Freelance food and wine writer Gretchen Roberts has contributed to publications like Better Homes & Gardens, Real Simple, Woman’s Day, Health, and Cooking Light, working roughly 20 hours a week. Sound like the kind of lifestyle you want?
She recently published an ebook called Full-Time Income in Part-Time Hours (full disclosure: Gretchen sent me a review copy and it seriously rocks!) in which she shares strategies for maximizing your income on less than 40 hours per week. Here she answers a few questions on the topic.
Urban Muse: What inspired you to write this ebook?
Gretchen: In 2008, I pitched a panel for the American Society of Journalists and Authors annual conference in New York City called Full-Time Income in Part-Time Hours. I always have enjoyed the conference’s popular “Six-Figure Freelancing” panel, because it’s inspiring, and so many of the tips apply to my business even though I’m part time. But I thought we part-timers deserved our own panel. I got some great speakers, and it was a hit. I still occasionally get emails from people who downloaded the conference recording and listened to the panel.
Now that ebooks are the Next Big Thing, I thought it would be fun to take the points I talked about in the panel and expand them into an ebook.
Based on what you’ve observed, what is the biggest mistake that part-time writers (or writers in general) make? Is there something from the beginnings of your freelance career that you would do differently now?
I think writers get stuck in ruts. When you’re starting out and building your body of work and your expertise, it’s appropriate and usually necessary to take lower-paying jobs. But many writers never rise out of that. You have to consciously set goals that help you aim for bigger and better jobs. It takes energy and hard work, but in the end, you reap so many more benefits.
I certainly didn’t do everything right starting off, but one thing I did do that made a world of difference was join Freelance Success, an online writer’s forum/weekly market newsletter. I didn’t know any other freelance writers personally, so seeing the level of professionalism on that forum made me realize I could do it, too.
Is there a time management tip you learned while writing the ebook that might be applicable to both part-time writers and full timers?
One bad habit I have, when I’m thinking about what to say or struggling for just the right words, is to click over to my email, or Facebook, or a writer’s forum “just for a minute” while I figure out what to write. Of course, it’s impossible to actively think about what to write when I’m engaging in social media or reading email. I have to consciously stop myself from doing the click-over by saying, “You may not do anything else until the first draft of this piece is written” or whatever. That’s my personal time management tip.
Some of the writers you interviewed actually earn more money writing part time than the full-time freelancers I know. What do you think many of these successful part-time writers have in common?
I’d say diligence and efficiency. Having fewer hours can actually make you more productive, because you don’t have a whole day in which to work. Instead, you focus during the few hours you do work, and then you’re done, because you have to be.
You suggest that part-time writers shouldn’t spend too much time on social media, but I know a lot of writers who fear that if they aren’t active on Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. it will put them at a disadvantage. Have you found that to be case?
I think you have to do a cost-benefit analysis. If you’re on Twitter, who is reading your tweets? Are you getting work (even in a roundabout way, perhaps via recommendations from other writers or by establishing yourself as a particular expert) from it?
If you feel obligated to tweet all day to an audience that isn’t necessarily helping further your career in any meaningful way, then why are you doing it? Could you be spending that time elsewhere? These questions will have different answers for every writer, but they’re important for every writer to consider.
All of this said, I do think it’s important to have a community, one in which you participate because you need the camaraderie of like-minded professionals and not because you reap monetary benefits from it. That’s why I love Freelance Success.
I love hearing the backstories on how freelance writers land assignments. Could you tell us about a favorite assignment or your most unusual one?
People think it must be so much fun to be a wine and food writer…and they’re right! One fabulously fun story I got to do was for Wine Enthusiast, a Valentine’s story called Chocolates, Liqueurs, and Love. For the story, I paired liqueurs with types of chocolate. My husband and I decided to turn it into a party, and we invited a bunch of friends over to taste-test the liqueurs and chocolates.
As to how I landed that assignment, it was given to me by the editor—but that’s just one more great argument for specializing. He thought of me because I’m a wine and food writer. Lucky me!
Want to win a copy of Gretchen’s ebook, along with other cool prizes? Of course you do! Enter out the Tales from the Trenches contest. Deadline is September 30.