How to Get Over Your Paralyzing Article Writing Fears

Carol Tice

Anxious freelance writer It’s a long way to go from the spark of a story idea to a finished article that appears in a magazine.

Along the way, many writers get stuck. Fears stop them in their tracks.

The years go by, and they don’t get published. Their dream of seeing their byline in a magazine falls by the wayside.

Writer fears on parade

Among the fears I hear a lot:

“I’m worried my story idea isn’t good enough.”

“I’m not sure which editor to send it to, so I gave up.”

“I’m scared to do interviews! Are there any articles I can write where I won’t have to talk to anyone?”

“I write my draft, but then I’m afraid to send it in.”

“I had an editor ask me to write an article, but then I just froze.”

“I got my draft back and my editor wanted all these changes. Now I’m crushed! And I think my writing must not be any good.”

Here’s the one I saw recently that really tore it for me. One writer posted in the Freelance Writers Den forums:

“I sent this pitch to my first choice magazine three weeks ago.

“When would it be safe to send this to another publication?”

Okay. Let’s stop this, right now.

Is it safe?

If you’ve been living a corporate, day-job kind of life, freelancing can seem scary. Nothing is assured.

And that leaves you alone with your insecurities rattling around in your head, filling up your thoughts.

The first thing to do is to stop thinking this way, and reframe how you think about the things you need to do as a freelancer that scare you.

Here are three ways to attack and overcome these fears.

The worst-case scenario

First, ask yourself: What are you really afraid of, anyway? What’s the worst that could happen, in any of these scenarios above?

In all cases, I’m going to take a flier and guess that your life is not in danger here.

Maybe your pride gets a little dinged. An editor says “no.”

So what? There are a lot of editors in the sea. You move on and try another one, is all.

When you think of it that way…what’s so scary? Nothing. Freelancing is completely safe to try. Just go for it.

Life isn’t safe

The second way to think about freelancing fears is to view them in the right context.

What is really safe in this world? Nothing.

Not your day job. Not your lifespan. Not a thing. Each breath involves risk. And so does freelancing.

So why not dare?

Freelancing favors the bold. It’s about taking risks and seeing what happens, and learning from that and doing better next time.

See it as an experiment. Emotionally detach yourself a bit from it and view it like a scientist. What could happen if I sent that query? Wrote that article? Let’s find out!

Try, measure, improve, repeat. That’s a successful freelancer’s path — and the road out of being mired in fears and not moving forward.

Up your skills

Finally, if you really feel you’re not moving forward because of a knowledge gap, you could learn more about article writing to build your confidence. Might give you the boost over the fear hump that you need.

To answer that last writer’s question, it was “safe” to send that query to another publication all along. Or as safe as freelancing will ever be. Feel that danger, and do it anyway.

That’s the only way to succeed as a freelance writer.

What’s your biggest article-writing fear? Share it — or your own fear-busting tips — in the comments.



  1. Sylvie

    Great post, Carol! I have mild social anxiety so contacting people for interviews is really nerve-wracking for me, but it helps to put it in perspective — do I want to force myself out of my comfort zone for 20 minutes to do this interview, or do I scrap the idea of freelancing altogether? Suddenly interviewing doesn’t seem like a big risk.

    For my first few interviews, it helped me to wait a day then transcribe the interview with fresh ears. That split-second pause where I thought “omg the source hates talking to me,” or where they repeated back my question before answering (“god, they must think I’m so dumb”) actually sounds like a completely normal conversation. Not worth getting so nervous about in the future.

    • Editor


      I really like that you realized the big truth about interviews — they are just conversations with a purpose. Has that helped you move past that fear in contacting new sources to interview?


    • Cinthia

      Glad you’ve overcome your interview fears, SyIvie!
      I think it also helps to understand that the people we’re interviewing might also be a bit nervous, too. I don’t know how many times I’ve had people call and email me after an interview desperately asking, “Can I change what I said?” “Did I sound stupid?” “Do my quotes make sense?”
      Sometimes, when an interview isn’t going well (and yes, it happens), I think: We’re just two people trying to make it past an uncomfortable situation. It doesn’t make the interview any easier but it does allow me to struggle through with a semblance of grace.

      • Carol Tice

        Oh yeah — me too! Sometimes they’re all nervous and rambling, and they’re so relieved when you say you’ll clean it up for them.

    • Carol Tice

      Yeah, you want to not read so much into every pause. And remember, silence is good — it prompts them to add more comments.

  2. Gail Gardner

    People who strive for excellence are more devastated when their work is rejected. The more time and experience you pour into what you write, the less you want to put it out there to have it criticized by someone who may not know what you know.

    Writers get to decide what they do with their work. A famous example of avoiding criticism is Seth Godin. By turning off comments on his site he doesn’t have to hear it in his own house. Most likely he ignores anything negative anywhere else as well.

    Editors are going to reject your work for reasons you may never understand. Sites that have published what I ghost wrote for others turn down better content I wrote for myself. We can’t read the editor’s minds. Rejection may be for cause – or it may simply be because the editor didn’t care for what you wrote, a phrase in it triggered a negative emotion, they don’t like you as a person – or any of many other reasons. It may or may not have anything to do with the quality of your writing.

    One post I really like has still not been published because the site I wrote it for objected to a phrase I used. I was unaware that a term I used in it was considered negative by the owner. I had another writer I respect read it; she loved it. When I submitted it on another site, the reason they wouldn’t publish it still doesn’t make sense to me. I will eventually publish it somewhere although I’m not sure where yet.

    Some writers would consider that a challenge and try harder to get those two sites to publish their work. Even though the one asked for another post and the other left the door open, I have not submitted content to either of them since. I may or may not.

    Writers can decide whether to submit into the unknown or write where they are appreciated. There is no right or wrong decision – only what is right for you.

    • Carol Tice

      So true, Gail — writers have to realize it could be a million things. Stop thinking it’s about you, or that it means the idea isn’t good, or that it means anything except it wasn’t a fit, for any number of possible reasons.

  3. DB Stephens

    How do I overcome the fear that I am an expert of nothing? In your book, The Step-by-Step Guide to Freelance Writing Success, you speak of ‘low hanging fruit’ to get your feet wet in the business. My fruit is underdeveloped, if not altogether rotten. I’m great at imagining myself a Neuro-scientist, but my knowledge of the brain stops at giving my wife a head-ache. I have a great imagination, but very little marketable knowledge. You’ve written for a wide variety of sources and I would think that you couldn’t be an expert in all of those fields. Do you have any advice on expanding the orchard?

    • Editor

      You don’t have to be the expert — you just need to find them to interview.

      Do you know anyone who runs a business you could do some writing for? Patronize any businesses that fit your topic? Or read publications in the field you want to write about? Those are your low-hanging fruit.

    • Carol Tice

      DB, you don’t have to be an expert in anything to be a freelance writer. You just have to know how to interview experts and quote them.

      Trust me — I have written about the finances of publicly held companies, about creative finance for startups, about complex real-estate deals I’ve never done…you DO NOT have to be the expert. What you bring to the table is an interest in a topic and writing and interviewing skills.

      • Angela Wilson Ursery

        As well, two things will happen. (1) You’ll be able to come to a topic with fresh eyes–and see/find story ideas that seasoned reporters might have overlooked. On my first business magazine, for example, I had a great managing editor who encouraged us all–even the lowly editorial assistant (me!) to pitch ideas. My first story idea? Rate the financial industry’s raters (S&P, Fitch, etc.)–which she loved. She assigned the idea to a senior editor, but that got me thinking (and writing) about corporate financing (and I didn’t even know what a bond was!)
        (2) Doing the first story will give you contacts and knowledge to build a foundation in that subject area, if you so choose.
        I also think that, like many people, wanting to be a beginner–and admitting it to a knowledgeable source–is humility-building, and a definite ego-check for most writers new to a beat. But that “beginner’s mind” is a wonderful asset, and in many ways.

  4. Linsey Duncan

    You know, my first job out of college involved writing tons and tons of text for a series of travel websites, but it was definitely your regular paycheck kind of job, not freelance. When I did actual-factual freelance, I managed to get gigs semi-regularly, but the pay was either poor or the time expectations were unreasonable, and both problems could be laid squarely at my door. I didn’t (don’t) know how to market myself, and I was insecure enough to treat every offer of work as my last and only chance. Not sure who to approach, and not sure when to say no, and not sure when to negotiate.

    This has led to another kind of paralysis, because, while I’m sure I can find work, I end up doubting my capability to get good work. I hedge and I undersell. Like I think if I press for better work, I’ll end up with nothing, so if I can just get enough to live on, why not be satisfied? Of course, being this kind of timid means that I’m never actually satisfied. The fear hurdle I’m working on is the courage to pitch with confidence, and in my own voice, rather than the invisible style I’ve occasionally cultivated. I’m terrified of failure, so I’m terrified of putting my best foot forward and then getting a rejection. But you have to “get out there” with boldness to be remotely memorable, don’t you?

    • Carol Tice

      Linsey, stay tuned for the e-book version of my Freelance Writers Den bootcamp How to Get Great Freelance Clients — I think it’s really going to help you with this! It’s coming out a few weeks from now.

      Yes, you have to get out there — but it’s also important to go after the right kind of clients. That’s what makes the difference in what you get paid, and how you stop scraping by and start earning pro rates.

  5. Rob

    When I clam up out of fear, I ask myself what will happen if I don’t submit an article or article idea. I definitely won’t land a sale or client. What if I submit something? I may or may not sell something or get a new client. I’m more afraid of not having an income than I am of rejection, so the greater fear wins.

    Over time, fear has taken a back seat to confidence, which is a nicer feeling. I wouldn’t have gotten to that point, though, if I hadn’t tried. I have to admit: I still fear asking for top dollar. I’m working on that one. I think it will come when I’m more comfortable with my workload and can afford to cull lower paying assignments.

  6. Pankaj

    Agreed with your points, nothing is safe so its best idea to take risk and test yourself. After all these testings are going to make your expert and remove all your fears.

  7. Fabienne Raphaël

    Hey Carol,

    Great article on how all these negative thoughts and all this anxiety before even making a move are energy consuming! While taking action is so much more effective!

    I read once on Seth Godin’s blog: “Fear is not the enemy. Paralysis is the enemy.” It’s a matter of what you decide to do with your fear.

    I think that we will always feel the fear. But we just have to do it anyway.

    Besides, doing it anyway opens so many doors and builds your self-confidence. It puts you ahead of all the other people who froze and are still waiting to do something that scares them.

    • Carol Tice

      Exactly, Fabienne!

  8. Kevin Duncan

    Hey Carol,

    “Freelancing favors the bold.” I like that!

    As for fears, “what if it’s not good enough” is the one I see most often. I like to respond, “Well…there’s only one way to find out!” You won’t know if it’s good enough or not if you never submit it. 🙂

    • Carol Tice

      And it’ll never get better if you don’t keep writing. No writer looks back on their work of 5 years ago without cringing. You have to do it a lot to improve…so just get going!

  9. Peggy Carouthers

    I used to be so afraid of writing articles when I was first starting out as a journalist, but I quickly got over it. Having deadlines helped. It’s strange that I’ve been scared to query clients and magazines, though. I think it’s because somewhere in my mind freelancing feels different than journalism, but it really shouldn’t. It seems to just be a case of the newbie jitters. Your life isn’t safe point as well as the worst that can happen are both great, and I think they’ll probably help me get going this week. I’ll be submitting 5 queries no matter what. Thanks!

    • Carol Tice

      Right on, Peggy! That’s the spirit exactly.

      It is so true that those of us who thrived on staff-gig deadlines often struggle to create that discipline as freelancers. Have to find ways to create that same sense of urgency that things. must. get. done.

  10. C. Lyn Walter

    Thank you for this article, I feel so normal now! I am really enjoying your posts.
    C. Lyn

  11. Megan J Wilson

    Hi Carol – just wanted to let you know your link to the writing courses is a 404. You may want to fix.

    • Carol Tice

      Good catch there — fixed now!

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