How I Handle Negative Thoughts as a Writer

Does any of this sound familiar? My pitch is terrible- I’m never going to land this job. I shouldn’t even …

Does any of this sound familiar?

My pitch is terrible- I’m never going to land this job.

I shouldn’t even apply; there’s going to be people applying who have much more experience.

She said my work is good, but maybe she was just being polite.

This article is awful. I can’t believe I have to turn this in.

The deadline is coming up- I’m never going to be done in time!

Why did I pitch this? Now I have to write it and I have no idea where to start!

As a freelance writer, negative thoughts may be par for the course. We have unique jobs where we are hired, complete our requirements, and then may be done with that job just as quickly as we started.

Long-term contracts are ideal, but they may not be as common, especially when first starting out.

If you’re new to freelance writing, you likely haven’t built up your confidence yet. Even if you have doubts about yourself and your abilities, you need to learn how to put these negative thoughts aside. The frame of mind you have when it comes to being a freelance writer can directly impact your success.

Rejection and Silence are Common Responses

Part of my thick skin for freelance writing comes from a brief stint as an actor. I received a BFA in theater from NYU, and for a short time after graduation, I tried to be a working actor in New York.

I now realize how this prepared me for a career in freelance writing.

As an actor, you send out resumes to casting directors and agents. There is often zero response. When trying to “make it” in New York, I went to countless auditions, but actually getting a part was rare.

As a freelancer, you may send out tens or hundreds of cold pitches, with no response in sight.

Or, when applying for a specific freelance job, the only response you get might be that you’re not getting hired.

These moments can be disheartening.

The negative voice that we all have tends to get louder and louder in these types of situations.

It tries to convince us that we’re just not good enough, we won’t be successful, and may even make us believe that we should give up.

We need to learn how to take control of this voice.

Negativity and Doubt is Normal

We all have the negative voice. Some people are simply better at quieting it.

The good news is that you can get better at shutting down the negative voice, but it takes time and practice.

Sometimes this voice comes up when we haven’t built up confidence. This can be a sign that we need to do more to prepare and to earn our confidence.

For example, you might want to take a writing course, write more for fun, or get feedback from someone you trust on your pitches.

However, even with skill and experience, the negative voice can still show up.

Due to the nature of this work: ongoing pitches and applications, work that is one-and-done, and a response of rejection or silence, negativity and doubt are normal.

It can seem like a terrible cycle. But you’ll get through it!

How to Silence the Negative Voice

Keep in mind that it can be a challenge to get rid of all the negativity, especially if this tends to be a pattern of yours. The good news is though, with effort, practice, and patience, you can likely quiet your negative voice.

Step 1: Notice the negative thoughts

We can’t change anything until we’re aware of it.

In your writing, you won’t be able to stop creating run-on sentences if you don’t notice that you write them.

At home, you won’t be able to stop cracking your knuckles if everyone but you realizes you’re doing it.

We all have habits, but we can only change those we notice.

Take the time to be mindful of the way you’re thinking, especially when it comes to your writing (though you can apply these same ideas to any area of life where you notice you have negative thoughts).

For example, put a sticky note by your computer that says, “What am I thinking?” or set an alarm on your phone for every 20 minutes while you write so you can check in with yourself.

Use these reminders to take notice of what you’re thinking about.

Often, the more we start to pay attention, the more we notice. It’s the same phenomenon when you buy a new car or new jacket: you start to see them everywhere.

They’ve always been there- you’re just noticing them more because you’ve started to pay attention.

Keep in mind that you want to take note of not only negative thoughts where you put yourself or your work down but also thoughts that just aren’t helpful.

Distracting thoughts can be very problematic for writers as well.

If you’re trying to get into a groove with an article and you start thinking about your weekend plans, this is going to get in the way of the task. For our purposes, we can treat negative or distracting thoughts in the same way- we basically want to get rid of them.

But how?

Step 2: Stop the negative or distracting thoughts

Once you notice thoughts that aren’t helpful, you need to stop them.

This is where we use what’s called a “thought-stopping cue.”

Simply put, it’s a word, a visual reminder, or even an action, that reminds you to stop that particular thought.

For example, you can simply say “Stop!” in response to wondering if your editor is going to like the piece, you can look at a picture on your desk anytime you begin thinking about non-work tasks, or you can decide that anytime you have a negative thought, you’re going to shake out your hands as a reminder to get rid of that kind of thinking.

The type of cue you use is up to you, and you can have more than one.

The main point is that when you notice the negative thought, you need to short-circuit it; don’t let it continue.

But, what if you tell yourself to stop, but the thought comes back?

That’s normal. That’s why there’s step three!

Step 3: Replace the thought with something positive or useful

It’s very hard to get thoughts to go away simply by using a cue. We need to be prepared to replace those unwanted thoughts with something else.

Once you’ve noticed the negative/unwanted thought, use your cue to stop it, and then tell yourself something positive or helpful.

For example, if you’ve said, “I can’t get this assignment done on time,” you’d then say “Knock it off! I’ve always been able to get assignments in, even if it’s been close to the deadline.”

Or, if you get a rejection to a pitch and you think “Why do I keep trying? I’m obviously not cut out for this!” you’d look at a picture of your family and say, “Every pitch I send is one step closer to a job, regardless of the outcome.”

You need to be able to respond with something positive, helpful, or that looks at the situation in a different way.

You might not feel positive and happy after, but if you can neutralize your thinking a bit, that’s a good start.

The bottom line is that we don’t want to stick with the negative thinking because it can eat away at your confidence and your motivation.

The way that we think directly impacts our feelings and our actions. If we spend too much time thinking negatively, then we can ultimately influence how much work we accomplish and the overall quality of that work.

As a freelance writer, when our continued success is related to the strength of our writing and our ability to work efficiently, we don’t want to waste time or get in our own way with negative thinking.

Though it can be hard to change our thought patterns, it can be done.

Put up reminders around your workstation, in your planner, or on your phone–wherever you need them–to develop a new habit of noticing negative thinking, stopping it, and then replacing those negative thoughts with ones that are much more helpful.

Just like freelance writing, don’t give up if you find this is a struggle.

Remember that both writing and positive thinking are skills that can be developed. Take the time to develop some positive thinking to enhance your freelance writing skills.

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