business of freelancing

How gardening changed the way I look at freelance writing

By September 10, 2019 October 1st, 2019 No Comments

I was listening to a podcast the other day about how the professional lifespan of many freelance writers is only a couple of years. The burnout rate of freelancers is incredibly high – the constant hustling, the rejection, the isolation … the list goes on. I’m someone who tends to give up on things at the drop of a hat, so it got me thinking about why I’ve been able to stick with freelancing for nine years. And why I can’t even think of doing anything else. I slowly realised it’s because I treat freelance writing like a garden. No, I’m not 78 years old and about to wax lyrical about the properties of petunias. Stay with me here.

What gardening has taught me about being a freelance writer

I am not a natural gardener.

Not only am I impatient to see results, but I’m someone who gets enthusiastic at the start of a project only to lose interest half way through.

I’m not a huge fan of manual labour, nor am I someone who loves lugging wheelbarrows full of soil around.

Every indoor plant I’ve ever had has never made it to their first birthday.

I never thought I’d be a gardener, but I love it.

I love preparing the soil, carving little holes, planting seeds, watering and waiting.

I even wrote an article once about how I learnt to love gardening.

Sometimes, for whatever reason and despite your best efforts, the seeds don’t take, your plants die or a neighbourhood dog comes and decides to dig up your vegetable patch.

Sometimes you have a bumper crop, an incredible year of growth, and plants come up in places that have been utterly neglected.

Are you still with me or are you still thinking, what’s with all the plant talk?

This is all to say that gardening has taught me so much about being a freelance writer.

You need to be patient.

You can’t plant a tomato seed and harvest a bright red juicy tomato the next day.

You have to prepare.

You don’t have to be an expert on tomatoes, but you do need to know about the conditions in which they thrive.

Gardening is not a set and forget.

You can’t plant a seed or seedlings and then not tend to them or care for them.

Some plants are annual and some are perennial.

Some plants will flourish and bloom in a short space of time only to die and never come back. Others will take ages to put down their roots before they finally deliver blooms or fruit.

Sometimes, for reasons you don’t know, some plants flourish and others wither.

Gardening takes time.

Freelance writing takes time.

Gardening takes effort, energy and resilience.

So does freelance writing.

***

Last week I wrote about having my biggest month ever and I mentioned that I got offered some lucrative sponsored content work.

This came through a woman I had connected with on LinkedIn around four years ago.

After initially connecting with her on LinkedIn, I checked in with her every three months or so to touch base, all the time hoping that we may be able to work together.

It wasn’t until a few weeks ago that a colleague of hers got in touch to say that my original connection had recommended me for a stack of work.

See how this is similar to gardening?

You plant a seed (sending out an LOI or connecting with someone) and rather than just leaving that seed to fend for itself, you gently nurture it (by touching base every few months).

You provide all the right conditions but you never quite know if it’s going to bear fruit.

That’s okay. That’s part of it.

Sometimes things are happening beneath the surface but you can’t see them.

Sometimes plants that have been blossoming and giving you fruit for years suddenly stop producing.

Editors leave their jobs, clients’ budgets get slashed.

Freelancing, like gardening, is unpredictable.

You have heaps of failures. You try things and some things work and some things don’t.

That’s okay.

It’s all in the life cycle of a freelance writer.

Do you agree that there are parallels in gardening and freelancing?

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  • Cat says:

    I actually got offered some lucrative commercial content work and a great trade publication piece from editors who I’d sent an introduction to many weeks or months before. Ironically, the week after emailing you with my self pitying Woe Is Me issues of not earning enough. I can’t burn out knowing I work for myself. What’s exhausting is doing work for someone else that has no creative lessons or personal value. I am fortunate that I combine writing with teaching yoga and Pilates so I have a diversity of work and workplaces. I also know when to prune back work that is purely for bill paying and when to sow seeds of introduction to new editors.

    • Lindy Alexander says:

      Hi Cat,
      Thanks for your comment. So glad that things have turned around for you. It seem like you have a lot of integrity in knowing what you will and won’t accept. Sounds like a good balance.

  • Jennifer says:

    Oh, what a beautiful analogy Lindy – this is so true. Gardening is about effort and nurturing as is Freelancing. I am not the greatest gardener but I do manage to keep a few plants alive. And the same goes with my freelancing, the more effort I put in, the greater the rewards. But sometimes no matter how much I try, the plant (story) was never meant to grow roots. But then you suddenly find a seedling that is taken up.

    Thank you Lindy, this is exatcly what I needed to read today!

  • Definitely. Funny how talking about a life cycle makes it all feel more "natural"!

  • Lauren says:

    Thanks for another encouraging post!
    I often think about looking for work as planting seeds. I also spend a lot of time in the garden and I’m always in awe of the unexpectedness of what grows and what doesn’t. You just never know what’s going to grow well and what’s not, even the saddest seedlings can be some of the strongest.
    I’m currently converting a piece of land that hadn’t been touched in over 40 years into a big garden/farm. So much work. I always try to focus on what we’ve accomplished instead of what’s still left to go and realize I can definitely apply this analogy to freelance work.

    I’m just beginning and wow, some days I have major confidence issues, like "Who do I think I am?" to other days thinking, "Of course, I can do this!" I plan to send out LOI’s shortly just after I get the shell of my website up.

    • Lindy Alexander says:

      Hi Lauren,
      Thanks for your comment and I loved reading about your land that you are converting into a garden and farm. That’s really inspiring.
      I know how easy it is to switch between feeling confident and feeling hopeless about freelancing. For me, the key has been to focus on the small things and get them done. The rest takes care of itself.

  • I love your parallel, Lindy! And, like you, I’m definitely a nurturer. I have been a freelance writer for 6 years and have hardly done any marketing, but I sure do spend time getting and keeping in touch with professionals in my areas of expertise.

  • JoAnna says:

    I love this post! I’m no green thumb, but for the past several years, I’ve bought some zinnias and nurtured them throughout the summer. I’ve learned that it takes time for the roots to get settled in the pots, and that the plants grow so much better with regular watering and deadheading…definitely some connections to freelance writing there.

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