Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Five qualities all freelancers need

1. MOTIVATION. It's easy for freelancing to slip to the bottom of your to-do list, especially if you don't have any clients at the moment. Your "day job," your family (or your dog or cat) and the necessary rituals of living all all conspire to claim your attention and time. These responsibilities are immediate and obvious; freelancing is not. What harm will it do if you wait until Thursday to write that query you were going to produce on Tuesday? And when Thursday arrives, why not Monday?

Somehow, from somewhere, you have to dredge up the motivation to advance your freelancing career. Sit down with your partner and/or family and enlist their aid in carving out some quiet writing space each week without neglecting your other duties. If you ask them, they will probably offer support.

When you think about it, it's a lot like finding time for daily workouts or adhering to a diet. The advantages are down the road, but they are no less real.

PATIENCE. For every 100 writers who try to earn a living (or even a second income) at freelancing, I would estimate that 80 percent fall away from lack of patience. I often employ a fishing analogy -- sometimes the fish (or the clients) are biting, and sometimes no bait seems to work. Often, the first market you query isn't interested. At such times, I would invoke a line from a Jimmy Buffett song: "Breathe in, breathe out, move on."

It also helps to distance yourself somewhat from your efforts. Send out as many queries as you can, then forget about them. The worst thing you can do is pitch one major market, then sit and wait for a response that may never come.

CURIOSITY. I would list that as the No. 1 quality for any writer. If you are blessed with that, you will rarely run out of ideas. Every waking hour of your life, you'll be surrounded by them.

FLEXIBILITY. Things rarely turn out the way you envision in freelancing. The market that you've decided is perfect for one of your ideas doesn't feel the same way. On the other hand, a throwaway query for which you had no hope bears fruit. An editor sends you an e-mail asking you to rewrite an article completely. That source you really needed at the last minute is on vacation without a cell phone.

It's always good to have a plan, but realize that plans must always be fluid.

CONFIDENCE. This is perhaps the hardest quality to muster for a freelancer, because there are so many reasons to be discouraged. Even established writers often suffer from a lack of faith -- no matter how much you've achieved, you're only as good as your last project.

Writers, then, most learn not only to like themselves, but what they write. Even more importantly, they need to arrive at the sober realization that any creative endeavor is prone to subjectivity.

How many times have you confidently recommended a movie or a book to a friend, only to have them come back later with: "You know, I really didn't like that at all"?

Not everyone is going to applaud or approve of what you produce, no matter what it is.
Leave the back door open for criticism, because some of it may make you better, but know that different opinions are what make the world interesting.

Let me offer another scrap of song lyric, this one from "Garden Party," by the late Ricky Nelson.

"But it's all right now; I've learned my lesson well. You know you can't please everyone, so you've got to please yourself."

Bookmark that.

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