4 Ways Pro Freelance Writers Boost Confidence to Defeat Impostor Syndrome

4 Ways Pro Freelance Writers Boost Confidence to Defeat Impostor Syndrome

The kids are finally asleep, the decaf coffee is hot, and you have a list of prospective freelance writing clients pulled up on your hand-me-down laptop…and then the panic sets in.

What if this person laughs off my email pitch?

Who’s possibly going pay me to write for them?

What makes me think I could be good at freelancing?

Congratulations. You’re officially a freelance writer because you’re dealing with a bout of impostor syndrome!

Impostor syndrome is a well-documented psychological phenomenon in which someone who’s qualified in a field starts to experience extreme feelings of self-doubt and inadequacy about their performance.

And without years of experience to reassure them they’re qualified, newer writers often succumb to impostor syndrome to the tune of decreased performance, accepting low rates, or even giving up on their business before it gets started.

And that’s simply unacceptable.

Let’s look at four ways established freelance writers overcome impostor syndrome whenever it pops up — even long after their newbie days are over.

Redefine confidence

As a freelance writing mentor, I’ve noticed a major problem in how new writers develop confidence. When new writers , they often think it’s a sign you’re doing something wrong, when in fact it’s just a sign you’re doing something new.  

Far too often, we think of confidence as our permission to do what we’re doing, Gina Horkey, the entrepreneur behind the course, says. But that’s the opposite of how real life works.

“Confidence is just the belief that I can do something,” says Horkey. “It’s not proof that I’ve already done something. It’s the possibility. And when it’s low, it means I’m letting fear win. When it’s high, then I’m letting my belief in myself win.”

The next time you feel fear and you wish you were feeling more confident, remember that confidence is a result of success, not a cause of it. It’s up to you to step forward and try new things, even when you’re feeling afraid.

Take action to scare away fear

When first started freelancing, she wasn’t worried about finding clients because she knew how to get into her prospect’s head. In her previous job, she’d been in charge of hiring freelance writers.

But she was worried about generating enough work to sustain her in the early days of her business, and keeping her workload consistent over time.

Her solution? Taking action.

“I’ve found that taking action is a great antidote to fear—even if you start with teeny tiny steps,” says Emerson. “In terms of keeping my workload consistent, I persuaded clients to move to a retainer arrangement as soon we’d completed a successful project or two and I sensed they had a recurring need for content.”

Horkey agrees that taking action is a huge part of not feeling fear. Her husband quit his job to be a stay-at-home dad the year before she made the leap from predictable income to variable income, so it was all riding on her.

“I try to always do something when I get scared, because I know that fear is paralyzing,” she says.

“Taking that next step forward is the only way to work through fear. I don’t think I’d have gotten to this point without constantly busting through fear, doubt and uncertainty,” Horkey admits. “Fear will always be there, it’s just stronger during some times more than others.”

Reframe your fears

“Mindset is huge when you’re your own boss, and often the defining factor between success and failure,” Emerson says. “Prospective clients can sense confidence or fear in their interactions with you. They’re incredibly drawn to the former, and repulsed by the latter.”

Emerson also emphasizes the extent to which confidence is rooted in knowledge and training.

“Confidence comes from recognizing your skills and the tangible value they can deliver to clients,” she says. “It’s also a byproduct of understanding your prospects — what they need and how to deliver it. It turns out, for instance, that content marketing generates more sales leads than traditional marketing. Prospects with big marketing budgets know that, and also know they can’t get those kinds of results without writers. That bit of industry knowledge is a great confidence booster.”

While much of a newbie freelance writer’s opportunities and client interactions might change from day to day, Horkey credits staying positive as one of her top fear-busting habit recommendations.

“I used to focus on ‘What’s the worst that can happen?’” she says. “But now, I’ve flipped it on its head to ask, ‘What’s the best thing that can happen?’ Now I’m not expecting the worst; I’m wondering if the best thing that can happen makes it worth it to try!”

Combine fear with persistence

At the end of the day, that rad from the 1980s was right: You just need to “Hang in there!” But more than a passing motivational tip of the hat, you need to make a personal connection with persistence.

As a generic phrase, “Be persistent” is annoying and trite. But when you look at day-to-day struggles, it’s an effective in-the-moment practice to say to yourself, “This intimidating client phone call is a small blip in my journey. This situation will be over soon, and I’ll be glad I stuck it out.”

What’s at the heart of this fear is the drama of not knowing you’ll make it through, the “Will she or won’t she?” of every movie. What you can do today is decide you will, which eliminates the sense of conflict and allows you to focus on the long term.

“I’m not ‘fearless’ because I’m making money online,” says Horkey. “Often my fears are now bigger than ever. But I’m not about to let them stop me.”

The cure for impostor syndrome will be different for every writer. But it’s vital that we all understand that it’s normal to experience, and there are indeed cures out there for each of us to try.

Do you struggle with impostor syndrome? How do you boost your confidence?

Filed Under: Freelancing

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14 comments

  • Jerry Nelson says:

    Excellent post.

    Even after 20+ years doing this, I sometimes still get the Impostor Syndrome.

    Keep up the great work!

    Jerry Nelson
    @ Journey_America

  • DURP says:

    So that I have learnt about impostor syndrome! Thanks for this article.

  • You’re absolutely right, Sarah. The impostor syndrome is alive and well in not only our writing lives, but in all facets of our lives. Whether it’s writing, starting a new business, or deciding on how to decorate that room of yours, you must not be fearful to make the commitment. If you grab the bull by the horns and beat the impostor syndrome in the rest of your life, your freelance writing life will automatically follow suit.

  • Yes, recognize the syndrome. I try to lower the benchmark. My first novel was about seafarers and ships coupled with thriller adventure. As a former professional seafarer, who served aboard a range of ships and with port visits worldwide believed I considered that I’d narrowed the self believe necessary for a writer. In a way it added on the pressure. Other professionals could dispute my accounts. Had I got the description right over some technical issue? Was my account sufficiently accurate about ship board life etc? Yes a novel is fiction, but you still look for authenticity of description to make the story believable. This apart from wondering whether your writing is gripping the reader with your characters dialogue. My second novel was a romantic thriller set at the seaside. No longer a breakaway first novel and I felt more confident with not having to rely on professional career knowledge. There was no longer the possibility of by gone seafarers sneaking a look over my shoulder and muttering that my account of sea life was not being authentic or true to life! I hope to have a sequel sea adventure. Perhaps next time the ghostly onlooker seafarers will be more encouraging if they enjoyed metaphorically chipping in on my first sea story.

    • Very cool, Sam! I just saw a great quote the other day from William Stafford: “The cure to writer’s block is to lower your standards.” I’d argue that’s just for the drafting process, though, haha!

  • sharmishtha says:

    Very timely. I am right now a bundle of nerves. About to publish my ezine next month! The tips will help a ton. Thanks.

  • Great article! I suffer from this a lot as I’m just starting to look for paid freelance work but having been writing and blogging for a long time. One of the biggest hurdles I’m finding is trying to get a reasonable rate. I’m using upwork and have found a few decent jobs on it and had great feedback for the work I have done but many of the rates listed are 1500-1900 words for $5. For me in the UK equals to £3.75 for 1-2 hours of work. This is far lower than the national UK minimum wage which is £6.70 an hour so it just isn’t worth me even bidding for these rates. Many people are asking for whole novels written for $10 which seems very unreasonable given the amount of time it would take to do this to even a half-decent standard.

    • Hey Teri, You’re right — those are terrible rates! Don’t settle for them. Read a ton and write a lot to find out what you’re good at, then target customers who need your specialty. Writers that are a dime a dozen get paid a dime.

  • Janeen says:

    Thank you for this. I scored my biggest writing assignment to date and I have a deadline this week. It’s for a major National publication and could really take me to the next level . I’m surprised that I was struggling because 2 of my assignments are ideas I pitched and , I know my subject but I’m being plagued by the “Is it Good enough?” syndrome . Reading this helped to calm my nerves a little, now I’m going to get back to it and knock it out of the park.

    • Bravo, Janeen! I also recommend Jack Hart’s “A Writer’s Coach.” Tons of great quotes in there from famous writers talking about how much better they write when they take the pressure off their first draft. I hope you nailed it!

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