I’ve given a lot of advice in my writing life — from anal sex pregnancy rates to how not to be a douche on Twitter — but I’ve written very little about writing itself. I’ve started freelancing again recently, and that change has also prompted requests and interesting discussions about how one actually survives as a freelancer.
I don’t know the answer to that really — it varies for everyone, but I do have some ideas, having done it full time for most of 2012, and thought I’d explore that here, with you, and see if we can help each other figure it out.
Here are a few tips that stand out most to me, immediately, about freelance writing.
Ask for Help
Writers are known for being solitary. We sit at our laptops alone at home or in cafes with headphones. We write poetry about clouds. We are awkward at parties. We are known to dress like fire victims on purpose. And so, of course we have a lot of difficulty asking people for help. People are scary! But not reaching out to others is a terrible practice if you want to succeed as an artist.
Most people WANT to help you. And in this day and age, we are connected to thousands of people through social media networks. Use those connections. Ask for feedback, ask for an opinion, ask for referrals. Hell, ask for inspiration. I frequently troll my friends’ Facebook feeds to see what they’re reading and posting and if I can take anything away from it. Aside from the increasingly prevalent pictures of my friends’ unborn children, I’m rarely disappointed. When you do reach out, just be sure to ask nicely.
Pay It Forward
In a similar vein as asking for help, you should also be helping others in return. It’s good karma, first of all, but second, when you make a decision to help someone, even if it’s just plugging them on Facebook or providing an email connection to someone they should know, you will be more memorable to that person, and they will think of you when an opportunity comes up. Also, if you are always taking taking taking, people will start to perceive you as an ingrate or succubus, neither of which will help your career, unless you’re Robert Pattinson.
This doesn’t mean you should let people take advantage of you or say yes to everything when you don’t have time. It just means to be considerate of others. Helping and supporting other people’s kickstarters and books and dreams have been instrumental to my overall well-being, and to my own success.
I’ve never been good at sticking to a “writing schedule,” but through time and practice, I figured out that I write best in the morning, when my mind is clear and my energy is up. If I try to write at 9pm, I will be up until 3am, and my body and writing will take a beating the next day. Start paying attention to what works for you, your schedule, and life and then stick to it. Notice how much time you waste on Twitter. Notice what habits are leading you nowhere, and then figure out a way to change them.
Do the Work
Once you’ve figured out that watching Food Network marathons for five hours is antithetical to your professional life, it’s time to sit down and do the work! Pitch that query. Submit that idea to a friend. Write a first draft. Write a fifth draft. Doing the work is not the fun part, but it is necessary. Chris Brogan has written beautifully on this subject and I return to his words often. Also, one of my all-time favorite quotes is from Susan Sontag, who once wrote: “Do something!” It’s so simple, and yet we all struggle with getting “it” done, whatever it is. We are too busy “being” and “talking” and not doing.
Make Yourself Accountable
That said, I am just as guilty of procrastinating and avoiding work as the next person. I’ve found that what helps is to have people around who can help hold me accountable and to shame me properly if I don’t come through. This can be part of your “ask for help” team. Often, it’s a close friend, an ex, or my mom who does this for me. But having this be someone in your field might be more helpful. Sometimes I’ll bet something small, so the consequences will help motivate me further. Like “If I don’t finish this deadline, I’ll buy you dinner or clean your bathroom. ” Make sure these people actually care about your success on some level or it won’t work!