Life in the Slow Lane: The Freelance Writer’s Day

I’ve been thinking about how different my day is since I made the switch from the corporate life to the writing life. I live in pyjamas. I check if the mailman’s been every ten minutes.  I spend large amounts of time gazing through the window at nothing, and playing Freecell (okay, that isn’t really a change). At the end of the day, I wander through the house picking up the snail trail of coffee cups I left behind. I haven’t worn a watch in years.

The best piece I’ve ever read about the freelancer’s daily grind is an essay by Sarah Hepola, originally published in 2003 in The Morning News. Here’s an excerpt:

The Key to a Successful Freelance Career: A Diary

7am

The key to a successful freelance career is routine. Give yourself a strict schedule, just like any job. People may complain about the inconvenience of the workforce – getting out of bed at an early hour, dealing with the boss and the co-workers – but that keeps us honest and productive. Without such checks and balances, some of us fall to pieces.

I wake every morning at 7am. I make coffee and sit down with my boyfriend for a proper breakfast of yogurt and granola and fruit.

‘So what are you doing today?’ he asks.

This can be a daunting question for any freelancer. ‘I’m going to write,’ I say proudly. A positive attitude is another key to a successful freelance career. The job can wear you down, because freelancing involves selling yourself and your own work, an uncomfortable prospect for most writers. We’re an insecure lot, wary of self-promotion, prone to believe the worst about ourselves and our talents. I say nonsense. Believe in yourself, and you will prevail.

My boyfriend slurps the last of his coffee and looks at his watch. ‘I gotta go,’ he says, heading for the door. ‘Have a good day!’

For the next nine hours, anything is possible.

7:30am

I go back to bed. It’s still really early.

9am

One key to a successful freelance career is learning The Pitch. A good pitch is precise and confident and penetrating. Not, ‘I’d like to write about Ashton Kutcher because I just think he’s interesting.’ But, ‘Ashton Kutcher has risen to a heretofore unprecedented level of fame.’ See the difference? Hmm. I wonder what’s on The View today?

9:10am

Oh my God, I hate The View. First of all: Starr Jones is soooo not a lawyer. Second of all: Don’t even get me started. Thirdly: Who would give that idiot a law degree? The View makes me want to flush my head in the toilet. How can you people watch this crap?

10am

I turn off The View. I’m kind of hungry.

10:30 am

So far this week, I have made three pitches to three major publications. This is a good track record, which shows that I have not lost hope. Losing hope as a freelancer is easy, because the pitches you send out—that you research and craft carefully—are often rejected. Sometimes, they are ignored entirely. This is the worst. Most of us can handle the sting of disappointment, but not knowing kills us. I haven’t heard back about my pitches, but I must be patient. A successful freelancer does not get discouraged. A successful freelancer simply reads MSN. ‘10 White Lies Men Tell Women.’ Ooh, what are those?

Noon

Stories exist all around us. They are floating in the air, they are hiding under the bed, they are lurking around the corner. I have found that the key to successful freelancing is being a story scavenger. You can turn anything into a story if you find the right angle. Watch, question, stay endlessly fascinated. ‘Why is this like that? If x is so, then y?’ I keep a notebook handy to jot down my observations. Here are some of the stories I’m currently developing:

Who created the musical fade?
How many Diet Cokes is too many Diet Cokes?
What does it feel like to kill someone?

1 pm

A successful freelance writer does not get jealous. When a friend emails to report that she’s been hired by a reputable magazine for a robust salary, a successful freelance writer is happy for her. Thrilled. She deserves it, and besides—it can only help to know powerful people in the competitive world of magazine journalism.

1:15 pm

But holy shit, this kind of pisses me off. I’m not saying I’m mad, but it’s like, I’ve been writing way longer than she has. Is she that much better than me? It’s probably because I never sell myself. I can never sell myself. I’m too timid, and I never ask for what I want. I have to go for it. I have to grab life by the horns and steer it. I can do this thing. Jesus Christ, I’m gonna do this thing!!!!

2 pm

Someone should really clean up this dump.

And so on… till night.  The article is worth reading in its entirety. Right till Hepola’s bio at the end, 

Sarah Hepola doesn’t really drink during the day. Seriously, Mom, I don’t.”

Seriously, Mom, I don’t either.

****************************

The Morning News is running a competition: the 2007 Tournament of Books. Go vote for your favorite book! The shortlist includes Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie,  Arthur and George by Julian Barnes, The Echo Maker by Richard Powers and English, August by Upamanyu Chatterjee.

It’s a tough choice, but I heart English, August! Now if I could only figure out how to cast multiple votes…  

4 responses to “Life in the Slow Lane: The Freelance Writer’s Day

  1. I think I need to be reading more blogs by writers. Aha, I am reading more blogs by writers😉

    I love that article. I live that article. Structure, structure, structure, I tell myself every day. And every day, I say will live by that tomorrow. Deadlines – that’s the way to write. Make up fake ones if needed!

    I’ll vote for Agastya too…

  2. Slightly OT, but I believe that (in Western-slash-European music) Haydn created the musical fade… or at least popularized it! (Racking brain to think of examples of systematically retracting instruments and dynamics while maintaining a continual melodic line… and I’m coming up with Surprise Symphony and Gli Scherzi… so my vote’s on Haydn. Want to mumble something about terraced dynamics prior to 1700 but am afraid will come out too much like music dork.)

  3. Shri: Great! And yes,I’m hoping he at least makes it to the shortlist.

    Blue: Who’d have guessed? Haydn!!! That bit of information makes me happy; thanks!
    The only answer I know is to “How many Diet Cokes is too many Diet Cokes?”
    Answer: One. The stuff IMO is vile.

  4. Ah, you only think it is vile because you don’t care about calories. Once you do, it tastes great!🙂

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