The Ebb and Flow of Freelancing

By: Katy Rank Lev

I started freelance writing ten years ago as a way to earn money on the side while I completed graduate school, but I continued doing it once I had children because it was the only way I found to keep working while balancing the needs of my family. Three kids later, I'm grateful for the flexibility on an average day--there just doesn't seem to be a way to combine traditional office hours with preschool, elementary school, and daycare operating hours. I also know that each year, I will be solo parenting the entire month of April due to my partner's work schedule, and so freelancing lets me adjust my work schedule to make space for this tough personal time.

That sounds so perfect, doesn't it? An entire month off from work for grocery trips, ENT consults, and urgent ophthalmology visits…and IEP meetings, reseeding the backyard, and all the million things parents do. I spent March working on a multi-million dollar funding campaign with a nonprofit organization, and then got an entire month with my angelic cherubs!

Freelance writing has often seemed like the best way to find balance--a way to keep doing meaningful work while still giving attention to my young sons--but really, I find the ebb and flow of my work to be as stressful as any other work environment I've experienced. Also? It's not so awesome hauling all the cherubs along for every doctor visit and trip to the grocery store. When my family planned for me to work part-time, we only made arrangements for part-time childcare. If you've ever tried to pin down part-time childcare, you know it's like searching for car keys inside the sofa cushions: pretty darn difficult with lots of red herrings.

The ebb and flow cycle combined with my worry about childcare has left me in quite an emotional puddle this month. Here I am in ready to dive back into my work, and yet I have no projects queued up. I was so busy completing my grant project in March that I didn't take time to hustle up new work for later--I dedicated every second of my childcare time to my client. I always tell myself I'm going to email old clients and make new contacts in the evening, when everyone is in bed. You know how that goes: I'm too exhausted to think straight by then and I usually fall asleep waiting for The Mindy Project to buffer on my Roku.

Ten years into this thing, and I haven't yet mastered the art of seeking out new work while I'm enjoying the feast of my current projects. Of course, I have strategies for this problem. I always keep business cards on hand, I set a goal to attend at least one networking event per month, and I joined a co-working space that provides childcare. It all just seems to slip away when I'm digging into a juicy project, and as a freelancer I know that I need to always be mindful of my next project. I'm both the creative team and the account gal in this gig.This spring, I want to re-evaluate how I spend my precious childcare hours. I think I get too hung up on thinking of this time as strictly work time, and assigning "worthiness" to the things I do while I'm paying someone else to look after my kids. I need to remember activities that are valuable to my well-being are probably important for my professional life as well. I've already met new people at a zumba class, talked about car seats with the guy who owns a car detailing shop, and learned what a political consultant does when I chatted one up at a coffee shop. Will any of that translate into a new contract? Probably not, but I've definitely added some life experience that's always crucial for my work as a writer.It might never be possible to balance the feast and famine cycle of part-time freelance work, but I can surely change how I let this cycle affect my stress level. And along the way, I might just develop a closer bond with my creative community!

Katy Rank Lev is a freelance writer specializing in nonprofit communications. When she’s not writing, she can be found chasing her three feral sons throughout the city of Pittsburgh. You can find her on the web at katyranklev.com.