Summer is coming to an end. During the school year I substitute teach, in part because I like having a daily routine and because a regular paycheck takes a lot of the pressure off when writing. This summer was the first time I decided to take the two months and dedicate my working hours to writing. As of next week I'll be back in the classroom, still writing but without the freedom of having a full 8+ hours a day to do nothing but drum up work. Naturally I've been thinking a lot about the past two months, and what I learned.
1. Best laid plans can be foiled by slow payment processing. I had always heard that freelance writers can go weeks before seeing payment for a job. I, of course, assumed I would just plan really, really well and it wouldn't be an issue. Although I have been lucky and more jobs pay out on a regular basis, there are some that have taken a while longer than expected.
2. Content mills may be soul sucking, but still ... I'm on both Scripted and Elance. Although ghostwriting is not my idea of a huge career boost, these sites provide enough of a regular income that I can take the occasional unpaid spot without feeling like I'm shooting myself in the foot. It is frustrating that it always comes down to the bottom line, but bills don't pay themselves. And in my opinion, every little bit of freedom is worth taking a few random assignments.
3. Working from home is not easy. I thought being distracted would be the problem. I was wrong. Maybe I just really love avoiding housework, but I was able to stay at my desk during work hours. It took me a while to figure out how to truly shut down at the end of the workday, but I feel good now about how I handle off-hours work. I write enough during the day that I can avoid writing at night, although I do respond to emails off-hours.
But I still struggle with down time vs procrastinating during the workday. Let's be real: I spend a lot of time reading random articles and scanning Twitter. So when lunch rolls around and I pull myself away from the computer, I have a hard time drawing a line and not beating myself up about taking half an hour of me time.
4. Work can be boom or bust even within the same week. I have a pretty awesome emotional cycle I go through each week. On Monday, when editors are busy and don't respond to emails, I assume my career up until this point was a fluke and I'll never write again. Around Tuesday or Wednesday I start hearing back and getting assignments, and all looks well again. Thursday and Friday I finish up everything, feeling great about the amount of work I had and the effort I put in. I feel good about writing as a profession and end the week on a high note. Come Monday, the process repeats.
Last week is a great example of the "boom or bust" nature of any given week. Last Monday I was staring down a week with little on the calendar. But that night I got an email through Scripted that a batch of jobs were coming available, and I dove at them. 6000 words in one week? No problem! Add in a few Literally, Darling jobs and some here-and-there assignments, and suddenly my week was a non-stop writing fest.
5. The best way to find work is to communicate. I had grappled with how best to find work, but as it turns out sending out a few emails a day really does work. Reaching out, starting a conversation, and having ideas or pieces to send right out of the gate can result in some amazing opportunities. In fact, most of the jobs and gigs I'm most proud of came about suddenly because I sent the right email to the right person at the right time. In a lot of ways, it seems to come down to chance. You have to hope your email is at the top of the pile when an editor is in the mood to read, or that your headline is particularly catchy. But I've never sent out an email and left it wasn't worth the few minutes it took when all was said and done.
6. Take yourself and your work seriously. Working from home can always feel a little strange, particularly if you're used to "going to work" each day. I made an effort early on to not commit to anything not related to writing during business hours on the grounds that I was working and therefore couldn't guarantee availability. It felt unnatural at first. I mean, I'm at home and I answer to no one so why couldn't I do whatever I wanted? Well, once I got into the habit of sitting down at my desk at 8 am each day and staying more or less on task for the next 9 hours, I realized that even though I'm doing it at home, I was working. It's no less important that if I was going to an office every morning. Once I started thinking like that, I took work a lot more seriously, and as a result landed more gigs!
I'm excited to go back to school, but I'm also a bit bummed to have time taken away from writing. Maybe someday I'll build up enough work to freelance full time, but until then substitute teaching offers the flexibility and low-stress environment I need to really focus on continuing my writing career.
Do you freelance? Any lessons you've learned? Feel free to share in the comments! I'd love to hear from others!
Bridey is a freelance writer living in Washington, D.C.
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