Y’know what’s funny?
There seems to be an inverse relationship between how talented a writer is and how confident they are. Meaning, those who are most likely to succeed are also most likely to be too afraid to send out their work, get in touch with editors, and, well, write.
I’ve been thinking about this conundrum for years now, and talking about it with my Renegade Writer co-author Diana Burrell. We’ve nailed down the top reasons for under-confidence in writers, such as:
- Perfectionism.You’re afraid of sending out anything that’s less than perfect, so you send out nothing at all. Automatic fail!
- Lack of feedback. You’re not hearing nice things from editors. In fact, you’re not hearing anything at all. This lack of feedback makes you feel less than confident about your writing. After all, if it were great, you’d be basking in accolades, right?
- Fear of rejection. Face it, professional writers get rejected – all the time. Don’t send anything out and you never risk getting rejected. Hooray! The downside: You’re not getting published, either.
- Fear of doing it the wrong way. If you don’t write a query in the “correct” way, or don’t say the exact right thing at the right time, editors will blackball you in the industry and you’ll never get work. Brrrrr.
The good news is, we not only pinpointed what goes wrong, we’ve also figured out some ways to blast past a lack of confidence. Here are our top three ways to become a happy, busy freelance writer:
1. Remember: editors aren’t thinking about you.
I once read a quote – I wish I could remember who said it – that’s stuck with me for years:
Don’t worry about what other people think of you. They’re not thinking about you at all. They’re thinking about themselves… just like you are right now.
We writers think that our query letter or article is the number one focus of the editor’s day, and if we mess it up, the editor’s head will be filled with thoughts about what terrible writers (and people) we are.
But guess what? The editor is thinking of himself, not of you. He’s hoping his boss liked the ideas he presented at the meeting that morning, or that no one noticed he got to work four minutes late, or that he needs to call the art department.
Working with freelance writers is only a small part of an editor’s job. So if you send a query that’s not quite right, or email an editor asking for clarification on an assignment, or make a typo in an email — it’s just a blip on the editor’s charts.
So take heart – let the fact that you’re just a small part of an editor’s life boost your confidence to pitch more, write more, connect more.
2. Don’t take it personally.
Here’s a fact of life: Writers get rejected.
And those rejections lead many writers into a downward spiral of self loathing and loss of confidence. With every rejection, the writer thinks, “The editor hates me! I stink as a writer! I’ll never make it!”
However, let me assure you: rejections are a business decision. Nothing more. Your idea may be great, your pitch may be well-written – but the publication already has something similar in the works, or the publication is focusing on the Thanksgiving issue right now, or a new editor just came on board and she wants to change the direction of the publication.
No matter what the reason for a rejection, it’s not about your worth as a writer or a human being.
I’ve been rejected close to 500 times in my 17-year career as a writer. And that’s only counting the ideas that have been rejected. Each one was usually sent out to multiple publications, which increases my rejection rate at least threefold. And yet, for most of my working life, I’ve made a wonderful living as a freelance writer.
The trick to getting around this is to send out your work in volume.You’re less likely to feel like a loser because a piece is rejected when you have 30 more out there making the rounds.
3. Act like a shrink.
Several years ago I participated in some cognitive-behavioral therapy sessions at an anxiety clinic. It didn’t help with my panic attacks, but it did give me a great tool for fighting under-confidence in writers.
Think about what’s causing your lack of confidence, and then ask yourself: “So what?”
It goes like this:
“If I send out a pitch, it may get rejected.” So what?
“The editor may tell other editors not to work with me.” So what?
“I’ll never get any freelance gigs.” So what?
“I won’t make any money and I’ll end up homeless and alone, living in a cardboard box under a bridge.”
Now ask yourself a second question: “How likely is that to happen?”
Be truthful now. The chances that you’ll end up on the streets because one editor rejected your idea, or because you made a mistake,or because you tried to negotiate better terms in a contract, are nil.
Humans tend to catastrophize, which naturally saps our confidence as writers. But when you dig deep and really look at your fears, they dissolve into nothing.
Finally, keep in mind that the only thing that will really, really destroy your fears is action. I can write a hundred blog posts telling you that you don’t need to worry, but only pitching, writing, and experiencing for yourself that things almost always go fine will melt your fears and increase your confidence.
So don’t just read the tips here – live them.
What tricks do you use to boost your confidence as a writer? Let us know in the comments below!