Shop Talk: Moonlighting (Part 1)

The unknown can be dangerous. Diving headfirst into a dark pit without knowing what’s sitting at the bottom of it is never a good idea. While there might be a bed of fluffy pillows and bon-bons waiting for you down there, you could instead wind up impaled on a bed of gnarly barbed spikes dripping with poisonous chupacabra nectar. That’s not fun. Freelancing is the same way. Impulsiveness doesn’t pay the bills. You can’t just quit your job, grab a stack of games, call yourself a game journalist, and expect work to come flowing in. You need to stick your toe in the water first, and moonlighting is the way to do that.

A fancy term for writing on a part-time basis while you hold down a steady 9-to-5 job, moonlighting is a safer way to go if you’re just getting started. It lets you get a taste of the action without having to shove the whole shebang thing down your throat all at once. Not everyone can stomach the constant ups and downs of the freelancing life. Writing on the side is a good way to gain confidence, earn some extra green, and find out if you’re cut out for freelancing. It’s also acts like training wheels, helping you get a feel for things and build enough momentum so you can eventually transition to full-time freelance work.

Beware: moonlighting has its own set of perils too. Some bosses frown upon their employees taking on outside work, even in their spare time away from the office. Others forbid it outright and include wording in your employment contract prohibiting outside employment. Fiddling with your freelance writing during work hours isn’t uncommon, but getting caught can leave you without a job at all. Is it a risk you’re willing to take? Is it a risk your significant other is willing to let you take?

Working two jobs can become a taxing grind in itself. Suffering through a long day at the office before plunking down to at your desk for several more hours of writing work can be mentally exhausting. 60+ hour work weeks are a reality for many moonlighters. Likewise, eschewing sunny weekends full of friends, barbecues, and fun in order to pitch editors and crank away at the computer takes some serious fortitude.

Successful moonlighting may mean you have little down-time away from the work grind, but the upside of handling the pressure from all the extra labor is that you’ll push closer to the possibility of full-time freelancing. When you’re teetering on the brink and ready to snap under the weight of part-time freelance work, it’s usually a good sign that you’re not far from taking the plunge of quitting your day job and making a go of it.

Let’s Slap Some Training Wheels On This Battle Tank

As a moonlighter, you’re doing almost everything you’d be doing as a full-time freelancer – just on a smaller scale. You’ll be researching new outlets to break into, pitching editors with article ideas, working to meet deadlines, churning out copy, and getting into the freelance groove. Aside from digging into writing-focused activities, moonlighting also lets you familiarize yourself with the organizational end of the business. Handling invoicing, tracking expenses, and keeping good records are among other important tasks you have to handle as a freelancer. Starting off small lets you fit these duties into the nooks and crannies of your regular 9-to-5 work routine.

Time Ninjas and Weekend Warriors

Finding time to write can be tough when you’re already working a day job. Some crafty freelancers multi-task throughout the day, chipping away at writing assignments in spurts when the boss isn’t looking. Keeping a work-related document open on your computer desktop at all times is a sneaky way to solve this problem, since you can switch to it anytime someone walks by. However, this is much easier to do when you’ve got a desk job with access to a computer or a separate office with a door you can close.

If squeezing freelancing in during the regular work day is too risky, you can always relegate your writing to lunch breaks. Assuming you take public transportation or carpool, morning and evening commutes are also be great times to get the words flowing. Portable devices like netbooks, iPads, and smart phones are a godsend for moonlighters, since they have wireless access to e-mail and can be loaded with word processing software to make it easier to get work done in the most unusual or remote locations.

When it’s not feasible to write during the regular work day or on-the-go, you’ll have to write at home. Having a dedicated space to write is important. While it’s preferable to have a separate home office space or quiet room to write in, a corner of your bedroom will do in a pinch, since you can close the door and block out unwanted distraction.

Writing at home isn’t always easy, particularly when you have loved ones you’d rather spend time with or other things to do. Weekend writing is often a necessity for those who moonlight, but changing your routine can free up time too. Waking up a few hours early each day to clock some writing time is one way to increase your productivity. It’s easier to get work done when others are sleeping and the house is quiet. The tradeoff of rising at the crack of dawn is having to chug voluminous amounts of high-test coffee like it was your life blood. Hell, you should be doing that anyway.

Unlike other moonlighting folks, game journalists have another issue to contend with. If you’re writing reviews and previews, you have to carve out time to play through the games you’re covering before you can write about them. That’s not so easy when you’ve got a 30+ hour RPG on deck and a short deadline fuse burning away. To combat this, part-time freelancers need to be careful of what kinds of assignments they take on and the timeframe allotted to complete them by.

(Click here to read on to 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: Moonlighting (Part 1)

  1. Naturally, your articles always seem to coincide with what’s currently happening in my life. 😛 I’m doing just that – moonlighting, and damn is it frustrating.My part-time day job is a telecommuting one so I try to ship away at an article or two in between work, but customers can be so demanding of your time that it’s becoming impossible.

    On top of this, I have a possible long term project writing articles for a client and contributing to a few blogs. I’m seriously considering whether I should be doing this right now. I’ve had to cut my contributions for one blog, reduce my submissions to another and see if I can focus solely on the last since it’s the only one in my preferred niche. None of them are paid, either, so that sucks even more. Like some advice you gave before, I shouldn’t be afraid to cut out time sucking avenues, and writing for free is taking its toll on me.

    As you mentioned, on top of all this there are games to play and preview, review, etc.. it’s becoming too much to do. 😦 The assignments I have definitely need to be looked over now, and I have to change my focus around for my freelance writing career. I still want to do it, but I’m going about it wrong. It shouldn’t feel this stressful.

    Looking forward to the second part! 🙂

    • I can sympathize. During the short stretch of time I was doing free writing work it often felt like I running up a wet slope. Working hard to crank out lots of content without getting anything for your troubles gets stressful quickly. Hell, even doing that with paying outlets can have its days. Deadlines and commitments still hold, whether you’re getting paid or not.

      I think you’ve got the right energy and enthusiasm, but you might consider cutting back the free writing work down to just one favorite outlet or project. That’ll make it easier to keep stress down and give you a little more breathing room to focus on pitching paying outlets.

      You don’t want to kill yourself / lose your sanity working for free with your engines gunning at 400 percent. Save that for when you’re raking in the green. 😉

      • Thanks for the advice, Nathan. 🙂 You’re right – I think keeping my free writing focus on just one project will be best for now. I’ve yet to come up with a decent pitch, but I hope to do so very, very soon.

        Ahh, the green.. someday, someday! 😀

  2. Pingback: Shop Talk: Deadly Deadlines of Doom (Moonlighting Part 2) « Nathan Meunier – Freelance Writer / Game Journalist

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