Need More Self-Confidence? Start Freelancing

July 15, 2009 0 Comments

“She’s been everybody else’s girl. Maybe one day she’ll be her own.” –Tori Amos

Say you want to become a writer. Not necessarily an award-winning journalist or novelist—though this would be nice, too—but simply someone who writes for a living. It doesn’t even really matter the profession; the key idea here is creative professional who is working, employed… earning an income.

When I first began thinking seriously about potential career paths, freelance writing sounded admirable, interesting, challenging in all the right ways, downright peachy. The word “freelance” led me to visions of getting up in the morning to go work in my home office–my home office with the very tall windows that let just the right amount of light in–light that inspired me to keep writing when the going got rough (and not even rough so much, just tricky). And maybe there’s a mug of tea to my right and a cherrywood bookcase full of books to my left and more books on the floor. It’s all very romantic. As for where the money comes from in this story, for a long time there was no need to think about it. I wasn’t there yet. I was in college or a year or two out, trying simply to find my own voice. Just shoot for becoming a writer, I thought. Practice putting pen to paper and see what happens. The rest will figure itself out.

Fast forward a few years and the writing life is satisfying, yes, but it’s also just plain hard. I think I always knew the vision I had in my head for so long was an illusion. Maybe not for an established writer, but for the 20-something woman just starting out, definitely. And it’s hard for different reasons than I thought it would be.

For the first few years of my writing life, I worried that I wouldn’t have anything valuable or interesting to say. Then I worried that I wouldn’t be able to figure out how to say what I wanted to say well. What if I didn’t know how to tell a good story? And then, out of nowhere it seemed, all of these concerns disappeared. Of course I had something to say; everybody does. Of course I could teach myself how to do a better job of putting together sentences and paragraphs, fleshing out ideas, making persuasive arguments. The real challenges would be a) finding the courage to write b) making the time for writing and b) not unrelated, making money doing it.  These things seem pretty straightforward and practical, but for me at least, absolutely have not been.

Setting aside time to write and making an effort to put yourself out there, submit your writing to publishers, become a working writer—all of this requires the ability to advocate for yourself. Advocating for yourself requires believing you are truly worth the time and money you hope to gain for your work. Here’s the fun(ny) part… I had no idea how little I believed I was worth. I’ve always felt confident enough in my abilities. I amuse myself. I’d totally hang out with me if I wasn’t already with myself every second of every day. I know I can write well. So what gives? Liking yourself is just fine; respecting yourself, believing you are worth good pay for your creative abilities is quite another. When push came to shove, I didn’t believe I was worth good money. Why not? This is for me to figure out, for each of us to figure out for ourselves.

But if like me, you need to build this muscle—the ability to advocate for yourself—pretty  much from scratch, here’s what I suggest:

Find people who know what they’re worth and don’t apologize for it. Watch what these folks do, listen to what they say, follow their lead. It will feel good being paid appropriately for your time and energy.

Develop new habits. Every time you think to ask yourself, “Who am I to get this job? Who am I to earn this much? Who am I to spend all day writing when other people have to go to work?” replace these questions with “Why shouldn’t I get this job? Why shouldn’t I earn this much? Why shouldn’t I get to spend all day writing?” When you ask yourself to consider what your deepest feelings are about yourself, it becomes harder and harder to honestly say, “I’m not worth it.”

Practice your ass off. Practice writing, practice putting yourself out there, practice asking for what you’re worth when applying for jobs. Practice works wonders. And if you don’t believe me, think of when you were a kid and you couldn’t do something you really wished you knew how to be able to do. As a toddler, apparently I cried and cried about not knowing how to read when my older brother was already reading up a storm. Needless to say, I can read now. I must have practiced enough until one day it paid off and I finally got somewhere, until all of a sudden things began to add up, things began to make sense.

Recommended reading: The Soul of Money by Lynn Twist


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