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Thread: Would social anxiety preclude work as freelancer?

  1. #1
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin
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    Apr 2010

    Would social anxiety preclude work as freelancer?

    I am brand-new to the idea of freelancing (just started researching yesterday) so bear with me if some of my information is limited or incorrect.

    Some background info: I am 24 and looking into freelance writing, most likely as part-time work to supplement my current income. I also have social anxiety, and I am trying to determine how much of a deterrent this may be to finding and securing work.

    In terms of the process itself, I am more than willing to do the work needed to develop and polish my writing skills, as well as research the business-related aspects. The bigger concern is how I would fare in the more personal modes of communication. I have few problems communicating in written form, but in-person and over the phone, the anxiety is readily apparent.

    From what I understand, the initial door in is almost always through written means (i.e., query letters) but how much in-person and phone contact is involved after that? And how much of a factor is that personal contact in securing the job?

    I am currently working on the issues behind the social anxiety, but because this is something that will not resolve overnight, I want to be realistic in assessing what will be possible within the confines of my current situation.

    Any input is appreciated. I do plan to do further research but would like to have more information on the process before devoting all my energy to something that may ultimately prove to be a futile pursuit.

  2. #2
    The moving hand, having writ... AW Moderator Maryn's Avatar
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    Feb 2005
    Creeping Up Behind You
    A family member has social anxiety disorder (SAD), under treatment for many years. She's about your age, and I would not recommend freelancing to her even though she's much improved. The basic nature of the work may well involve the hated telephone and quite often require speaking to people willing to share their expertise or experience. While she can and does make herself do a little of this sort of thing in her work, she dreads it and finds it a huge challenge and a humiliation, since she's well aware most people wouldn't have a problem with it.

    Depending on the severity of your SAD, you may find you're able to adopt a persona of the freelancer who doesn't have SAD, in essence playing it like a role any time the work demands it. But if that's beyond you at this point, then I would think freelancing would be seriously stressful and not a great choice.

    Note that I'm not a freelancer myself, and my impression of the level and depth of contact could be all wrong. The working freelancers here know more about that than I do, for sure. But I've got a pretty good feel for the limitations imposed by SAD.

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  3. #3
    bushed Bushrat's Avatar
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    Aug 2009
    among the wolves
    It totally depends on what you plan on writing about. Obviously, if the kind of articles you have in mind involve a lot of interviews, you won't get around making phone calls. Some people agree to do interviews via email, but you can't count on that.

    But in my opinion, there are lots of areas where you can get by without talking to people. Writing reviews or articles that provide background info on something (travel, outdoors stuff) don't necessarily require that you talk to someone. You might also be able to sell article about things you've done or experienced yourself.

    I've been freelancing for about 3 years now, writing mostly about outdoorsy stuff, and also have a weekly column, and so far I haven't interviewed a single person.

    I guess you can always give it a try and see how things work out for you. It's not that easy to get a foot in the door anyway - not the kind of thing where if you decide to do it, you'll sell things for sure.

  4. #4
    practical experience, FTW
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    Fieldoflife, welcome!

    I agree with Bushrat that it really depends on the type of writing you want to do. Freelancing as a news stringer for the local paper, for instance, would require LOTS of face-to-face contact, but writing movie reviews or "Tip of the Day" type columns wouldn't very much contact at all.

    Blogging is another possibility where you don't even have to leave home, but it also requires online networking with other bloggers in order to be successful, so it would depend on your comfort level with that.

    As far as freelancing for magazines, I've had nice relationships with editors I never even met. With the Internet running things these days, I think you'll be able to find some writing work at your comfort level, whatever that may be.

    And I'm glad to hear you're working to resolve your issues. Good luck to you.

  5. #5
    Have you JHS today? JenNipps's Avatar
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    Feb 2005
    south-central Oklahoma
    But as an example of someone who has/had an anxiety disorder and has become quite successful at freelancing, there is Jenna Glatzer.

    (Sorry, I can't comment much more at the moment. Babysitting my twin nieces. )
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  6. #6
    Otherwise Occupied Cassiopeia's Avatar
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    Aug 2006
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    Yes, Jen, I was going to mention Jenna as well.

    She's done very well for herself and I think it has helped her a lot over the years to deal with her anxiety disorder.

    "The key to writing success is perseverance, don't get discouraged,
    write from the heart and what emerges will be worthwhile." ~Author Bob Lee

  7. #7
    Busy, busy, busy Domoviye's Avatar
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    Feb 2010
    Hi Fieldoflife
    So far in my freelancing I've had to make one phone call and that was from an editor helping me with my SEO. I mostly focus on SEO copy writing and that is done primarily through e-mails. It's not the best money in the world (at least not for me, yet) but as a secondary income it can bring in a nice bit of change.
    As the others have also said there are several different areas of freelancing that you can cover. Just make sure to apply and query only in the areas that you can handle. You may have to turn down a few good jobs but there will be enough other jobs waiting to make up for it.
    So as long as you can make a very occasional phone call with clients and write informative e-mails you can get a lot of work with little difficulty.
    Good luck and I hope to hear more from you.
    Last edited by Domoviye; 04-18-2010 at 07:44 PM.

  8. #8
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin
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    Apr 2010
    Thanks for all the responses. Not much else to say right now, but it's given me more to consider.

  9. #9
    practical experience, FTW treehugger's Avatar
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    Feb 2008
    Zenith City of the Unsalted Seas
    Speaking as somebody with social anxiety: you can definitely do freelance writing as a side job for pocket change, but you may have a difficulty making a full-time living at it. Blogging, writing for content sites, writing book/movie/game/etc reviews all require little to no face-to-face or phone contact, but they tend to not pay very well, or there isn't much well-paying work available. Writing for newspapers or magazines is almost always going to require doing interviews, and business writing is going to require a lot of contact with clients (a lot of it via e-mail, yeah, but also some phone calls or meetings).

    Still. Freelancing could help you work on some of your anxiety issues. In college, I interned in the PR office, which required making phone calls and conducting interviews. I was a total nervous wreck at first, but by the end of the semester I could pick up the phone and make the call without angsting about it for hours beforehand, and working in PR really helped make me more confident. I still can't freelance full time (all those interviews!) but I'm better now than I used to be, thanks to my time in PR.
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  10. #10
    Slave to the Wordcount WildScribe's Avatar
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    Aug 2006
    I would say you can definitely go for it, just be sure to only pitch articles that do not require interviews. If you aren't sure, email a potential subject ahead of time and ask them if they would be willing to conduct an email interview in advance.
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  11. #11
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin Jewely's Avatar
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    Nov 2010

    Best of Luck

    I also struggle with anxiety. At first, when I found out my novel was being published I was doing back flips of pure joy, then reality struck after reading the contract---I have to speak to people about my book. That may sound silly to most people, but after years of practically having to be peeled off the floor, you want to do everything you can to avoid the entire situation. I too am seeking help so I can take my writing to its fullest. Best of luck to you.

  12. #12
    Know what you write...
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    Aug 2006
    I know someone who suffers from severe anxiety, but who's also a great actor. I didn't know she had it until I read about it in an interview.

    Whether freelancing is a good idea for you? I guess it depends on how you approach the anxiety. I was pretty nervous about job interviews, but now that I've done several, I no longer suffer those nerves. Take steps to get rid of it. Try interviewing people when you don't have a job that relies on the result of the interview and see if you can improve.

    Also, there might be a stigma attached to seeing a psychiatrist, but a good one might be able to help you over your fears.

  13. #13
    Freelance Writer
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    Dec 2010
    Gravenhurst, Ontario
    I'm a 26-year-old freelance writer/designer who has social anxiety issues, and you can definitely become a freelance writer. You have to figure out where your current comfort zone is, and honestly just take things one day at a time. The worst thing I ever did was try and pretend that I didn't have a social anxiety problem; when you shed how you (and likely others) perceive you "should" be as a freelance writer, and accomplish goals as they are comfortable for you, you will find a great deal of success.

    I run a full-time website design business from my home, as well as write on a freelance basis. With my website design business, I stay within my comfort zone, while still accomodating my clients' preferences, and again take those preferences as they come. If you take small steps forward, it will help to alleviate the anxiety.

    Feel free to PM me anytime if you want to discuss your goals--I'd be more than happy to let you know of my challenges to help you either avoid them, or deal with them head on if they're unavoidable.
    Krissy Brady, Writer
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  14. #14
    New kid, be gentle!
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    Jan 2011
    I have marginal social anxiety and confidence issues.

    I work in Beijing as a freelance writer - something I fell into as a way to avoid teaching English. Personally, I find it hard and it's not something I want to do when I eventually go home. BUT, as people have mentioned above, it depends on what kind of writing you do. I initially started out doing travel pieces for a paper. After the 7th one, they said, 'Hey we like your style, could you maybe do a piece for the lifestyle section?' and from then on I had to start interacting with humans to write pieces. My initial response was to turn it down and run away screaming, but I knew I'd lose the chance to even submit travel pieces.

    If you go into writing for printed media, you have to bear in mind that the idea of you having social anxiety will not cross an editor's mind. They will want stories and you will need to talk to people.

    You said you are working on the issues behind SAS - that's a good start. Freelancing may help. The first time I had to interview someone I was so scared and was in a state the night before, but once I'd done a few, I noticed, it's not something I really react to any more. I still hate hearing the sound of my voice when I play back the recording. My main issue is telephoning people! I tend to scour local mags and websites and email them, rather than calling. But I have one editor who will message me a number and just say, 'Call it, interview the event organiser about the gig next week - 500 words for Monday. Thanks!'

    That usually sends me into melt down and my bf returns home to find me curled up on the sofa, gripping the phone, with my planned dialogue in front of me. I figure once I've done it a few more times, I might even get used to doing these urgent phone interviews.

  15. #15
    New Member; Teach Me About Thick Skin!
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    Feb 2011
    As others have noted, most freelance work for newspapers and news publications will involve making phone calls and/or interviewing folks in person.

    But why not look at it as an opportunity? One of the most awesome things about journalism is getting to do things you'd never be able to do otherwise.

    If you're writing on a topic that fascinates you, instead of just reading an article that quotes experts, YOU get to speak to those experts and ask them real questions.

    Instead of reading a description of a crime scene or a five-alarm fire, YOU get to interview the investigator, or snap photos while roaring flames are coming out of a building.

    One revelatory moment for me came when I was standing in the hallway of a building, looking at a car that had plowed through the wall 15 minutes earlier. I was interviewing a janitor who had literally just mopped that area of the floor and walked away when the car came crashing through. We were standing there, looking at the ruined hood poking through the wall, and the floors were still wet from the guy's mop.

    And I was thinking, I get to see this first-hand, something I'd never be able to do if I didn't have this job.

    I have also suffered from extreme social anxiety, and I know how crippling it can be. But I also learned that when I forced myself to talk to people, I quickly forgot my anxieties, and nothing is more gratifying than heading back with a notebook full of good stuff, knowing you have the pieces to a great story. It's tough getting over that initial anxiety hump, but it's worth it.

    As for phone interviews, you can be whoever you want to be over the phone. You can exude confidence.

    And if it helps, no competent editor is going to throw you to the wolves as a green reporter. They'll assign you an easy feature story, or send you to cover a festival or something else low-pressure, and if they're a pro they'll quickly get a sense of your comfort zone and ease you into the role of reporter. So don't worry about doing heavy lifting from the get-go – it's the editor's job to guide you and get you gradually accustomed to the work, just like it's their job to refine or reshape your copy into sparkling text, or to curate the content of their publication.

    With a little confidence and a solid editor behind you, you'll do fine. Good luck.

  16. #16
    practical experience, FTW Carradee's Avatar
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    Sep 2010
    As others have said, it depends on what you want to do. It also depends on what kind of clients you land or type of freelance work you do. I've never had face-to-face contact with a client, and I've only spoken to an editor on the phone if my SSN is needed.

    Though this might be changing, soon.
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  17. #17
    Hidin' the bodies SouthernFriedJulie's Avatar
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    May 2007
    Western New York
    I've fought with anxiety and depression my entire life. I'm moderately successful.

  18. #18
    figuring it all out
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    Feb 2011
    Though I've never been clinically diagnosed with social anxiety disorder, I consider myself rather sociophobic.

    Interestingly enough I find I have considerably less anxiety when coming from a professional or semi professional angle.

    For example, as part of a documentary project I had to organize interviews with various people I'd never met. In one instance I had to get in contact with an occult book store. I couldn't reach them via email or over the phone. Unwilling to give up I actually marched down to the shop to speak to them in person. My partner on the project was terrified the people would be annoyed to see us. In looser social situations I can be almost crippled by fear of disapproval and rejection. For some reason I had no such apprehension. If the book store staff refused to be in my doc, I wasn't any worse off then if I didn't contact them at all. I felt that my request was legitimate and refusal on their part wouldn't mean anything to me. In the end the people at the shop were all to happy to work with me.

    Similarly I was paid to film b-roll of a bar/dance club. In addition to general crowd shots I was supposed to ask people to look in the camera and say "we love (bar name)". Normally a dance club is the absolute last place you'd find me, and I'd sooner jump off a bridge then talk to strangers at one. Yet the fact that I was "doing my job" was enough to make me feel secure in what I was doing.

    I don't know if this has anything to do with your situation but I've always found that most of my social anxiety comes from not understanding the rules I'm supposed to be playing by and not knowing when I'm being met with disapproval. I feel a professional context to a social situation can make the rules more clear and the situation easier to deal with.

  19. #19
    Fear no darkness. Ulee_Lhea's Avatar
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    Nov 2008
    Land of smiles, wearing full riot gear
    So inspiring to hear these success stories. Big thanks to everyone who shared!

    And there is plenty of (decent paying) freelance work that does NOT involve interviews (if that's a stumbling block for you). Check out op-eds, medical and scientific writing, writing for businesses, blogging, personal essays and keep your eye out for markets that run stories requiring more research than reporting.

    If you're a good wordsmith, freelance editing might be another way to go. One of my favorite gigs right now is copy editing and fact checking for a more established freelancer who is slammed with work. It's a great arrangement -- she can take on even more work and I learn a ton from editing her stuff.
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