How to Conquer Your Terror of Screwing Up a Freelance Writing Gig

If there is one single reason that this blog exists, it’s this: Freelance writers are scared.

Of making mistakes. Of doing or saying the wrong thing to an editor.

Afraid that maybe, you don’t have what it takes.

Worried about failing…but also about succeeding.

Like one writer who recently commented in Freelance Writers Den

I am terrified that I will get a job only to discover that I can’t complete the research or (horrors) discover I can’t write.

Or this comment I got on a recent guest post I wrote:

As a newbie, my self confidence is fairly low. So I’m a lil bit reluctant to send [a letter of introduction] to possible clients and maybe even afraid not to be experienced/good enough to fullfill the client’s needs.

Do you have any advice how I can increase my self confidence and overcome fears of rejection?

As a matter of fact, I do. There are only a few basic ways of overcoming these fears:

Build yourself up

Ask yourself: Where is this insecurity coming from?

If you’ve got negative tapes playing in your head, it’s time to replace them.

If it’s because you’re not writing regularly — which I have to suspect is the case with the “I’ll discover I can’t write” comment…you need to start. The more you write, the more confident you will be.

If you work on your writing, you’re willing to market yourself, and you’re committed to improving as you go, there is no reason you can’t do this.

So start telling people, “I am a freelance writer.” The more you say it, the more confident you will feel about doing it. It’s a sort of magical thing that happens to our brains when we hear things spoken aloud.

Do you really think you can’t use the Internet to find sources? I bet not.

If you really thought you couldn’t write, you wouldn’t be here. You wouldn’t even try this.

These are probably irrational fears.

Just recognizing that may help you to de-stress and start moving forward.

Live the fear

Are you afraid people will laugh at your writing (and not because it’s a humor piece)?

Then arrange to make it happen. Have a friend read your work aloud and then ridicule it.

You will realize this is unlikely to happen in real life. And if it did, you would survive it.

Break it down

Maybe you are scared because in fact you are overreaching for where you’re at currently in your writing career. So aim a little lower.

See if that local business you patronize, where you’re chatty with the owner, would let you rewrite their website for a free sample.

Or if that local library newsletter would let you do a quick author Q&A.

Start with people who are likely to say yes.

Build a little portfolio, and you will start to build your confidence.

Slowly, you’ll start to feel like you’ve got some ground under your feet, and taking steps forward won’t feel so scary.

Know that I still pass on gigs where I feel like I don’t know how to execute it. We all do. It’s no crime to say “That gig isn’t for me.”

This applies to marketing, too. If you’re terrified to make cold calls or do in-person networking — then don’t!

Do the types of marketing that are in your comfort zone to start, and gradually expand that zone.

Face it

If you’re afraid of rejection, like that second writer I quoted, I’ve got some bad news for you.

You are going to be rejected. Repeatedly.

It is inevitable, if you are going to write for a living.

The only way to conquer this fear is to be rejected, and to discover that it did not kill you.

Each rejection makes you stronger and more able to withstand future disappointments in your freelance writing career.

The only way to toughen up is to get out there and start pitching.

Don’t be terrified that mistakes will happen or that you’ll get in over your head.

You can relax. Because it will happen. For sure. But it’ll be OK.

Realize every writer is scared and imperfect

Here’s the secret nobody tells you: Experienced pros are also scared.

When I write my first article for a new client, I am petrified.

Every time.

It takes ages to write. I feel like everything’s riding on its being absolutely brilliant.

The only difference is that we just push on, even though we’re afraid.

Also, established pro writers don’t always hit it out of the park, either.

I could write a whole book on my missteps, but here’s one recent one:

I did a Forbes post about franchising, based on some new survey data. My interpretation of the data managed to offend both the leading franchise industry organization and the company that did the survey, among others. I’ve been accused of being unpatriotic and patronizing, to name the printable things.

Several malcontents have left comments critiquing my post that I just have to live with. On a site with 30 million monthly views.

Sigh.

What you write won’t always please everybody. But you have to stand by it, and move on. And keep improving.

Learn more

Sometimes, you’re scared because in the pit of your gut is a nagging feeling that you don’t know enough.

You need to beef up your writing skills and knowledge of the craft to get the work you want.

If that’s you, check out my upcoming course I’m teaching with Linda Formichelli — 4 Week Journalism School.

It’s designed to quickly give you the reporting and writing skills you need to move up from content mills and other low-paying gigs to write good-paying articles for magazines and businesses alike.

It comes with a month of support in Freelance Writers Den, too. Consider it a life preserver in case you get in over your head.

P.S. J-School registration closes tomorrow night at midnight EST, so if you need this (or know a writer who does), head over and check out the course details now.

What fear is holding you back, and how will you conquer it? Leave a comment and tell us about it.

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25 comments on “How to Conquer Your Terror of Screwing Up a Freelance Writing Gig
  1. Great point about rejection: It will happen no matter what you do. People will reject you — That’s a fact. How you deal with it is another thing. You can decide to work on yourself and make those who rejected you see how wrong they are. It’s entirely up to us to determine how far we can go. Where one person rejects you, another will accept you.

  2. Joyce says:

    Thank you for this post, especially the part where you said you get scared when you write for a new client. I’m glad to know that everyone has these moments. While I definitely have more confidence in my writing than I did when I started a year ago, I’m still afraid of approaching new clients. My fear comes from having them ask me about something I don’t understand since I still consider myself new at this. I am confident in my ability to do what the client asks, but I’m not so sure what I would say if the client asked me what they needed. By the way, I’m focusing on copywriting. I am great at following directions and creating content that meets their expectations but I’m not sure I would be good at approaching a client and telling them what they need and how I can improve. That is why I have avoided going to businesses directly and have only taken on work from other writing and web design companies.

    I do plan to work on overcoming that fear in 2013. I’m not sure how yet, but I know that is where the money is, so that is where I’m going.
    Joyce recently posted..Organic SEO: How to Grow an Organic Website

    • Carol Tice says:

      Here’s a big secret — it’s OK to say, “I don’t know offhand, but I can find out” in response to a client question. If you just express confidence that you CAN figure it out, that’s usually good enough.

      My joke is give me 24 hours and I’ll BE your expert in whatever it is. Most clients don’t necessarily expect you to know everything about surety bonds or whatever their arcane topic is from the start.

      What you’re talking about is the difference between writing and marketing consulting. If you’re clear that you’re a writer and a client wants to ask you how they should structure their Facebook messaging, you just say, “You know, I’m not a marketing strategist.” As it happens, I usually say that myself — not my department.

      One great strategy is to find and partner with people who ARE, so you can refer them to someone who’d hire you back on to execute once there is a strategy.

      Best of luck in pushing it forward!

  3. Joe says:

    No matter what you do, if you are going to do something big, and stretch yourself – there will be rejection. And it will come at you from all angles. As a seasoned sales rep for the last 15 years, I face rejection repeatedly – and I still don’t like it. As Carol says, just expect it and it will not seem so bad. In many forms, rejection doesn’t mean “no”. It can mean “not yet”. The first LOI or query or cold call is just that: the first. Repeated contacts and the start of a relationship will curb the rejection. Or make it less painful. If you can write, you can sell a writing project!
    Joe recently posted..Tougher Than The Rest

  4. Sandra says:

    I’m facing this fear everyday and I’m finding that breaking things down into smaller bits really helps. Also, tackling one 2-3 things a day, as opposed to an entire list, makes a big difference; once they’r’e done, I know I can face the next day. And if I have more time, I try to do more before the next day.

    I can relate to declaring “I’m a freelance writer” – I’ve said this out loud to myself, many times. The more you say it, the more you believe and the more you’ll act on this belief.

    Thanks for posting!
    Sandra recently posted..Want to Learn a New Language? Integrate

  5. Jason says:

    Very good article! I RT’d it for all of our freelance followers, many of whom are writers. The core of the article rings true for all types of freelancers and small business owners, as far as fears etc.

    Remember that the only thing to fear, is fear itself! On the other side of fear you will find success! Getting outside of my comfort zone is on my daily to do list, and should be on yours too.

    If not getting paid for your work scares you, and it should, remember to please visit us or follow on twitter (at)getpaidfaster.

    Thanks and good luck to everyone in their pursuit of conquering fears, whatever they may be.

  6. Amandah says:

    I agree with telling people, “I am a freelance writer.” I tell people “I’m a successful published author.” I feel confident and will have my manuscript finished within a few weeks. Yes, you can completed an eBook or book in 30 days.

    To get past your fear, consider doing some type of “inner” reflection work. Find out where your fear is coming from and tackle it. You may even discover the fear isn’t yours. I hate to say it, but our family environment shapes us. If you grew up within a negative environment, you may have heard, “You can’t do that. Who do you think you are?” and other self defeating phrases. The good news is as adults we can do what we want. :) You no longer have to listen to mom and dad, grandma and grandpa, etc. Shake it off and look in the mirror and affirm, “I’m a successful freelance writer!”

    Good luck.
    Amandah recently posted..Exhausted? How to Grow Your Blog without SEO and Social Media

  7. Louis says:

    Carol, I just read the Forbes piece and the comments. To say that was a misstep on your part is false modesty. Those folks seemed a tad peeved at you for pointing out franchising is not a goose laying golden eggs for one and all. In a way, I think you’ve pointed out another kind of rejection writers face: you can do an excellent job but you are still at the mercy of what readers “know” despite all factual evidence to the contrary. If that’s failure you’re doing pretty well with your writing.

    • Carol Tice says:

      The fun of being on Forbes is if people don’t like your opinion you get the comment, “This post is not up to the standards of Forbes! It wasn’t balanced! You’re not a journalist!” People are constantly slagging you on there. Definitely need a thick skin and a sense of humor if you want to take on anything controversial.

      If you enjoyed that one, you should get a look at this post that I thought was a social-media critique of Chick-Fil-A’s Facebook campaign…but the audience violently disagreed. Get called some real fun names in the 180+ comments on here:

      http://www.forbes.com/sites/caroltice/2012/07/20/how-chick-fil-a-social-media-bungle-fueled-gay-rights-backlash/

      Of course, as long as I’m fact-based or clearly stating my opinion in a non-inflammatory way, all my editors care about is whether I’m driving traffic. ;-)

      • Louis says:

        OK, Carol, I just read your Chick-Fil-A piece. I trust you will not be offended when I see nothing remarkable in what you wrote (the opinions, not the writing). I got through about 10 comments (up to your second reply) and remembered why I don’t read the comments on many online pieces anymore. I’m guessing your kids are more adult than are some of those correspondents. At least it sounds like you know how to laugh it off. These links were as effective as your post here in showing me how writers must have thick skins to ply their trade. Thanks for passing them on.

        • Carol Tice says:

          Yep, that’s why I included them…sometimes you kind of have to see it to believe it.

          That Chick-Fil-A one was crazy! I was just pointing out that a Facebook-only exclusive wasn’t the best way to announce your policy on gay rights…it looked like running and hiding. That’s all. Thought it was pretty straightforward social-media marketing analysis. Wow! People sure made a lot of assumptions about my personal beliefs off of that.

          But like you say…sometimes you just gotta laugh it off. And I made good money off the traffic that generated ;-) Always salves any insult.

  8. Erica says:

    Carol, thanks for another awesome post. Before I went freelance, I’d been laid off 8 times (once every 12-18 months on average). That translates into hundreds of job applications and interviews, most of which resulted in “no.” I now sneeze at rejection. By the time they tell me “no,” I’m already looking for my next shiny object. The trick is to make it part of your regular routine somewhere between calling Mom, picking up some eggs and contacting your next prospect.

    However, I am terrified of marketing myself because I no longer depend on a creative agency to put new opportunities in front of me or put in a good word on my behalf. I’m starting from scratch in looking for prospects and striking up that conversation. It makes me nervous and when I get nervous, I babble. But, I’m still putting myself out there. I’m constantly evaluating my performance, developing my conversation and quieting the babble.

    Practice – it’s the only way.
    Erica recently posted..Choose Your Audience Before You Choose a Client

  9. Shirley says:

    Great article Carol!

    I think whenever people spend too much time worrying about whether or not they are good enough to do something it creates unnecessary fear. I’ve learned not to
    worry about things I can’t control. Things like earthquakes, hurricanes and Google algorithm updates!

    Sometimes you have to just go for it! If I succeed great! if I don’t I simply try to figure out what didn’t work and correct accordingly. I landed one of my biggest clients to date because I refused to let fear stop me. I love writing sales pages but hadn’t land a client for that type of work. Long story short I pitched a company after taking a look at their current sales pages. The only samples I had were articles.

    I told the owner, I did not have any sales page samples but I had taken courses and I felt confident I could do it. Not only did he give me a chance he said he appreciated the fact that I didn’t lie about my experience. Long story short, I ended up rewriting about 90% of their sales pages. The point is, if I hadn’t decided to take a chance I would have never gained the experience I needed.

    Was I scared? Yep! But I refused to let that fear determine my outcome.

    You’ve trained to be a writer, don’t let that little voice inside your head keep you
    from doing what you love!

    Carol, thank you for your fantastic insight and articles. I enjoy reading your emails. All the best to you!

  10. Amandah says:

    @ Carol… Your teen sounds like my teen nephew. Oh boy!

    I to read your Forbes article and didn’t find anything offensive about it. Owning a franchise is a lot of work and money (up front), no matter who you are. At least the article got the attention of readers. :)
    Amandah recently posted..Exhausted? How to Grow Your Blog without SEO and Social Media

  11. Yep, I’m always terrified when I start working for a new client too. But wouldn’t other readers agree that this is a good thing, as it is a sign that you take your writing seriously and want to give your clients the best quality work you can?
    Kevin Carlton recently posted..So you’re a website copywriter – I can do that, it’s easy!

    • Carol Tice says:

      Well, I wish I felt a little more confident when I do those first pieces! But I know what you mean…and it’s true, we feel that way in part because we have high standards and want to do a fantastic job.

  12. Anne Galivan says:

    I LOVE that you admit here that you still experience “fear” when you are writing for a new client. Wow. That kind of puts things in perspective for those of us who don’t have nearly as much experience getting good-paying gigs (YET!)

    I also like your advice about the negative tape-recordings playing in our head. Unfortunately those tapes were often started by people in our lives that SHOULD have been the most supportive…people we trusted to love us unconditionally. I’m having to learn myself (at the age of 50!) to replace those tapes with self-affirming ones.

    And I agree with your comment that we need to start telling people that we are freelance writers. Even write it down when we’re filling out a survey that asks for our occupation! Whether we’re making any money from our writing yet, or not. The more we say it, the more WE will believe it.
    Anne Galivan recently posted..Is It Time for a Homeschool Checkup?

  13. M.A. WItty says:

    I’m a MASTER at self-sabotage. I procrastinate, even though I know better.

    I fear both failure AND success. Doing nothing is safer. You can’t fail if you don’t try (although not trying IS failure, to a certain extent), and you definitely can’t succeed if you don’t try!
    M.A. WItty recently posted..How to Give Your Children’s Book a Great Title (Guest Post)

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  1. […] doubt still comes at the start of each new gig, though, even with a strong record of delivering. This article indicates, it’s not just me, it’s a freelance thing. So, freelancers on the blog, here’s […]

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