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Monday, June 17, 2013

How Excited are You About your Freelance Career?

I've had a lot of jobs over the years. I've been a lifeguard, sold concessions at a movie theater, bussed tables, and served drinks at a country and western bar. I've worked at Trader Joe's, at my dad's dental office, and at a doughnut shop. And I've worked (and still do--more about that in another post!) at my local Y as a personal trainer and fitness consultant. And oh yeah, I was a lawyer for more than five years. (How did I forgot that?) 

But freelancing is by far my favorite gig. I love the freedom and the flexibility of being self-employed. I love the fact that I can set my own hours in most cases, and that I'm (usually) rewarded for doing a good job. I love building relationships with clients, and when they come back to me with new assignments (there's no bigger compliment) and I love the satisfaction of taking a complicated subject and turning it into an article, book chapter, or even book. It's gratifying work. 

So you may be surprised to learn that I don't always feel this way. There are days, weeks even, when I don't really feel like freelancing any more. My enthusiasm for it is gone...until it eventually returns. 

I used to freak out when this happened, thinking I wasn't cut out for the freelance lifestyle. With 16 years in, though, I know that's not the case. My drive, motivation, and excitement for my career fade...but they always come back.  

Over the last few months, I've suffered a bout of what I call career malaise. I knew the reasons, but that didn't change how I felt. I'd had several promising book deals fall through, one after another. I wound up taking on a project that should have taken just a couple of weeks--but it stretched into a nightmare that lasted nearly two months. I was putting most of time (and mental energy) into launching Improvise Press. I didn't have much left over for my freelance career. Maybe, I thought, I was done freelancing--I'd just put all my energy into my new publishing company and working at the Y. 

Then several things happened. I got an email from my agent on Memorial Day about a lucrative ghosting gig--which did go through. Then I got a rush assignment from a regular client, a company that I license reprint rights to. It had me scrambling for the next 24 hours, but it netted me a quick $550. And then a new client contacted to me to say that not only was she pleased with the article I wrote (along with the photos), that they were going to hire me for a longer, more complicated project. All of a sudden the thrill of freelancing was back. Once again, I feel like I'm running toward something promising, lucrative, and fun. 

That's how you should feel about your freelance career, too. If not, give these tips a try:

1. Focus on what you can control. You can't make an editor say yes, or give you an assignment. You can send a certain number of queries or LOIs this week, though. Focus on what I call production goals and you'll feel like you're getting somewhere. 

2. Cut back on the nonessentials. When I started this blog more than three years ago, I posted several times a week. That's great for my readers, but time-consuming for me. Now I post once a week (almost always on Mondays), which gives me more time for work--and play.  

3. Do something different. One of the best things about starting Improvise Press is that all of my career eggs are no longer in the freelance writing/editing/ghostwriting/authoring basket. Now I have another business--albeit a related one--to put some of my creative energies into and for me, that's energizing. 

4. Reach out. Freelancers may work alone but it's wonderful to have a community and even better to have freelancing friends who "get it." For example, I've been a member of for more than a decade, which is a great resource for established and new-but-serious-about-it freelancers. You get market guides, access to back issues of the newsletter, and the chance to network with 500 other freelancers. I also have friends who freelance both online and IRL, and I know that they all experience the same periods of burnout, self-doubt, and loss of enthusiasm too. 

5. Make a list. Why do you freelance? I assume if you read this blog, it's to make money from your work. That's a given. But why else? Do you love the creative process of writing? Do you still get a thrill to see your name in print? Do you get to write about subjects you care about? What does freelancing give you that another career would not? Write down your reasons, and reflect on how lucky you are to do something--write for money--that too many people only dream of. 

I bet that will breathe some life back into your freelance career--and make you feel like you're running toward something wonderful.   

**Need a freelance boost? Time to read Six-Figure Freelancing: The Writer's Guide to Making More Money, Second Edition.I promise you'll garner tips and techniques to help you make more money from your writing! 

And if you're a new freelancer, or want to launch a career where you can get paid for your writing, Dollars and Deadlines: Make Money Writing Articles for Print and Online Markets, will take you from unpublished to published and paid. 

Both books are available through any online or brick-and-mortar bookstore. But if you order directly from Improvise Press, use the discount code, IMPROVISEPRESS (all caps/no breaks) for 20% off of your order, which makes it cheaper than buying from Amazon. 


  1. Perfect post for me today! Lately I've been in a freelance slump mentally... having a hard time getting motivated. Just this morning I started reading your book, "Six-Figure Freelancing" and I'm excited to break out of this funky mood and start working more productively. That's just the boost I needed. Thanks, Kelly!

    1. Thanks, Deanne! I think you'll find Six-Figure motivating--let me know what you think! :)

  2. Perfect post for me too! Even though I know others feel this way at times, it's always nice to know they might be feeling it at the same time. Best part? The concrete strategies for re-energizing. Thank you.

    1. My pleasure, Joanna. Thanks for your comment!

  3. Kelly, I've been a big fan of yours for ages now. I can't believe I didn't know you had a blog until tonight!

    This post was exactly what I needed to read tonight. I've been working through a few things and along the way found some of my freelance energy ebbing. It's freeing to realize it's only temporary. :)

    1. Thanks, Savannah. I think it's important to share that even longtime freelancers struggle with the same issues you do at the beginning of your career, too. :)

  4. I can completely relate, Kelly. There are days when that fire that got me into freelance writing just isn't burning as bright. But like you, I know that these bouts are just temporary and my enthusiasm always comes back.

    I agree that making a list helps. Remembering why I decided to become a freelance writer in the first place is for me the quickest and most effective way to reignite my excitement.

    1. Thanks, Francesca, for your comment! I do think that the reasons you freelance today may differ from what they were when you started, but that's part of the cool thing about freelancing--it can grow along with you! :)