Hall of Fame hockey player Wayne Gretzky is synonymous with excellence on ice, but it turns out he also had superb advice for the prospective freelancer.
“You miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take.”
Sure, he meant that about hockey in particular. But in general, Gretzky’s wisdom stretches wide to encompass whatever we do in life and prompts thoughts about what we stand to lose when we fail to take chances.
For writers or editors eyeing independence as a way to a life-sustaining career, opportunities abound. Everyone, no matter their skill set, requires help with words, either creating them or crafting them, and your skill in these areas may be all another person or organization needs to convey the optimum message of the moment. Moreover, the market for effective, engaging communications continues to grow exponentially.
Yes, newspapers as a medium are going away, but the demand for what they try to offer their communities — responsible, accurate reporting — has not diminished and in the wake of social media has grown more acute. Besides personal engagement, we as a society also hunger for dispassionate views that help hone those engagements.
So, yes, the opportunities for freelancers are more and varied than ever. And it’s time to take your shot.
Your goal, then: suck it up. Don’t chicken out.
“But how?” you might ask. “Where should I start?”
The easiest, simplest and perhaps most flippant answer is, “At the beginning.” But aspiring freelancers can have trouble distinguishing the well-traveled path from the one least taken. They need advice, however small, and guidance, however approximate, to start moving in the proper direction.
In truth, the beginning can be anywhere. What matters is clearing the path beforehand, accepting sacrifice before reward. Biting the bullet.
Sucking it up.
Here are a few things that must be cleared out of your path:
Procrastination — The phrase, “Do not put off until tomorrow what you can do today,” should hang from a sign in front of all freelancers. They are their own bosses, they are their own staff, they are the sources of their own motivation. Workers who are confined to cubicles have their environment as a sprawling reminder to stay busy; freelancers have only themselves. The best help in this area is a schedule that delineates working time and non-working time — and rigid adherence to that schedule. If the working time you set for yourself goes from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., with two or three breaks spaced between those hours, then stick to the schedule. If you prefer a more liberal structure to the working day, fine. Regardless, work when the schedule says “work,” and nothing less.
Distraction — This tends to provoke procrastinate and in general comes in the form of television, video games, social media, peripheral noise and activity, among other things. Remove them, or somehow set them aside, and keep them there. Author Anne Lamott says, “Turn off Twitter. … And don’t clean house.” Author Carl Hiaasen wears noise-dampening headphones when he writes. And I, presuming to include myself at their level, gave up television a couple years ago when it became obvious my remote was getting a better workout than my keyboard. Indeed, that sacrifice has helped, if not quite to the extent that I can join Anne’s and Carl’s company.
On the other hand, silence and isolation may only amplify the ringing in one’s own ears, whereas a distraction or two instead stirs the imagination. In author Stephen King‘s view, “Any day’s routine interruptions and distractions don’t much hurt a work in progress and may actually help it in some ways. It is, after all, the dab of grit that seeps into an oyster’s shell that makes the pearl.” In other words, be comfortable: cherish what you can work with, expunge — really expunge — what you cannot.
Surprises — Said expunging speaks to planning. The more one has even the dreary little details of freelancing mapped out, the better one can navigate through or around them. Work flow, illness, budgeting and networking all are issues that take time away from writing and editing but are essential up-front considerations for every freelancer. Attend to small details early and the bigger ones that arise later will be easier to handle.
Generalization — You could write or edit anything and everything with the notion that volume means security. Look around though and you will find that successful freelancers do not have vague notions about what they are doing. They took the time to research the marketplace for needs not already addressed, or rarely so, by other freelancers. They chose specialization and hewed closely to a small number of subjects, educating themselves each day on the finer details of those subjects. Armed with unique knowledge, freelancers can attract expert clients, instead of the other way around.
Boredom — Banality abounds. The key is not letting it slip into our work. A person in a cubicle somewhere may not have that option, but freelancers, as noted above, possess the power to chart their own course. In an earlier post on this blog I noted ways to stay busy between jobs and they are just as effective for helping break out of monotony. However, if the urge to leave freelancing as a career in pursuit of other excitement still seems too tough to shake, try talking through it with other freelancers; they may have been in the same hole and found ways to climb out.
Freelancing should be fun, something you want to do every day. Unless you suck it up and clear the road ahead of obstacles, the fun will seem only further and further away.
David Sheets is a sports content editor at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and STLtoday.com, and president of SPJ’s St. Louis Pro chapter. Reach him by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter at @DKSheets, or on Facebook and LinkedIn.