How Writers Can Conquer Uncertainty

Carol Tice

Jonathan Fields

Have you ever taken a writing gig you didn’t really feel qualified for? I was rapping with Renegade Writer Linda Formichelli about this recently.

Lately, we’ve both found we keep getting asked to do stuff that’s pretty far out of our wheelhouse. I just recently rewrote 400 pages of government transit-agency documents, when I’d never covered transportation or done a government contract before, for instance. But we keep taking it on and loving the adventure, and the challenge of stretching our skills.

It takes that kind of daring to be a successful freelance writer. You have to be willing to step into the void sometimes and just try to write something. Maybe it’s your first e-book. Or your first big corporate client, or national-magazine byline.

Jonathan Fields, author of the new book Uncertainty, has been studying how successful businesspeople overcome the fears that dog most of us and keep us from taking that leap of faith that could move our business forward.

In case any writers are missing my drift…whether you know it or not… you have a business.

How can you get over the fear hump and get out there? Fields has some ideas for you.

As regular readers know, I learned a lot when I got lost trying to go hear him speak at SOBCon. Here’s what I learned once I finally found my conference and got to hear him talk:

Stop thinking you’re the only scared one. Interviews with risk-takers have debunked the myth of the fearless leader. Successful innovators are scared just like you. They just push through it and do the hard thing anyway.

They’ve trained themselves to feel their anxiety and still move forward. This can be learned.

Be willing to bet on yourself. When Fields had a yoga studio, he ended up getting the studio mentioned in a national magazine. The editor said, “It’s too bad you don’t have a video — then people all over the country could benefit from your yoga techniques, and you could earn from them, too.” Fields had no video, but responded, “It’s funny you say that — we’re just in post-production on our first video.”

Then he hung up the phone, and got going to make a video. Obviously, it was a risk to claim he had a video. He’d never made one before. Would he be able to do it? Fields trusted he could. The video went on to become a hit and took his yoga business to a whole new level.

Change your tape. Fields says the biggest problem most creative people face is that deep down inside a tape is playing. Often, it’s saying, “I suck, and this thing I’m working on sucks, too.”

Kill the negative self-talk. Fields says many of us are just playing that tape so that we won’t have to step out of our comfort zone and feel the nervousness of confronting something difficult.

Unleash your creativity by reducing anxiety. When you’re anxious, your body is in fight-or-fight mode — and the creative side of your brain is in lock-down. Whether it’s learning to meditate, going for morning walks, or a calming cup of tea, find what helps restore your calm. You’ll accomplish more and grow your income.

How are you overcoming uncertainty as a writer? Leave a comment and let us know.


  1. NextGen Writer

    Ha! It happens to me quite often – whenever I get a project in which I have to write about something I have never hear of before or I have to use a new tool, I literally get scared to death. And on numerous occasions, I thought of informing the client that “Sorry! I can’t do it”.

    But when I finally muster up courage and “kill the negative talk”, more often than not, it turns out to be simpler that I had thought. The anxiety starts disappearing automatically, and creativity takes over 🙂

    • Carol Tice

      I personally still get a massive complex when I sit down to do the first piece of writing for a new client. It just has to rock!

      I loved Jonathan’s tips on how to let go of some of this negative junk.

      • NextGen Writer

        For God’s sake enable email “notification for the commenter” (in your threaded comment plugin) 😉 Sometimes, I read your reply weeks after it was posted!

        Yes, writing the first piece for a new client is always tricky.

        • Carol Tice

          Not sure what you mean…I see a box you can check for ‘notify me of comments.’ Are you not seeing it?

          • NextGen Writer

            I can see “Notify me of followup …” but I am talking about another option that sends the “parent commenter” an email, when somebody directly replies to his comment. That’s very useful in bringing the commenters back and that’s the main purpose of ‘reply’ option in the ‘threaded comments’. Hope I made myself clear this time 🙂

          • Carol Tice

            Hmmm…guess my email setup isn’t offering that option. Will try to look into it!

          • Diane Schultz

            That’s a great idea; I hope you figure it out and share how with the rest of us who are working to build better blogs and websites. I like your blog, Carol, on the Portland conference. Never heard of it before, but have had the same kind of stress and anxiety. Indeed, having been let go at the last two places I work (and now working semi-part-time for minimum wage, less than the unemployment that may end any day), I occasionally get stressed and anxious that (xxxxxx) and then that my own thoughts will “VISUALIZE” the possibility and more-or-less PUT the idea in the other folks’ head that (XXXXX) should be happening to me….So, I try to put it out of my head. Don’t want to give them the idea, don’t want to think of the idea myself and cause myself stress and anxiety. Oddly enough, I’ve done lots of government writing, so that never scares me at all. I don’t know how to go about getting hired to do it (since I don’t have the writing credentials that you and others have), but I will have to build that up.

          • Carol Tice

            Hi Diane –

            At the risk of being self-promotional, Diane…that’s why I created Freelance Writers Den (we’re reopening to new members soon!). So writers can learn how to find clients, find lucrative types of writing to do, get the confidence to get out there, and get gigs.

            Government writing is a great niche — I did a $13,000 government contract for a local transit agency in my town just last year. Have you considered becoming registered to bid on federal government contracts? Seems like that would be a natural niche for you.

            Yes, you don’t have the writing credentials I have…but you have the writing experience YOU have. And it’s valuable and you could definitely use it to get gigs.

        • Hillary

          Use the Trackback feature to comment,then a reply will come back to your website.Also you can enable response by checking the “Notify me of followup via e-mail” feature at the bottom of the comments under “submit comment” box.

  2. Steve


    Another nice post, filled with wisdom. Another one to save to the “Favorites” folder.

    I have found that when nudged from my comfort zone, I do fine. For example, a book publicist I had sent a complimentary email to last year (*note — reaching out is important!) had clients who needed a book ghosted. She turned to me and said, “Speak with them.”

    I had never spoken with anyone about ghostwriting a book before, but the call went fine. I sent them an email detailing costs and a breakdown of the costs, and they turned it down. I thought I had totally fouled up the email. When the book publicist asked me what had transpired and I told her all in detail, she said, “I don’t understand that. Sounds reasonable.” Also, when I did follow-up with them, their response was, “We weren’t ready for it at that time, but we are still considering it for the future.”

    The point I’m making is that I was MORE than ready when pushed out of my comfort zone. Anyone else can do the same, and MUST to stay in business.


    • Carol Tice

      Yeah, I’ve been on like 6 of those book-ghosting reachouts, and none of them have gone. I think many CEOs wish they were getting a book written…and few can actually get it together to DO it. And then it’s a delicate process finding the right match with a writer. Always a long shot…but worth trying out for since one day it might actually happen.

  3. Julie

    Great advice, Carol. It’s always good to be reminded that there’s always a first time and that others get just as nervous and unsure as I do. That negative tape is powerful!

    I try to remember the writing process for several ghosted articles I wrote on topics I was not at all comfortable with. As I wrote, I was positive I was off the mark and writin complete schlock. In all cases, though, after polishing and sending off to the bylined authors, they had very few edits and rave reviews. Phew! Now if only I could remember that in subsequent insecure moments!

  4. Katy Bourne

    The pall of uncertainty and its attendant fear can definitely clamp down the creative flow. As a writer and a musician, I can’t afford that. I deal with uncertainty with the same method I use in meditation. In mediation, we focus on the breath and understand that thoughts will come and go. We watch the thoughts but don’t grab on to them. We simply watch them pass by and redirect the focus back to the breath. When I find myself ruminating on uncertainty, I try to direct my focus back to the present moment and the task at hand, which for me is writing an eBook about the business of vocal jazz, learning new material, hustling gigs and continuing to fine tune my vocal and improvisational techniques. Ruminating on uncertainty is simply a “luxury” I can’t afford. It also fixates me on an outcome, which ultimately is beyond my control. What I can control is my focus and the work I’m doing right here, right now.

    Of course, I’m human. Some days are better than others in terms of dealing with uncertainty. This is especially true right now with so much widespread hardship. However, paralysis is not an option. Most days, bringing my focus back to the present moment-even if I have to do it again and again-is my best means of dealing with uncertainty.

    Thanks for this post. I think this is something that is on the minds of many people. I look forward to reading Jonathan’s book.

    • Carol Tice

      Thanks for reminding me — focus on this moment, and what we can control.

  5. Oscar Halpert

    Great post, Carol! It’s a good nudge.

    One way I’ve found helps me push into that uncertainty zone is by participating in improvisational theater.
    If you can find an improv class, take it.
    Improvisational theater puts you right smack into uncertainty but does so for a specified period of time and with the immediate support of other people who are going through exactly the same uncertainty with you in the moment.
    The act of making your uncertainty so physical and acute actually also helps you with mindfulness, which is something else that Jonathan Fields discusses. Plus, improve is actually a lot of fun, too.
    You’ll come away from the experience a better person because you will have stepped directly into your uncertainty, confronted your fear around that and come out the other side having created something new –which is what you do as a business owner anyway.

    • Carol Tice

      Hated…improv…so…terrifying! Definitely if you can do that, you can do anything.

  6. Debbie Kane

    I’m a runner and yoga enthusiast, which definitely help maintain my focus. Just getting outside and breathing deeply changes your perspective dramatically, no matter what the situation.

    I feel a twinge of fear nearly every time I accept a project. Fear arises from uncertainty. If you can accept that you don’t know the answer/outcome, you can move forward and develop a strategy to tackle the fear. I also find that the projects I’m most uncertain about are the ones where I learn the most. And I ask lots of questions upfront!

    • CJJohnsonWrites

      Hi Debbie,

      I am a runner as well and new yogi and I am interested in doing some freelance article/journalism writing in the health and fitness market. Any tips on how to get started? Any would be greatly appreciated!

  7. Ruth - Freelance Writing Blog

    When I left my job to freelance full time, I ventured straight into the technology sector – mostly because of strong connections. I had NO idea what I was getting myself into (I barely no how to change the timer on my microwave). I was inundated with terms that sounded like a foreign language, but I asked a lot of questions and nodded my head and fell in love with Google and Gartner. There is always a learning curve when you try something new, but it’s worth the risk. The payoff has been tremendous.

  8. Linda

    Journalism and writing really is a hands-on, learn-as-you-go profession. I’m not sure the kinds of skills clients needs are actually taught in a class. Here and there maybe, but not really. We’re professional communicators. We can figure the rest out, the details of the comunications process/medium/writing form.

    Here’s a story that this post made me think of…..

    My best friend’s son was a lackluster high school student but did excel at computer-related things and he was a fantastic artist. He didn’t go to college, but got a job at Kinkos. He taught himself animation and all manner of computer skills on his breaks and days off using the computers at Kinkos — which were free to him. He self-taught himself on new cutting edge animation and computer sculping software. There was no place to take a class for this stuff, but it was all brand new. He was fanastic at it. He ended up getting hired by George Lucas to work on the Lord of the Rings trilogy. He is responsbile for desiging Gollum! He’s now in his 30s working as a freelance animator and teaching others, including college students, how to do it.

  9. Gloria Attar RN

    Uncertainty? Me? Pshaw! Haha, I almost convinced myself there. I had a bout of uncertainty this morning at 4:30 am when I checked email. A client asked me write a white paper. Never wrote one of those before! Can’t wait to see what I submit!

    • Carol Tice

      I find a full night’s sleep excellent for feeling less uncertain myself. But if you’re serious about the white paper — read up on them and then go for it!

  10. Stan Faryna

    As an entrepreneur, I can tell you that you have to go through hell to get somewhere else. Sometimes, it’s running. Or even flying. Mostly, it’s one step at a time. And hell is never as bad as you imagined it would be – so long as you do not do as the Romans do.

    Recently on my blog: Why This Blog Post Sucks!

  11. Darren

    So true! Fear limits all of us, whether we like to admit it or not. Overcoming that fear is necessary so we cat take the actions required to make us successful.

  12. CJJohnsonWrites

    I’ve had some luck connecting with local Publicists and distributing post cards that offer a free 30 minute consultation and 10% off my per project fee 🙂

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