Sunday, May 15, 2016

Stuffed or Starving: A Conversation from the Split Personality of Every Freelancer

(Okay, maybe not every freelancer. Maybe just me.)

I’m a planner. I work best when I have a series of actions that I can execute one step at a time. In part, that’s why I like freelancing, and it’s also what I liked about school: every assignment can be broken down into actionable, time-stamped steps. Need to write a paper by the first of the month? No problem—just schedule research for this week, first draft next weekend, revisions the following week, and wah-la: a finished term paper! Plus, what’s even better about both school and freelancing assignments is that no one cares when, where, how, or even whether you perform any of those steps. They just care about two things: the deadline and the final product.

So scheduling and executing . . . not a problem. This means that, as work is rolling in—the “feast," as it were, because freelancing is nothing if not feast or famine—I am fairly successful at keeping the internal voice shouting Ohmygod you’ll never get this all done to a dull roar.

Because really, it all comes down to living by a saying my father loves: How do you eat an elephant?

One bite at a time.

And I can definitely do that.

Unfortunately, it’s when there are no bites left that I start to panic. Like, for instance, right now, when I’m sitting here blogging, trying not to think about the fact that I have gone thirteen days without working a single billable hour. Sure, I’ve written some emails about lining up potential work. I’ve had phone calls with a few prospective employers. I've even gone on job sites and applied directly for projects. But earned any cash money? No. Which leads to what I can only describe as an argument between the two sides of my Split Freelancer Personality. The exchange goes something like this:

All the work has dried up. No one will ever hire you again.

Untrue! We had tons of projects last month. Just wait it out.

Yeah, okay. Keep waiting. You know what they say about people who wait? They starve to death.

I don't think that's the saying. [pause] But yeah, I know, I should be doing more. Pitching more magazines. Researching more university writing departments. Looking for more freelance assignments. Networking. [shudder]

Orrrr you could just start looking for a fulltime job. Because that’s what you’re going to have to do, anyway, when this little endeavor of ours spectacularly fails.

Just because you’re scared doesn’t mean I have to give up already.

Scared? I’m realistic. Remember all those people who told you that writing is not a viable way to make a living?

Working 40+ hours a week at a job I hate isn’t making a living--it’s making a salary.

Let me know how those platitudes taste next month, when you're eating rice and water out on the curb.

Don’t be dramatic. I can pay the rent for several more months even if we don’t get any more work. And I will get work. I’m qualified. The work is out there. Other people are doing this.

Yeah, other people with advanced degrees and resumes that include NY Times bestselling authors.

Okay, fine, I might not have a MFA or a PhD in editing--do they even have those?--but I’m good at this damn it! Or at least I think I am. Some people have told me that I am.

Sure they have. If you sucked, would they have said anything?

Well. No. But I wouldn't have repeat clients if I sucked. And Professor X requests me personally!

One professor. Wow. Way to go.

Hey, we're just starting out. Be patient.

We've been at this for almost a year.

Ten months. And I like it! I like the work, I like the lifestyle. I feel way more fulfilled now than with anything I was doing before. And I don’t care if I never make six figures. That has to count for something, right?

Never making six figures and barely making five aren’t quiiiite the same thing.

Oh shut up. I’m going to go back to brainstorming articles to pitch.

Or you could take a nap. Because do you really want to spend all those hours researching and writing and revising, only to get paid $50 a pop? Plus, they might just reject you outright.

… or I could take a nap. Okay. You win. For today.

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