From David Hochman: How to Thrive as a Freelance Writer

Writer/Editor/Consultant/Mentor to Many David Hochman shared these tips on the Facebook group for Upod, a community and educational resource for freelancers. [Note: his classes and speaker sessions pay for themselves a million times over!] They resonated with me so much, I asked if I could share the good. He graciously agreed.

Much of what works for David has worked for me as well – though I admit, I could try a few more crazy things! Because, why not?

Whether you work as a freelance writer or work at a bank, his tips apply. Happy reading – penny for your thoughts in the comments below. – Heather J

“Here’s what’s working for me and what’s not as a freelancer during the pandemic.

Working:

Meaningful check-ins with people I’ve collaborated with in the past. Sometimes it’s awkward going back to someone you haven’t talked to in a while, but I see the strategy paying off. Old editors, former agents, anyone who’s liked your work and paid you well–get back in touch.

Asking people what they need in this moment. Rather than guessing and pitching blind, I ask editors and project managers about current gaps in their systems — stories not being told, multi-media projects they’re jealous of, new forms they’d like to try. Then I go and find those things and present them as pitches.

Persistence without fear. Going back to editors after a few days rather than a few weeks. Moving on after rejections and pitching again and again (even at the same publication). Pitching the same editor who just rejected me with a new idea. Remembering: This is business. You’re helping them. Be useful. Serve their cause, and yours will be served.

Trying crazy things. I’m doing many things (more than usual) to make a living. And I’m attempting even more. Collaborations, corporate coaching, partnering in a strategy company, pitching interesting people ideas/services of mine they didn’t know they needed. Risking boldly because…what’s the worst that will happen?

Remembering your highest aims. Yes, you have to make a buck but always have at least one soulful, high-flying project to fire you up and keep yourself fixed on the proverbial north star.

Set a daily schedule. The Pomodoro Method works. So does just saying ‘Hey Siri, set a timer for 65 minutes’ and knocking out a boring must-do project. There’s so much chaos in the world. You need to give yourself guardrails. Work works.

Get support: Since Covid, I’ve started a consulting/strategy business with a friend, asked others for editorial guidance (something that’s hard for me), made use of the Upod speaker connections I normally only recommend to others. Help helps.

Protect Yourself: I’m purposely avoiding people who trigger the ol’ amygdala flight-or-fight response. Quarantine makes that easy even if it requires hiding certain people on social media or not returning emails. There’s just too much poison out there. Secure the perimeter.

Be Best: Making a living as a freelancer is competitive. You need to outshine, outreport, out-dig, out-write and out-deliver the competition. It’s hard when you’re exhausted but do what you can to push through.

Get Outside: We are playing paddle tennis almost every day here (it’s a weird born-in-LA sport). For that hour we sweat and think of nothing but destroying each other on the court. Then we go back to our screens and continue. I find that physical exertion essential.

Present Your Situation to People Smarter Than You: If you’re struggling, find people who are doing what you want to be doing and ask them how you can get there. It requires some vulnerability/humility but it always pays off. Find a mentor.

Not Working:

Doom scrolling: By now we all know the protocols for keeping ourselves safe. We all know who we’re voting for in November. We all know the world is a shitshow. Try to limit your diet of media so you don’t go insane on a daily basis.

Wishing for the Way it Was: Life is change. That’s the first tenet of Buddhism. Never before was that more true in journalism/media. It’s all changing. It’s never going back. Holding onto that attachment will only bring you suffering.

Blind pitching: Sending pitches to editors you don’t know (or know through an intro) is more daunting than ever right now.

Envy: We could all die tomorrow. Skip the misery of self-loathing over other people’s successes, other people’s quar situations, other people’s angst-free existences. It’s really not useful.

Drinking too much: It messes with your sleep, your weight, your focus…Keep it under control and get help if you need it.

Being afraid or intimidated: One interesting side effect for me watching the crumbling of media is how stupid I was to be intimidated by certain people high on the media food chain. So much wasted energy. You want to write for The New Yorker? Send a brilliant pitch to Susan Morrison and stop agonizing.

Moaning and groaning: “Worry is not an action,” my mother once said (actually she said it 400x). Rather than lamenting the lack of opportunities, the closing of doors, the ending of eras…figure out your next move, try a radical pivot, follow the money, reinvent your badass self. What other choice do you have?”

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