I’ve been getting a lot of hits on some of my recent posts focusing on the economy:
The volume and interest in these topics have gotten me thinking more about what’s going on and how to make the best of it.
Here’s how I see it: It’s going to be tough to get new gigs in the next year or so. It’s going to be tough to hang onto old gigs. There WILL be work — just not as much of it. We’ve got some recent history to tell us what may lie ahead: Some successful travel writers I know saw their incomes drop 50 percent from 2001 to 2002 (recession plus 9-11 meant no one was traveling, plus there was that Internet bust) — and 50 percent AGAIN in 2003. If you know anything about typical writers’ incomes, well, let’s just say that there’s not a lot of room for this type of progression. Other creative types saw their incomes drop, too.
But slowly, we recovered. I got a nice book deal in early 2003 that helped fill the gaping space that had once been taken up by a lucrative Internet contract. Magazine assignments dribbled back in. The Internet started looking like it might someday become a viable market again (although without ever really becoming something you’d want to hang your career on).
One of the most debilitating things I can do in a recession is get all ambitious about how I’m going to search for the markets that must still be out there and FIND THEM DAMNIT and write the best query letters the world has ever seen and sail through the recession without a ripple.
That’s nonproductive. It’s fantasy. Facts are: There’s less work, there are lots of good writers, and there’s more competition than ever from all those ex-editors. So spending a disproportionate amount of time writing the world’s best query letters tends to be not only a waste of time, but dispiriting and discouraging.
All of us are in different situations: What I am going to do with these next few months won’t work for everyone. If you’ve got to get cash in the door NOW to pay your mortgage, if you’re already overextended, if you have huge anticipated expenses like a kid’s college tuition coming soon down the road, then your strategies may need to be different — taking a day job, contract work, switching fields for a while, hitting the pavement to find new markets, expanding out your current topics and markets to related areas. (Some of these strategies make sense for ALL of us…)
I can’t possibly speak for everyone, but I can share some of what I’m up to, because I think these strategies would work for a lot of people in a variety of situations: those who are have been living slightly below their means and have some savings (the key to freelance success, in my book), those who have some other kind of steady work (like teaching, or a regular client), those who have a supportive (not to mention secure) spouse, those who are young and unencumbered and are just starting out with few debts and low expenses, those who have already budgeted to work only part time in order to care for kids….
Here’s my silver lining: Take this time as a gift. Sure, keep pitching. Keep feeding and watering your career (suggestions on that on the “Surviving the Recession” post). Keep working for whatever pay is out there.
But when that doesn’t come through, take advantage of your new-found freedom. Here’s what I’m going to be doing in the next year or so:
- Keep this blog going and get moving on the companion book project. Approach the agent who repped my last book to chat about it. No, this may NOT be the time to sell a book — but it might be time to lay the groundwork, think through what I can do to support the book, and build a platform for it.
- Start that damn novel. You know, the one that’s going to crack the New York Times bestseller list. The one that’s been in my mind for a WHOLE year!
- Experiment with pay-per-click Internet models to see whether they can support my travel writing with solid clips and story placements that ultimately earn a fair, ongoing royalty.
- Learn more about blogging, advertising on blogs, and monetizing Internet ventures.
- Start the travel website I’ve been planning for several months — hopefully by finding and working with a partner who can handle the business development/advertising/Internet aspect of it. (They would be the “publisher,” I would be the “editor.”)
- Practice more piano and finally put together some of the performance sets I’ve been wanting to do.
- Completely master my stupid little digital camera so that I feel worthy of upgrading to an SLR.
- Keep going to the gym I just started going to.
- Network outside my usual pathways. Who knows?
New Year’s resolutions are just around the corner. I turn 50 next May. This list looks like fun.
When the economy is strong and work is flowing in the door, we often lose sight of the big picture because we’re so busy meeting our deadlines and planning our gigs and doing the actual WORK. Which is great. But we don’t tend to set aside the time we NEED to retrench, regroup, re-evaluate, and replenish our creative energies…
I may have to eat dinner out a lot less, or delay the purchase of the new keyboard I wanted to buy this year. I won’t be upgrading a few pieces of office equipment, or buying the new dining room chairs we really DO need if we want our guests to enjoy dining with us. But this gift of time will more than make up for it: It is, perhaps, the best thing that could have happened!
Best thing of all: ALL of my goals are within reach, and none are expensive: They just cost time, which, in a recession, we have plenty of.
So Carpe Diem, folks. And have fun.