Every 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:
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:
Probably the one that hit me hardest was this one:
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.