Courtney M. McSwain, Writer

Anatomy of a Freelance Writer’s Life: The Do’s and Don’ts of Worrying

Worried Image

In a previous post published on New Year’s Day, I discussed the importance of owning my story, which is what I resolved to do in 2013. When I wrote that post, I felt very excited about my writing goals for the year…and I still am, by the way. But I have to be honest and tell you that it’s not just excitement I feel—I’m also a little worried.

Worry comes with the territory of a freelance life. There is no shame in acknowledging this fact. Any entrepreneurial pursuit brings its fair share of risk, unpredictability and frustration, all of which lead to anxiety about the future. The rewards of taking a bold step into freelancing are alluring, but the risks are equally terrifying.

When I first set out on this adventure, I didn’t focus much on the risks. The adrenaline of “following my dream” overshadowed any fear that I felt about not making it. Adrenaline has a funny way of wearing off, however, and after a few months I’ve begun to notice worry creeping into the picture.

As a freelance writer, I can’t expect to live my life worry free, and I can’t freak out every time I feel a little uneasy; doing so would diminish the courage it took to set out on this path. By the same token, anxiety shouldn’t be ignored. Avoiding the reality of worry only intensifies the moment when there is no choice but to deal with it.

So how should a writer deal with worry? I can only offer a few do’s and don’ts that I’ve set up for myself. I can’t promise that they will work for you, but you are welcome to give them a try.

Don’t take naps to avoid worrying.
Do write out your concerns and develop a game plan for dealing with them.

Avoiding reality by sleeping is a very easy thing to do, especially when you work ten feet away from your couch. I will admit that I am guilty of trying to nap away my troubles. And while I can’t deny that sleep does offer a temporary reprieve from worry, it never actually quells it—once I wake up, I worry about the time I just wasted napping instead of writing.

What does ultimately help me deal with anxiety is making a game plan for addressing my fears. I just did this last month, as a matter of fact. I sat down on my floor with a notepad and laptop and wrote down the things that were causing me the most anxiety—things like cash flow, getting more clients, finding the best ways to market myself. Next to that list, I wrote down ways to address those concerns accompanied by due dates for my actions. I then transferred my plan onto a spreadsheet so that I can keep track of how I’m doing. Creating that plan made me feel 10 times better; though it didn’t solve my problems, it did put me in a position to act rather than react to fear with worry.

Don’t shut your loved ones out because you are embarrassed by your lack of overnight success.
Do celebrate all of your successes with your loved ones, no matter how small.

There’s nothing like family to intensify your worry. Last month, when I made that worry-be-gone plan mentioned above, my family was at the forefront of my mind. They have done a great deal to support my writing adventures, including never discouraging me from taking this giant leap. And although they weren’t verbalizing it, I could feel them worrying from hundreds of miles away. Their anxiety added to my own, and I wanted to make them feel better about my situation. But I was mistakenly waiting for some huge news to share with them, like a big client contract or a story published in a national publication, before I included them in the process of my journey. Right now, my successes come in much smaller packages, but they are still important to share. For instance, though I haven’t yet made it into the Washington Post, I have been published in the Alexandria Gazette, and that’s pretty cool!

In fact, I recently sent my mom my first published Alexandria Gazette article and I could tell it made her feel included in my life as well as a little more reassured that I wasn’t just sitting at home eating chocolate and watching TV. (Wait, that example might be incriminating?) The point is, easing my family’s anxieties by sharing more of my progress also lessens my own worry.

Don’t lose faith that you are going to be successful.
Do set a date for an honest evaluation of your progress and whether or not you will continue.

This is the tough one. It requires a balance of faith and realism. The plan that I wrote last month includes a date for when I must seriously evaluate the success of my freelance business. If I haven’t met certain business criteria, I must move on to “plan B.” Setting a deadline for myself does a couple of things. First, it frees me from blind optimism, which, I think, can be a set up for failure when you refuse to read the writing on the wall. Secondly, it presents a real, tangible consequence for not working as hard as I can. Plan B is the red button I don’t want to push. It’s there, and it’s real. But it’s the absolute last option, and it is up to me to make sure I don’t have to use it. Thus, I’m realistic about what I am working toward, and I have faith about my ability to get it done.

These do’s and don’ts have really helped to calm my anxiety about freelancing. If you are in a similar place, try to find what works for you to manage worry. Then share your tips below–I might need to borrow them!

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