3 Ways to Gain Confidence as a Freelance Writer

    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!

    About the author

      Linda Formichelli

      Linda Formichelli is the author of The Renegade WriterShe has written for more than 130 magazines and is the co-author of The Renegade Writer: A Totally Unconventional Guide to Freelance Writing Success. She is also the author ofHow to Do It All: The Revolutionary Plan to Create a Full, Meaningful Life - While Only Occasionally Wanting to Poke Your Eyes Out With a Sharpie.

    • Bee says:

      Hi Linda, I have just started to read your book “Write your way out of the rat race” and was surprised to stumble over one of your blog posts here. I am just thinking about a freelance career and just the fact that rejection is part of the game and all of you have been rejected makes me less anxious. Seems somehow obvious that every writer gets rejected but when you start out this detail just escapes your conciousness. Thanks for your motivating writing.

    • Yeah…. I like this advice. We always put a low ceiling of doubt in our own heads. It’s not as bad as we imagine once we take action…

      Thanks for the well grounded advice

    • Nice.. Thankyoufor sharing this post.. I thought understand the people who hired me is enough tobecome successful .. Now i know i was wrong.. Thank you again..

    • I am taking your advice, for sure. In an effort to get past all the worrying about whether or not my writing was good enough I just started submitting proposals on Elance, built a website, and started telling everybody I meet, I’m a writer. Now I just write, write, write, everyday.

    • Jeremy says:

      In the end, it all comes down to how much you want it. The more something matters to you, the more resistance you’re going to face, and the more sure you can be that you have to do it! Just keep writing, be unstoppable, and face rejections head-on. Check out Pressfield’s book, it’s great on this.

      • “The more something matters to you, the more resistance you’re going to face” – so true. Love that!

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    • Adrian Raynor says:

      Very well put together. I agree with every word!

    • I love your “So What?” methodology, Linda.

      I use daily affirmations and guest posting to gain confidence in myself. As someone just starting out in this field, they both boost my self-esteem. I like praise (who doesn’t?) and so when I get it from people I have worked with, and then receive requests for more guest posts (this has happened on more than one occasion), I feel great.

    • Steve Shaw says:

      Great post … it may help writers worried about rejection to think about famous authors who were rejected multiple times before getting the break, eg. see http://www.examiner.com/article/30-famous-authors-whose-works-were-rejected-repeatedly-and-sometimes-rudely-by-publishers for a list, some very well-known names on there.

      Also, in case of interest to your readers, we’re currently hiring freelance writers at http://www.vwriter.com – there are links at the bottom under ‘Writers’ for anyone interested.

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    • Marcy McKay says:

      Hey Linda – I’m a fan of The Renegade Writer and was psyched to see you here today. For me, ACTION is always the best antidote to what I call “Loser Writer Syndrome.” I write fiction and had an AWESOME literary agent, but she left the business last fall. I’m back in Query Land. I got a rejection last week from an agent who I really wanted and felt myself falling into depression, so I made myself query 5 more. Still haven’t heard from 4, but 1 responded ASAP. She remembered my novel from before and was VERY excited to read it asked to read my other completed novel. ACTION trumps FEAR every time. Thanks for the great post!

    • Ken Hughes says:

      A powerful summary. They’re all ways of keeping our perspective, so the rejection stays about that specific miss instead of our reason for writing.

      Rejection-pain seems to be human nature. I always remind myself how marriage counselors say one insult wipes out ten compliments, and we’re all just wired to see the worst feedback as the most urgent one.

      Your opening observation really fascinated me: you’ve noticed that the most promising writers are the least confident ones? I just came across Thomas Mann’s line “A writer is someone for whom writing is harder than it is for other people,” and it makes sense. The more we’re able to agonize over refinements we didn’t use and twists our writing heroes did get in, the more it means we can SEE those frontiers. That’s a gap to either fall into or bridge across, depending on what we do to keep our focus where it needs.

      And like you said, so much of that is just to keep going, both to raise the odds and to keep rolling the dice.

    • I definitely agree with your point about volume. I always feel better about getting a rejection when I have numerous pieces in the works. Even though my other work might get rejected, too, it makes me more hopeful, somehow, knowing that I’ve got a bunch of stuff making the rounds. Managing a volume of work also makes the process seem to be more about running a business than about being a writer – I don’t take it so personally when an editor doesn’t like my work.

      • Yes! I think that may have been the secret to why rejections never fazed me — I always had a TON of pitches out there.

    • Linda – this post could not have landed in my inbox at a more appropriate time!

      It’s certainly going into my “Resources” folder to be referred to time and again when I’m lacking confidence and catastrophising my lack of published work.

      Thank you for writing this.


    • Emelia says:

      Encouraging post Linda! I always remind myself that nothing will happen if I don’t do anything, and that all writers at the top of the list started at the bottom.

      I’ve also learned to encourage myself. Meaning, when I feel discouraged, I deliberately think about stories I once read or heard or quotes from people who travelled the road before me (like the fact that a successful freelancer like Linda Formichelli got rejected 500 times). This gives me courage to keep on trying.

      Perfectionism and fear of rejection are the biggest stumbling blocks. I believe freelancers should see failure as an opportunity to learn and grow. When failure is viewed in this light, we will always be on the look out for opportunities to fail so that we can grow and become better at what we do.

      Yes, rejection is painful and often questions one’s abilities. But, we can look at it as thorns on the road to success; and decide to keep going, regardless.

      • I love how you think about other people’s experiences! People who have been doing this for a long time have seen — and lived through — it all. The fact that they’re still going despite it all can be encouraging!

    • Thanks, Jacquie and Robert! Glad the post resonated with you.

    • Throughly enjoyed your post Linda – a delightful blend of good advice well grounded in personal experience. Lots to reflect upon for aspiring writers! I look forward to reading more of your insights.
      Best wishes, Jacquie

    • robert says:

      Thanks for the advice, I’ll bear it in mind and use it for courage.

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