A guest post by Elise Seyfried.
I stumble through life, for the most part. Grace and style are not my style. When it comes to marketing myself, I tend to send out email queries, and then cringe for days about the boneheaded blunders I must have made in print. I never saw a piece published until I was 48. I guess you could call me a late bloomer?
I have a full-time job as Director of Spiritual Formation at a Lutheran Church, which uses all of my most productive hours of the day. When at last, after dishes are done, I curl up with my laptop on the sofa, the end result of my literary output is the chain of zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz I inadvertently type after I’ve fallen asleep at the keyboard.
So how do you successfully freelance when you’re working at something else 40++ hours a week, and don’t have the organizational skills and endurance of a John Grisham (who, it is rumored, wrote his first few books longhand before his day as a lawyer began)?
If you’re like me, you stumble into it. I sold my first piece to a well-known, conservative Christian magazine, and my second to a really out-there liberal Christian webzine. The next few years, during which time I wrote my first book of humorous spiritual essays, I wrote an op-ed piece for the Philadelphia Inquirer and a piece about our pet rabbit for Metropolis. I became a regular contributor to a small local paper. And suddenly, one day, it dawned on me: I was a freelancer!
Experts on the subject of writers extol the virtues of the sacred writing space, the mind-cleansing walk in the woods, the restorative cup of tea, the ever-ready notebook filled with jotted-down ideas. My sacred space needs to be cleared nightly for plates of pasta or meatloaf. I semi-cleanse my mind with brisk 30 second treaks from car to house. My restorative cup of tea takes the form of, depending on time of day, high-octane coffee or mellow glass of Malbec. My ever-ready notebook is never-ready. When I come up with an idea, it is usually jotted on our electric bill, or on the kitchen whiteboard, where one of the kids promptly erases it to write “buy peanut butter!” My tale of an incandescent jar of peanut butter has yet to be put to paper.
Could I be more productive if I stopped stumbling through? No doubt. But listen: I have raised five children while working fulltime. I have done, and am doing, my best. My second book has just been published. I’m writing devotionals for a Lutheran press. And I’m here to tell you: you can do it. Whoever you are. Don’t waste time beating yourself up for not landing a feature in The Atlantic. That little local paper is just fine for now. Your writing space and exercise routine and diet and journal may be a little quirky, but they are you.
So wake up tomorrow and vow to be kind to yourself. Send that query without cringing. Pitch that op-ed to the paper with confidence. And, at the end of the day, be glad if you produced any usable prose whatsoever. Some days you will soar. Other days you will plummet to the ground. But keep on keeping on, and one of these days you, too, will be a successful freelancer.
How do you encourage yourself?
Elise Seyfried of Oreland, PA is an author, freelance writer, essayist, actress, poet, playwright, lyricist, church worker and mom of five. She writes a regular column for The Chestnut Hill Local. Her work has also appeared in such diverse places as The Philadelphia Inquirer, Metropolis, The Lutheran Digest, Guideposts Magazine, Simul: Lutheran Voices in Poetry, and the Wittenburg Door. Elise is the author of the book Unhaling: On God, Grace and a Perfectly Imperfect Life, was lyricist for the Stanley Drama award-winning musical Flight and has co-written (with her husband Steve) 15 plays for children. She has completed her second book, Underway: Reflections on Everyday Grace, which is scheduled for a December publication.