This writing stuff is hard work.
It often seems that whenever I start to think that I am catching up or (laugh) even getting ahead, the brainstorming begins and I realize just how much I have yet to do. Great, so that query was accepted by my editor—who do I need to contact first? And have I followed up on that latest round of queries I sent last week? No “yes’s” this month means I need work—are there jobs on O-Desk or Elance at the moment that will actually pay a livable American wage? What about an hour from now? Are my Facebook ads even working for me? Can anyone find my website, and if so, is it current? And on and on it goes…
Making your living as a freelance writer can truly set your head to spinning. I never knew just how disorganized I really was until I began freelancing professionally almost a year ago, and let me tell you, losing work as a result of a misplaced file is one really quick way to learn a lesson the hard way, though I would advise against it. Sometimes it can all get so overwhelming that, rather than tackle a single issue in the long list of “gotta’s”, I would rather just shut down, tune out, and begin the process of trying to convince myself that what I “deserve” is a 5-day weekend. A single day of sloth, though, invariably found me back in front of my laptop with just as much work to do, and one day less to do it.
The short of it, I think, is this: if you want to make a living writing, THERE IS ALWAYS GOING TO BE SOMETHING TO DO, paid or unpaid. It is best you get used to it. Learn to love it, even. When I first began getting regular work as a writer and editor, I couldn’t shut it off. Even when out on a date with my wife, my gears would be turning over alternative angles to rejected pitches, ways I could condense a piece to meet the assignment’s maximum word count, contacts I needed to reach to improve an article or post…
This had the result of injecting a sort of passivity into my experience of daily life. I was going through my day-to-day as an observer—a reporter on the goings-on around me rather than an active participant in my own life. I had begun the spiral into “living to work” rather than the other way around, which I had always felt more spiritually appropriate to our race*.
I was stressed out all of the time. While conducting an interview, my mind might wander to thoughts about my next appointment, finding another source, or even ideas for future articles. Since I was always thinking about the next place that I needed to go, I was never able to be completely present where I was.
No doubt my work, or at least my correspondence, suffered to some extent as a result of this rushing, and my nerves certainly couldn’t take another month of it, let alone a lifetime.
So what did I do?
Basically, I hit the brakes. I took a couple of days and put my assignments aside. I picked up a few things I needed—a day planner, a small pocket notebook, some pens. I reached out to new editors, taking my time with the pitches and queries to (hopefully) maximize their effect. I read new publications, found some new places to submit old, as-of-yet, unpublished queries, and brainstormed some blog ideas for the future. I made a couple of Excel spreadsheets to keep my correspondence in line, and then I worked on something for me—escaping into short stories (reading or writing) is a great way for me personally to forget about assignments and deadlines and just focus on what I love; writing as a craft, practice, and art form. Most of you probably have your own literary safe havens.
As I am somewhat of a rookie to the world of freelancing, money cannot be relied on as a source of professional motivation. What I do have, though, is a passion for the craft. Also, I have a pretty good job. I make my own schedule, I write about what is important to me, and I am working very hard to try and establish a place for myself in this greater-than-me dialogue—what more could a lifelong bookworm ask for?
Still working a day job while you try and break in? Relax. Use the resources you have– talk to your customers, tell them about your blog, and find out what they look for in casual reading material. Be patient, be present, and your diligence will show in your writing.
Sometimes, even though I am doing what I love, I have to slow down and remind myself that the labor, the stress, the rejections are all worthwhile; that every “No” and every “Try Again” are actually just challenges to get better, and that each successive “No” makes the “Yes” that will follow it that much sweeter. When I can do that, when I can slow myself down, I am more capable of gratitude and, for that matter, less prone to procrastination.
How do you keep from overwhelming yourself as a writer or freelance professional? How do you make sure you are “working to live” instead of the alternative? I would love to hear from you…