June 14, 2009

Five Ways for Freelance Writers to Stay Motivated

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about people losing their jobs. I empathize. More than a decade ago, I lost my editorial job when the publisher I worked for closed its Wisconsin offices and moved out of state.

I faced several choices:
  • I could relocate to take another editorial job,
  • I could change my career path to do something other than write for kids, or
  • I could become a self-employed freelance writer.
The latter was the most risky choice, but within reason I’m a risk taker. The challenge of building something from the bottom up excites me. There were other good reasons not to relocate, and I really loved writing for kids, so I chose the uncertain path and set out on my own.

The benefits of freelancing are obvious: flexible hours, working outside or wherever I want, no dress code, no office politics, choosing projects that I enjoy. There are obvious drawbacks, too. I miss spending my days with co-workers. Health insurance premiums and taxes take a big bite out of my paycheck, and lately, the sinking economy has resulted in far fewer projects. Some days, it’s hard to stay motivated.

The key lesson I’ve learned as a freelancer is that self-motivation is essential to success. So when I’m without a project, I don’t stop working. Instead, I follow five steps to keep moving toward the next one:

1. I change my venue. I get away from my regular writing spots and go somewhere to clear my mind. I’m not talking about a vacation. I’m suggesting finding a place where ideas grow. For me, it’s getting closer to nature. For someone else, it might be visiting a museum or attending a writing seminar. The goal is to find a place that gets you thinking about new writing topics and opportunities. Staying in the same writing spot all the time tends to limit thinking. A change of venue is like a clean slate begging for words.

2. I Read. When I’m not working on projects, I increase the time I spend reading. I catch up on the newest children’s books. I read novels and biographies. Most importantly, I read about publishing trends, and I check out writers’ blogs. Reading is great motivation for my writing. It inspires me to explore new directions.

3. I Write. If I’ve just finished writing a series of educational books, I switch gears and write something entirely different: a blog post, a short story, a poem, or even a letter. I don’t write with the idea of publication. I just write to free myself from my last project and get ready for the next, whatever that may be. Switching gears forces me to keep my writing skills polished.

4. I look beyond my boundaries. In last week’s post, I wrote about labels. Writers tend to label themselves as children’s writers, educational writers, freelance writers, or whatever. To motivate myself, I set aside labels and search the Internet to see what else might be a good fit for me. I look at new genres and then for opportunities where I might try them on. Many times, this is how I’ve added a new client to my list. I look at what publishers want, what’s selling, electronic publishing vs. print. I try to break out of the mold that I’ve set for myself and stretch.

5. I communicate with other writers via e-mail, Twitter, online groups, or in person. I look for positive communication to boost me up instead of pull me down. Teaming with other writers who are excited about their craft is the best form of motivation. It’s also a good way to get referrals. Many times, this sort of networking has led to my next project.

Martin Luther said, “How soon ‘not now’ becomes ‘never.’” Remember, when you have nothing to do, doing nothing is not an option. Without self-motivation you’ll find yourself sitting in front of your computer screen waiting for something to happen. Don’t wait. Make it happen.

What are your favorite ways to stay motivated?


Angie Ruark said...

I agree with you that a change in venue is a great way to get re-motivated! Hanging out with my kids is another way that always gives me fresh ideas. One other thing I do that inspires me (and maybe it's an odd one) is going to the children's book section in stores and looking at books, especially the artwork. I don't know why, but I usually come away feeling like, "If they can do it, so can I!" Now if I could only figure out they did it!

Jean Fischer said...

Great suggestion, Angie. Thank you. A good place to look at children's book art online is:


Anonymous said...

I enjoyed the insights of your article.

I stay motivated by knowing what my writing goals are for the week. I find planning ahead keeps me from sitting at my desk wondering what project I should work on.