Surviving Dry Spells as a Freelancer

Dry spells are inevitable in every freelancer’s life. However, successful freelancers thrive instead of letting slow work periods bring them down.

Freelance writing, especially in the beginning, is a feast or famine gig. Some months, writers are so busy and sleep-deprived that they can barely stagger to the bank to cash their surprisingly large paychecks. During other months, work doesn’t come, and even Ramen noodles start to look expensive. As a freelancer, it’s important to know how to manage finances, exhibit a proper work ethic and keep your mind focused on the positive aspects of their careers. By doing these three tasks, freelancers can keep their dry spells from getting the best of them.

Take Command of Your Finances

Freelancers have weekly and monthly expenses that they must pay, just like full-time employees. Costs such as groceries, transportation, household supplies, housing, utilities and health insurance are ongoing. Freelancers also have periodic expenses, such as car registration, and discretionary expenses, such as concert tickets, that must be added to their budget.

Freelancers should create a monthly or even weekly budget that includes all mandatory items. Once a monthly budget is established, they’ll add up periodic expenses and divide by 12, giving them a monthly figure to set aside for those items. They’ll also add a reasonable amount for discretionary items to come up with a total. Then, they stick to their spending plans like glue.

Many writers open one checking account to deposit income. Then, they open two additional accounts: a checking account for everyday banking and one savings account for tax withholding. When they receive income in their deposit account, they transfer enough to meet their budgets into the everyday banking account. They also set aside tax withholding immediately to make their quarterly IRS payments on time.

Freelancers should pay themselves the same amount, no matter how much income they collect. Then, they should keep any leftover money stashed in their deposit accounts. By not overspending when they have a great month, freelancers develop a cushion for leaner times. Eventually, they build enough of a cushion to cover three to six months’ worth of living expenses.

Displaying a Relentless Work Ethic

In his book “The War of Art,” novelist Steven Pressfield says writers should have what he calls the “lunch pail” mentality. It’s “the hardcore, hard-head, hard-hat state-of-mind that shows up for work despite rain or snow or dark of night and slugs it out day after day.”

Freelancers always have something to do even when they don’t have looming deadlines. They can write a few weeks’ worth of posts for their social media accounts. If they’re not feeling social (networks), they can write blog posts, pitch ideas to new publications, write marketing letters and update their portfolios. They can also apply for new Scripted Specialties to gain access to more work.

Many writers enjoy working on short stories, novels, magazine articles or memoirs when clients aren’t calling. Even when they don’t have deadlines in front of them, they show up every day to work. Successful freelancers know an amateur only works when there’s work in the queue; a professional keeps writing, no matter what.

Cultivating a Focused Mind

When there’s plenty of work to do, freelancers stay busy and don’t ruminate about their careers. Without pressing work on the desk, the mind often goes into overdrive. Too many freelancers take dry spells as signs that they’re not meant to write. While focusing on both shortcomings and shortages of cash, many give up on freelancing altogether.

In a way, periods without work can feel more exhausting than heavy workloads. While it’s important to show up for work, freelancers should rest and rejuvenate during non-working hours. During the workday, successful writers take concrete steps toward fulfilling their career goals. After work, they let the human being behind the writing take priority.

How have you handled periods when you haven’t had enough work to meet your financial goals? Leave some encouragement for your fellow freelancers in the comments below.

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