How to build confidence as a freelance writer
Fight off imposter syndrome with these 5 tips
Have you been thinking of becoming a freelance writer? Are you unsure where to start?
There are a million courses and books online covering everything from writing the best headlines, to sending professional emails, but there’s one big barrier that rarely gets discussed: confidence.
‘I’m not good enough’ is a writer’s favourite phrase (‘coffee please’ is a close second) because it’s scary putting your ideas on a page and even scarier trying to make money from it. But there are ways to fight off imposter syndrome and build your confidence as a freelance writer.
I’m no expert, but I pitch, plan, and write every day, navigating self-doubt as I go, and I’ve found these 5 things incredibly helpful.
1. Fake it till you make it
I know, yawn. It’s a tedious saying that is so overused it has started to mean nothing to most people. But fake it till you make it, or, more accurately, fake it - then research it, read on it, reflect on it, fail at it, try again at it, keep going at it - till you make it (a lot less catchy), reigns true.
Maybe you’ve given it a go and faking it has got you into a situation where you feel like you don’t belong or don’t deserve to be. Enter, imposter syndrome. But here’s the key to the catchphrase: you’re faking your confidence, not your competence. There’s a big difference between lying about your abilities and faking the confidence to fully showcase them. If you don’t feel like you belong, then you need to work on your skills to show that you do.
Fake your confidence first. Get your foot in the door, and then do the work to build competence.
2. Visualise confidence
Think of when you felt your best, when writing came easily, and any doubts left your mind. What was it about that situation that made you feel so at ease? Where were you? Who were you around? What else were you doing in your life at that time?
I can’t write under pressure. When I get too bogged down in the ‘will they like it?’ ‘how much will it be edited?’ ‘Why is it taking me so long!’ stress I freeze up. Mr Writer’s Block holds me in a headlock.
For me, I write best when the pressure is off and I’m just enjoying it. I’m most confident when writing isn’t my whole day and when I’ve managed to compartmentalise the editing process.
So before I get stuck in, amidst the nerves and self-doubt, I envision myself acting confidently and writing freely. I think about the kind of writer I want to be and how it’ll fit into my ideal day.
Paulo Coelho, author of The Alchemist, sums up this concept beautifully:
“You must be the person you have never had the courage to be. Gradually, you will discover that you are that person, but until you can see this clearly, you must pretend and invent.”
A similar idea is also visited in Professor Steve Peters’ Mind Management program: the person you want to be is the person you are already. You need to keep pretending and practising, to discover that you can be that person you’ve always wanted to be.
3. Don’t take it personally
You’re going to get rejected. You’ll also be ignored. Editors are going to edit and brands are going to change their minds. They just are.
If someone’s pitched a similar story they might have crept in before you and got the commission. A brand's budget might have changed, and they can’t avoid you anymore. Your writing piece might be perfect for some readers, but it just needs shaping to the magazine's voice.
Author and spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle said,
‘when you realize it’s not personal there’s no longer a compulsion to react as if it were’
It’s so true. They’re just doing their job, it’s nothing to do with you personally. Now you need to crack on and do yours!
4. Do it your way
I don’t know about anyone else, but I get overwhelmed by the mass of advice articles that plaster numbers and timelines across every ‘freelance writer’ google search. You know the ‘how I became a six-figure writing business in just 1 month’ or ‘how I write 10000 words a day’ posts?
Okay, so I have found useful tips and tricks buried within them, but more often than not they make me want to pack it in instead. I’m all for taking on advice (how else do you learn?) but it’s so easy to think everyone’s doing it better just because they’re doing it with different goals in mind. It’s your business and your project, so do it your way!
5. Remember your why
Let’s be real, if we were looking for stability and a simple life, we’re on the wrong path.
Chances are you want to write because you’re passionate about it. Maybe, like me, different interests collided, and you felt like you were going to burst if you didn’t shout about them from the mountain tops (dramatic much).
Perhaps you love the freedom freelancing gives you, whether the aim is full time or around whatever else you do.
When you doubt yourself and get stuck in a rut, remember this. Take off pressure where it isn’t needed. Put it on pause if you can. At the end of the day, you need passion to drive you and space to create.
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