5 confessions of a (successful) freelance writer

Follow your Passion

Live the dream. Follow your passion. Do what you love and you will never work a day in your life. We’ve seen these sentences before. On Facebook walls and internet blogs in recent years, the ‘follow your passion’ mantra has become overbearingly present wherever you look. People ‘stuck’ in a job are forever made to feel bad or incomplete, and freelancers who are trying to make careers out of their passions are put on pedestals.

But not all who pursue their passions tap-dance to work every day, as is the general rhetoric. As a freelancer who has ventured into full-time writing for the last nine months – and with success – here are a few not-so-bright moments of my day.

I think of money much more than before

Whoever said ‘follow your passion and the money will come’ must have had a 9-to-5 job. I quit my job after having made significant financial plans (I saved up two years’ expenses, for one), but I found that in the absence of a regular paycheck that hits your account ‘by rote’ every month, your mind does constantly veer towards money, especially how to make it. Whereas before I would take a rather cavalier approach to book advances and negotiations, now I’ve become that much more ruthless in selling myself and my work. In spite of all that, I only just about break even – i.e. I make the same amount as I used to before I quit. Let me tell you one thing. Money never, ever, comes on its own. You must go after it with a sledgehammer.

I (sometimes) struggle with motivation

The popular image of a freelancer is that they love working because it’s their passion. But just like you cannot love your wife every moment of every day, you cannot love your work every moment of every day either. For many people working on their own, discipline and motivation remain difficult things to master. While at a regular job you could ‘coast’ for a few hours and still get paid, we don’t have that option, so we must make the most of all the time we have. Sometimes it can be daunting.

Self-doubt is a constant companion

Just the other day a friend of mine said, ‘I am doing well, but I just don’t know where next month’s money is going to come from.’ That’s a rather apt way of putting it. Especially in writing, all pay is back-loaded, which means that there is always a possibility that the book you’re writing will not be sold. At the time of writing this, I’ve made eleven book sales, but I still worry about my twelfth. What if my books become such duds that no one will touch my next one with so much as a bean-pole? What if I lose all my writing ability in one night? What if I am not able to maintain the pace/quality/consistency of the last few months? What if, what if, what if.

I actively dislike certain aspects of my job

This is one thing that people are never prepared for. No matter what your passion is, there will be something about it that you will not like but are forced to do to survive in the business. For most writers the bugbear is marketing and promotion. Hell, if we were naturally good at those things, why would we choose to sit down by ourselves and speak to our keyboards for hours on end every day? For sportspeople it’s warm up. For business owners it’s admin and payroll. No matter what your passion is, once you begin doing it for a living, expect to find elements of it that you dislike but cannot walk away from.

I still work for a boss

The common misconception about freelancers is that they’re their own boss. Nothing could be further from the truth. The people who pay us – in an author’s case, the publishers – are our bosses. While it is true that you get more negotiating room, in return for that freedom you will be viewed as an expert, and your work will be held to a very high standard. So the work ethic and professionalism needed to ‘get by’ is much higher in a freelancing career than it is in a ‘regular’ job.

Are you a freelancer or do you know someone who is? Would you like to share your experiences below, both positive and negative? Don’t feel shy, and let rip.

Image courtesy: Superconsciousness

 

Comments

  1. Reblogged this on Raghavawrites and commented:
    Friend, Author Sharath Komarraju writes..

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  2. R L Patnaik says:

    The first lesson I learnt, was rather told, when I took up a correspondence course on writing, four decades ago, that “you are writing for money.” Since then I have never obliged a publisher of a souvenir of sort. Secondly it is difficult to get into a discipline of writing or sticking to a time for writing unless there is some temptation. Money is a definite temptation here. But too much obsession with money may rob the joy of it. Of what use of so much money if it does not bring joy. Enjoy and live longer and healthy.

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    • I agree with what you say, Mr Patnaik. P.G.Wodehouse once said that a writer rarely writes for money. Once he has written something, he naturally wants the most money that he can get for it, but that’s a completely different thing to writing for money. Sums up my thoughts about it almost to a tee.

      Thanks for the comment.

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  3. Have never freelanced though have friends who are/have been freelancers. So my comments can be ‘the grass is green on the other side’ kind. I think it needs a special person to become a freelancer. Individualistic. A person with some talent in one particular thing. But talent on its own many a time does not count. Only the person who has immense confidence and talent in his/her talent (however good, bad, ugly it might be) really takes the BIG step forward and becomes a freelancer. But having said that… this confidence too can take a beating when faced with points that you have raised.

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    • Hi Raghu,

      Yes, there is definitely a ‘grass on the other side’ syndrome at play here. For instance, there are times when I miss the ‘security’ of a regular paycheck. But then it’s a lot of fun winging it on your own, too. Especially the freedom from Monday blues. For the last nine months, I’ve gone to bed every day excited about the following morning. So the intangibles are there, I guess.

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  4. I have been a freelancer for the last 3.5 years. Before that, I was in Sales & Marketing jobs for 6.5 years. Maybe because of my former job profile, I am happier freelancing. Nothing can be worse than a sales job, I tell ya. Just kidding 😛

    Any job has its plus and minus points – Sales was something I never thought I could do (I was a shy kid all along) but with experience and determination I learned how manage in that field. It’s not rocket science – it’s like any other job! The moment I got somewhat comfortable, I quit.

    Similarly, freelancing presents another type of challenge. No one believed that I could even continue this for 1 year (end of my savings), forget 3.5 years. But I have. I love the challenge this profile presents. It’s definitely not easy, but that’s exactly what has kept me interested in this profile. Maybe the day I figure out how to make (good) money with blogs & KDP, I will quit and seek newer challenges. Nothing to worry though – the way things are going, it looks like I am going to be in this field for a long time 😛

    The point is: As human beings, we need challenges. Challenges that test our skills and make us better beings. Security alone is not enough – we want to thrive. Or at least have an illusion of thriving! If a job doesn’t provide enough challenges, we seek it elsewhere.

    My opinion is: Both are the same. Some people are comfortable working for others (that’s why they don’t leave their jobs). Some people like the flexibility of a freelancer (that’s why they don’t take a job).

    Destination Infinity

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    • Thanks for the comment, Rajesh. A similar thing is happening with me too. I took this leap as a ‘one-year’ thing to see how it goes. It went much better than I expected, so I’ve extended the sabbatical to two. (September 2015 is the checkpoint now.) Still haven’t thrived enough to be able to say this will be my (only) new career, but have done well enough to leave savings untouched so far.

      Great to know that you’re making enough money from KDP and blogging. Wish you all the best with the future too.

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      • Actually, money comes from the freelance writing jobs I do. I don’t get much from blogs and KDP – that’s the challenge I am trying to crack! 🙂

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      • Ha, maybe we should compare notes. I will tell you how to make money from publishing, and you can tell me how to make money from freelance writing 🙂

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      • Freelance writing is like a day job – only, you get to choose your topics and employer. Sounds cool, but practically it’s like a day job. One just needs to register in elance, guru, odesk, or freelancer and apply for a few jobs listed there. It’s difficult to get good jobs initially, but with patience and experience it’s possible to identify the wheat from the chaff (read: good paying clients).

        But my goal is to make sufficient money from my blog(s) and quit freelancing jobs. This is possible and I am working towards it. Maybe you can write about Indian publishing industry as a blog post, but I am not in favor of approaching Indian publishers – I would rather indie publish myself and develop my own author platform/marketing channel, irrespective of how many years that may take.

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  5. Wonderful ! self-doubt & motivation for me 🙂 good wishes

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