I am nearly two months into the life of a freelancer, and I absolutely love it. One of the biggest adjustments has been learning how to continue the speculative fiction writing I do for fun with the nonfiction writing I do for fun and money. Thus far, it has been a balancing act. I have two distinctly separate ways I am currently getting paid: I am a freelance nonfiction writer and a web designer. But I also am, and always have been, a fiction writer.
I used to use fiction writing to relax and tap into my creative side after a long day at work. But now I spend much of my days researching and writing articles. Fiction writing is no longer that instinctive go-to when I am looking for a way to kick back, simply because I am already spending a lot of time writing and finding creative ways to express my ideas. I know I want to continue writing fiction regardless of the other ways I spend my time, so I’ve leaned into the challenge and figured out how to maintain my love, motivation, and time for fiction while I also work as a freelance writer. It turns out many of the ways I ensure I continue to work on my fiction writing are very similar to the ways I make myself successful as a freelancer.
How I think about my three major obligations
Because I want to spend as much time on my creative writing as I spend on my freelance projects, I have figured out one common framework to use to think about these different tasks.
Imagine a graph. The horizontal axis is money and the vertical one is passion. Each of my three primary interests can be mapped onto this diagram. The first, fiction writing, is highest on the vertical passion axis, but lowest on the horizontal money axis. The second, nonfiction article writing, is in the middle on both axes. The third, web design, is the lowest on the vertical passion axis but highest on the horizontal money axis.
This is a useful mental image for me: I know I want to stay as far up the vertical axis is possible (I’m happier up there! The views are nice!) but I also need to spend some time further down the slope in order to fund that peak happiness point.
So how do I balance these interests when I have limited time and my fiction writing process is vastly different than my work process for my freelance projects?
My motivation for fiction writing is often unpredictable, so I find ways to help the unpredictable happen predictably
Everybody’s processes are different; some writers sit down at the same time every morning and spend an hour on their project no matter how they are feeling, while others book month-long secluded vacations in order to finish a project all in one go. I fall somewhere in the middle.
My creative process involves a lot of moments of inspiration followed by mad dashes to get my thoughts out before they run away and I run out of time. I never force myself to sit and work on a piece of writing I am not genuinely interested in—that defeats the entire purpose of my fiction writing. But because of this, I can’t treat my fiction writing the same way as I treat my freelance work. I can’t put aside all thoughts of fiction writing until a predetermined time, when I sit down and get it all out on paper.
Instead, I find ways to continuously feed my sources of inspiration. I pay attention to the small details around me as I move through the world: a long bus ride through the country can help me build the setting for my next short story, and listening to people in cafés helps me understand how to write distinctive conversational voices. I have also learned to be flexible, capturing these moments on paper or in a note on my phone to include them in a narrative at a later date.
I talk about my fiction writing endlessly to those close to me, both to continue generating ideas and to draw inspiration and my interest in continuing this work from the excitement of the folks I tell. I lean on this external excitement as a motivator when I am in a rut with my fiction writing.
Thought it looks very different from how I get my freelance work done—putting my head down and completing a certain number of tasks—this creative cultivation encourages my natural flow of fiction writing and helps maintain a rhythm of creation.
Intentionality and a well-structured workflow help me create time for this work
If I had an endless amount of time and no need to think about money, I would focus on one project for several days before switching to an entirely different task and repeating the process. But with freelance writing deadlines and web design deadlines, this often isn’t possible. Additionally, even if I make it work on the freelance side, it leaves me with vast gaps of time in which I am not writing any fiction at all. As soon as I meet the deadline for one of my freelance projects, I have to pivot to the next, and before I know it I haven’t touched my writing in a month.
To avoid this motivation-killing delay, I line up fiction projects in the same way I line up nonfiction and web design projects—even though they are unpaid. This gives me a continuous stream of projects to look forward to. It also helps when I’m feeling like the time I spend working on fiction writing is wasted time because it isn’t financially profitable: I can tell myself I’ve already thought this through and scheduled the projects I need on a financial level, so all that’s left to do is enjoy the time I’ve given myself for the writing that makes me deeply happy!
And as for the love part…
I keep close track of where I am happiest spending my time. It has always been true that when I lose myself in my fiction writing, I come out of the process more joyful and ready to face the rest of the world than before I began. Maintaining this love requires that I continue to practice my craft so I always have proof for myself that this is a deep-seated source of joy. When I have extra time and space in my life, I nearly always spend it on fiction writing to continue to drive this point home for myself.
Ultimately I have thrown away most boundaries in my life between “work” and “play”. I lean into the ebbs and flows of inspiration for any of my projects as they come, and maintain a schedule that allows me to record these moments without interrupting the flow of work I am immersed in. Remembering to feed the flow of inspiration for fiction writing at the same time as I feed the flows for any of my other freelance projects helps maintain this process. These steps have become my recipe for a productive co-existence of fiction writing and nonfiction freelance projects, and I’m constantly coming back for another round!