Tips for writing features #11: Riding the waves

Allison Tait blog
Posted on August 20, 2012

tips for freelance writers #11If there’s one thing I’ve never really managed to master with the whole freelance writing gig, it’s the waves.

The work comes in waves. It’s either drought or tsunami.

Similarly, the income comes in waves – drought or tsunami (okay, perhaps more drought or trickle, but we can only think positive, right?).

Mastering the ebb and flow of the work is a true skill, and one that I’m still working on. When I’m, er, between jobs, I fret and pace and worry and send out 1000 pitches.

When the work all comes in at once, as it invariably does, I fret and pace and worry and scramble and try to remember to send out a few pitches so that I don’t find myself in this mess again – and then I don’t. And so the cycle begins again.

In an ideal world, I would be channeling the Muse (remember her?) once a week in regular, planned sessions and sending out a couple of pitches on a regular, planned basis. That way the work would flow steadily, always present, never too much, never too little.

I don’t actually know any freelancers who manage this, but if you do, please contact me. We should be friends.

So what’s my tip here? Beyond doing your best to follow that aforementioned calm, steady, regular, planned approach, my only tip would be to try to enjoy the downtime when you do actually get it. Go to a movie. Have lunch with friends.

I should mention that I never do this. I’m too busy fretting and pacing and worrying and sending out 1000 pitches to take the breathing space when it comes.

But you should definitely do as I say, not as I do.

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  1. Janelle McCulloch

    PS Sorry for typo. Very late and too tired!

  2. Janelle McCulloch

    This is why I stopped freelancing for magazines and newspapers! It’s too stressful. Apparently a regular gig helps, such as a column. Columnists are paid VERY well.

    I moved over to writing books full time, but that isn’t always a happy life either. We don’t get our royalties until a year after publication. Imagine the bills during that time?!

    I agree with Bec. The really difficult thing is to write and think properly when life and family are interfering all the time. That’s why I shut the door and put a ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign up! People think writer’s don’t have real jobs. They think we can be interrupted at any time. But it’s important to treat writing as a real job, and to tell others to do so, too.

    Still, it’s difficult. I write from 9pm until 2am most nights, just to get that time alone.

    Most writers have jobs to sustain them. Even the famous ones.

  3. Anonymous

    I’d like to know how you juggle freelance writing and novel writing? which take priority? Do you set aside ‘special’ time for the novel writing? This is what I am struggling with at the moment…

    • allison tait

      Hi Anonymous, for me, with a mortgage to service and kids to feed, the paid work always comes first. Which means that until now my novel writing has taken place in the deep, dark recesses of the night, or during the droughts, between pitches. I am currently editing my first novel and so it now takes its place within the schedule of paid work, and will be my priority once I’ve finished a few of my current projects. My second novel, which is at first-draft stage, goes well and truly onto the backburner until I’ve caught everything up! Hope that helps. A

  4. wild colonial girl

    Yes, yes, yes! I find it SO hard. It would be easier if I was full-time but trying to manage it over two days a week is near impossible. One suggestion (that I have done) is to pair up with someone you respect and agree to share work. When you’re having a tsunami, pass it on. When they’re having one, pass it on. It seems to work, and it’s also nice to have a buddy to share info with, how to quote etc (I find all that really tricky). The other thing guaranteed is that as soon as you start any creative work of your own (getting your novel ready for publication etc), all the other work will come flooding in!

  5. Nikki Fisher

    oooh I just love this post and can relate to every comment here. I am currently in ‘tsunami’ mode, ie. four writing jobs that probably want about 20 hours per week of the best of me and I have 3 hours childcare per week. Hmmm. You do the maths. I do hope no one who has hired me is reading this when I say I work til midnight most nights. And yes as a result of me writing at night my husband and I are enjoying so much ‘quality’ time. Not. Oh and the last movie I saw in a cinema was Ice Age 4. Clearly Allison I too have plenty of work to do in this area. All that said, I wouldn’t trade the freelance life for a 9-6pm gig. Never. Great to be in your company ladies. Good luck!

  6. Lakshmi Singh

    I have the same issue and added to that, due to non-availability of childcare, when there’s a tsunami, I feel so very anxious to get everything done in the days the kids are in childcare and when there’s a drought, I am still anxious to pitch as much as I can on those days!

  7. Donna

    I aspire to this as well! I’m still working on obtaining the requisite rhinoceros skin at the moment and have been hiding back in my shell after a bad month. But plan on rectifying the sinking ship tomorrow and will try and take your sensible advice instead of implementing the drought or downpour scheme 🙂

    • allison tait

      Well done Donna! Back on that horse. Onward. Upward. Rhinoceros-ward. You can do it!

  8. Becthewordsmith

    What I find is running a house, taking care of three kids and a husband (bless him) and all their various needs and activities, I don’t even have to have that much work to start feeling overwhelmed, but when work goes quiet, I panic really easily. Recently things were quiet so I started a Creative Writing course. Of course, that immediately triggered loads of work to come in. Well not loads, but enough to make me stressed, see my first sentence. And around we go again…

  9. Giving Back Girl

    I have a bottleneck of stories where the stories I pitched all got accepted at once so now even though I should be arranging interviews, planning my work, ummm, writing the stories, I’m on Facebook instead, too stunned with the enormity of what I’ve got to deliver instead of delivering it. In fact i think I may send out more pitches – if in doubt pitch, right?

    • allison tait

      Oh I feel your pain. The ‘I’ve got so much to do that I’m too overwhelmed to do anything’ feeling. Yes. I find myself in that spot regularly. And hence find myself on Facebook regularly. Sigh.

    • Felicity

      You’re me!! That’s exactly what happens to me!

    • Kat

      That’s my issue, too! Although my dilemma is having a gazillion pitches I’m yet to pitch and a million marketing ideas I’m yet to implement! Heeeelp!

  10. Lipgloss Mumma

    I’d love to one day have this problem! 😉

  11. Megan Blandford

    Managing the workflow in a way that you know how much is coming in and when is definitely one of the toughest things I’m experiencing in this game, too. But in a slightly different way… my biggest problem at the moment is finding a way to have a few pitches accepted to keep things flowing, but not too many as the new baby is only weeks away!

    Of course, the answer is that all the good ideas are coming to me now and I feel very unsettled at not working on them all. Can’t win, really!

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