For a freelancer, quiet periods can be tricky. One minute you’ve hardly a moment to yourself, the next you’re in full Withnail mode, reciting Hamlet to the pigeons in the park. Learning to handle downtime is a challenge all freelancers will face at some point so Nione Meakin asks arts professionals for their tips on making the best of it…
It’s easy to think the worst when work starts to thin but often it’s just natural ebb and flow. “I tend to have a couple of weeks filing lots of articles and then a couple of weeks waiting for those articles to run before I can pitch more,” says Guardian journalist-turned-freelance Laura Barnett. “The challenge is appreciating the opening up of my time in quieter weeks, without freaking out that the silence will continue, and nobody will ever call or email to ask me to write anything ever again… and I still haven't quite learned how to do that!”
Learn to love it…
Barnett has just completed the first draft of a novel and says when writing fiction downtime is vital. "This is the time when you process ideas. It might seem like you're not doing very much, but you’re allowing ideas to simmer away in your subconscious, so when you do put pen to paper/finger to keyboard, they'll come forth making some sort of sense". Novelist Bethan Roberts (The Good Plain Cook; My Policeman), agrees: “I used to go for long walks with my dog and found those useful for clearing my head and perhaps even solving problems unconsciously.”
…but not too much
There’s valuable downtime and then there’s checking Twitter every three seconds and practicing your signature. “You have to keep pitching,” says award-winning playwright Ed Harris (Mongrel Island; Porshia; The Moment You Feel It) “If you go out and hunt an animal, bring it back to your cave and consume it over a week or two, you can't be surprised if there's nothing to eat once it's gone. Don’t get lazy – animals will rarely come up and proffer themselves to you.”
Feed your imagination
Everyone has times when they’re out of inspiration. “Go to the theatre,” says Lucy Jackson (currently producing Mudlarks at The Bush Theatre). “Meet friends in the industry, meet friends who aren't in the industry, email someone you've never been in touch with before and ask them for coffee, build the website you've always meant to, engage with arts industry social media – just do something!”
If you can’t pay the bills, for God’s sake go out and get a “proper” job. “We’re writers, not princesses,” says Harris. Don’t see it as a failure – many people have more than one string to their bows and we all have to eat. Besides, he says, it can often double up as research. “Time away from the desk is important. Time doing 'real' jobs is important. It's material. It's life. It's what we're paid to write about.”
Don’t waste energy complaining that times are tough. As Jackson says: “Working in the arts is difficult; some people get lucky breaks earlier than others; everyone finds it hard at some stage or another. But you’re always more likely to find work if you're positive, upbeat and enthusiastic.”
Grounded by SSShupe via Flickr under a (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) license.
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