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.
It’s all in the life cycle of a freelance writer.
Do you agree that there are parallels in gardening and freelancing?