Writing While Self-Employed: It’s Tough, But It Can be Done



Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash


This blog isn’t aimed at the lucky souls who are self-employed writers, making enough money from their fiction to focus on that alone. This is a blog for people who are self-employed and writers: people who work for themselves, and are trying to write a book, too. Mad people like me.

I have been self-employed for just over two years, working mainly as a journalist in the defence and finance sectors. I signed my deal with HarperVoyager in early 2014, so long before I knew I was going to be a freelancer. I had a full-time job, and squeezed in my creative writing early in the morning or late at night. This was how I went through the redrafting and editing process for my first book, The Machinery. In fact, it was how I approached writing in general, long before HarperVoyager took me on board.

That was hard work, but it lent itself to a kind of structure. A certain amount of money was lodged in my account once a month. I could rely on that, and so long as I fulfilled my end of the bargain, the rest of the time belonged to me.

Being self-employed is completely different. It’s a cliché, but when you’re self-employed, time is money: the more you work, the more you earn. So it can be very difficult to find time for anything else.

But it is doable.

Seize Your Moments

When you’re self-employed, every day is different. Some days I work for umpteen hours and fail to get through all my jobs; other days I suddenly find I have nothing to do, and have to start pitching for more work. Either way, it’s always busy: you’re making money or working out where the next payment will come from.

However, I find that even in self-employment, there are always parcels of time, no matter how tiny, that I can use for writing. There are always 15 or 20 minutes here or there where I can turn to fiction. For example, I could knock 15 minutes off my lunch break, and work for 15 minutes extra at the end of the day. Even small amounts of time are useful.

The important thing is developing the mindset of snatching moments when they come. You have to be aggressive and opportunistic about it. It all adds up.

Embrace the Chaos

When I was in full-time employment, ‘routine, routine, routine’ was my writing mantra. There were certain times of the day that I could always set aside for writing.

That’s all gone now. I can’t say for certain that I will be free between 7.30 AM and 8.30 AM (for example). However, working for myself opens up other opportunities. No one can stop me writing a blog at noon on a Wednesday, for example, like I’m doing right now.

In other words, self-employment does take up a lot of time – but it’s your time, and it is possible to find windows.

Remember the Other Benefits

Fiction can pay financially. But it often moves slowly, and there are relatively few people (I believe) who earn enough to make it their full-time job. So devoting time to it gets hard to justify when you, uh, don’t have any time.

However, writing a book has benefits that go beyond the financial side, and which could actually help you in your freelance career, whatever that might be. In fact, it perhaps shouldn’t be seen as something completely separate.

It certainly helped instil a sense of discipline in me, without which I doubt I could ever have made a go of being self-employed in the first place. I’ve also found it to be a great talking point – it’s not something I bring up, but people often find it out about me by researching me online before an interview, for example. It’s a nice icebreaker, and I can flog them books! Mwah ha haaaaaa!

And it’s another string to your bow, at the end of the day.

Don’t Beat Yourself Up  

When I first started writing, I would let one setback affect me badly. Say I missed a week or so writing, I would then end up missing a month, until I managed to get myself back to it. It took a while before I realised there’s no use in beating yourself up: you just need to find a new routine, or learn to adapt.

The worst thing you can do as a writer (or working on any project I suppose) is to allow one setback to derail the whole thing. If you miss a day or two writing, don’t beat yourself up too much over it. Start again tomorrow – when you have time.

And Remember …

 If you really want to be a writer, you have to write, somehow. Unfortunately.





Author: gerrardcowan

I'm an author and freelance journalist. My fantasy trilogy, 'The Machinery', is being published by HarperCollins.

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