6. Get a column or a recurring gig. If you can’t land a weekly slot, make a serious effort to develop regular relationships with editors. Send the next pitch as soon as your previous piece has run, so it becomes a continuous cycle. This benefits both of you: Editors like regular, reliable writers whose strengths and shortcomings they know. You’ll get better editing, be able to make a more reliable budget, and probably have an easier time dealing with the accounting department about your payment. It’s because of my regular columns that I’ve spent far less time chasing down checks than I thought I would. And productivity-wise, it’s nice to be on the hook for a certain amount of work every week. On that note…
7. Love your editors. They are your lifeblood, your direct employers, your internal advocates in case that check hasn’t come. Also, they’re now your coworkers. Treat them as such. Always be gracious about edits—even if you disagree with them. Never hit “send” if you’re angry.
8. Ignore your haters. Anyone creating anything of interest or value is going to attract a few people who disagree. Separate productive critics from basic detractors. If you must pay attention, use your haters as motivators.
9. Ask for more money. You’re not an asshole for asking for more more—let’s be real, you’re not exactly Scrooge McDucking it. You’re just getting by, and your life and finances depend on you squeezing a few more dollars out of every assignment. Just ask. But also be willing to do some things—things you’re passionate about, that open up your work to new audiences and editors, that you would have written/created anyway—for little or no money. For a long time, I made pie charts for The Hairpin for free. That led to a paying gig with Los Angeles magazine, and eventually a little bit of money from The Hairpin, too. But it took awhile. Also, be unwilling to do some things, even for a lot of money. I turned down a very plum assignment from a magazine that wanted me to write something negative about women. That is not what I’m about. (See “personal brand.”)
10. Put the ‘freedom’ in freelance. Go on walks in the middle of the afternoon. Skip town and work from a friend’s porch on the other coast. If you’re not being productive in your house, get out and try a new coffee shop or the library. Set up random daytime activities—shadow a friend at his or her job, take a tour of the local power plant, whatever. All of these things can spark story ideas. Choose to work alongside your friends, or alone. Switch it up. Don’t spend all day every day hunched, Gollum-like, over your laptop. One of the best things about this job is that you aren’t tied to a newsroom.