I posted this on the UPOD Yahoogroup that I'm on (UPOD is a writer's group and it stands for Under Promise Over Deliver) and I got enough positive feedback on it that I thought I'd share it here, too.
I posted it in response to a writer who posted about freelancing being not as financially lucrative as his previous full-time job, and he was lamenting that freelancing was not so glamorous. This was my response:
I am sorry that you are making less now than with a full-time job. That is probably the state of affairs in this business for MOST freelancers, but most freelancers choose this life (those that DO choose it, rather than who were laid off and got into it involuntarily) because we love the freedom of waking up whenever we want, working in our pajamas, getting time to spend time with our kids – or friends – when we want, and working when we want. Yea that sometimes means two weeks of deadline-hell where we work til 2am and fall asleep at the computer, but it also means the ability to travel whenever, wherever, and go to all the kids' events and be there when they get home from school. I don't know if you have kids, but whatever your case may be, I'm sure there are benefits of freelancing that outweigh the "money" situation because after all, money alone does not a happy life make.
That said, I wholeheartedly agree with advice to "follow the money." When I left grad school to freelance full-time, I decided I wouldn't write for less than $1/word. That's my gold standard (and now I often make more than that). That's also why I never in a million years would write for a newspaper, I don't care how prestigious it is – unless they can pay me what I need. Truth is, I'm a single mom and I have to pay the bills, and that's what I need in order to GET BY. I also value a high quality of life which means a balanced life. I work like a madwoman at times, but I also spend time with my kids, friends, God, and I take time to travel (which is always, for me, "work-fun").
I once read an interview with the actor Will Smith and he said he analyzed who made the most $ as actors and it was those in action-adventure movies, so that's where he's focused his talents. In freelancing the advice is the same: Find who pays the best, and pursue them. Of course, it all depends on your ultimate goals. If your ultimate goal is prestige, then pursuing prestigious pubs may be what you want to do, But you indicated frustration with finances, so focus on who pays. It may not even be consumer publications. Maybe you need to balance your portfolio out with some corporate writing, or whatever. I also agree with the importance of networking. There's NO substitute for meeting editors face to face!
My freelance career has ebbed and flowed, and there was one year in the depth of the recession when I stood in line to get food stamps (but because I had JUST deposited a check, despite being flat broke for 60 days before, I wasn't eligible – I could easily see how people play the system. Had I just waited to deposit it, I could have gotten on them and once on, it's easy to stay on – but that's another story entirely). Nevertheless, my income has increased substantially, and this month I made more than $10,000 – just from writing for consumer pubs and teaching my online writing class. I am really proud of that!
The economy is definitely improving in my estimation, and I am glad I didn't cave in and take a full-time job when times were tough (I applied, and didn't get them). What I did get was a "free car" offered by the Universe – God provides… and that solved my biggest concern of the time, which was – what happens if my Subaru with 200,000 miles on it dies? A random stranger who read my blog contacted me out of the blue to give me a Honda Accord… no kidding. He even put new tires, new belts, gave me a box full of oil and filters, gave me all the records, waxed and polished it and put a roll of shiny quarters in the "quarter drawer"). Every morning I get in that car, I am still amazed, two years later.
Other ways to get your life in line with your vision – CLARIFY your vision. If you want to make $X/year, then make mini-steps to how to get from here to there. And this may be too woo-woo for ya, but vision-boarding (looking at images in magazines that appeal, and creating a board with words and images that appeal to what you want) and journaling are great ways to establish a vision for your future that is everything you desire, and more.
And keep focusing on the positive aspects of the freelance life. Just changing the words we use can make a difference. I used to ALWAYS say "I'm so broke." But a couple years ago, I made a conscious choice to stop saying that phrase, and when I stopped saying the words and focused on the positive – what I DID have, what I was thankful for, what God did provide (or the Universe or fate or whatever you call it), things turned around. And also, give back (as David also suggests) – whether financially or of your time. I have an open hand policy in terms of sharing contacts and advice and also finances – when we give freely, the Universe provides back.