The Pyjama Myth: The Freelance Writer's Survival Guide

By Sian Meades-Williams

Every single freelance writer is winging it. Sometimes they're even doing it while wearing pyjamas.

Sunday, 11 August 2019

30 tips for becoming a better, happier freelancer

Hi Pyjama Myth supporters!

I've been crowdfunding for a whole month now, and it's absolutely flown by. Your support means the world, this book literally cannot happen without you. Last week on Twitter I wrote a series of tips for becoming a better, happier freelancer. Here they are, with some extras added for that all-important Added Value Content.

1. Your freelance writing career won’t look exactly how you imagined it would and this is a brilliant thing. Don’t stick to what you feel like you “should” be doing. Follow your own path. You can totally change your “niche” if you want. You’re the boss of you.

2. We don’t talk about rejection enough. Your peers *are* being rejected. All the time. Daily. In the time it took you to read this. Don’t get hung up on other people’s successes or failures. The only way you’ll be successful is to focus on your own work.

3. All writers need editing. Especially the ones who think they don’t. Use it to learn how to make your work better. Don’t be Giles Coren.

4. Don’t put off dealing with tax. You owe it to your mental health to get your finances in order. Seriously. Do it now.

5. Keep pitching even when you’ve got work on. It sounds counter-intuitive until you finish a contract and have nothing to move on to.

6. Don’t continue to work with people who make you feel bad for asking for money that you are owed. They do not value you, your work, or your time.

Not every company that screws up a payment is terrible. Human error is a thing, mistakes happen. How companies deal with those mistakes is really important.

7. You’re not in competition with everyone. Make friends. Freelancing can be lonely.

8. Start your own projects, if only so you have something to work on instead of constantly refreshing your inbox.

9. Stop refreshing your inbox. Go and write something.

10. People will try to copy what you do, but they will always do it badly. You’re the one with the good ideas, and you will keep creating brilliant things.

11. Say yes to scary/exciting things. Especially weird stuff. This is how I ended up in the Arctic Circle. And erm... sleeping in a haunted plague pit.

12. But learn when to say no, too. There are only 24 hours in a day, spend some of them asleep. Or playing Mario Kart. Or eating spaghetti. Or reading books. Or having sex.

13. Don’t make yourself sick for work. No one is impressed with how much you work, only the end result. Put your wellbeing and health first.

14. Most deadlines are movable. Editors are understanding if you keep them in the loop and discuss issues as they happen. Don’t wait until an hour after your copy is due.

15. Everyone you know (and sometimes people you don’t!) will want to “pick your brains”. You get to decide how much of your expertise you share, but remember that you don’t owe anyone anything.

16. Make friends with people in accounts departments. If nothing else it’ll make inevitable invoice chasing less of a bitch. Oh, and start adding late payment charges to your invoices.

17. The Impossible Task on your to-do list will take much less time than you think. Tick it off now.

18. Your writing will improve so much in the next 12 months that occasionally you’ll stumble upon a familiar article and won’t even recognise that it’s your work.

19. Anyone who emails you about an "amazing opportunity” is about to ask you to do something for free.

20. Always have cereal in the house - sometimes you will be too busy to cook/prepare lunch, but you are never too busy for cereal. Ditto toast.

21. Don’t forget to celebrate the small achievements. Sometimes they can pass you by if you move onto the next thing on your list.

22. Even on days when work is kicking your ass, being a freelance writer means that you get to shape how your work day looks. You get to shape your career to suit you. And sometimes you get to do that in your pyjamas. Ain’t that great?

23. Always know what you're pitching. Don't expect an editor to decide for you. Otherwise you could end up with 6000 words to write instead of 600, or vice versa.

24. Remember that no one in an office is productive for a solid eight hours every day, and you don't need to be. Pay attention to your productivity times - creative in the mornings? Don't spend that time on emails. Lose focus in the afternoons? Save that time for admin or mindless tasks. And if you're a night owl, lean into it until it becomes antisocial.

25. Leave the house. Even if it's just to get milk for all that cereal you've been eating. Some of the best ideas happen when you get some fresh air. Some of them happen because you also bought a bag of Hula Hoops.

26. You won't always get feedback on your work, especially if you're not in an office with your colleagus. You need to find the joy in what you're doing yourself.

27. Ice cream is an acceptable lunch when it's the only thing left in your kitchen and you're on a deadline.

28. Work falls through sometimes, contracts end early, three pieces can turn into one. Don't bank on anything (or mentally spend your commission on dresses and cake) until you've agreed everything. Get that brief in writing. You're the one who stands to lose if you don't.

29. When you haven't spoken to anyone all day, your sudden enthusiasm for chat will scare your postman, your neighbour, the guy who has come to read the meter and the chap in the shop who just needs £3.48 from you and there's a queue forming.

30. Treat yourself to a fancy lunch every now and again, or take yourself off on an adventure in the middle of the day. It is truly one of the best perks of freelance life.

If you haven't supported The Pyjama Myth yet, I would love it so much if you did. It's going to be packed with helpful, useful guidance to help you become a better and a happier freelance writer. If you know someone else who might love the book, send a link their way.

Thanks for reading,

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Richard Taylor
 Richard Taylor says:

Thanks so much for writing these tips, Sian! Some of them are things I wouldn't have thought of, and others are great ideas I already use (see cereal for breakfast, lunch and dinner)!

posted 12th August 2019

Katrina Robinson
 Katrina Robinson says:

Excellent, encouraging, can't wait to read The Pyjama Myth.

posted 12th August 2019

Mick Freed
 Mick Freed says:

Having read these 30 tips, do I still need the book?
Only kidding! Good luck with it!

posted 16th August 2019

Tim Atkinson
 Tim Atkinson says:

Hi Sian, really looking forward to reading the book. May I ask a quick question about pitching? Are there any days of the week that are better for, say, the dailies as regards features and opinion pieces?

posted 29th June 2020

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