While I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember, only until after my graduation last month did I become a full-time writer. Words are everywhere: menus, instruction manuals, labels, clothing. Everyone’s a writer. And while some of my friends have jobs in an office, others are busy nannying or pulling shots of espresso, there seems to be an overwhelming level of confusion over what it means to be a professional writer.
It means that your shoulder hurts a lot. It means that whatever type of fancy laptop, tablet, notebook contraption you’re using to take your notes and write your stories, you need to have it on you at all times, which can, at times, become exhausting. It means that you’re constantly working. A second doesn’t go by when you’re not looking for stories to report back, to pitch, to include in your more recent manuscript.
It’s all about balance
As I’ve been told many times before, it means you can’t see yourself possibly doing anything else. Because it’s awful and wonderful and painful and exhilarating and completely unpredictable.
In my first month as a full-time freelance writer, I’ve learned to strike a balance between writing articles that editors have asked me to write, pitching my work to new publications, and working on my own fiction manuscripts.
Freelance writing is not for the hippy-dippy, too-free-for-an-office type. (Well maybe it is). But without a calendar, and a high sense of responsibility and time management, I could easily see myself getting nothing done—there are too many distractions when you have the entire day to do, well, whatever you want! Especially if you’re working on a pitch-by-pitch basis, and essentially have no deadlines.
Make your own deadlines
Look at your calendar week and think about when you write best. 1000 more words of your novel between 1am-3am on Wednesday. Schedule it. Do it. Though easier said than done, and I often find myself writing my own fan fiction when
pressured to write creatively at a time I’m not feeling inspired, just getting words out on the page will help eventually. This is how I published my wildly popular, “Breaking Amish” recaps. Become a slave to your calendar. Punish yourself when you don’t stick to it by writing an extremely boring piece on the daily habits of mealworms. It all helps.
Get a day job
And by this I mean something not stressful, not super challenging that can assist in paying the bills and perhaps inspire your writing. I work in a patisserie, and love greeting customers and working with my hands to assemble macarons. Writing can be a solitary career, and the 20 hours a week I have with smiling, dessert-happy faces certainly keeps me grounded. Additionally, having a commitment to another person/business on my calendar also helps me schedule my own writing time.
Make a budget
Be aware of how much you’re spending versus how much you’re making and saving. I’m not, but I’d advise anyone who wants to go into writing to do so. Some weeks I make big bucks, others I barely make enough to cover a few coffees. Saving and budgeting are imperative. Speaking with other more senior and experienced writers, this can be your financial status for your entire life: huge payments or advances (which don’t really exist anymore) one week, followed by weeks of writing with no payoff. If you want a steady salary, do something else. Or pray that Warner Brothers buys the movie rights to your novel.
I recently had a friend visit me on the Lower East Side, and as we stopped for coffee on a Tuesday afternoon she asked me why all these people were out.
Find a cozy place
You may not have an office, but find a few places where you can focus on writing with little distraction and perhaps even make a few acquaintances who are doing the same thing. You never know who you’ll meet in the communal workspace! Also, be friendly to baristas, tip well (even if you’re only making 5 cents a word), and become a regular. This comfort will help more than you can ever imagine. And maybe result in a few free pastries…
Networking is everything
I connected with a friend’s grandparents’ cousin’s cousin’s daughter who works at a well known fashion magazine to
discuss freelance work. Though you may not want to detail your daily writing work to everyone you meet, don’t be shy about being a writer and letting people know that you’re looking for pitches and assignments. Have a card ready to produce to anyone who asks (or doesn’t ask) and have a website with your contact information and clips ready to go.
Most importantly, have fun
If you’re not enjoying the life of a freelance writer, don’t do it. There are a million other things you can do with your talented word-gifted self. Advertising. Marketing. Social media communication something…
Prepare to work 24 hours a day, seven days a week. But if you love what you’re doing, it won’t feel like work. You’re living the life of a writer-embrace it!
About the author:
While being New York’s most fabulous resident consumes most of her time, Melissa Kravitz enjoys excessive amounts of reading, crafting, shopping, cooking five meals a day, and befriending cute puppies. Melissa considers herself NYC’s ultimate pasta expert. After working for Inside New York for four years, Melissa moved on to start her own culture and lifestyle website, NeuralPop (www.neuralpop.com). Her personal blog has been nominated as Best Blog of the Year since 2007 (by her dad). It wins every year. You can probably find her in Williamsburg, looking beautiful, sipping iced coffee, and working on her novel.