Recently I was invited to speak at an annual creative-writing workshop on the business of freelancing, something
I’ve done many times before. Only this audience was a bit different in that it consisted largely of novelists, short-story writers and poets.
They were eager to learn how they could use their talent for writing and get paid. In preparation, I began to think about long-term survival as an independent. Here are a few lessons I shared that I hope will help with your long-term sustainability.
Get organized. Freelancing is the ultimate multitasking occupation. Make sure your office environment is efficient and organized, with ample file space to track ideas and research, and bookshelves to house magazines to which you subscribe and books that inspire.
Track your pitches. Like other occupations, freelancers have many ideas, pitches and articles in different phases of development. Keep a file of your pitches so you don’t accidentally send one twice to the same editor.
Do your homework. Research means much more than a quick flip through a magazine or a quick reference to an online study you found in passing. Be as thorough as possible when conducting research about the magazine you’re pitching and the subject about which you plan to write. Study a year’s worth of magazines, check out the media kit usually available online to learn about its target demographic.
Read twice and read aloud. Every bit of writing you do, even casual correspondence via e-mail, is a reflection of your talent as a writer. Don’t send poorly worded e-mails. Read it out loud before you hit send to make sure it makes sense and is spelled correctly.
Revise, revise, revise and learn from editing. Take care to balance the instincts of your inner critic. When in doubt about a story, set it aside for a day and come back when you have a fresh perspective. Writers are filled with self-doubt, and there comes a point when self-doubt is paralyzing. You also need to learn when to move on.
When your story runs, compare the published piece with your original manuscript and find out what was kept, what was cut and what was changed.
Don’t get frustrated. When you receive a rejection, and you will get many, allow yourself five or 10 minutes to acknowledge your disappointment, but then move on. Indignation will get you nowhere. Learn to cherish the little handwritten notes and tips that, while housed within a rejection, give you the inspiration to persevere. There are a number of reasons why a pitch gets rejected, and it doesn’t always have to do with your writing.
Stretch your writing muscles. Keep pushing yourself as a writer and don’t allow yourself to get pigeonholed into one or two subjects. The name of the longevity game is getting a breadth of different kinds of work so you don’t wind up with all your eggs in one basket. If you’re interested in a different subject, keep pushing yourself to get those assignments.
Back up weekly. One computer crash will convince you this is a necessity. If you want to throw your gastrointestinal tract (not to mention your already-dysfunctional sleep cycle) into a fit, just try dealing without a backup.
Get out of the office. Some of the best story ideas are found when you are out and about. Network with others, get involved with your local SPJ chapter, form a freelance support network in your area, share editing with another freelancer whom you trust, have a no-agenda lunch with an editor — just make sure to regularly get out of the isolating realm of your home office.
Recharge your creative battery. Exercise, walk the dog, pull some weeds, window shop, take a nap, read for pleasure … whatever your pleasure, just take the time to step away from the desk and observe what’s going on in your head or in your neighborhood. You’ll be surprised by what inspires.
Write when you’re most productive. The beauty of being an independent is that you don’t have to retrofit your creativity to a 9-to-5 schedule. If you’re a morning person, then hit the desk early. If you prefer to write into the wee hours, so be it.
Seek balance. Freelancing is a bipolar existence. An occupational hazard is that it is fraught with extreme highs and lows. The trick is learning how to balance. If you’ve gotten a great assignment, then congratulate yourself, tell someone important to you and get back to work. If your latest pitch was rejected, then throw something, eat that brownie, exercise and get back to work.
Tagged under: Freelancing