How knowing what you want simplifies everything

As a freelancer, I spend a certain amount of each day trying to get work.  The difficulty comes in evaluating the different opportunities that present themselves.  Sure, if someone wants to offer me a gazillion dollars for my latest book, I’m in, but between those delightful events are whole acres of less clear-cut opportunities.  Should I pitch an idea to a women’s magazine that pays pretty well but may never respond to my pitch or may take forever to pay me, or should I go for the surer opportunity of writing for a magazine I’ve written for in the past with a responsive, easy to work with editor, but for less pay and at the risk of saying the same thing this month that I said last month?  

To some degree, I can do both (I don’t want to get into the either-0r mindset that sometimes bedevils me despite my best efforts) but in reality I only have a certain amount of time and energy to spend on work pursuits.  If I spend all my time chasing nickels and dimes, then I don’t have time for the work that really matters to me, and which may or may not pay off in the long run.  But if I don’t chase a few nickels and dimes, then I’ll be living out of my car, and that’s not the kind of adventure I need in my life at the moment.

One of the ways I’ve learned to look at the myriad of choices I have is to ask myself which will get me closer to my goals, and which just put food on the table.  Not that food on the table is a bad thing, but if it’s just a stop-gap measure, then it’s not the kind of thing I should be contorting myself to do.  In other words, if I’m not interested in building a copy editing business, then I’m not going to go chasing copy editing work, even if it appears on my radar screen.  If some falls into my lap (through a colleague who needs help pronto, for example) and the pay will keep me in tequila and chocolates for a little while, I will look at my schedule and see if it interferes with anything that is a priority (which could mean non-paying work or spending time with my daughter) and if it doesn’t, okay.  I’m in.

But when it does interfere with a long-term goal, I don’t do it.   And that simplifies the whole process for me.  This played out recently when I learned of a book editing position that was available to freelancers.   I read a lot of books in that specific genre and I’ve done developmental editing for publishers, so it seemed a reasonable fit.  Was it something worth pursuing?  I asked for more information and learned that the company doesn’t allow their editors to be affiliated with author websites or blogs.  I can understand that they want to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest, although I don’t know of many other publishing companies that have a requirement like this.  Still, that made the choice simple: I’m a writer before I’m anything else, so I took a pass.  That doesn’t mean the position isn’t perfect for someone else, just not for me.  Keeping my priorities clear in my mind helps me keep moving forward and prevents me from getting stuck in unproductive byways.