I know, I know. I wasn’t going to write a post about how to get through this unprecedented period of instability that we’re currently experiencing (mostly because I’m not an expert and I have no idea how we’re going to get through it). But after last week’s post, quite a few people got in touch to say they were interested in how I’ve managed (so far) to keep my freelancing business stable.
I’ve also seen heaps of great resources pop up that can help freelance writers during this time.
So this post is a bit of a cobbled-together, lord-knows-what-we’re-doing post.
I’m not going to pretend to have the answers, because I don’t. What’s happening is totally unprecedented and I feel like we’re all just trying to get through.
Hopefully there’s something in this post that’s useful for you, wherever you are and whatever situation you find yourself in.
What’s worked for me in the past few weeks
Over the past few weeks I’ve been feeling really down and flat.
I know I’m not alone in that.
I would sit down to work on a story and find myself flicking between Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and news sites.
I’m not sure what I was looking for, but I suspect I was hoping for some kind of definite, a guarantee.
I was looking for a piece of news or research that said I should (or shouldn’t) panic, whether I should take my kids out of school, see my elderly parents or even bother trying to go to the supermarket for basic supplies.
Like many of you, I’m used to uncertainty.
A freelancer writer’s life is pretty much about having a high capacity for the unknown and holding your nerve and forging forward despite the uncertainty.
But (stupidly, I know) I assumed that the world around us would stay relatively stable.
What we’re looking at now (and I know I don’t need to tell you this) is catastrophic for so many freelancers and sole traders.
So at the start of last week I turned off my social media.
In the morning, I started listening to the ABC’s excellent (and short) daily podcast about Coronavirus to feel like I had an unbiased, up-to-date grip of the situation.
Then I tried only to check news sites once or twice a day.
I started actively writing and looking for work and it felt good.
My days are shorter (so is my concentration), but I feel much better for taking back a tiny bit of control.
So here’s what I’ve done:
Touching base with clients and editors
Like most travel writers, I’ve lost loads of travel-related work over the past month or so.
Commissions for overseas trips that have been cancelled meant that at the start of the month I even wondered whether I should set an income target.
I had a feeling it was going to be a big 0.
But I reached out to several of my regular editors, asking if they needed content.
I wouldn’t ever do this to editors I don’t know, but I’ve got a good relationship with these editors and I knew (I hoped) that they would at least respond, even if they weren’t commissioning.
A couple wrote back apologetically and explained that they don’t have any budget to commission at the moment, but one wrote back and detailed the exact kind of stories she wanted.
I ended up pitching her about 8 ideas (some based on previous travel stories that I hadn’t found a home for yet and some desk-based research) and she commissioned 5 of them.
I also touched base with a corporate client and asked if they were needing any help writing content to reflect the current situation with COVID-19.
I got three commissions from them.
Jennifer Gregory has a great post on why freelance writers need to be reaching out to current and past clients.
So if you have the energy and focus, reach out and reconnect with editors and clients, lots of them are still looking for content. It’s just a different type of content.
Who knows what’s going to happen after I file these articles, but I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to keep my head above the water.
Write stories that reflect where we are at
I’ve just finished writing an article for one of my editors about how to hold a virtual dinner party.
If you’re a feature writer, take a look at the outlets you usually pitch to and see what kind of content they’re running at the moment.
Yes, some are limiting or have stopped commissions, but others still have some budget to engage freelancers.
And usually the content is either directly about the virus or about what people can do when they’re self-isolating.
I’m seeing freelance writers create all kinds of stories, like:
- The best travel podcasts to listen to
- The apps and technology that will help you work from home
- The best live streamed events
- National parks you can tour without leaving your couch
- How to use pantry staples to create delicious meals
But there are still lots of places (see below) that don’t want corona virus related stories, but are looking for other kinds of articles.
Offering quick turn-arounds
When I’ve been contacting my editors and corporate clients, I’ve let them know that I can write stories quickly (usually within the day).
Loads of magazines, online outlets and corporates are under so much pressure at the moment, that having a freelance writer who can turn around copy quickly is a real asset.
My corporate client who commissioned me initially only commissioned one article, but when I got it back to them the next day, they gave me two more pieces to work on.
What else you can do
I think it goes without saying that this is a time when we need to look after ourselves and those around us.
I’ve taken to getting up just before dawn (I know that sounds gasp-worthy, but it’s actually not that early – about 6:45am) and going for a run.
I’ve previously written about how running changed my business, but in the last few weeks I’ve really, really appreciated getting out early, running (albeit very slowly) while the sun rises.
There are also lots of free online workouts being offered, so you never know, some of us might emerge from lockdown with abs of steel.
Some publications are actively looking for freelance pitches
I know it seems like the whole world is on hold, but I do know some freelance writers who are still relatively busy.
If they’re writing about personal finance, insurance or health, some of these freelancers are busier than ever.
If you don’t already have connections with corporate clients, or if your clients have gone quiet, there are still loads of editors looking for writers.
Places like Esquire want pitches from freelancers, so does Wired, The Sun and The Guardian.
If you’re trying to minimise your time on social media, I’ve found that Sonia’s newsletter is the best way to keep up with these calls for pitches.
Take advantage of online learning
If you’re self-isolating and you don’t have much work on, it’s a perfect time (if you’re in the right headspace) to do an online course.
I’ve been so impressed with gorgeous people who are offering their courses or services at a reduced rate (or even free).
Catherine Deveny is an Australian writer and comedian and she’s running free online writing classes on Facebook, starting Monday 16 March 2020. Her plan is to put ten lessons online over the following fortnight.
If you’d like to donate, you can contribute as much or as little as you can.
But artists like Mo Willems are doing ‘lunch doodles’ on YouTube and yes, while it’s aimed at kids, don’t tell me it’s not tempting to get out your pencils and join him.
I always feel so grateful to be part of the writing community, and my Facebook feed is full of people sharing their ups and downs during this time.
I’m trying to avoid social media as much as possible, but there is one group that I do check in with on Facebook – The Kindness Pandemic where people share acts of kindness that they’ve witnessed or bestowed on others.
There’s also the Writers Go Forth. Launch. Promote page on Facebook as a space for Australian writers to promote their new books. It’s such a lovely group of people and I’m loving being exposed to all these new books that are coming out this year and being able to support the authors who probably won’t be able to have launch parties.
And lastly, as usual, I’m listening to lots of podcasts – there’s some great ones about how freelancers can cope with the impact of COVID-19, I adored this episode of Without Fail where Alex interviewed children’s author Abby Hanlon, and I want to go back and listen to this episode of Longform featuring Parul Sehgal because it’s hard to think of another interviewee that is so damn articulate and interesting.
I think that’s it for me for this week.
Take care lovely people. We’ll get through this x
Thanks for this post. I share your concerns about how this Coronavirus-world seems so overwhelming. Like you, I must stop looking online just to see and read about people suffering and politicians sending mixed messages. And yet there is the conundrum that many (not all) editors want to see Coronavirus-related / themed articles. Thanks for the online writer resources. As a new writer, my plan is to write a bunch of posts for my new website and just try and get my name out there. My own CrossFit gym has gone online and I am getting my 6am workout down at the local park. Stay well.
Thanks Richard, it sounds like you’ve got a good balance at the moment. I think writing posts for your website is a great idea too. Stay safe and well.
Thanks Lindy. Some great advice there and as always, I appreciate you keeping it real. We WILL get through this!
Thank you Charlotte!