Get Busy

26 05 2009

Before I left my job as a newspaper reporter three years ago, I drafted a list in a little spiral notebook. The list contained all the things I would do with myself if I took the leap into freelance writing. It said:

  • join a women’s soccer league
  • more time for piano
  • work out more often
  • read more books
  • take a knitting class

One thing is glaringly absent from that list: professional goals. That’s because I had none, or to be exact, I’d set the bar so low that it wasn’t even worth noting. All I wanted was to get published in one or two national magazines or newspapers. In my first year as a freelancer, I managed that much, plus I got my start in public radio.

At the time I drafted the list, I wasn’t even sure I was going to leave my job. It was sort of an exercise in what-ifs. And if that list were a checklist, with the exception of the knitting class, I’d have checked off every one of those items by now. (Mom taught me to knit later. Turns out I’m not much of a knitter. I can’t sit still long enough to really work at it).

Now I’m back where I started. Lately, things have shifted so that I’m again wishing I had a little more time for nonwork-related pursuits. There’s a Jenga-like stack of books piling up on my nightstand. It was two weeks before I had time to watch Forgetting Sarah Marshall (fortunately no late fees with Netflix). And we’re ordering in more because I barely have time to cook. Why? Because I’m busy. Very busy. It was a given that as a freelance writer, you’d experience ebbs and flows, ups and downs, periods when you’d have work followed by the inevitable dry spell.

And God knows I had them.

I didn’t do well with the lulls. I’d feel depressed and unmotivated, so it was a vicious cycle. The less motivated you are, the less you seek out new work. And so you find yourself in a perpetual funk.

But since 2009 kicked off, work hasn’t slowed down. That’s a good thing. I changed up my game plan. Here’s what works for staying busy:

Plan ahead: Always think ahead to the time when you won’t be swamped with assignments. Set aside some time every week to pitch at least one new assignment for the future. There’s a chance you might end up with overlapping deadlines, but so what? When work comes fast and furious, embrace it. You’ll become better at managing your time and dealing with pressure.

Give encores: In my first two years as a freelancer, I made the  mistake of working with a media outlet once, and never pitching them again. And it wasn’t because of any bad experience like waiting three months to be paid or anything like that.  I was just ready to conquer the next frontier, so I didn’t give repeat performances. BIG mistake. Cultivate those relationships. If they liked your work, they’ll probably hire you again and again. But if you disappear off the radar, you likely won’t have that option if you pitch them an idea a year later.

Network: So you’d sooner die than have to peel off another one of those “Hello My Name Is” stickers and stand around doing something weird with your ams. Get over it. You will hate the idea of networking. You will hate the energy drain that comes when you’re getting ready to network, searching out directions to your networking event, deciding what shoes to wear to your networking place. You’ll stress out wondering if you’ll know anyone there, or whether you have spinach stuck between your teeth. But most times, you’ll find it’s worth it. You will either walk out with a story idea, or a great contact. The new antisocial you might even find (gasp) a friend. Bottom line is that you’ll dread going, but on the way home, you’ll be covered in afterglow.

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