons (and I have met people who could leave any professional conspiracy theorist in the dust for interpreting every detail as a sign of “the enemy”), and within ten comments someone will get into twenty minutes worth of “is not-is too” arguments. BORRRINGG!!

        • Carol Tice

          I had this one post I made on a forum where someone starting slagging on it…and I just never went back. Good spaces don’t even allow that kind of thing. On my blog, there’s no attacking other commenters, please. Let’s all keep it civil!

          • Cherese Cobb

            I had the same thing happen when I wrote for XOJane. Commenters just started rolling over me: my writing sucked; I was “psychotic”; I was wasting my God-given life living the artistic stick. Mind you, I wrote about insomnia and tried out some popular “writer’s” remedies,i.e. sleeping north or with vertical pillows. I never wrote for them again. Because, as Carol points out, good blogs or e-magazines, keep comment sections civil. The ones who don’t, in my opinion, usually have crumby content and hope the comments will keep people coming back with antagonistic laughter.

            The civility is the reason I always read through MALW’s comments. Plus, I always learn something new. 😉

          • Cherese Cobb

            I know this a typo forgiving zone, but I meant xoJane.

          • Carol Tice

            Right — you get no points off around here for capitalizing or not, so no worries!

            I feel like a lot of these essay sites, the whole point is to get people upset and bomb-throwing in the comments. It’s just not a zone I personally want to hang out in. It’s like the Jerry Springer show became a blog…no thanks. I’ve got enough stress and drama without anyone busting a chair over my head, figuratively speaking, in the comments. That doesn’t do anything to give light or lift up humanity in any way.

          • Cherese Cobb

            Amen, Carol Tice! I felt so guilty for not wanting to work with those sorts of sites to build my portfolio. But it seems I’m not alone. 🙂 Whew! Now I infuse bits of my personal life in fiction pieces.

  10. Linda H

    Years ago I watched a movie about the artist Edgar Degas. At one point he said, “Self doubt is an insidious insect that can suck the life out of even the smallest of dreams. NEVER give into it.” I copied the quote and posted it on a bulletin board. I believe I was working at that time and trying to write a murder/mystery. I may also have been writing for a local magazine, making $25 per article.

    My biggest fear is of success and I’ve been emotionally beaten up by past clients who were scam artists. So with the fear of success, based on a past fear of inferiority, combined with a loss of confidence due to scammers who posted false statements, I hesitate. I’ve lots of experience. Heck, I just worked with a new marketing director and wrote to pieces for her that worked, but I’m still fearful.

    I’m regrouping, stepping outside my comfort zone after 30 minutes of prayer and medication and starting to kick it. I know that fear is part of the work. If Danny Iny can fail, regroup, and make it work so can I.

    Every artist/singer/actor I’ve read about says they are still fearful when they step on stage. Yet they do it anyway and walk home with an income. My thinking, too, is that I believe the Good Lord brought me to this work, gave me my writing talents, and if I follow what I believe are the opportunities given me I’ll succeed. He’s provided for me over the past 30 years through writing, I can’t believe He’ll stop providing for me now.

    • Carol Tice

      Was that medication, or did you mean meditation? I personally may need both… 😉 Thought that was a fun Freudian slip there — too true!

      • Linda H

        😀 Thanks for catching that Carol. I meant meditation, but I take medication every morning too for my diabetes. I’ve had some bad nights lately and hadn’t taken it yet today so I was thinking about it when I wrote that reply. So yes, I start my days with prayer and meditation (plus medication) to make my brain work.

        But this is a good point. I’ve learned when I’m tired and not thinking clearly to step back and either eat or get some sleep. I make too many mistakes otherwise. It’s one thing to make such an error on a blog response, quit another if this was a lede or response to a lede.

        • Carol Tice

          Well…a lede is the opening sentence of an article. A lead is a prospective client…don’t mean to pick, but you kept using it, so wanted to make sure you know the difference.

          • Linda H

            No, I didn’t. I’ve seen you use it in the Den several times but it was never clearly explained about the difference. I thought I was using it wrong all this time so began using lede over lead. Thanks for clarifying.

          • Katherine Swarts

            And lest you think I’m making fun of you: look at the bulleted list under Googling “Katherine Swarts – Strength for the Weary – Running in Place” to see some of the things I’VE done under the influence of preoccupation! (Sorry this system wouldn’t post the direct link.)

          • Linda H

            I don’t feel picked on, Katherine, but thanks for that thought. What it shows me is how tired I was yesterday and how important it is to make sure you always get enough sleep and rest to prevent such issues. Yet, how often do we see a CNN post filled with typos or such Freudian slips?

            Seems rather appropriate to show the mistakes made here since we’re commenting on how to overcome fears with our writing and Mistakes is #1 on the list. I appreciate people pointing these out. It helps me improve by ensuring I’m on top of my game when I post to something online.

          • Katherine Swarts

            News reporting and long hours go together, which is one reason I decided not to take a job in that field. Heck, I don’t even WATCH the news; it just gives me more things to feel terrified of!

          • Carol Tice

            That’s right, Linda — one of our homework challenges IN that course is to send out a query with an obvious typo in it. We know folks who’ve gotten the gig despite it, and it’s liberating to let go of the perfectionism.

          • Carol Tice

            Sorry for the confusion! Maybe that’s why a lede became spelled that way, so we could tell them apart.

        • Katherine Swarts

          Is “quit another” also a Freudian slip? 🙂

          You’ve managed to really tickle some funny bones, Linda; normally it’s official policy here to ignore all typos in the comments. Hope you feel better soon!

  11. Seraine P.

    This is an excellent post, and it is one I think many writers will appreciate. Writing is an art, which makes it quite subjective. What we do write may not make sense to some, but others may eat it up. That’s what I remind myself of each and every day: I do this for me. The bonus is being great enough to get paid to do it.

    Keeping a file full of the compliments is also helpful. It reminds a writer why their words must continue to be written. There will always be someone who doesn’t like your work. For every no, there’s a yes WAITING.

    It’s all about persistence and perseverance and keeping things in perspective. I fear I could have done better on each piece I successfully write and get published. But, I try not to dwell on what could have been. If the editor loved it, paid me, and published it (and there are no fact errors), I consider it a win!

    • Carol Tice

      Exactly. Assignment completed! Moving on…

  12. Frank G. Shineman

    I really appreciate having access to not only Carol Tice but the Writer’s Den. I am currently working on a speechwriter course I purchased from Mr. Bob Bly and it can get awfully lonely sometimes. Reading these articles help me stay grounded and help me to believe that I too can make a good income.

  13. Brooke Chang

    Thanks for this, Carol! I was just talking to another writer about impostor syndrome the other day. It’s nice to know I’m not the only one struggling with that.

  14. Rob

    My greatest fear is that I have too few clients. One has been giving me steady work for over five years. If that dries up, I’ll be back to square one. My other contacts are sporadic and don’t give me enough steady work to pay the bills. I keep my eyes open for other opportunities, but also feel like I need to devote my energy to my best client. It’s kind of a dilemma. Just this morning I turned down an offer because it would have been a conflict of interest with them.

    • Carol Tice

      Rob, I coach so many writers with the ‘one-big-client’ problem in Den 2X. If I were you, I’d be actively looking to diversify further.

      When one client could devastate your income if they went away, then you’re basically in the same situation you’d be in with a day job — except without the fringe benefits like paid sick and vacation.

      Be looking for additional large clients to add to your stable, and don’t let this one dominate your income!

      • Linda H

        Rob, Have to agree with Carol about diversifying. I did proofreading for a publishing house owner who was losing her home because her biggest client had ended their long-term contract. She relied so much on that one client that when it ended she had no steady income to support herself. She was writing a book, but had trouble paying me–although I was paid in full.

        I’ve learned to always have two irons in the fire, or more. I wrote resumes and did freelance writing plus proofreading. I’m now marketing for more freelance work, but the other two are still feeding me.

  15. Janie

    My #1 fear: becoming obsolete. Nay, BEING obsolete. I’m a “veteran” journalist — i.e., the type who literally wore out shoe leather pounding a newspaper beat. I have a degree in English. I’m not that old, but I’m old enough. But… it is tough, tough, tough to find markets that pay for this experience! Sometimes I honestly wish I were a newbie. Right now I have a good fairly regular gig I’m too afraid to share 😉 because it does demand serious journalism experience (not to say a degree in it, just solid experience). There’s a real need for this, and there always will be. There are just more ways to use words as our internet culture explodes. (I said obsolescence is my fear, not that it’s a reality.) I just want people to know that having a ton of experience doesn’t mean you’ve “made it.” It’s a constant challenge. The work becomes different as you progress. The markets change. The lesser paying markets aren’t worth your time when you no longer need “exposure.” But I’m proud of my background. It can just seem more difficult to sell than one just starting out — or middling out — would think. Just enjoy where you are! It is and has always felt great and perfect to say: “I’m a writer.”

    • Carol Tice

      Janie, are you a Den member? Our call the 18th is about brand journalism, which is a great, lucrative niche for writers like us with a ton of traditional journalism experience.

      Speaking as a journalist who has edited physical audiotape with a razor blade (!) and has used reporter’s notebooks…there are plenty of great-paying markets for people with our background. You just have to know the marketplace and how to find those clients.

      • Janie

        Carol, I’m not a Den member yet but I’m looking into it now! Lol — razor blade editing and reporter’s notebooks! Who can forget?Hey, did you ever whittle off excess copy with an exacto knife? I’m so glad I found your site.

  16. Ali Luke

    I was struck by this:

    ‘One writer/mom once said to me, “If you fail at parenting, no career achievement will make up for it,” and I just cried, because I’ve sacrificed a lot of family time (and sleep!) to be a successful writer, and I’m not sure that was a worthwhile tradeoff.’

    Mine are much littler than yours (1 and 3) and I suppose I’m new enough to it to remember pretty vividly how it felt to become a mother. Since having kids, I appreciate my own mum so much more — not that I didn’t before, but I realise now just how much work being a parent takes!

    And, as her daughter, I wish so much that she’d taken more time for herself and particularly for her writing. She’s a fantastic writer, and pretty much the reason I’m a writer today. (She came with me to creative writing evening classes all through my teens, and to conferences throughout my 20s.)

    I also wish I’d been a less horrid teenager, and helped more around the house!

    I know your teens might not “get” it now, but hopefully they will one day — and they’ll realise just how hard you worked, and what an inspiration you are.

    • Carol Tice

      I remember having only a dim sense of what my dad did, selling insurance — but I sure knew he worked HARD at it, and I had respect for it. Often, he’d drive home (1 hour at least) to have dinner with us, then drive back out to take evening home appointments. There’s something about leaving the house and going OFF to work that helps kids understand it’s WORK.

      My work hours are often much the same as his was, but with a laptop at home, the kids think you’re just screwing off and ignoring them. Nothing convinces them what you’re doing is difficult or stressful, because to them computers mean FUN time!

      Not that I think there’s a RIGHT answer to the mom-years question…I know kids of stay at home moms who LOATHED their mom’s scrutiny and lack of other interests. Sigh.

      My own mom was a budding artist when she dropped out of school at 18 to marry my dad…who taught us we could be whatever we wanted. I never intended to end up with such a high-powered writing career…it’s just sort of the way it worked out. I wish there was some way to help tons of writers earn more in fewer hours! Still working on that equation.

    • Katherine Swarts

      Talk about looking for surefire formulas: I wish I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard some self-proclaimed authority say “Moms shouldn’t work outside the home,” “Families function better when Mom has diversified interests,” “The telephone is the only way to make contact with clients/expert sources,” “There’s no platform like LinkedIn/HARO for finding new contacts,” “This article database is a content mill,” “This article database is a great income source” …

      … or any other variation on “this is THE way that’s best for everyone, and whoever believes differently is a fool.” Mind you, some of the people making these assertions are capable experts in their fields with years of experience. But no one has any right to tell a unique-individual stranger that he or she should fit into a certain mold because “everyone else” does. There are VERY few absolute principles in this world, and the more detailed a situation gets, the fewer there are.

      • Carol Tice

        I agree — that’s why I love first-person success stories for guest posts, where we just get some real-world intel along the lines of, “I tried X and it worked for me, here’s how…” Just case studies of what’s working out there for people. There’s definitely no ONE way to do this gig.

        I mean, Elance is a suckhole…except for the few outliers who make $100K on it, it’s not. It’s all highly individual.

      • Linda H

        Katherine, I’m right with you on your breakdown.

        I have to say that I’m finally doing what I always dreamed of doing–freelance writing. I dreamed it as a kid. My dad always told me I followed my grandmother’s talent, she wrote and painted, and he loved that in me. His encouragement was beyond explanation.

        This list of fears is spot-on everyday for me. And I still get people telling me I need a “real job.” My Inbox is filled with people who say their marketing is the ONLY way, yet it’s less than what Carol teaches. Or this writing program is THE BEST to land big money, yet it’s nothing more than thousand-dollar training that says to make 6-figures you have to market.

        As a resume writer I’ve seen the pros and cons of working in Corporate America. I’ve even seen the pros and cons of writers who have lost so much self-confidence they are groveling in the gutter.

        But I’m doing what I love to do. I constantly have to tell myself that I’m working when I’m reading, researching, marketing, or creating my blog editorial calendar. I’ve found the best mentors/trainers/coaches and I’m sticking with them (Kudos to Carol’s Freelance Writer’s Den). Now it’s just a matter of putting one foot in front of the other and walking the pathway of writing toward success.

        We have one of the hardest jobs in the world. But the payoffs are probably the most rewarding I’ve ever known.

  17. Dale Masters

    I don’t have a website (or, more correctly, I don’t use it.)
    My biggest fear is not having enough references (even though I generally use 20 per 1000 words.) I cover political and medical topics, and as yet ask for no pay, because what I’m writing about is essential for people to know. I’m releasing it under Creative Commons rules, so I’ll get the credit, and have the clips to use.

    I have a number of autoimmune diseases and disorders, so I’m currently on SSD…and it affects my thinking. This last article has taken me 4 months to get started on, because when I started to write, I suddenly forgot everything I ever knew about writing (which is fairly substantial.) It wasn’t until I began writing it in a white paper format that I got my head together.

    I hate not being able to think. I’ve lost 30 IQ points over the past 20 years…and no one will treat me, because my IQ is (STILL!!) too high.

    Rant over.. Thanks for reading this.

    • Carol Tice

      Dale, why are you writing such deeply sourced articles for free? Also, few articles for pay need that many sources — I can’t remember fitting more than about 8 tops into a 1000-word published article. Usually fewer.

      It seems like you have deep research skills — find an academic publisher or science foundation or something where they might be able to use your skills, I’d say!

      And…stop the negative self-talk. We’ve all had that experience of feeling like we can’t write anymore, and of having health problems or life problems getting in the way. Running yourself down isn’t helping anything. We’re all working with what we’ve got.

      Keep your passion project writing, maybe collect it into a book or post it on your own blog, but there’s no reason you can’t do this for a client — from what you describe, client work is a lot less demanding than this!

      To sum up, let me solve your fear — you have enough references, for sure! I’m thinking that’s not the issue.

      • Dale Masters

        Carol, I’v looked on academic sites. They want, at the very least, a bachelor’s degree in academic writing…something I do not have. I have the skills, certainly, but they wont hire me.

        However, after I’m done writing the two articles (he oe with 20+ citations is the one on the CDC guidelines for opioids…which was a collusion between the head of the CDC guideline group and Dr. Kolodony (the head of the Core Research Group…and the head psychologist of Phoenix House.) They worked together in the addictions industry. The are other problems, too…and after I’m done writing & disseminating it, I’m going to ask people to share it with their Congresspeople. This is why it has so many references…it CANNOT be picked apart, and an ad hominem attack against me will prove it.

        I lost ten people in the first four months of the year to suicide.They couldn’t get their pain pills…and they couldn’t take the pain. The article will be dedicated to them, and to all the other people in chronic pain that have to face the abomination of no pain relief.

        The other paper I am not at liberty to speak of, since it contains information that could be…shall we say, unhealthy for me?

        • Carol Tice

          Definitely not talking ‘academic sites’ like the essay mills, which are unethical, anyway. There are research firms, biotech companies — your skills could be applied to paying gigs.

          I’m getting that you have an issue you want to advocate on here, which is great…consider that your passion project. But apply what you know about writing and research to getting other types of gigs, is my point.

  18. Cynthia

    You’re one of my biggest inspirations, Carol. Despite all the fears that you write about (we all have our own fears about everything in life, don’t we?) you’re still a role model for freelance writers. I hope to be as good as you someday 🙂

    • Carol Tice

      Don’t wish to be as good as me — wish to be better than me. 😉 My kids will tell you, I’ve got room for improvement.

  19. Diane Young

    I am a confident person.Two days ago I finished a well-written 2K word article and sent it to my editor, feeling just terrific about everything. The week before, I had told a writer friend that my article was going to set the editor’s hair on freaking fire! I had gone to my library for help putting the article on Libre. As soon as I started home on the relaxed 6-mile ride through some beautiful woods, I could feel self-doubt creeping around me. The further I drove, the worse it got–she won’t like it, it’s too long, it’s too…My self-confidence flew out the window and into the pines.I was a wreck by the time I pulled into my driveway. When I got in the house, I saw that I already had an email from the editor. Oh,no. I was feeling so ragged, I couldn’t bring myself to open it and face rejection right then. A liverwurst sandwich, a cup of mint tea and a lot of deep breaths helped revive enough grit to open it. OMG, she loved it, calling it “fun!” and a “great job” and offering me another
    assignment! I guess I had set her hair on fire. I’d gone from wanting to order out for a cup of hemlock moments before and now I was laughing, shouting and dancing around like a crazy woman! Why,oh,why do I let those self-doubts slither over me like some evil miasma? Waiting to hear if the verdict was the the lady or the tiger, I let myself be convinced that my article I had worked so hard on was the worst crap on the face of the earth. AAArrrrgggghhhh!!!

    • Carol Tice

      Like I said…writers’ worst problem is between their ears. 😉

    • Linda H

      Agree with Carol, but I do the same thing. As I mentioned earlier, “Self-doubt is an insidious insect that can suck the life out of even your smallest dreams, never give into it.” – Edgar Degas.

      We all do that. I know I do. It’s much easier for our subconscious to believe the negative rather than the positive about our accomplishments or goals. So when we do get a rejection we’re “I knew I couldn’t do this,” instead of “It’s only a small setback, I’ll try again and achieve success.”

      What we don’t realize is that our subconscious can also tell us we’re good and we’ve done a good job. That’s what you knew first, and then allowed the other to crash it.

      Carol’s right, our worst enemy is between our heads. We need to learn to grab that enemy, smash it, and turn it around to a victory so we trust our instincts.

      Ali Brown says it well, and she became a millionaire after living in a studio apartment in New York at first:

      “It wasn’t until I started to really trust myself that my businesses began to flourish.” – October 2014

      In 2015, she was awarded the most Enterprising Woman of the Year Award and hit well-over a 7-figure income. Trust your instincts, not your second-guessing.

  20. Andre

    Originally, my biggest fear was that I wouldn’t make it. Now, my biggest fear is that this will all go away and I’ll have to get a regular 9-5.

    • Carol Tice

      Andre, if you build a strong enough referral base, it’s just not going to happen. And what if it did? I could be a secretary again, I type fast. We can always regroup and relaunch into freelancing if we HAVE to. 😉

      • Andre

        I know. And if I don’t get referrals I can always pitch new business. It’s a fear… and fear is irrational. It feels good to hear someone a lot more successful than me voice their fears so candidly, so thanks for sharing 🙂

        • Carol Tice

          My pleasure! I think some fears, like the fear that you won’t earn enough, are legitimate, rational fears. But if we identify that a fear is of something that’s unlikely to ever happen, or something that would be survivable, it’s time to let go and move forward.

  21. Ayodeji Awosika

    Hi Carol,

    I’ve heard time and time again from other successful writers that fear doesn’t go away.

    I’ve stopped expecting it to go away. It’s liberating. It doesn’t reduce the stress altogether, but it definitely helps.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts and being honest with us. Your integrity drew me to you a long time ago, and you continue to impress me.

    • Carol Tice

      Thanks, Ayo!

      I do think there’s a different mentality that emerges once you stop waiting for the fear to stop, you stop imagining this is some hump you’ll get over, and start learning to function despite what you’re afraid of.

      • Linda H

        I do think that facing the fear actually makes you tougher. You recognize that you have to keep marketing, you might get some rejections, but it’s a big enough audience that everyone can find success if we do what we should and follow through. Kinda like what you said, Carol, “learning to function despite what you’re afraid of”. Take strength to do that.

  22. Riannon W

    Thanks for such a refreshing and truthful post! I have many fears as a freelancer. Perhaps one of my biggest fears is “making it.” Right now, I’m freelancing full-time, but I’m still really struggling to pay the bills. I’m worried that I’ll never reach the level in freelancing where I can be financially free. I would hate to be forced to get a job where I’m chained to a cubicle for the rest of my life and deal with the migraines I get from it (even if I’m still in the writing field).

    I also have fear about charging acceptable rates because people won’t see the value… or sending an article and having a client hate it.

    Luckily, my boyfriend is self-employed and works from home as well. He’s really helped reassure me and helped me gain the confidence necessary to continue. For freelancers dealing with fear, I would definitely say it helps to hang around successful people with similar careers. It really makes you understand that working 9 to 5 in an office isn’t the only way you can make it in life.

    • Carol Tice

      Riannon, have you seen the Write Big fear-busting e-course I put together with Linda Formichelli? Might really help you —

      Those two things aren’t things to fear — they’re things to PREPARE FOR. They’ll definitely happen. But…you’ll survive. You think I’ve never had a client reject my rate? Sure, I have. It’s OK! In freelance writing, you’re just playing ‘match game’ — looking for the clients who understand your value, and will pay the rate you want.

    • Katherine Swarts

      I know, Riannon–I feel exactly the same way. Hate living without knowing exactly how much income I’m going to make when, but hate even more the thought of a job that requires me to be in a specific place at a specific time for 40-50 hours/week, indefinitely! (My family has had several other freelance workers, and we’re all perfectionistic, control-obsessed, and VERY touchy when “life happens” or responses are slow.)

      Try not to say you feel “forced” to consider a cubicle job. I know it feels even more scary, but try turning that upside down and making up your mind a cubicle job is NOT an option. Believe me, I’ve seen it: so long as you’re thinking “well, I can always get a 9-to-5 job or convince a relative to help me out financially,” you won’t be giving freelancing the “all” that comes from fully believing this is the only right path for YOU.

      Frankly, individual inclinations and preferences aside, I don’t think it’s that much easier to get a “day job.” (Maybe even harder, given how tedious the standard application-and-resume approach can get.) You still have to work at the search all day, put up with negative responses and non-responses, make allowances for competition, and negotiate for what you’re worth. Sure, a lot of people will say “at least you only have to find one job one time”–but freelancers build up momentum soon enough, and we have more incentive to keep growing and developing and building multiple income channels. If it’s hard for a freelancer to depend too much on one client and then lose that client, it’s even worse for the average full-time worker to be laid off from the sole source of income AND instruction.

  23. Katherine Swarts

    Breaking (personal) news: For years I did everything recommended to attract clients, EXCEPT regularly getting out there and ASKING people directly what they needed and how I could fill that need, because I was afraid of looking silly and/or being ignored. Well, no more. Marketing straight at the source is now my top priority on every work day’s schedule, and you can hold me to that.

  24. Linda H

    I’ve worked in the job search industry for decades. I can tell you that Katherine is correct in that it’s tougher now to get work than ever before. Plus, once you’re in that job there are no guarantees. One friend got a day job after 5 years of looking, only to be laid off within 3 months. One client now calls me every week complaining about his job and how he wants out. He’s making the effort to leave. Others complain that they are close to layoff because of long-term employment with the company or age.

    I am transitioning into full-time freelance, away from resume writing, because it’s more lucrative and less stressful. Sure, it’s scary to wonder how I’ll pay rent on Monday, but marketing for full-time freelance work is more fun and more rewarding than looking for a 9 to 5 cubicle job working for tyrants. And Carol’s correct, if you can find an editor who likes you and your work, you can secure longer term work that pays better while looking for other work to supplement. The rewards for freelancing far greater.

    Fight the fears, study Carol’s podcast and training on overcoming fear and move forward. You can expend the same energy for a more rewarding career than working a 9 to 5 that might leave you stranded and still broke.

  25. Firth McQuilliam

    I … I’m afraid of something too. Whenever I contemplate breaking free of the content mills in favor of working with a gaggle of clients who pay $400 and up for a single gig, my workroom’s walls seem to start bulging with the outlines of giant, poisonous critics and giggling trolls that want to crunch my bones. The night is splintered by the shrieking cackles of distant editors. It’s horrible! O_O

    What does that mean? Should I try to ameliorate these dark terrors by instead leaving the main highway in favor of a shadowy road that leads to a substantial income from writing horror novels and e-books on the black arts of e-commerce? Should I stop gobbling pepperoni pizza right before bedtime? Inquiring minds tremble to ask!

    • Carol Tice

      Firth, I have a quick self-study course for you that may help, it’s called Write Big: A Fear-Busting E-Course for Freelance Writers. Enjoy!

      I mean…or, you can keep writing for pennies and wishing you had the courage to live out the writing career you really wanted, and listening to those trolls. But the world needs your light, so try to take steps to move forward despite fears. That’s all I’ve ever done.

  26. John Weiler

    Wow, thank you so much for sharing this thoughtful and heartfelt post Carol. I never imagined you, who so many people look up to including myself, would have so many fears about freelancing. I guess it goes to show just how human all of us are. And it helps me feel better about my own fears as a freelancer.

    Great article. And as you probably know, I think you’re great and are doing a great service to freelancers across the globe. Always tell my writer buddies to check out the Den because it’s helped me so much!

    • Carol Tice

      Thanks John . Remember to use your affiliate link when you recommend the Den! 😉

      Luckily, I left many of my WORST fears behind back in songwriting and live performance — just writing stuff down, and not having to be around when someone reads it, is so much better!

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