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My Initial Fears Around Freelance Writing

fear of writingI don’t know why I’m surprised when freelance writer or a potential writer is afraid in the beginning, afraid to submit queries, afraid to contact clients, afraid to call editors, afraid to submit to agents, or, come to think of it do any of the things a freelance writer needs to do.

The family story is that I started talking about wanting to be a freelance writer in 6th grade. That might even be true; that was the grade I discovered reading. I picked up some almost bodice-ripper novel and was entranced. I soon discovered I could escape into a world quite different than any I had so far imagined. Soon I stumbled into science fiction and I was hooked on reading. So it could be I also decided I wanted to write then. It makes a good yarn.

What I do remember is sometime as an almost teenager I discovered the magazine Writer’s Digest in our local drugstore. I devoured it and connived each month to buy an issue without my parents or friends knowing I was interested in… gasp… becoming a freelance writer. I was afraid I’d be laughed at.

Once I started driving I was able to sneak off to book stores and buy magazines and books about writing. Notice the self-involvement; I was sure someone was watching and would someday should out to the world that “Anne is trying to be a freelance writer!”

I did some writing. I remember I always had a typewriter available (this was way way before computers) so I could submit, but I didn’t.

I did work and write in my father’s real estate business. In fact, looking back I did a whole bunch of good writing there. I wrote our sales letters, my father’s weekly column for the L.A. Times and most of the classified ads for our firm. But I didn’t think that counted. It was too easy for me to do, and I wasn’t getting paid, so in my mind it didn’t count. What nonsense!

I didn’t actually submit anything at all until my early 30s.

I wrote two articles, one for Family Circle and one for Woman’s Day. I got them each in a properly addressed envelope with an SASE. But I couldn’t bring myself to put them out so my mail person could pick them up. Have you ever thought how much the person who delivers your mail might know about you?

So I got in the car with the thought of driving to the nearest mail box – but my fear was sill too strong. I actually had to drive to a post office in a neighboring town. According to Google Maps it was about 9 miles and today would take 12 minutes. I know the road wasn’t as good as it is now; I suspect it was closer to 20 minutes. It doesn’t matter.

I do remember I knew I was acting nuts. I also remember literally shaking as I put the two envelopes in the blue mail box outside that post office. I didn’t feel any relief or pleasure until I was about half-way home. Then I began to suspect I’d done something truly important for me.

The point is two fold:

  • I was scared to death to actually mail my articles.
  • I found away to start submitting my writing.

As I look back I see all sorts of self-worth issues… many of which come from some sort of misguided self-importance. No one would have laughed had I mailed them at home because no one was paying attention. None of the clerks who sold me writing magazines and writing books were remotely interested in what I was trying or not trying to do.

I don’t really know today what was so frightening to me. I am glad, no, grateful that I managed to push through it.

How have you pushed through your fear of writing?


{ 19 comments… add one }
  • I was just going to ask somebody “but can/will I be published if I don’t have a degree” and I found my answer! Wow! This article was very encouraging but the comments, they were even more helpful!

  • I was just going to ask somebody “but can/will I be published if I don’t have a degree” and I found my answer! Wow! This article was very encouraging but the comments, they were even more helpful!

  • What an excellent post. I am now in my mid-thirties and have finally started to write, something I have always wanted to do. Why so late? I’ve started and stopped a dozen times, always sure that whatever I was writing was pure garbage. Clearly, I’ve had some real self-esteem issues. Last year I hit the wall and realized that I was just not happy with the way my life was going. I was unhappy in my job and that was just the start. I had managed to complete a novel the year before for Nanowrimo and, stinker though it was, I had had my first taste of success. I started writing another novel in the spring of last year and you know what? I actually think I have something here! I’m in the process of editing it now. In the meantime I realized how much I enjoy writing and one day I sat down and googled “How do you become a freelance writer” which, lo and behold, led me to your site! I read everything carefully, followed some links and got started. I’ve even sent out some query letters to magazines! A couple weeks ago I got my first actual rejection letter and, instead of feeling awful and, well, rejected, I actually felt initiated, like I was now officially a member of an exclusive club. This past weekend I made my first $50 off something I had written and I don’t think I’ve ever been prouder of myself (okay, I exaggerate, I was prouder when I gave birth to my kids — but it’s pretty close!).

  • Well, maybe not a fear of writing, but definitely a fear of being laughed at or rejected. I know rejection is just a part of writing, but it still hurts my little feelers. =)

    I haven’t even attempted submitting anything to real magazines yet. I’m just a small-time blogger, but I just hit “send” with my proposal because I know if I don’t, I’ll never be a “real” writer like I’ve always dreamed. I’ll just be a wannabe, and I don’t want that.

    Delena Silverfox recently posted..Potty Training Babies- 5 Steps to Easy Infant Potty TrainingMy Profile

    • Delena, if you want to write then write and submit – you won’t ever know until you try.

  • I don’t know that one could call it a fear of writing as much as fear of rejection or ridicule. It takes a lot of courage to get past that point, and often you have to look at other things you’ve written, see what kind of response you’ve received on it, and then push forward. At some point I figured that if people were enjoying my blog writing then I must have something going on, and that’s what really got me started.
    Mitch recently posted..Article Farm MadnessMy Profile

    • That’s accurate… although fear of rejection etc. can keep people from writing, or at least it did me… so where it begins…

  • Jodi Hughey

    Great article, Anne!! VERY inspirational!!!

    To answer your question of whether or not I have pushed through my fear of writing I would have to honestly say . . . not really and yes.

    I struggle everyday with self-doubt. I freak myself out because I DO have a bachelor’s degree in English. I feel with that degree people are expecting me to write to a higher standard. When people see that degree I feel like they think I should be an excellent writer who can construct sentences that are free from grammatical errors. I can only wish. My downside is punctuation, but that’s a whole ‘nother fear!

    But, I push through that self-doubt. I tell myself that I am only human and I will continue to learn about writing and grammar (and punctuation) and be the best writer I can be. It helps to read articles like yours, Anne, and see that even the best writer’s make mistakes. For instance in paragraph four, sentence two I presume you meant to say, “I was sure someone was watching and would someday shout (instead of should) out to the world that ‘Anne is trying to become a freelance writer!’”

    We are all only human and what’s nice is that we have writing to share our human qualities! Fear or no fear the writing must go on!

    • Yep, that’s what I meant. I’ll do an article on punctuation.

    • Hee hee! Writers = plural, writer’s = possessive… couldn’t resist!!! 😉

  • Love this! I can totally relate. I’ve always wanted to write, and I got my BA and MA in Communications but I can’t summon the nerve to write creatively for fun or income. Paralyzed with fear and self doubt…I thought that at this point in my life I’d be over that…

    • BTW, I do not have a degree… not required for freelancing… sometimes I wish I had an arts and history education, but that’s another topic. So how are you going to push through the fear?

  • Amanda

    When I started to read your article today, I was literally shocked into a smile. Just this morning I called my mom to discuss my fear of writing “professionally”. While I know that I produce a monthly newsletter for my community, that I’m one of the top writers in my graduate class, and that writing is my passion and my one great talent, I’ve never been paid for my efforts, so it never felt real.

    Two days ago I finally decided to get serious about writing, finally! I’m looking into freelance writing and this is one of the first articles I’ve come across. Thank you for sharing your story and inspiring me to begin one of my own.

  • Anne:

    That’s a great story! Thank you for sharing it.

    Dave Navarro (the business coach, not the guitarist) has a great tip for addressing these fears. To paraphrase: what would you tell a friend who confided these same fears to you? And write down what the worst thing that could happen. Leaving those anxieties unspoken lets them become magnified by self-doubt. Forcing them into the open, on paper, lets you look at them objectively, and they are ALWAYS much smaller than our imaginations make them appear.

    Case in point: On my very first cold call, I had a terrible reaction from my prospect. He was suspicious and hostile from the moment I introduced myself. Told me flat out that there was no way he would buy anything from anyone on the basis of a cold call. Talked right over me when I tried to give him my website address.

    After I hung up, I realized two things. One, that it wasn’t my fault that he acted like a jerk and two, that was probably the worst reaction I would ever get – so the next call was bound to be better. Certainly couldn’t be any worse. And in any case, I had faced my fear of cold calling and lived.

    I still don’t like cold calling – does anyone? but it no longer stirs up the same dread that it did before I made that call.

    • Ooh, I like that strategy!

      I personally spent YEARS waiting for someone to tap me on the shoulder and let me know they’d figured out I didn’t have a degree (much less one in English lit or journalism!), and therefore, I was being banned from the Professional Writer World forever.

      Didn’t happen!

      Thankfully I got into freelance writing sort of sideways, from songwriting…and I didn’t realize I was supposed to have a complex about a lot of this stuff until it was too late! And I was already published.

      I still have fears, but they’re not around getting gigs. Around the time I’m sitting down to write that $2,000 article assignment I snagged is when I’m a total wreck, going, “WHAT WAS I THINKING!!!”…
      Carol Tice | Make a Living Writing recently posted..Does Your Blog Make This Devastating MistakeMy Profile

      • No degree here either Carol, and I’ve been known to jam up from time-to-time even after all this time.

    • Great story Mark… thanks for sharing it. Truly.

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