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Susan Glickman

What Does It Take to Start Freelancing?

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watch_scheduleIf you’re just starting out as a freelancer, whether you’re a writer or an editor, keep in mind that the only way to survive is to be brutally efficient — which means you will have no social life. You should, however, get a gym membership and use it, because you’ll need to keep your energy level up. In addition, if you keep fit, you can look good in inexpensive clothing, which is all that you’ll be able to afford. The only thing you shouldn’t skimp on is getting a decent haircut from time to time.  Having a good haircut really makes you look like you’re competent and in control of your life, even when you’re not. A haircut and a watch. Always wear a watch. Only teenagers use their cellphones to check the time. 

Besides getting a good haircut and wearing a watch, here’s what I always tell my creative writing students at U of T and Ryerson when they ask me for advice — which I think applies to editors, as well. I tell them a freelancer only needs a few things:

  • something to write with
  • good lighting
  • an ergonomic chair
  • a dog, to make you get out of the chair and go for a walk
  • Roget’s Thesaurus and a couple of good dictionaries
  • a library card
  • regular visits to the optometrist
  • the cooperation from other people in the house (In other words: They must understand that even though you work at home, you are working at home, and are therefore unavailable except in an emergency.)

Ideally you get a room of your own to work in even if it’s tucked away in a corner of the basement, somewhere you can leave ongoing projects spread out and have no one mess with them, but if you’re forced to work at the kitchen or dining room table, make sure everyone else clears away their stuff after every meal so you have space to work. (You may need to get a bunch of bins or baskets for them to sweep everything into.)

  1. Time management is absolutely essential. I use the free Sunbird calendar you can download from Mozilla for long-term planning, but I also plan each day in much more detail on a work-sheet I review every morning and revise every night.
  2. Know when you are most productive and schedule your most important work for then. For example, when I’m working on an editing project, I usually spend mornings on my own writing and afternoons on editing and then go back in the evening to review what I wrote in the morning and edit it some more, and maybe also get in a tad more editing if I didn’t meet my goal for the day. (Yes, the workdays are absurdly long. Often I work 10-hour days seven days a week.)
  3. Give yourself realistic goals and try to stick to them it’s better to be pleased that you got more done than expected than discouraged because you got less done than expected! When I’m juggling teaching and editing and writing at the same time, I never expect more than 500 words a day from myself; 1,000 words a day is for when I have more concentrated writing time, and if it turns into 2,000 or more, I am delighted.
  4. Don’t answer the phone unless you are expecting a call. Pick up all your phone calls at around 4 p.m. before people leave work, so if it’s anything important you can still call back.
  5. Strictly limit the time you spend on email and Facebook and other social media. Turn off the Internet when you’re writing (it’s okay to use it for research).  You can use Facebook as a reward when you meet a goal. It’s way more fun that way.

Are there any experienced freelancers out there who would like to share their own tips for getting started?


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10 Comments on “What Does It Take to Start Freelancing?”

  • Katherine Barber

    says:

    Hi Susan,
    Very helpful info. I’d just like to point out a little-known fact about thesauruses (of which I am a big fan). The name « Roget » is not trademarked or copyrighted, so anyone can publish a thesaurus and call it « Roget’s ». There are very good thesauruses that do not have the name « Roget ». It’s like « Webster », which likewise can be applied to any dictionary, even the most useless and out-of-date ones.

    • Susan glickman

      says:

      I didn’t know that, Kathleen! I always recommend « Roget’s » because I prefer the formatting of a thesaurus by intuitive association and opposition rather than by definition. Can you recommend some others?

      • Katherine Barber

        says:

        I also prefer the semantic organization of thesauruses, but market research shows that most users do not, and prefer alphabetical ordering. But not all thesauruses called « Roget » follow the semantic association method. We put a lot of work into the Paperback Oxford Canadian Thesaurus (which is alphabetically organized), but a bigger thesaurus is probably better for editors. (I’m Katherine, by the way, not Kathleen).

        • Susan glickman

          says:

          OK, this is what comes of not proof-reading what one has written because one is not supposed to be on the Internet but preparing for a class one will be teaching in 3 hours. One is extremely contrite. OF COURSE I know your name, and admire your work. Sheesh!

          • Katherine Barber

            says:

            one is forgiven!

  • Anita Jenkins

    says:

    I could never give up my social life. I became a home-based freelance writer and editor in 1990 (now retired), and I loved it. Stuck with it for almost 25 years. My biggest fear in launching a home-based business was becoming too isolated. I made sure I had at least one lunch date a week and attended various receptions and other such events related to communications or cultural pursuits when they fit into my calendar. This policy saved me, and led to a fair bit of work as well. If I had cancelled my social life, I would have been looking for a job within a year.

  • Anita Jenkins

    says:

    I also answered the phone! Although I have to admit that email and other communications channels were far less prevalent then. Often the call came out of the blue, from someone I had never heard of. The person had obtained my name – often from someone else I didn’t know – and wanted me to do a job for them.

  • Carmen J Dumba

    says:

    I am just starting in the editing feild and I actually have a question for freelance editors. It was recommended to me to send out query letters to publishers to see if there is work to be had. I have no idea what a good query letter consists of. Can someone, please, give me advice or examples? I can be reached at carmendumba@shaw.ca. I would appreciate any help I can get! Thanks in advance.
    Carmen

  • Peter Erikson

    says:

    Thanks, Susan, for the great advice. Unfortunately, I have to check email every 6 seconds or so as part of my job, but I’m going to put a lid on personal email, social media and non-work phone calls. I’m in a state of habitual stress over my so-called life, though, so my mind is always wandering. Have to clear my head of cobwebs.

    I’ve carved out a corner of the garage, where there is a nice big table and a non-ergonomic chair. It gets chilly at night and in the winter, and my back hurts, but other than that, it’s fine. I’m working nearly full-time hours presently as a freelance copy editor for a large newspaper but wish to become a freelance manuscript editor as well. I’d also like to work seven days a week, 10 hours a day.

    I know these two types of editing are completely different animals, not only in the difference in style books but just about everything else. I’m reading as much as I can on the subject, non-journalism editing, that is, so I’d like to read any other articles that you have. I’m thinking of joining the EFA, as well as a similar organization in the Bay Area, and perhaps ACES, too. And, of course, an online subscription to Chicago.

    Thanks again for your great article; I’m your newest fan.

    • Susan glickman

      says:

      I feel compelled to clarify, Peter, that all those hours I put in are not for editorial projects. Some are spent preparing creative writing classes and marking student work, and a lot are squandered writing my own fiction and poetry — work which earns significantly less money than anything else I do.

      Sigh.

      But at least I have one fan now!

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