Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Finding Time to Write While You're Still A Wage Slave

I got an email the other day from a freelancer who asks:

"I am a freelance writer who is still in that 'trying to work full-time while finding time to write' phase. I'd love it if you could share a little insight on how you handled both before you left corporate America to write full-time."

I moonlighted for about two years before quitting full-time work. To be honest, I was very motivated to carve out time to freelance--at the time, it was the only thing that made me feel good about my professional life. But I was also lucky in certain respects. I didn't have kids. I didn't have a family to cook for or clean up after. When I came home from work, my time was more or less mine.

Still, it's not easy to freelance while you're working full-time. I definitely came home drained and had days when I didn't want to work. Here are a few pointers for people still stuck in wage slavery and doing their best to get a business going.

Set reasonable goals. It's important not to get discouraged. And if you set the bar too high, you might do just that. It's crucial to set goals--make contact with twenty new businesses per week, for example. But if twenty is too much, don't throw up your hands in despair and quit. Lower the bar. Try for ten instead. As long as you're doing something, you'll be moving ahead.

Carve out some time. You'll need some quiet time to write--and your family will need to honor that. Make sure everyone in the family knows that when you're in your writing room or writing space, you're still at work. Maybe for you that quiet time is right after work, or in the morning before work, or on your lunch break, or at night before bed. But make sure you choose a time that matches your temperament. If it's a struggle for you to get up early enough to write, you won't stick with it over time.

Keep phone contact to a minimum. Clients may or may not care whether or not you're moonlighting. But you do want to give the appearance of being professional and experienced and successful--and some clients, when they find out you don't do this full time, may assume the worst. Try to keep in touch with your clients primarily by email. If someone wants to talk to you on the phone, schedule some time where you won't be trying to talk to them at work. Your full-time job may not appreciate you devoting "company time" to your business.

Know your limits. Don't assume you need to take a million projects on every week to keep going. As you go, you'll learn how long it takes to do different types of projects. While you always have to be careful with time management as a freelancer, you have to be extra careful when you're fitting your freelancing around a full-time job. Quantity of work at this point isn't as important as collecting great samples, making contacts and impressing the hell out of the clients you have. This will keep the business coming when you leave your full-time job.


Sean said...

Talk to your employer about flex time. At my last job I negotiated Friday afternoons off for a few months while I wrote a book. (I normally worked a 8 or 9 hour day which put me well over the 37.5/week required, so it was an easy enough sell)

Between the afternoon a week and time in the evenings after the kids went to bed I cranked out a book in 4 months. My employer was more than happy to have me do it, too.

The discipline involved in doing the book then helped me manage my time after I returned to a normal work week, as I started picking up shorter writing projects.


Kimberly Ben said...

I agree with your advice - especially that last one about knowing your limits. I still struggle with this one.

Robert said...

In all the articles I've read about moonlighting while full-timing I've never seen anybody make the point that you should be saving the money you're making from freelancing specifically for the purpose of establishing your emergency/transition fund. In other words, the writer should be using that income to build up the 3-6 month's savings that will then enable them to make the break to full time freelancing, as opposed to using it for more Starbucks, flashy rims or a Playstation.

Anonymous said...

The best advice I got on writing full time was from the playwright Arthur Miller, who told me that I won't be a full-time writer until that's what I have to do to pay the bills. Period.

I wish I'd taken the advice earlier.

If you want it badly enough, you don't fuss about "not having time to write". It doesn't matter how busy you are, how tired you are, you treat it like your second or third job, and you put in the time, you put your butt in the chair and you do it.

I am a huge, huge, huge advocate of quitting the day job.

If you want to be a freelancer badly enough, you make a living at it. Because you want it badly enough to stop making excuses.

There's nothing wrong with taking time to make the transition -- but you have to do it with a lot of motivation and without excuses.

So, you're tired for a few months. But it's worth it.

You can sleep when you're dead.

Genn said...

Thanks so much for this post, Jennifer!

I've learned a lot in the past few years that is you want something you just have to make it happen. However, that's so much easier said than done. Your advice is practical and motivating! I always look forward to reading your posts. One day I'll no longer be a wage slave....but until then...I'll be taking my small steps to freedom!

Peter Jurmu - Creative Byline said...

I'm reminded of a Calvin & Hobbes in which Calvin's on his knees making sidewalk-chalk doodles and complaining about not being subsidized by the government. When Hobbes asks, in his dry way, about a job to support his art, Calvin, incredulous, shouts, "What, you mean work??"

I graduated this past May from college and just began an internship at a start-up in the same town. (Actually, this might interest somebody: it's called Creative Byline and provides resources for authors seeking publication. Google it, or get there through my blog.) In the summer interim period, I've had unlimited writing time, and now have to put my writing--my real work, the stuff I'm going to pursue while getting my M.F.A. and perhaps even a Ph,D.--in orbit, time-wise, around a nine-to-five.

But I read what everyone's said, and I'm strangely comforted by the idea of being, as Devon put it, "tired for a few months." I attended a Q&A with Karen Joy Fowler, who said that she knew she wasn't the best writer of her friends, but that she also knew that their talent was outweighed by her tenacity. If you want it bad enough you'll do what is necessary to get there, or go down in flames trying, but either way you won't have been timid.

Thanks for the post, Jennifer.