Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Habits and Dithering

I started my new job yesterday. Not a job in the traditional sense, but a job of trying to earn money from writing stuff (and thus avoiding getting a traditional job job). I got up at 5:30, so that I'd have time for breakfast, shower, dishes, dog walking, and getting the kids off to school, and get a good start by 8:30. Most of the day was spent thinking of strategy and doing research. Sure it'd be nice to jump right into landing freelance writing assignments, but it did make sense to think a little bit first.

The funny thing is that this sort of financial worry and response is actually something of a habit (this was very kindly not pointed out to me by my wife). I opened up a notebook yesterday that I've been planning to use on this new venture, one that I've used before in this very sort of situation.

In 2004, I started looking at making freelance money, and wrote up notes on strategy and a nice list of potential topics for articles (which I typed up yesterday, a mere three years later). In 2004 I got sidetracked by a bunch of theatre productions--I had two local full-length productions of my plays in early 2005 (and was supposed to have one in the fall, too), which totally too every ounce of time and creative energy. (And I did get paid--though not $500 per month).

In 2006, I started down the same path, but was pre-occupied with converting our three-family house to condos, selling them, and buying a new house, and then settling into our new neighborhood. This time I actually did write up a query and submitted it to two magazines (both rejected). Then I went on to write a non-fiction book proposal and finish the first draft of my new novel.

But this time I really mean it. All my pondering and note taking yesterday still left me a bit torn between courses of action. I'm pretty sure the best long-term plan is to try to place some articles in magazines, focusing on topics that I need to research already for projects that I'm either about to write, or currently writing, or about to try to market. This way I gain knowledge and establish some credibility around those topics, and make media contacts that might help me later (build a "platform").

The bad part about this strategy is that the money part of it is so uncertain--I'll have to go back to query writing and researching, waiting for responses, rejections, etc. My available clips are of only modest value, so I'll have to work my way up to larger publications (the ones that pay the most). The competition is pretty stiff. It all feels like a pretty big mountain to climb, and I feel ignorant about my actual chances and what I can expect to make in a given amount of time.

The other option, as generously pointed out by readers of this blog, is to bid on freelance jobs on sites like guru.com or elance.com. I'm fascinated by these sites--what a cool idea. I'm sure the competition is pretty fierce on these sites, too, but it seems like there is less up front effort to secure any particular job. (As far as I can tell from a brief look.)

The downside is that I don't get to control the type of content/project as well. So the writing is likely to be less fun, and less likely to be useful in my other projects (though I could be wrong).

Maybe the answer is the try to do a bit of both. Spend two days working on article queries and research. Two days on trying to land other sorts of freelance assignments. I figured I have about 90 hours of work time available in my current schedule. If I can earn $20 an hour, I can make what I need in half of the time available and have the rest leftover for finishing my novel and doing more of my own writing. (Speaking of the new novel--on Friday I made my deadline and sent the latest draft off to two friends for their comments. It felt very good to make that deadline, and also left me feeling a bit lost.)

Either way, I have to actually keep plugging ahead and make it happen and put in the time. Of course today was completely consumed by a project on the house--scraping, sanding, caulking and repairing the glazing on our basement windows. I've been putting it off for a while, but the warm weather won't last much longer and I need daylight to do it. I should start painting the windows tomorrow, if all goes well, and still have time left for my "job." This week is one of those weeks where I don't have anything near enough hours to do all the tasks that I'm supposed to complete. (My turn writing the school PTO newsletter is this week. Yikes.)

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