Shop Talk: Beating The Freelance Doldrums (Round 1 – Fight!)

Any job can grow tiresome and dull over an extended period of time, no matter how fun it may seem to other folks looking in from the outside. The world of game journalism can be a magical land full of shiny opportunities and realized dreams. But sometimes it sucks. Even if you’re writing about video games (or some other totally rad hobby) for a living, there are times when you will want to fling your computer out the window in frustration or crawl into a volcano and immolate yourself. Trust me, you don’t want to do either.

Every writer gets into a slump now and then, and freelancers are especially prone to sinking into the bog of despair. Lucrative gigs dry up. Favorite editors move on. Plans fall through. Whether it’s writer’s block, lack of steady work, or just plain old-fashioned depression, there are plenty of pitfalls awaiting you in freelance life. You need to punch them squarely in the nuts.

The trick to keeping your sanity as a freelance writer is finding creative ways to overcome the numerous hurdles plunked down in your path. Know your enemies well, and learn how to defeat them. It doesn’t matter if you kill them with fire, pour salt on them, or use holy water – exercise the freelance doldrums as soon as those little bastards poke their nose in your business. Give them a taste of your boom stick. Fire up the wood-chipper. Make them squeal like a piggy. Here are a few other tried-and-true doldrum-smiting methods culled from the scrolls of the ancients.

Change Up Your Work Space

Without co-workers and other humans to interact with around the water cooler, sitting at a cramped desk in a small corner of your apartment every day for months on end can be a major downer at times. Even if you’re lucky to own or rent a big abode with enough room for a dedicated home office, stir craziness can still set in. The best part about being the master of your own universe is having total power to shake things up whenever the damn well you feel like it. Sometimes it’s a life-saver.

It’s amazing how much the simple act of keeping a clean workspace can make a difference in the overall vibe of your daily routine. Strange things accumulate on the desk of a busy freelance game journalist. While stacks of games, books, paperwork, and controllers tend to be the norm, dirty dishes, scraps of rotting food, random trash, and hand-scrawled notes pile up too – often accompanied by an unpleasant bouquet, if you will. If your workspace threatens to consume you, it’s time to break out the flame thrower and chain mail gloves to tame that naughty beast.

When cleaning isn’t enough to jump-start your ailing writing mojo, re-organizing your office layout can freshen-up the place enough to inject some new bounce in your work routine. Shift your desk around to a different side of the room. Put in some bookshelves. Buy a few plants. Hang pictures, posters, or inspiring artwork. Erect a disco ball. Get a dedicated coffee machine. Do what it takes to change your work environment for the better, and you’ll be surprised how sitting down to write become much more enjoyable. If you’re really antsy, change things up every six months.

Then there’s the laptop: a freelancer’s best friend. Not only does it come in handy when you’re hoofing it around conventions and press event, it also lets you get out of your stuffy home office and work somewhere else for a bit. A total change of scenery is a great way to recharge your writing inspiration. With your laptop in tow, you can work anywhere that has a steady internet connection. That means the backyard and front porch can be converted into a vacation-style mini-office on a pleasant, sunny day. Cafes with Wi-Fi also make good spots to camp out and get some work done, assuming you can tune out bustling crowds if patrons. Hell, even a quiet local bar can make a good makeshift workspace, if that’s your thing.

Broaden Your Workload

Early on in your freelancing career you’ll be going gangbusters trying to hunt down new sources of steady work. But once you’ve broken down some editorial doors and nabbed enough regular gigs to stay busy, it’s tempting to rest on your laurels for as long as you can and keep things rolling with your established editorial contacts. Steady work with the same pool of outlets isn’t a bad thing – indeed, it’s what you should be striving for – but doing the same thing day-after-day can leave you feeling stuck in a creative rut.

Finding new outlets to pitch to is one way to spice up your routine while sweetening the pot. It’s also worth going back to revisit past publications you’ve pitched without success. Trying again after a short cool down period sometimes yields unexpected opportunities, since changes in editorial direction, turnover in editorial staff, or a stellar pitch might result in an exciting gig.

Tired of writing the same kind of pieces over and over again? Branch out to explore different formats. If you spend most of your time tackling reviews and previews, try pitching something different like feature, interviews, or even a regular column. You might stumble upon something that vibes better with where you’d like to be writing-wise. Expanding the scope of your writing can be uplifting. It also doesn’t hurt to build writing experience in the broadest range of article formats possible, since editors often want writers with a diverse skill set.

Click here for Part 2!

Want to read more Shop Talk? Why not scope out the archive for past installments!


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6 thoughts on “Shop Talk: Beating The Freelance Doldrums (Round 1 – Fight!)

  1. I think it’s high time for me to change up my workspace, too. Right now, there’s a paper plate of half eaten veggie pizza, a near empty bottle of water, a notepad of scribbles, my cell phone, digital camera, and a hair clip just strewn about my desk. I can’t THINK with this mess!

    Top-notch info here, Nathan. 🙂 Can’t wait for Part 2!

  2. Thanks for commenting Jean! Yeah, my desk wavers between quasi clean and ultimate pile of abysmal hell on a regular basis. I finally sprung for a big desk a year or ago, and while the extra workspace is great, it also means much more space to attract misc clutter. Heh.

    Found that it does help to to clean and re-arrange every so often to keep from going crazy. Fortunately I also get out of the house more these days.

    Part 2 should be up early this coming week!

  3. Been going through your blog over the past few days Nathan and am loving the shop talk pieces. So many bits strike home! Keep up the good work man!

    • Thanks Stew! I’ve got plenty of steam in the Shop Talk engine, so stay tuned for many other freelance-related pieces!

  4. Pingback: Shop Talk: Beating The Freelance Doldrums (Round 2 – Kung-Fu Grip Hiyeah!) « Nathan Meunier – Freelance Writer / Game Journalist

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