Six Things I’ve Learned In Six Months Of Freelancing

We’re halfway through the year and here’s a follow-up to my Five Things I Learned In The First Month Of Freelancing blog back in Feb…

1. Keep track of time

Lordy McGrawdy, has it really been six months since I sprang like a newborn lamb into the giddy world of freelancing? Possibly. Who knows? Not me… One of the things I’ve lost is any sense of time.

Having gone from a fairly rigid Monday to Friday, commute to work, an hour for lunch, commute to home, eat, sleep and start over routine, to one of my own making, I’ve started to lose track.

I can’t tell you how often I have to look up what day of the week it is.

I still have my daily routine as outlined in the Feb blog, but I’ve found myself working seven days a week almost without exception. If I had stayed at Orion I would almost certainly have taken a week off by now to decompress, read a few books and spend time with the family. I used to be very aware of the passing of time. Now I look up and it’s fricking July! How did that happen?

Oh, and diarise everything! Even stuff with the family…. Especially stuff with the family. Otherwise you’ll miss it and become one of those parents from a cheesy movie where they miss the ballgame (or whatever it is that American families do in their spare time) and their kids hate them. It might feel weird saying to your kids, “I can squeeze you in at half past three, but I have to be done by four because I have a call booked,” but it blimming works.

2. Make time for others

No, not friends and family. I see plenty of them now! Why? Because I diarise everything! (See point 1 above). But you will have to get off your butt and make some meetings with your fellow movers and shakers out there. I try to get into London a couple of times a month to meet with my agents and other writers to see how we can help each other, and I’ve made more friends in my local writing community, which has led to all sorts of exciting stuff, not least festivals and radio shows.

The world will not beat a path to your door. You have to buy the world a coffee every now and then. The other advantage of doing this is you realise that you are not alone. Sharing your fears and gossip with your fellow freelancers can be such a relief and you’ll often discover a simple solution to something that’s been bugging you for yonks.

3. Prepare for disaster

Income waxes and wanes – and it wanes more than it waxes at the moment – so when you have a month like June where your boiler goes kaput, your vacuum cleaner dies (twice), and you spill water on your laptop turning it into an expensive aluminium paperweight (this happened yesterday!) you need to have funds put by to cope with these acts of an Old Testament God.

That’s easier said than done, of course, but I’ve had to get over my old wage mentality of “Well, there’ll be more along in a minute,” and save, save, save. Above all, you must resist all temptation to blow any spare cash on a trip to that new Star Wars world at Disneyland. Resist! RESIST!

4. You Don’t Have To Take Every Opportunity

Yes, we might have long term plans to conquer the world, but opportunities will come along that will allow you to try something a bit different and then you have to make a choice: stay on track, or take a gamble on something new? I’ve done a bit of both, but the important lesson here is you don’t have to say yes to every opportunity. I sometimes feel like I’ve been conditioned by the fear of missing out to grab all the sweets in the shop, but I’ve discovered that saying a polite “No thank you” can be very liberating.

Sometimes you might be lucky and have a choice between two exciting options…

Gig A, which isn’t very glamorous but it’s happening right now and it pays money and we need money because we keep spilling water on expensive electrical equipment, or…

Gig B, which might not happen, but is a dream project and might not pay off for ages, but is everything you’ve ever wanted to do, but you need money because food is important and please move that glass of water away from my laptop, thank you…

I have no solid advice for you on this, but these dilemmas do come along and you need to take them one at a time and, above all, don’t be afraid to…

5. Ask For Help

Because you bought the world a coffee or two, you will find the world is much more amenable to helping you out when you need it. I’m a white, straight guy, so obviously I am an authority on everything*, but even I have to “reach out” (as they say in cheesy films about families and baseball) to others for help. Like you, these other freelancers will be busy scrabbling to make ends meet, so be prepared with simple questions and don’t waffle on and listen and make notes. I’m finding the generosity of others a reassuring balm in these troubled times.

6. Own Your Mistakes

One of the mental health benefits of salaried work was the pure joy of blaming your boss for the ills of the world. But now I have no one to blame but myself. And boy howdy have I made mistakes. I mean, I put the bag down for a second and then it tipped over and the water leaked all over the laptop and… Sorry, where was I? Yes! It’s my fault. All my fault. You get used to it. You figure out where you went wrong, feel sorry for yourself for a permitted period of time, vow not to do it again, learn from it and move on.

It’s scary, because you are the one making things happen now. Yes, you can sit at home with a bag on your head and wait for the world to knock at your door, or you can get out there, be bold, screw things up, or… maybe something amazing will happen?

Ask me again in six months.

*Irony. Don’t @ me.

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Author, screenwriter, and co-founder of the Bestseller Experiment podcast.

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