Why Freelancing Is Like Juggling a Bunch of Flaming Chainsaws

flamejugglerI went full-time freelance almost six years ago, and I feel as if the entire expanse of it has been one big experiment in finding (and maintaining) the right balance.

And I’m not talking work/life balance. Please. Let someone else write 2,000 words about work/life balance, and whether or not I, as a woman, can “have it all.”

I’m talking about the balance between passion projects and bill-paying projects. The balance between regular clients and the freelance hustle. The balance between doing something for the bucks and doing something because it’s damn good fun.

I don’t know about you, but it seems to me that being a freelance writer has become tougher since I first started out.

Sure, there are increased opportunities: self-publishing, social media management, info-products, passive income, and guru-hood.

But strictly speaking, not all of these are writing gigs. In fact, most of them aren’t. And that’s the lament I’ve seen popping up on every single freelance forum on which I’m active: Can I still make a living as a freelance writer? Is it worth it to continue pitching the same old shit to publications with shrinking budgets? Should I just screw it all and go do something else?

I’ve been doing writing + “something else” for as long as I’ve been freelancing, and it’s what’s kept me going.

I worked in book publishing. I did freelance publicity work for a former employer. I managed blogs for a couple of online magazines. I did copyediting for newspapers and authors and publishers. I even did career coaching and funeral singing.

At each point, I found some sort of contentment. For a little while.

But then I happened to drop one of those flaming chainsaws, and it all fell to hell again.

These days, I feel as if I’m struggling more than usual. I’ve stopped marketing my coaching biz, sick of being a so-called “guru” among endlessly multiplying gurus. I’ve slowed down with pitching the same old service pieces to magazines, and have spent more time working on my book and pitching low-paying literary magazines, because I’m burnt out on writing stuff that feels meaningless to me. I’ve been doing ghostwriting work and social media management for a handful of clients, but I don’t know that it’s what I want to be doing anymore. At least not large-scale.

I’m going through a yoga teacher training program, but I know it won’t bring in the big bucks. I’m writing a weekly sex column, but it’s not enough.

And earlier today, a regular client tightened the budget belt and cut back on my services.

Once again, I’m trying to find a new balance.

Maybe that balance doesn’t lie with full-time freelancing. For three years, my husband and I have been trying unsuccessfully to start a family. For three years, I’ve been working toward being a work-at-home mom.

But it recently occurred to me that I may never be a mom. So what am I holding on to? Why do I keep grasping to maintain a life that’s only leaving me burnt out on the hustle?

Simultaneously marketing so many different types of services can be exhausting and, for me, one of those flaming chainsaws always slips through my fingers, leaving me wondering if I’m Doing It Wrong again. Maybe it’s time for me to do something else. At least part-time.

Maybe it’s time for me to put my cat slippers back in the closet during the daylight hours.

I’m not saying I want to give up on freelancing. I love the flexibility of working from home full-time. I’m just saying that it doesn’t have to be all-or-nothing.

So what’s your perfect balance? Is it all? Is it nothing? Is it something in between?

Related: What Got Me Here: Self-Education, Goal-Setting, Hard Work, and a Helluva Lot of Privilege, What Kind of Writer Are You?, I’m Not Really Much of an Entrepreneur, Am I?

(image above via galdo trouchky’s flickr page)


  1. Steph, great headline! I know what you mean about that balancing act. The high-paying writing assignments offer don’t do much to nurture my creative side, while the creative stuff doesn’t pay well (if at all). Despite the stress, I believe that I’m a freelancer at heart. I’ve never been truly happy punching a clock or commuting to an office but having the autonomy to set my own hours and choose my projects is very appealing to me, even though the lack of structure can be overwhelming at times. The hours I set and the project I choose have evolved over time (and they’re still evolving) but I think that the ability to constantly reinvent yourself is one of the joys of freelancing.

  2. I am just beginning the freelancer/chainsaw juggling journey and trying to soak up any and all experiences and advice from those who’ve been there/done that.

    It seems in my brief experience and studying sites with oDesk, is that there are plenty of (poor to mediocre paying) freelance jobs out there beyond writing – that require nothing more than basic organization ability, some very basic computer science skills, excellent communication and being flexible with availability.

    Not that I’m in a position to offer you advice, but I wonder if branching out beyond writing gigs could be a potential path forward for you. In other words, expand your horizons/skill sets. Of course that easier said than done and requires an additional time investment with no immediate return.

    Regardless, best of luck to you and thanks for sharing. I love the concept of blogging about this experience, and hope I in a position to help others some day in the future. I plan on keeping up with your blog (which by the way I found via a Tweet from Freelancer’s Union)

    Take care and keep fighting the good fight !

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