What if it all falls apart?
June 1, 2012 2:21 PM   Subscribe

Freelance freakout. Help?

I'm a freelance writer who is busy with work most of the time, but whenever there is a glitch in a project my anxiety is extreme. How do I deal with the feeling that any lack of greatness in my work (real or perceived) or personal awkwardness on my part is going to result in being dumped by my client(s), with financial ruin the inevitable result? Is this just how it is? I've been doing this for 5 years. I'm usually booked for projects a couple of months in advance, but can never really feel relaxed, because who knows what will happen a couple of months from now? What if those who love my work today decide tomorrow that someone else might work cheaper and better? By the way, I have a seemingly impossible deadline now (okay, it's due today: FUCK!) and am very stressed and sleep deprived. I'm probably going to be embarrassed for having posted this. Maybe I just want some encouragement. Metafilter, help.
posted by Wordwoman to Work & Money (11 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Deep breaths, deep breaths, deep breaths. Now start that thing that's due today.

You can do it, you've done it before.

Next week, NEXT WEEK (not now) start thinking about if this set up is right for you, and post another question about what you can do to make this line of work workable, or what you can do to change it.

But yeah-

posted by misspony at 2:34 PM on June 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

and promise yourself a very very long sleep once you're done with today's work!
posted by misspony at 2:35 PM on June 1, 2012

I've been essentially a freelancer (in a different field) for almost 20 years, and I know exactly what you're feeling. I describe the nagging "what ifs" as being like waiting for the other shoe to drop. Here are two tricks that have helped me, although I confess I still struggle with it. First, I keep a file titled "strokes" into which I throw every bit of praise I've ever received. When I feel uncertain about my value to clients, I reread everything in the file. Sometimes twice. Until the doubts pass. Second, I jokingly labeled myself "the oracle of [my town]" and remind myself of that prior to client contacts, tough projects, and any time I'm feeling down on myself. If I forget to call myself that, my husband does it for me (thanks, honey!).
posted by DrGail at 2:51 PM on June 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Oh hi, you're me! The somewhat bad news: the feeling doesn't go away. The very good news: you can offset it with the knowledge that it's been five years and those clients just keep coming back. You're obviously reliable and conscientious (otherwise you wouldn't be stressing so much about meeting that deadline with quality work) - and once a client finds someone like that, they cling onto them - often forever. (And I talk from the perspective of having been both a freelancer and a client.)

By the way, did you watch the Neil Gaiman commencement speech on the blue recently? He said this:
"People keep working in a freelance world... because their work is good, because they are easy to get along with and because they deliver the work on time. And you don’t even need all three! Two out of three is fine. People will tolerate how unpleasant you are if your work is good and you deliver it on time. People will forgive the lateness of your work if it is good and they like you. And you don’t have to be as good as everyone else if you’re on time and it’s always a pleasure to hear from you."
I think every freelance writer should have that pinned to their wall.
posted by sleepcrime at 2:52 PM on June 1, 2012 [24 favorites]

Oops, wrong link: here's the link to the actual speech.
posted by sleepcrime at 2:54 PM on June 1, 2012

When I am sleep deprived, it triggers the We Are Not Thinking About This Today policy. Today is just not a good time to be objective in the slightest. You've heard "depression lies?" Sleep deprivation lies! Be on your own side right now while you're working so hard.

In the long run, the reality is that NO job is secure, and consultants are probably in better shape than the average person because their income risk is diversified and they are in the habit of hustling up work.
posted by salvia at 3:24 PM on June 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

You've been at it for five years and the work keeps coming. That wouldn't happen if you weren't good.

Also, you have a cushion of a couple of months. That's about double what I usually get. Even if the work stopped coming in tomorrow, you have some time to deal with it.

I don't know how many steady clients you have, but that's one of the advantages of freelancing. If you do get dumped by a client (it happens to all of us eventually), you don't lose your entire income. You can go out there and drum up more business.

But five years of success? Yeah, you can relax a little bit. After you make today's deadline, I mean. Now get back to work.
posted by Longtime Listener at 3:35 PM on June 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm also (sort of?) a freelancer, for four years now. I don't know if money is part of your anxiety, but having 6 months of comfortable living expenses liquid in a saving account has helped me deal with worries over the cyclical slow periods (which usually last 2-3 months). Maybe socking a bit more money away will help?
posted by smirkette at 3:39 PM on June 1, 2012

This is totally normal and an inherent part of freelancing. It's also an inherent part of stress and sleep deprivation. The fact that you've got projects lined up for the next few months is a HUGE leg up on a lot of writers - trust me - and if clients love your work now, even if something changes it probably won't be because they suddenly changed their opinion.

But seriously though - this is your brain on no sleep talking, and I know because I've been there way too often for my own good. Get some rest once you can and you'll be fine.
posted by dekathelon at 9:22 PM on June 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Just finished. Not exactly by C.O.B., but still. SO TIRED. Thank you so much for your encouragement.
posted by Wordwoman at 10:12 PM on June 1, 2012

Get rest. Mental rest.

I loved my work. I think I still do. But I am very burnt out. Very. From 4 years of recession and struggle. So, we are on vacation right now. But I have a problem with a customer, so I have had to email back and forth with her and she hasn't been nice about it at all. So basically, my brain hasn't been able to stop. I have had anxiety and stress this whole vacation because I was trying to appease her with no luck. Most all of my customers love me and we have a heartfelt connection. I have only had an issue 4 times in 12 years, out of thousands of customers, but I allowed myself to obsess over this and ruin my vacation. Which, in turn, will make it harder to give the attention to my other customers who deserve it.

Basically, it is not reality that you are going to be able to please every customer. The minute I gave up and told her to return the item (she hasn't even seen it, it was a combination of email and UPS screw up it wasn't about my work at all.) for a refund, I felt tremendously better. I just had to let go. It felt awesome. But now, my vacation/recovery time is over. And I blew it.

Don't be me. We don't have to be perfect. As a matter of fact, it's impossible for us to be perfect. Get rest and find a way to give your mind a vacation.

(and, yes, I am pinning the Neil Gaiman quote to the wall.)
posted by Vaike at 10:30 AM on June 2, 2012

« Older I want to do all of the cool things   |   You are not my estate lawyer, finance lady, or tax... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.