Today, I’m singing the praises of keeping lots of irons in the fire. Here’s why.
One of the tricky things about freelancing – especially when you’re starting out – is managing current projects while simultaneously seeking out future work. If you’ve got work, then you’re too busy to look for new projects. And if you don’t have work, you’re frantically seeking projects until you land too many.
That was my experience for my first few years of freelancing, but eventually, and thankfully, things evened out a bit. I developed regular clients. Colleagues sent work my way.
But at some point, steady became stagnant. To remedy that, I’ve been pursuing not just one ambitious long-term project, but several. Am I crazy?
Perhaps. I don’t know which of these ideas will take off, if any. And they are not paying, at least not yet.
An invitation to apply for a grant? Hooray! A lukewarm reception from another funder? Oof. A promising interview with a scientist? Yippee! A PIO reluctant to give me the access I need? Ouch. An invitation to submit a book proposal? Wonderful! The uncertainty of it all? Ugh.
Having these experiences back-to-back reminds me of why I keep irons in the fire, despite the uncertainty. I know that when one project falters, another gains momentum. Having multiple irons in the fire means that I can let one rest and come back to it with renewed vigor later. I believe there is inherent value in working slowly on long term projects. Worthwhile, long term projects require an often-unpaid development period.
But how do we devote time to projects that don’t have an immediate payoff? How do we keep the momentum going on projects that have stalled?
Kendall Powell (bio) says that for most of her freelance career, she would work on pitches when she had nothing else to do, which rarely happens. So last year, she decided to carve out large chunks of time to work on pitches, and it worked. She broke into a new publication with a big article. But her pay suffered. The research, reporting travel, and writing added up.
Now, she is trying something different. She made a contract with another writer (see Helen’s post) who keeps her on track, working for 20 minutes per workday or one hour per workweek on two current pitches, At the end of each session, she sends an email to her “boss” saying “done” and gives herself an assignment for the next week.
This way, she hopes to avoid letting pitches “die amidst cold embers” like in the past. So far, so good.
My method is to schedule one 4-hour block each week to work on my long-term projects and I do my best to avoid letting paying assignments creep into that time.
And if these endeavors don’t work out? If it comes time to put them in the “archive folder”? I’m not going to dismiss the value of what I’ve learned in the process.
I’m starting to think that keeping irons in the fire just might help me avoid getting burned out by the freelance life.
Image credit: By Richard Earlom, after a painting by Joseph Wright (Saint Louis Art Museum official site) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons