Freelancing (aka “Pantsing” Your Livelihood)

When it comes to writing, I am definitely a plotter. I love knowing where my story is going and filling in the details on scene index cards before I start writing prose. But when it comes to making money, I am a pantser. I have no idea what my next job will be or when I’ll get another paycheck. dont-panic-man-and-towel

The upside of freelancing is I’m not tied down to a full-time job and can take time off whenever I want (i.e. turn down freelance jobs) in order to work on my own projects. The downside of freelancing is, after taking those months off, I run out of money and need to replenish the bank account.

Currently, I estimate I have seven months until my bank balance hits zero as long as I’m extremely frugal: no shopping, no eating out (hey, friends, I can’t afford brunch, but let’s meet for coffee – I’ll bring my travel mug!), no extra anything. I’m following my own 10 Tips to Survive the Starving Artist Lifestyle to the letter. But soon even those tips won’t be able to save me from homelessness.

So I must be panicking, right? Nah. After almost two decades of freelancing, I’m confident I can find work when I need it. But how does one get to that place?

*Note: I’m not referring only to freelance writing jobs. Lots of professions (accountant, music teacher, event organizer, electrician, etc) can be freelance too. The following list is more about life skills that help one be a freelancer, no matter the trade, craft or vocation.

6 Tips to Thrive as a Freelancer

  1. Up your tolerance for uncertainty. A fluctuating and unstable income makes most people uncomfortable, so treat freelancing like spicy food – start with a little on the side and add more as you get used to it. Over time, you’ll become more confident in your ability to secure gigs, and freelancing won’t feel so risky.
  2. Be flexible. Especially when you’re just starting out, freelancing is very unpredictable. There’s no such thing as 9 to 5. One week you’ll work 70 hours, the next week 15. Prepare yourself for this by making a list of what you need to accomplish each month and check those tasks off as soon as you have a spare second, because at any moment you could get a call for another gig. Also, make sure your friends and family understand that as a freelancer you’ll sometimes have to cancel and/or reschedule plans.
  3. Communicate. Be upfront with your clients about timelines and whether you’re working on other jobs simultaneously. And always be reachable. Nothing freaks clients out more than a freelancer they can’t get a hold of, especially if the deadline is looming. If you’re honest, accessible and dependable, you’ll be hired again.
  4. Learn to say no. When I first started freelancing, I never said “no.” I took every job offered to me and worked my fingers to the bone because I was scared that the next job wasn’t coming. But it always did. Eventually I gained the confidence to turn down gigs I was too busy to do (if I wanted to sleep, after all) or turn down the ones that didn’t pay enough.
  5. Stay in touch. It’s a good idea to touch base with old clients and remind them that you’re still in the business. Even if they don’t have work for you, they probably know of someone who does, and now that you’ve reconnected you’re top of mind.
  6. Don’t panic and always carry a towel. Yes, that is advice from a sci-fi book, but freelancing is a lot like being a hitchhiker of the galaxy: things can change in seconds and you could be whisked away somewhere totally new. Just keep calm and enjoy the adventure!

Speaking of, I just got a job. I wasn’t even looking, but such is the way of the freelancer. A friend of a friend needed someone who does what I do, contact info was passed on, a call was made, a meeting set up, and bam! Another job. Looks like I won’t be dead broke in seven months after all.

Next Up from Heather… We’ll see what happens – it’ll be a busy week working this new gig, fitting in my own writing, and {drum roll} getting a NEW COMPUTER! Though I can’t blog about how much I love my new MacBook Air. Can I?


Author: Heather Jackson

Heather is a freelance screenwriter, game writer, and novelist based in Toronto. For more, visit her website at or follow her on Twitter @HeatherJacksonW

2 thoughts on “Freelancing (aka “Pantsing” Your Livelihood)”

    1. How did I get started… that could be a whole book! The short story is that when I was breaking into the TV business for screenwriting, I took a lot of odd jobs in the industry to make ends meet, and one of those jobs was transcribing. I’m such a fast typist that I fell into transcribing footage for documentary programs. That helped me pay the bills as I got my screenwriting career (which is also freelance) off the ground. Now that I’ve taken a step back from screenwriting to work on a novel, I’m transcribing again to pay the bills. As for why I go this route… I like the freedom of working from home, setting my own hours, and taking time off when I choose. Those benefits outweigh the risk of an unstable income.

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