Notes From a Hired Pen

Finding motivation

Here’s how my morning went:

1. Woke up.

2. Walked the dog.

3. Ate breakfast.

4. Made coffee.

5. Stood at my desk and stared at my computer screen.

6. Contemplated nap.

7. Put on a load of laundry.

8. Checked P.O. box.

9. Stood at desk again.

10. Contemplated nap again.

I’m unmotivated. I’m between big assignments, most of my editors are on vacation, my legs hurt from a race I ran yesterday, and it’s pouring outside. I’m also off later this week, so there’s nothing to stop me from curling up on the couch with a good book or from taking that nap.

Freelancing is sometimes maddening like this. I like being busy. I’m more efficient when I have more to do. I have more energy and more vigor to tackle all sorts of projects.

When the busy time ebbs, and the rate of emails coming in slows down, it’s hard to get going, especially if you’re tired too.

But there’s always something to do. If it’s not a regular blog assignment or finishing a piece of a long term project, freelancers always need to be marketing and pitching, even if we’re getting “out of office” replies. Here’s how I get myself going:

1. Make a to do list. Seems simple, right? But I love crossing off tasks. If I’m really unmotivated, I break the tasks down into their smallest possible increments: “Write two graphs of profile,” “call source for fact check,” “email editor.” I put non-writing things on there, too, like “run,” “P.O. Box,” and “wash race clothes.” Even though they’re not writing related, it’s still a good reminder that I accomplished something (and those race clothes stunk).

2. Write an essay. I tend to be grumpy during these down times because I’m not busy. So instead of complaining to a person or to twitter, I write about it. More often than not, I sell the essay, which is more income for me. Even if I don’t, I sometimes come up with a story idea while griping. That’s how I came up with a piece in the October issue of Runner’s World.

3. Write a story from the middle. Sometimes the hardest part is getting started. I could not think of the first line of a piece I wanted to write today, so I skipped it. I wrote the story, then went back and tried to be clever with the lede. After a few tries, I got something I liked, then sent it to my editor. If I’d have waited for the lede to come to me, I’d still be staring at that blank screen.

4. Call someone. Yes, on the phone with your real voice – no emails or texts required. Doesn’t matter so much who: your mom, your cousin, an editor or a publicist (good one only). Better if this person can make you laugh, because even if you don’t get an idea out of the call, a good laugh is always worth it.

5. Take off. I managed to finish two stories this morning and write the bones of an essay, so I’m going to go grocery shopping and read through the stack of magazines next to my desk. You can only force yourself to stare at the screen for so long. A mental breather can help.

The only problem I have with number five is that it’s easy to fall into the trap of taking off every time you’re frustrated. Sometimes you MUST force yourself to work. I went to the beach last week to work on a story but ended up with my butt in the chair for three hours. That wasn’t good (even though I did figure out an angle to a piece I want to write). Part of freelancing is figuring out where your balance is, and what works for you and your business.

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