I participated in a Freelancer’s Roundtable on WordPress’s Daily Post last week, Beyond Blogging: Freelancing, Getting Paid to Write, and Writing for Free. Of course, I was flattered to be asked, even though I do very little freelance writing anymore. Nevertheless, I was surprised by some of my answers, which I’ll elaborate on here.
My Typical Day
I get to my desk by 8:00 am, and I start with NAMS: I narrate the state of my mind onto the page, followed by affirmations. Then I meditate, at which point my mind is clear and still for a Single Task, which these days means working on my novel, Ellen: The Autobiography of Jane Austen by Ellen Wasserman.
I work on my novel till lunch. Ideally, after lunch I walk the dog, then return to my desk to write radio commentaries, editorials, or other paying work. In reality, I often run errands, attend meetings, and do chores. Right now, I’m in that sweet spot where I’m finishing a novel, and I often return to it in the afternoons.
And then there’s the business that supports writing. Today, I spent three hours planning a writing workshop, Mourning Our Mothers: A Daughter’s Day of Remembrance, scheduled for the Saturday before Mother’s Day. I wrote a press release in the afternoon, and met with a web designer in the early evening. I’m writing this post after nine at night.
Honestly, I don’t know if there is a typical day as much as there are ideal days and days that veer out of control. But this much I do know: I’m always writing, even when I’m apparently doing other things, like driving the car or opening the mail.
Paid v. Unpaid?
Writing fiction comes first, even though it doesn’t pay — yet. I do my pen-for-hire work in the afternoon. But this is relatively new. For years, I had to be more concerned with income than I am now. Then, I was lucky and found freelancing jobs through networking. It helped that I had three salable skills: good writing ability, research skills, and medical knowledge. I did a lot of technical writing for major medical centers that was both interesting and lucrative. Most of this work was without a byline, but the paycheck made up for that. Now, jobs come to me, and I only take those that both interest me and pay well.
Writing for Free
I’m a great believer in “Do what you love and the money will follow.” Since the publication of my first novel in 2010, I call myself a novelist. Into the Wilderness won both critical acclaim and an award. I hope my next novel will earn money. Currently, I earn money by writing nonfiction, leading workshops, public speaking, and taking on private clients for developmental editing. I used to teach, but I’ve decided I’d rather have time to write than money. In a world where income is our default measure of success, this can be difficult.
That said, I blog for free because I’m passionate about writing; because it connects me to a community of writers; and because it ultimately builds an audience for when my next novel comes out. I also write for nonprofits I support, which beats baking brownies for bake sales: fewer calories, larger audience, and best of all — it keeps me at my desk.
Writing for Exposure
I once met a writer who aimed to receive one hundred rejections in a year. In the process, he received eight acceptances.
Digital and self-publishing have made it so easy to publish that I think a lot of good writing never happens: new writers are impatient to see something in print and what goes out isn’t really finished. I think writing for peers is the first step, and then letters to the editor, guest posts, and newsletters are a good way to move forward. It’s important to distinguish between being published and being read.
Deborah Lee Luskin earned a PhD in English Literature, managed a medical practice, taught, raised children, kept bees, hiked 2/3 of The Long Trail (so far), and tells stories.