Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Juggling Your Balls (That Doesn't Sound Quite Right, Does It?)

How many assignments do you juggle at once? I new to freelancing and feel like I'm always too busy or really slow, and haven't figured out how to find the balance.

Ah, welcome to the feast or famine world of freelancing! The ebbs and flows are enough to drive even the sanest among us bananas, and yes, that includes yours truly.

However, I have definitely found a way to pace myself over the years, but it did, indeed, take some time. Here's my biggest problem, and if you're like me or like most freelancers, I'm guessing yours is the same: I cannot say no. I mean, I'm capable of it, it's not as if I don't say no to my son or my husband a million times a day, but when it comes to turning down an assignment, that simple little word rarely, if ever, slips through my lips. Which means that if an editor brings me work and I'm already swamped...I'm likely to become even more swamped because you can bet your booty that I'll be accepting the assignment.

But just because I'm incapable of turning down work doesn't mean that I always work at a frenzied pace. What I've learned to do is really only pitch stories that I'm truly interested in, and, as I've developed real relationships with editors, I have a pretty firm handle on what will or won't fly with them. Thus, for example, I'm not going to throw out an inane story on sexual technique just to have something to occupy myself with, and I'm not going to throw 10 ideas at one of my editors and hope that one will stick. Earlier in my career, I did plenty of both - which generated a lot of work (and helped me create those critical relationships with said editors), but didn't necessarily keep my brain juices flowing. NOW, I'm satisfied when I'm working on a few juicy features - let's say 4-6 a month, rather than a stack of FOBs, several features that didn't require much mental energy and one or two that did. So this method has not only slowed down my work rate a bit (which is a good thing), but also ensured that the stories I'm working on are engaging. Am I making sense? (I'm asking that seriously...I'm not sure if I'm being clear.)

Now why, you might ask, would one pitch a story that she's not really interested in? Well, for a million reasons, not least being a paycheck, but also because freelancers - like actors- get anxious if they don't have a well full of assignments. So, in the past, maybe I'd read some new research and understand that there was a good story there, even if that story didn't hold a lot of interest to ME. So I'd pitch it. And then be saddled with writing it. UGH.

Another way that I've whittled through the madness is by sticking with editors with whom I enjoy working. Now, I realize that this is a luxury that not all freelancers can afford (literally), especially early in their careers. Because I'm not casting as wide a net with my pitches, I'm definitely limiting the number of assignments I could potentially pull in. But again, for me, it's quality, not quantity these days, and I have no regrets.

Finally, when things are about to get really slow (ergo, famine time!), I make sure that I'm on my editors' radars. I'll shoot them notes saying, "hey, wrapping up some things, let me know if you need anything from me." Sometimes they have nada, but sometimes, they have plenty. The key is being organized enough to look at my deadline schedule and realize that I'm hitting a dead zone in, say, two weeks, THEN sending the emails, rather than waiting until I'm watching Laguna Beach because I'm so bored. By capitalizing on this lag time - time when I'm still working but anticipating the slower future - I usually stay in a pretty busy cycle.

So how do you guys ward off the feast or famine syndrome?

ETA: Holy crap! Have you guys seen the trailer for the new season of 24? I'm freaking out! Go Jack Bauer!! (And thanks to Larramie for the heads-up!)


Anonymous said...

I should comment on your post, but I need to scream this first, 'I CAN'T WAIT UNTIL JANUARY!'

Thanks for the link to the trailer! I knew I was going to like reading your blog.

Butterflyby said...

Hi Allison,

Thanks for the great blog!

I'm a new freelancer, working hard to build some decent clips. To that end, I recently did a piece for a small-but-national niche magazine. Having read an issue, I knew that the editing was pretty sloppy, so I made sure to have an editor friend review my piece before I sent it in. (Because what good is a clip if it contains mistakes?) After I submitted it, I spoke to my editor at the magazine only briefly. I asked about changes, and she told me generally about one small change they were making (a religion reference that they didn't feel suited their readers). I didn't want to be a pest, so I left it at that. Well I've got the published book in hand now, and I'm seething. The one omission they told me about resulted in a lack of transition (forgivable), but they also added an erroneous comma in the first sentence of the second paragraph! Then, farther on, they made some cuts that resulted in unclear antecedents and a clear run-on sentence. So I'm mad, but trying to be constructive about this. Here are my questions:
1. In the future, should I demand to see final copy before it goes to press?
2. Should I mention my discontent (politely) to my editor? Frankly, I don't want to work for them again if I risk this sort of thing happening. However, it could behoove my career to get a couple of more clips this way.
3. Most importantly, is there any way I can use this clip now? The errors are really glaring from an editor's perspective (I was an editor, though not an assigning one, for several years). Is there any standard means of saying "these aren't my fault!" Or is it possible that editors are unlikely to actually read my clips?

Thanks for your thoughts!


MaNiC MoMMy™ said...

"I'd like to take a closer look at your bawlls, your big brass bawlls."

This is a quote from Pink Panther. My five year old says it all the time. Your title reminded me of it.

Allison Winn Scotch said...

Kathy - I KNOW. How good does it look?

Beth- Welcome! Ew, this sucks. I'll answer your questions - want to ponder them a bit - on the blog in a bit. I have a project already planned for next week, but after that, it'll be up.

MM - Your five year old is hilarious! Love it!

Allison Winn Scotch said...

WHOOPS - Karen, not Kathy! My bad!! Trying to respond really quickly before Lost! :)