The arrival of March vaguely marks the sixth month anniversary of my career change to from a teacher who writes to a writer who teaches. Working part-time to pursue any passion on a freelance basis is a risk, but I don’t think any dreams in life are achieved without a little bit of crazy. Since the start of this venture, I’ve had four publications, started writing short stories for the first time, and have made very slow progress at novel edits. In six months I’ve had thrilling moments like a manuscript that was accepted within an hour of submission, and then the what-am-I-even-doing-with-my-life moments of despair. And if I’m honest, the ratio tips heavily in the latter’s favor. However, recently I’ve realized what a sharp learning curve the last six months have yielded. Two months in I felt like I had failed. Six months in I can see that I was only just learning the ropes. So for what it’s worth, here are six lessons I’ve learned about writing freelance:
1. It’s very much a job.
Transitioning from writing as a hobby to writing as a job requires the confidence to be able to say, “I’m working right now.” I used to feel guilty about protecting writing time as work time, but I’m a writer and I’m my boss. There’s no shame in that.
2. The importance of planning and admin meetings with myself.
Earlier on, I used to write willy-nilly or focus on one project at a time.I had a vague “to-write” list of ideas, but most of them were cold queries and I could get overwhelmed easily. Now I track each submission on a spreadsheet, and I have a weekly project list and a longterm ideas document. I am subscribed to the Morning Coffee newsletter, which emails lists of calls for submissions and freelance jobs. Beyond your Blog and Writing Career are two other sources that I check regularly.
3. Inspiration is urgent.
Sometimes projects can and should be interrupted when inspiration for another idea strikes. During Christmas break, I worked almost exclusively on a short story. The finished product is a piece that I’m proud of, and I am working now to polish it for whatever its final destination is. Maybe I missed the opportunity to send out some queries, but projects like that are the reasons I am writing in the first place.
4. Follow up!
Track dates of submissions and follow up when too much time has passed. In the age of digital submissions in particular, emails get lost in the quicksand of an editor’s inbox. However, a simple and polite follow-up email can either give a definitive “no” or prompt a promising reconsideration. This has led to publication at least once or twice for me.
4. Not-writing can be just as important to writing as writing.
Take moments to live and experience and be inspired keeps ideas fresh. Learning, traveling, spending time with friends, and teaching have all been so crucial to writing. Even as teaching competed for writing time this year, it has also supported the writing process. Teaching is both a passion and a high calling. My students inspire me everyday as they teach me about life and about myself. In those what-am-I-doing-with-my-life moments this year, they have inadvertently and obliviously managed to keep me smiling and sparked determination to keep fighting for my dreams as well as theirs.
5. Keeping the long term in mind.
I never thought I would find consolation and encouragement from watching the pilot of Better Call Saul, the Breaking Bad prequel starring Bob Odenkirk. Entertained, yes. Saul Goodman is a treasure. (Image source)
Yet, seeing the corrupt lawyer in his down-on-his-luck days, going from rejection to rejection, working out of a closet in a nail salon, prompted a strange, yet important realization about the last six months. Writers, artists, musicians or anyone pursuing their craft as a career, have no idea what the future holds, but we fight for it anyway. In many ways, these early stages are like a prequel. We have to believe in something intangible, even something that seems crazy to others. Here’s the hard part for me: I need to believe in it more than anyone. People have been incredibly supportive and encouraging along the way, but ultimately I can’t rely on that. I tend to be my own biggest critic and the loudest doubter, but I’m learning to ignore that.
I took this picture in August after submitting my final grad school paper. That was when I had my first official admin meeting with
myself Writing Boss Erin. I sat at a little coffee shop looking at this view:
I think my ideas about the future were a little more rosy than the reality, and yet the life experience, the rejection, the self-administered peptalks, the waiting and the doubt have all been more valuable teachers than if someone had handed me a book contract on a silver platter. Here’s to the next six months!