If you are a professional writer, you are in a creative field. As a creative professional, your work is inherently subjective. When you put it out in the world, it is being offered up for judgment.
This judgment can come from all sectors: your colleagues and editors (if you work with a writing team), your client (if you’re a freelance writer), your boss (if you’re a staff writer), you get the idea.
You also may not yet know this, but the further up the food chain you get in this profession (working with bigger and bigger businesses) the critiques get more in-depth, and you have to go through multiple rounds of review to get to a final product.
This is hard. And, unless you’re made of stone, it will make you feel anxious.
There is almost no personality that loves this, especially not the types of personalities writers usually have. We are typically introspective people. Reflective. Deep. It’s what makes us good at writing. But it’s also what makes it hard to live in the competitive, high-stakes world of marketing.
Regardless of whether you’re sensitive, you need to figure out a way to deal with the anxiety that comes from having your work evaluated by third-parties, ripped to shreds, torn down, etc.
This will happen. People will hate what you produce. They’ll call it names. They’ll question your intellect. And these aren’t even the mean people.
It’s just the reality of what happens when you try to convey internal ideas and instincts to another human. It’s a vulnerable exercise and it will rarely be met with absolute, unconditional acceptance.
If you can’t stomach this, you won’t last as a marketing writer. So, let’s talk about how to cope with the anxiety.
A true sign of a mature writer is the ability to separate your identity from the work. Marketers aren’t writing autobiographies. And while there should be truth in your work, you shouldn’t take feedback personally.
The best writer can take the work, metaphorically put it in the middle of the room, and let everyone voice their opinions. Without being devastated. Yes, you created it. But it isn’t you.
That may be hard to believe.
You need to actively counter internal messages that harsh words about your work are people’s opinions for you. That’s a false equivocation. If you lack the ability to facilitate conversations about the work and incorporate it into your writing, you have to gain that ability.
Immature writers get super defensive. They look at a piece with every line scratched and go into defense mode: they just don’t get it, they don’t know what I was going for, this isn’t a good client for me.
Find the truth in feedback. Don’t be afraid of it.
Let it serve as a measuring stick against which to pragmatically self-evaluate. It’s a gift to realize you aren’t as competent as you thought you were.
A rant (sorry not sorry):
Most people go into freelance writing because they were told they were good at writing. But the chasm between “competent in college” or “good with words” and a professional writer is immense. If you don’t get that yet, you won’t be progressing. And you’ll live in this weird imbalance of overconfidence and incompetence that hamstrings your entire career.
You may truly lack skill. So, get better. You may have done an awful job. Own it and fix it. If you get defensive, you’ll lose. If you wither, you’ll lose.
You have to crush anxiety and be brave enough to look major critiques in the face and figure out what they mean. Then you have to be honest with yourself, grateful for the truth, and committed to growing.
Here’s the thing: most freelance writers will never make it big, work with large organizations and make great money. I think it’s for one reason: they’re comfortable with little. They’re comfortable with solopreneurs and small businesses because it’s virtually risk-free. They get to be an authority figure; they have this tiny bank of knowledge that they wield with overconfidence and no one ever says, “actually, that’s not right,” or “actually, that’s not best practice,” or “actually, that’s not very good.”
If you want to venture into MORE, you have to push against the idea that you’re untouchable when you play it safe.
“But that’s out of my comfort zone.”
Ah, but, you see, a comfort zone can expand.
So push it out a little. Then get comfortable again. Then push it again. And so on. You’ll get these waves of anxiety every time, but you’ll quickly learn you’re more durable than you think. Those waves, too, will diminish over time, as your lizard brain realizes these challenges aren’t actual threats, but invitations to grow stronger.
The way anxiety hits or affects you will vary day to day. It will largely depend on your current emotional state and margin. And it's important to learn yourself, and also to learn what triggers you and what your tolerances are.
For instance, there are certain types of clients that, for me, are triggering. The way they provide feedback or the way they push activates anxiety in me. So I don’t work with clients like that, or I limit the amount of time I have to work with them. I can’t really explain it other than to say that I know myself and I know that some mix of personality types and communication styles don’t work for me. I’ll never be at my creative best.
You also have to learn what you can tolerate. For instance, if you want to work as a writer for fintech for a decent-sized company, you will probably have 4-6 rounds of revisions for every single piece you ever write. It will take 6-8 weeks to write a blog because it has to go to managers, executives, through legal, etc. Same with medical work.
Can you tolerate that? Will it make you irate or frustrated to end up with a piece that looks nothing like your original writing? Not every writer can handle it. Know your tolerances. You can’t pursue work in a field that will be miserable and have you living as a ball of anxiety.
Last, the best way to manage anxiety as a creative professional (and, I guess, a human) is to keep tabs on yourself. Anxiety can escalate. You can have all of these tiny subconscious thoughts and impressions that mount over time and become something truly unmanageable.
Don’t let it get to that level. Pay attention to your emotional state. Pay attention when you’re feeling emotionally bankrupt. Give yourself space. Be kind to yourself. Don’t just keep pushing when everything in you is crying out for a break.
Remember that operating as a creative person and a creative professional are two different things. You can be expressive and creative and work in a normal, non-creative profession. When your income is on the line, you can’t escape some pressure.
Some people I know are exceptionally talented and have found the commercialization of their talent to be utterly unwelcome. Not everyone should be creative as a job. You need nerves of steel, a ton of grit, relentless drive, and the ability to masterfully manage your own anxieties.
It’s doable. But you need to know yourself, know what you’ll be up against, and learn ways to manage anxiety, stress, and high demands effectively.
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