Wednesday, March 21, 2012

What I’ve Learned in Ten Years of Freelancing

This week's guest post comes from the talented (and lovely, and funny, and smart) Kristin O'Donnell Tubb.

In March 2002, I quit my job in marketing to become a full-time freelance writer. When I turned in my notice, my then-boss said, Are you SURE about this?

I was.

But…I wasnt.  I didnt know much about taxes or technology or building a client base. And working alone?! Could I do it? Yet I knew I loved to write, and I figured that was job requirement #1.

It was. It’s honestly surprising to me how much I still love to sit down in front of a blank computer screen and create.

Some days, sure. The words flow like shards of glass over sunburned skin.  When I first started, those days would slurk in under the locked door and take over. Id panic.  Its over, I'd think. The ideas have dried up. And then those days would spiral into weeks, and the panic would spiral into dread.           

What I didn't know was that those days are just part of the natural up-and-down of any business. What I didn't know was that there are ways to stop those spirals from spiraling so out of control.

Over the past decade, I’ve realized that there are a few ways to Keep Calm and Carry On. So here they are, The Top Five Ways To Get Past the Rough Parts:

1. Walk away. Unlike a 9-5 job, you don’t need to slog through your work to find a solution. When you work for You, you’re in search of the best solution. It’s one of the reasons you left, right? Quality of work, not quantity of production. Take your time, get it right. You’ll be happy you did.

2. Talk to someone. Before I freelanced full-time, I had this romanticized notion of a writer in an attic loft, slugging coffee and inhaling cigarettes, pulling out clumps of hair in order to create. (I don’t have an attic, and I don’t smoke. The coffee, however…) But luckily, I’m not nearly as alone as I thought I’d be. I’m a member of the fabulous Society of Children’s Book Writersand Illustrators and a local critique group. These talented writersand wonderful friends!make writing a joy. Plus, there is no better way to get un-stuck than brainstorming with friends. If I’d known how lovely the people in this industry are, I would’ve left my job two decades ago! Join SCBWI, the Author’s Guild, an online forumsomething to give you a team.

3. Make a change. Change your work schedule, rearrange your office, use a new computer program. Just because something worked in the past doesn’t mean it’s right for the future. Keep it fresh!

4. Do one thing. I owe this one to Anne Lamott, author of the incredible writing manual Bird by Bird. Big projects, like a novel revision or a marketing plan, can seem daunting in their entirety. Pick one thing to focus on in a day: “I’m going to edit out all ‘telling, not showing’ scenes today.” Then pick another. Then another. Again, one of the beautiful things about working for You is being able to take the time to get it right.

5. Ask questions. Not just of others, but of yourself. “Am I doing what I thought I’d be doing? Am I doing my very best? Am I happy?” Self-employment is wonderful, but it’s not for everyone. By all means, if it’s not living up to your expectations, figure out how to make the changes you need to be fulfilled in your career. Because ultimately, that’s the goal.

Kristin O'Donnell Tubb is the author of Selling Hope (Macmillan 2010), a winner of SCBWI’s 2011 Crystal Kite Member’s Choice Award and a finalist for the 2012 National Homeschool Book Award. Tubb also wrote Autumn Winifred Oliver Does ThingsDifferent (Random House 2008), selected to represent Tennessee at the 2009 National Book Festival and nominated for the Volunteer State Book Award (2011-2012 list). Please visit her at


  1. I love number 4. Thanks for the reminder on how to get off the dime. Great stuff!

  2. Enjoyed your post very much, Kristin! The last two sentences are so important. Congratulations again on all your successes!

  3. Thanks for your top 5 wonderful ideas. But now you've made it tough for me to focus on just one thing ;o)