In the acting profession, the old adage is that you need to be in work to get work. In other words, people will give you more work when they see what you can do. There’s also a large element of bandwagon-jumping involved; people scrambling to employ you before someone else does. That’s why certain faces you never saw before suddenly seem to be in every damn thing you watch.
It works differently in the freelance writing profession. If I don’t have time to fit any more work into my schedule, I don’t see much point touting around for more work. It would be feasible if I was outsourcing, but I’m not. I know it works for some, but building a talented and trustworthy team of writers is a long-term strategy, and I haven’t even put out the most tentative feelers in that direction
The strategy works in acting because projects are planned a long time in advance. If you’re seen on TV, or even in a theatre run, you can still be of interest to directors who are moving into pre-production on a new series because by the time the actual acting bit comes around, you’re free to work again. Successful actors can continually stack jobs in front of them one after the other.
That’s not really possible for a freelance writer. Consider how the situation would unfold:
Me: I’m Mark, this is what I’ve done, and what I can do for you.
Prospect: I’m very impressed. I have a large writing project I’d like you to handle, starting tomorrow.
Me: I’m very busy now. I was hoping you could keep me on file in case I ever lose my current clients and need someone to fill the gap.
The filing system of potential prospects in freelance writing is a two-section affair: one tray sits on the desk and contains the names of those people who are reliable whenever called, and the other sits on the floor and its contents are taken out to the dumpster every evening.
I don’t have an answer to this dilemma. Freelance writers who work alone – as opposed to those who command an outsourcing team – are in a bit of a pickle when it comes to job security. It’s one of the many aspects you need to consider if you’re looking to become a freelance writer. It’s entirely possible to be snowed under with work one week and all thawed-out the next.
The temptation is to try and sneak in a surfeit of jobs to boost the income, but, in my experience, that way lies stress and exhaustion. It may be easy to look at your week ahead and see spare time in which you could accommodate the extra, but the reality of the dawning of each day usually gives that happy notion the big heave-ho. It only takes a little unfinished work from the day before to start progressively screwing up the week until you wished you’d never taken on the extra.
Remember that there is a huge difference between spare time and time you are happy to spare. You may well have more hours in the day in which you could work, but at what cost to your family and your sanity? If you don’t have down-time, you just get down.
Stand-alone freelance writers need to be fiercely realistic. This profession can be a delight, but it can also bring immense uncertainty. This is especially so in a fragile economy. Professional writing is an art form, and art is traditionally one of the first luxuries to be cut from budgets when times are tough. Clients may still need writing, but they may start looking at cheap graffiti over skilled calligraphy.
Keeping a steady flow of work is a skill in itself. Enough to comfortably pay the bills, but not so much that you don’t know where your fingers end and the keyboard begins.
Good luck with that.