My heart was pounding. Every muscle in my body was engaged and working harder than ever. I breathed through wave after wave of panic and seemingly life-or-death fear. Then a new and thrilling sense of triumph swept over me, when I finally saw the bell at the top of the climbing wall.
For the first time ever, it was within my reach!
From the ground my friends shouted encouraging words, like, “You can do it!” and even more helpful, “Don’t worry, your equipment works!”
One handhold at a time I moved up, up, up until I could reach the bell. I gave it a solid slap, shouted “Take!” to the belayer, and hung there for a moment, enjoying my achievement.
That’s when it occurred to me being a freelance writer is a lot like rock climbing. In fact, I came up with seven ways the two activities are exactly the same.
It can be scary. The first time I tried to climb, I thought it was incredibly easy… until my body was 12 feet off the ground. At that point my brain’s primitive red flag warning system started going wild. Stress hormones flooded my nervous system, convincing me I was in a life-or-death situation.
Even though the next handhold was only five inches away, I couldn’t reach it. I was too terrified to move.
The only way I could climb higher than 12 feet was to teach myself to deal with stress.
As a writer, you might feel paralyzed by fear, too. Pitching stories, showing your work to others, getting criticism, finding clients, cold calling, sending invoices, and raising rates are all things that can bring your anxiety up a notch … or even send it spiraling out of control. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
You may be asking, “How do I convince myself to calm down when my body’s in panic mode?” Here’s how I did it …
You have to practice falling. In my rock-climbing class we spent a very productive 20 minutes falling on purpose. During that time, I could take a wild grab at that tiny plastic knob and feel what happens when I missed. My body swung to the left but I didn’t fall. It was actually kind of fun.
After completely biffing it on the wall, I realized the belayer was ready and I wasn’t going to crash to my death. The worry dissolved, and I started having fun again.
Identify what areas in your writing life stress you out, and find a way to practice falling. If you’re worried about getting feedback, then get together with other writers and swap stories a few times. Some people will be really harsh, other people will give you compliments, some people will be helpful while others will zero in on mundane details. If your blood pressure spikes when you see red ink on your manuscript, let it spike, and then notice afterward that you’re still alive.
If you’re worried about talking to potential clients, ask some of your friends to ask you tough questions about what you offer. Go to networking events and practice telling people about what you do.
When I practiced deliberately slipping off handholds, I eventually learned to trust the equipment and feel safe. Practice taking risks, even if it means you try something that doesn’t work.
It’s better to fail at something than to let fear keep you from reaching the next handhold.
You need to learn the language. When you climb, you never just scramble up a wall or cliff without saying a word. There’s a lingo. Commands between climber and belayer such as “on belay” and “belay on”… “climbing” and “climb on” are more than verbal secret handshakes. Saying them ensures you and your belayer are ready to go and everything is safe.
Writing is the same way. Learning how to communicate with potential customers is the key to getting and keeping work. You need to describe what you do in a way that’s meaningful to the potential client.
Schedule time to research the people you want to work for. Read their blogs and white papers. Follow them on social media and pay attention to their posts. Find out what specific problems they’re trying to solve and how you can help them. The more you learn about your prospects, the more successful you’ll be at landing work.
You have to double check your own knots. As a freelancer, you are in charge of your own financial safety.
That means you need to:
- save up enough money to get by before you quit your job;
- make sure you charge enough money to meet expenses like child care, insurance, and retirement;
- connect with people who will have your back when you need support;
- create contracts and agreements that protect your best interests.
Partnering up is good. Partnering with different types of people is even better. When I was getting belay certified, I asked a guy at the gym if I could belay for him. He was unbelievably fast, and I had to keep up with him. The experience made me feel more confident in my abilities. Another time I belayed for someone who was a beginner. She was heavier than me and worked her way slowly up the wall. That experience was just as useful.
No matter where you are in your career, be open to meeting new people. Never be afraid to talk to people who are more successful than you, and recognize that people who are just beginning have a lot of valuable ideas, too.
It helps to use your strength efficiently. I struggled with rock climbing (and freelance writing) at first. With climbing, I was tempted to believe things would get easier if I lost weight. But my friend, who moves up a wall like a spider, said everyone feels heavy at first. The secret is to push up with your legs, rather than pull yourself up with your arms.
As a writer, it’s important to use your energy wisely. Write during times in the day when you feel fresh. Know what your talents are, and write about topics you understand. Seek work from people who have the money to pay you. Find a way to generate business as quickly as possible. Never hesitate to find ways to make your business run more efficiently. Otherwise you run the risk of getting tired out, and discouraged before you reach the top.
It’s a rush — enjoy it! The best thing about rock climbing and writing is there are unlimited opportunities to succeed. In every gym, you can choose from many ropes and an infinite number of paths to the top. You can get outside, travel, and use rock climbing as an excuse to experience the world at a deeper level.
Writing is the same way. You can apply your skills to any industry, and use it to bring value to nearly any work situation. As a writer, you can create your own path by starting a business, writing blogs or books and even make a living from anywhere in the world.
The satisfaction I felt the first time I got a client, the first time I published an article, made a website, and landed a client is a lot like the first time I reached the top of the wall at the YMCA. It’s exciting. When you reach your goals, no matter what they are, take the time to enjoy the moment.