When I left my sixteen-year bookstore job to tackle full-time freelance writing, I was plenty prepared. I’d been doing freelance work on the side for years, writing for magazines and doing web work for a growing list of clients. I also did my homework before taking the plunge, reading what experienced freelancers could tell me about what to expect.
|Freelancing: day one.|
I was prepared, then, for the droughts and the rainstorms (though I still felt a little shocked when I went through a stretch with no assignments to suddenly find I had twelve in one day—all with a one-week deadline). I was prepared for not really having days off (see previous line about twelve assignments at once). I was prepared for the fact that a freelancer sometimes has to be extremely aggressive about getting a client to actually send a check when the work is done.
Yet, there are a few things I still never expected from freelance writing.
You’re not at home all the time. It’s the opposite. You’re always at work.
While it’s true that you can spend the day in your nightshirt (and it’s glorious), there’s not much lounging around. In fact, relaxing at all can be difficult when your home is your office. It’s largely psychological, but be prepared for your house to feel a little less like home. Having a dedicated workspace helps, but there are days when the walls feel every bit as confining as the cubicle at a 9-to-5.
You’re the boss … but you’re also the janitor.
In other words, every job is your job. It’s not just that you’re the writer and the editor and the accountant—those are the things any freelancer ought to expect. You have to take care of all the little annoyances, too. Working on a project in an office, you can close the door and hold your calls. Writing at home means that you not only answer the phone (which seems to ring in direct proportion to how busy you are), but you also clean up the cat vomit.
The day speeds by.
Remember how the day used to drag at your other job? That you’d watch the clock and be horrified that only seven minutes had passed since the last time you’d checked? Start freelancing, and you’ll soon find that you can’t cram all the things you need to do into one day. When you’re paid by the piece rather than the hour, it’s almost like factory work. Though you’re writing articles rather than sewing buttons on jeans, you’ll still be shocked at how soon the whistle blows.
You’ll have even less time to work on that novel.
I worked much harder at my pet projects when I had a regular day job. It’s true that in some ways I needed the escape more to counter the workplace tensions, and my freelancing is vastly more fulfilling, but I do have hopes of completing a book, and there are scads of personal projects languishing on my laptop. Now that I need to make a living from my writing, those pie-in-the-sky writing dreams take a backseat to finding more clients that pay the day-to-day bills. Don’t despair that you’ll never finish your creative epic if you’re trying to write for a living, though. Like everything else when you’re freelancing: you’ll just have to put it on the schedule.
You won’t give every job your all.
Bear with me, because I’m not talking about delivering slipshod work. I’m talking about doing what’s required and not over-delivering to an insane degree. When I was freelancing part time, I often had only one assignment to focus on, and I tended to research the subject until I was practically an expert. I wrote and rewrote like my Pulitzer was on the line. That kind of passion is great, and I still like to feel that I give a little more than is expected, but now that I need to complete multiple assignments to make a living, I work faster and smarter. When I need to deliver a 300-word marketing piece for a seafood company, I don’t need to re-read Moby Dick. If you don’t reign yourself in, you’ll never be able to complete enough work to survive. Save your all for the projects that demand it.
Sure, I’ve run into some snags along the way, but in every case, I’ve adapted. I’ve tweaked my schedule. I turn off my phone. I take a walk when I feel like I’m losing my mind. Part of being the boss means finding the best way to get higher productivity out of my one employee: myself. But it also means making sure she stays happy. I’d like her to stick around.
What’s hardest for you about writing at home, whether you’re a freelancer, a novelist, or a blogger? Share your gripes, successes, and tips.