Overcoming Imposter Syndrome as a Freelance Writer
Tips for recognizing your writing talents when you feel self-doubt kicking in.
Can I really charge this much? Am I even worth this amount?
Who am I to write about a topic like this?
Others are far more qualified. People will see right through me.
Whether you’ve been freelance writing for a while or just getting started, these thoughts have probably crossed your mind.
You’re experiencing imposter syndrome.
If you’re a writer with self-doubt holding you back, this article is for you.
What is Imposter Syndrome?
Imposter syndrome happens when you think you’re not knowledgeable or talented enough in your domain of expertise. You attribute your progress to dumb luck. You might even think you fooled people into believing you are better than you actually are.
The key word here is “think” — your thoughts are not always reality.
For freelance writers, imposter syndrome often manifests as doubt in their writing skills. You might believe that people shouldn’t have to pay for your subpar writing skills. Or maybe you’re writing about a topic you don’t feel qualified to write about.
In other words, you’re a fraud.
Chances are, you’re dramatizing how “bad” you really are. You’re downplaying your efforts and results. Reality shows you’re actually quite talented at your craft — writing.
Tips for Overcoming Imposter Syndrome as a Freelance Writer
If you’re paralyzed by imposter syndrome, the following tips may help you realize your true value.
#1 Accept it as a sign that you’re on the right track.
In his book, The War of Art, Steven Pressfield writes:
Self-doubt can be an ally. This is because it serves as an indicator of aspiration. It reflects love, love of something we dream of doing, and desire, desire to do it. If you find yourself asking yourself (and your friends), “Am I really a writer? Am I really an artist?” chances are you are.
The counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident. The real one is scared to death.
If you enter freelance writing (especially with the intention of quitting your day job), then writing is something you genuinely want to do.
Not many people leave the stability of a day job to write words for a living.
If you find yourself doubting your skills, recognize it as a reminder that writing is something you deeply care about. Learning it, sharpening it and applying it. At the end of the day, you love it.
(I definitely recommend reading The War of Art, if you haven’t already. It has tons of re-read value.)
#2 Submit great work.
It’s obvious, I know. But I like to make it a habit of not making answers more complicated than needed.
You know it in your gut when you submit crappy work. You didn’t spend enough time researching. Your structure was sloppy. Or you ran your work through Grammarly but didn’t take extra time to polish it with a careful eye.
You cannot 100% guarantee how the client will respond to your work. But can you say with certainty that you did the best work you could in the time provided?
If not, start there.
#3 Keep going.
Sometimes, imposter syndrome surfaces because you just don’t have enough experience. Your writing may be good, but you don’t have a track record of satisfied clients to prove it.
With each freelance writing job you complete, you slowly build your identity: a writer who writes for a living. You prove to yourself (and your clients) that you deliver on your promises.
Over time, this experience builds into confidence.
It’s okay to experience self-doubt here and there. But don’t let it paralyze you. Keep going.
#4 Study your revisions.
If you’ve been working with clients, they likely returned your work with revisions. I remember the first time a client returned an article splashed with revisions. I panicked.
Did I really miss the mark that much? I asked myself.
But when I took time to reflect on my revisions, I noticed patterns in my writing. Often, I made points, assuming the reader the prerequisite knowledge needed to understand these concepts. I was taking the reader’s knowledge for granted.
See, imposter’s syndrome is easier to quell when you have something specific to point to. It’s easy to say, Dang, my writing just really sucks. It’s more productive to say These are the specific flaws in my writing my editors are calling out. I need to address them.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are the symptoms of imposter syndrome?
Imposter syndrome can often lead to feelings of anxiety and frustration. Often, freelance writers will experience low confidence in their skills and may doubt their accomplishments. Many freelance writers experience imposter syndrome multiple times throughout their career, so find comfort knowing that you are not alone.
Can imposter syndrome be a good thing?
Imposter syndrome can serve as a counter to arrogance — humility and a little self-doubt are often good for keeping your ego in check.
Also, if you’re feeling anxiety or fear about a specific project, it often indicates that you’re challenging yourself. Completing projects despite self-doubt can bring valuable experience and growth.
Why are freelancers susceptible to imposter syndrome?
Due to the nature of freelancing, many writers tend to be highly independent perfectionists. Freelance writers may be talented but often set extremely high standards — failure to meet these self-imposed criteria may lead to self-doubt or disappointment. The trick to overcoming imposter syndrome as a freelance writer is recognizing your achievements, but still acknowledging room for improvements.
How can freelancers battle imposter syndrome?
There is no all-cure for battling imposter syndrome. However, continuing to deliver high-quality work and building a track record of satisfied clients can help freelance writers build confidence.
Also, collecting positive testimonials and successful case studies are useful for referencing when freelance writers feel self-doubt settling in.
Dan is a freelance writer specializing in small business and personal finance. He works with FinTech and B2B companies and has written extensively about small business, from startup guides to payment processor reviews. Hire him to write for YOU at danmarticio.com.