What to Do if You Get a Freelance Writing Gig – But Then You Panic

Here’s something that happens to most freelance writers, early on in their career:

You’re out there, sending query letters or pitching companies your marketing writing help. And finally, one of them actually calls you back.

You meet. They want to work with you. They make you an offer, and you accept.

Ecstasy!

Then you go home and think about what just happened, and a terrible gnawing feeling of dread begins to form in the pit of your gut.

Soon, you’re freaking out.

You realize you have no clear idea how to do this assignment.

You’re not sure you can do it.

And now you’re terrified you’re going to flub this up and look stupid.

How to stop freaking out

The first thing to do in this scenario is realize that worse things have happened.

And that this has happened to many other writers before you.

Likely, no lives are at risk here.

Even if you mess this up totally, you will not die. And this one disaster will not destroy your chances of having a freelance writing career.

Now that you have a perspective on your situation, you’re ready to fix this and get your assignment done — and done right.

Here are seven tips for ending the panic and getting your assignment back on track:

  1. Breathe. Don’t do anything in haste. Stop and analyze your situation. Do a calming activity until you can think rationally about the situation.
  2. Find out why. What is the cause of your panic about this gig? Once you put your finger on it, you can start solving the problem.
  3. Ask lots of questions. Now you can go back to your client to resolve your issue by asking for more information. Say, “How many sources would you like to see in this story?” or “Who is the core audience for this marketing piece?” or whatever you forgot to ask — or didn’t realize you needed to know until later. Get the knowledge you need to create a roadmap for writing this. Editors will not be put off by a request for more information. It shows you care about making this assignment the best it can be.
  4. Break it down. Often, I find, the cause of freak-out is overwhelm. Make a list of all the tasks that need to happen related to this. Next, put them in priority order. Now, start at number one, and just focus on getting that done. Then, move on to the next step. See, don’t you feel better already?
  5. Learn more. If you’re stuck midway through an assignment with a problem — like a source that’s flaked out on you — go back to your editor or marketing manager and ask them how you should proceed. Editors just hate surprises, so they’ll respect you for telling them early while there’s still time to fix it, rather than giving them an ugly surprise later when you turn in a mess. Or, if you feel like you don’t know enough about your topic, find another expert to interview. Do more online research. Fill in the holes.
  6. Ask for more time. Often, there is wiggle room in deadlines. If you’re concerned you can’t get it done on time, ask if it would be a problem to take another day or week. Yes, it would be more pro to turn it in on time. But if you can’t turn in top-quality work on time, great work that’s a little late (and with the editor knowing it will be late) is better than crappy work on time.
  7. Get an expert’s advice. Many new writers would love to bounce these dilemmas off a pro writer and get their advice, I’ve learned. I get so many questions from freelance writers who’re in a panic about their gigs and need answers right away that I created a community for writers looking to grow their income. Freelance Writers Den offers tons of ecourses, weekly live events, and supportive forums where your question gets answered by a pro within a day — and usually within a few hours.

What do you do when you’re in a panic about a freelance writing assignment? Leave a comment and add to my tips.

P.S.: The Den is closing to new members tomorrow. Won’t open again until summer. If you’re interested, join now.

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9 comments on “What to Do if You Get a Freelance Writing Gig – But Then You Panic
  1. Glori S. says:

    Geez… This just recently happened to me. But I kept thinking… “Oh god… my budding (as of yet nonexistent) reputation will be ruined if I mess this up!” LOL.
    I just charged ahead!

    Thanks Carol!
    Glori S. recently posted..The Ultimate Resource List for Introverts

  2. The fear can hit anytime you stretch yourself outside your comfort zone, whether it is a new type of writing gig or a new market. Thanks for the tips on how to handle it!

  3. Carol Tice says:

    Hi all — I’d like to apologize that I am having some WordPress problems today. At the moment it appears quite a few comments have disappeared off this post! I’ve got my webmaster on it.

    Very sorry all!

  4. I always second guess myself and think that someone else could do it better. My writing coach and mentor has told me that I am my own worst enemy because I don’t fear failure, I fear success.
    Terri Forehand recently posted..The A to Z Challenge

    • Carol Tice says:

      Someone else could do it better! That is just a terrible thing to say to yourself.

      Because no one else could ever do it like you. You are absolutely unique in how you will approach writing projects. That’s the secret sauce each writer has.

  5. Great advice, Carol. I often panic when I get asked to do things well out of my comfort zone. The worst thing is being asked to write about a topic you don’t enjoy or don’t know very much about. As you said in your advice, asking questions is the best way to get around this. People don’t mind if you ask them for clarification, especially if this is your first gig with them.
    Anne @writing site recently posted..Romantic Fiction Publisher

  6. Scott says:

    I thrive on the challenges of new things, so this isn’t something I tend to run into. My solution for feeling out of my depth is to make sure I have clear communications with the client and we both have an understanding of what we expect from each other. If I find myself dealing with new things, I immediately turn to one of my peer groups or mentors and start seeking solutions from those who have gone before me. I’ve found that people respect questions a lot more than they do assumptions.

    My issue comes at the other end, when I’m forever tweaking and polishing and trying to iron out that last wrinkle in the flow. At some point you just have to stop and put it to The Test.

  7. Good to see the post back, Carol! ;) Sometimes WordPress acts up.

    Oh, panic! I tasted that word in every possible flavor… sometimes it can be a drive killer.

    I tell myself: “Hey, what can ever happen if they don’t like your work? You won’t die, and you dealt with that thousands of times, even at school with teachers fussing over the smallest mistake. You didn’t die then. You revised and edited your work, so you can do it now too.”

    It works, but it takes a long time. And I take a while to get started on a new project.

    ~ Luana S.
    Luana Spinetti @ Writer’s Mind recently posted..5 Stress-Free Ways To Continue Writing Even When You’re Sick

  8. Julie says:

    It is easier if this is a “repeat gig” — in the beginning I would check in with the editor more often, until I knew that I was comfortably hitting the mark. Casually dropping in a line like, “As I get to work with a new editor, I check in more often — that way we can be sure I’m hitting your mark.”

    Then, over time, I gained more confidence and didn’t require as much fuss. It was one way of gaining confidence and opening communications. The tip “Ask a lot of questions” really is the one way of ensuring you are on the right track, but checking in along the way doesn’t hurt.

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