The freelance writing game is a bit of a puzzle, isn’t it? One of those big, 1000-piece jigsaw puzzles that are half solid blue sky, I think.
There are a lot of different things to know — the lingo, the scams, who’s a good client. It’s hard to know your best way to break in. Or, if you’re already started, the best way to grow your income.
There are so many things you need to figure out to create a thriving freelance writing business. What niche should I be in? Why aren’t my query or pitch letters getting any response? How can I overcome my fears of rejection and move forward?
I’ve been doing a lot of jigsaw puzzles over the winter with my husband and kids, and as I sat pondering those frustrating little pieces, I started to think the puzzle-solving process is very similar to the process of putting together your freelance career.
Here are ten similarities I’ve found:
- Get organized. Who doesn’t find the edge pieces of the puzzle and assemble them first? It just makes sense. It gives you the outline of what you need to do. In writing, the equivalent could be organizing your workspace, putting up a writer website, or reading a few key resources to give you the lay of the land.
- Do it your way. Realize that there is no one best, right, most efficient way to complete the puzzle. Everyone has their own approach. Your way of approaching freelance writing is fine, as long as you’re making progress.
- Go for the easy stuff first. In a puzzle, how do you get going? You find stuff that’s going to be easy to put together, like that multicolored balloon, the road sign with lettering that’s easy to spot, or the pink house in all those dark green woods. This is like figuring out your low-hanging fruit markets as a writer. What do you already know about and could claim some expertise in? Pitch that first.
- Take breaks. If you try to do the puzzle without sleeping, drinking, or eating, eventually you won’t be able to put in any pieces. Likewise, slaving away on your blog or writing around the clock for low-paying clients will burn you out. Remember to take walks, sleep, bathe. Come back to it fresh, and suddenly, a new group of pieces you’d about given up on will fall together easily.
- Try a different perspective. Have you ever been stumped on a section of puzzle, and then quickly put it together when you switched your seat to the other side of the table? That works in freelancing, too. Instead of sitting home trying to figure it all out in a vacuum, consider going to a conference. Hit an in-person networking meeting. Suddenly, you may get a flash of insight about what your missing pieces look like, and how they fit into the big picture.
- Go by feel. Sometimes, you can’t see how the puzzle fits together by looking at the colors on the pieces. The colors and patterns visible on the two adjacent pieces are completely different, so there’s no visual clue. Instead, you have to feel your way by the outlines of the piece shapes to see where they fit together. Similarly, in freelancing, sometimes you just have to go with your gut. Do you think you can do this project? Does that seem like a fair rate? If it feels right, you can probably make this work.
- Look at the picture. You can waste a lot of time on a puzzle if you don’t refer to the picture they provide on the box that shows the completed puzzle. As a freelance writer, you need a business plan that has your goals and gives you priorities and direction, or your career isn’t going to come together quickly, or in the way you want.
- Work away from the puzzle. Sometimes, you can get more done if you take a few clearly related pieces off in a corner and work with them until you see how they fit. You don’t have to look at the big picture all the time. As a writer, sometimes you might spend a whole day tweaking and rewriting your headlines. You might work on a single client account. Or you could take a walk while you think about how to lead a story. Don’t look at the big picture, if that’s overwhelming.
- Get experienced people to help you. The puzzle will be solved much more quickly if you learn and collaborate with others. You wouldn’t do a 1000-piece puzzle alone, right? As a writer, you need a mentor who can save you time, and other freelance writers to bounce ideas and potential bid rates off of, for a reality check.
- Don’t forget to have fun. Don’t get too intense here — this is supposed to be a good time! We do puzzles as an enjoyable way to pass time, and we got into freelance writing because we love to write. If you’re not having a pleasant experience, it’s time to examine what you’re doing and choose a new approach.
What’s helped you figure out the freelance writing world? Leave a comment and share your tip.