When people ask me for advice, especially strangers, my initial reaction is usually the same---I shrug my shoulders and tell them I am not an expert. I tell them that I have not been formally trained in anything and that I make up all my own rules. I have only recently come to realize that in doing this, I am trying to be humble but I am actually being selfish. Just because I lack confidence in my writing and photography doesn't mean that I have nothing to offer. On the contrary, I suppose I have everything to offer. I can offer everything that works for me. And maybe, just maybe....one or two of these things will work for you. Dear Ashlee,
I have always wanted to be a writer, and I recently decided to take the plunge and become a freelance writer and editor. But I am deeply terrified and find that I am talking myself off the ledge at least once a day. I haven't even started yet!
Basically, I want to know if you have any advice for a newbie freelancer drowning in her own fear? I know that you took the step not too long ago yourself. How did you push through it?
I wish I could tell you how I have overcome my own fear of failure and figured out how to be brave and vulnerable in my writing, but alas, I am still figuring out how to do that. One day at a time, one word at a time, I am still learning how to embrace the mere title of “writer”, let alone how to simply be one.
I guess if I had to offer you advice, it would be this—start slow. Dip your toes in the water. Find yourself, find your writing voice. They are often one in the same. Be honest and heartfelt. If you wake up at 2am with thoughts swirling around in your brain, just get up and write them down. I have done that more times than I can count.
Make space to write, space to think. Writing needs time, it needs room to breathe. Sometimes that means turning the TV off and heading to Starbucks at 8pm on a Wednesday night by yourself.
Surround yourself with people who believe in you. That is not a cliché, that is actually what you need to do. When I say “people who believe in you” I do not mean “people who tell you what you want to hear”. You simply need a team, Your A Team, to be there to lift you up when you feel like giving up, as all of us writers do at some point.
You're married, right? Your husband should be your biggest supporter. If your husband is not a writer (like mine), you will need to explain to him what it means to be a writer. You will need to explain to him that when you say, “I need to write” it is the same thing as saying, “I need to go to therapy”. It is essential, non-negotiable, a need to be taken seriously. You won’t always need to write, but sometimes you will. It's your job to determine when writing is a need, and it's your husband's job to support you in that need.
Self-doubt is a beast. It will eat you for breakfast if you turn your back for half a second. In my experience, the best way to fight self doubt is to limit the noise you expose yourself to. For me, noise = blogs and Pinterest. I use those things in moderation to connect with other people and feel inspired, but there is a fine line between feeling inspired and completely losing yourself. I've learned that the less noise I expose myself to, the better my art is.
It’s easy to look at someone else’s writing and say, “They already wrote about that topic, and said it better than I can.” But here’s the thing about writing: nobody can say anything better than you can, because you have your own story to tell, your own life to live, and your own lens through which you see the world. If you put 100 writers in a room and ask them to write about the sunset, not two stories would be the same. That is the beautiful and hard thing about writing—it is 100% you, 100% of the time.
If you’re struggling to write, take a break. Don’t force it.
Edit more, and then edit again, then cut out 100 words, and then edit one more time. I am horrible at editing, but someone gave me this advice once and I thought it was brilliant so I'm passing it along to you. (One day I will learn how to write short blog posts. One day.)
If you have one hour to write, set yourself up for success, whatever that means to you. For me, that looks like a clean room, stretchy pants, and a burning candle. Setting the stage is part of the process.
Always carry a notebook. Talk to strangers. Invite yourself into stories on a regular basis.
Know what your art is worth. In these technology-driven days, people simply do not value art. They will want you to write for free, almost all of the time. Say yes when you want to say yes and say no when you want to say no.
You are never obligated to create art for free. When you DO create art for free, that is your gift.
Be generous with your gift. God gave it to you for a reason.