Overcoming Your Fear of Full-Time Freelance Writing
Storytelling Communications

Overcoming Your Fear of Full-Time Freelance Writing

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“You better price out health insurance. I bet in six months or less you’ll be working in your PJs!”

So reads a text message from one of my freelance editing clients, dated February 18, 2014. That’s five months before I started working at Skyword, and obviously, I’m still here. I’ve also scaled back on my freelance writing and editing, only taking on consulting work, small projects I’m absolutely in love with, and the occasional favor for a friend.

The reason I’m still here, besides the fact that Skyword kicks butt, is because the idea of freelancing full time terrifies me. Although my client went on to tell me I’m “the bomb dot com,” the fact is, compliments don’t pay the bills, and the inconsistent payment schedule I operated under as a freelancer didn’t leave me a lot of financial wiggle room. I’ve learned a lot through both editing and reading the Content Standard, and if I wanted to go back to freelancing tomorrow, I probably could. But I don’t.

Maybe you do. If so, how can you not be like me? Let’s hash it out.

The Nature of Fear

“When you see the stock market fall 1,000 points, that’s the same as seeing a snake. Fear is the response to the immediate stimuli. The empty feeling in your gut, the racing of your heart, palms sweating, the nervousness—that’s your brain responding in a preprogrammed way to a very specific threat,” Joseph LeDoux, professor of neuroscience and psychology at NYU’s Center for the Neuroscience of Fear and Anxiety, told Scientific American.

Fear is deeply personal. I’m afraid of ants, but not spiders. Enclosed spaces, but not heights. Failure, but not burning out. Ask anyone else, and they’ll describe a different—but no less valid—set of fears.

When we consider the job climate many Millennials face early in their careers, fear of instability likely tops many lists. It’s sure up there on mine. And, according to a German socio-economic panel study, “Perceived job insecurity ranks as one of the most important factors in employees’ well-being and can be even more harmful than actual job loss with subsequent unemployment.” In The Upside of Your Dark Side, authors Todd Kashdan, Ph.D., and Robert Biswas-Diener, Dr. Philos., contend that most people would pay more to avoid fear than they would to be happy ($83.27 vs. $79.06).

Talking all this into account, it’s easy to see why leaving a cushy office job for the uncertainty of striking out on your own in the big, bad world of freelance writing is a terrifying proposition.

Freelance writerWhat can you do about it?

There’s only one word you need to know: control.

“When we feel in control, we’re not afraid. When we have a level of comfort with something, it’s not scary,” writes Eric Barker for Business Insider.

You love telling stories, right? That’s the biggest reason you’d consider doing it full time. And even if you don’t, maybe you’re good enough that a career in it is worth thinking about.

“I used to work as a tech support representative,” said Elvis Michael, a new Skyword contributor and the founder of Writer Town. “The job’s mechanical, predictable routine made me realize that I craved a certain level of freedom and creativity. I had always known that freelance work offered this lifestyle, eventually convincing me to take a leap of faith.”

The path there wasn’t easy, though. Michael admitted that the decision to transition to full-time freelance writing was “both exciting and frightening.”

“Thankfully, I researched the field beforehand and realized there is a lot of potential for quality freelancers, thus putting me at ease about my decision,” he continued. “Finding work can be challenging and overwhelming, but ultimately very rewarding.”

That research gave Michael the level of control he needed to feel confident, and taking the reins affected his life for the better.

Another important aspect is preparation. Emotional, yes, but financial as well. Make sure you have savings to cover your expenses if you don’t get enough work for a month (or three, or six). Or, keep working your day job until you’re bringing in enough green to keep you out of the red.

What risks come with freelancing?

I’m satisfied with my career path thus far, but that isn’t the case for many people I know who have become freelancers. Yes, as my client so astutely pointed out, being a freelancer means buying your own health insurance, giving up paid vacation days, and losing out on other benefits that come with being traditionally employed. But are those things worth your happiness, especially if you have the skills and the drive to build your own career?

“Honestly, people say freelance writing is difficult, but I find that 95 percent of it is just finding that motivation and going to work,” said freelancer Evan Wade in a previous interview for the Content Standard. “When I think back to my time in the cell-phone mines, my computer desk always looks like an attractive alternative. It isn’t for everyone, and it requires a certain creative and professional mindset to succeed, but it’s rewarding beyond belief if you can’t stand the rigors of working a ‘regular’ job.”

Michael agrees. “Thankfully, there is always someone out there who appreciates and recognizes the quality of your work,” he said. “The key is to frequently meet and connect with new prospects, as many end up becoming regular clients. Build a diverse portfolio on your personal blog or by submitting guest contributions on prominent websites. Establish relationships with websites in need of content, as most sources need articles published on a regular basis.”

Ultimately, Faisal Hoque nailed the biggest risk in this article for Fast Company: “One feeling that lasts much longer and is more powerful than fear is regret.” If running your own freelance empire doesn’t work out like you hope, you can always reenter the working world, especially now that the economy is improving. What harm is there in trying? Is not trying worth the regret?

Only you can decide. But if you’re unhappy with your current career and love to write, dive right in by creating a Skyword profile and then subscribing to the Content Standard Newsletter. Have any questions or just need someone to talk you down from the fear ledge? Tweet me: @editorjess. Sadly, I won’t be at my home office tweeting in my pajamas, but I’ll get back to you nonetheless.

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