It’s always feast or famine

Suppose you’re writing a book, any book. That’s wonderful, but remember that unless you have a really fat advance, you’re not going to be making money while you write the book. If you can spit a book out in 3-4 months, you’ll probably not deplete your savings too badly, but you’re going to want to have something lined up you can leap on when you’re done.

Let’s further suppose that another writing contract heaves into view. It doesn’t matter what, but it represents real money that you can use to refill the savings and pay off the miscellaneous expenses that you’ve ~a-hem~ been putting on a credit card. And that’s really good, too.

The only problem is getting the timing to work out right. Can you predict accurately to the day, or even the week, when the book is going to be done? No, probably not. You can certainly set yourself deadlines and push yourself to achieve them and you may, but writing a book is not the easiest thing in the world to estimate. Even more so, you may be picking things up as you go (as Bill Zinsser describes it, “writing to learn“), making it that much harder to identify parts of your process. You’ll be enriched and enlightened by what you discover, but the chances are very good that you’ll see at least one delay as a result of your educational process.

Or even worse for your schedule, what if the new gig comes in so that it overlaps the last few weeks of your book writing schedule? The new gig may be another great book, a long-term writing contract at $60/hour, or a magazine article you promised to do, but the problem is still that you have to squeeze out twice as many writing hours/day as there probably are. And the worst part is that the overlap is hitting you at the very worst part of your writing madness on the book.

What do you do? First, try to get as much slack in the new schedule as you can. If you don’t really need to start the new project immediately and have some time for delivery, you may have all the wiggle room you need. You’ll drink a lot of coffee, bang the keyboard that much harder, and finish the book… then you’ll drink a lot more coffee, bang the keyboard, and meet your first deadlines on the new project. (See, I told you: writing is fun!)

Another possibility is subcontracting: if there’s some way to quietly farm out a small piece of whatever you’re doing on one project or another, consider doing it. You’ll make a little less money than you would’ve, but you’ll still make more money than if you’d said “No” to the new project.

Most of the time, the answer is to scream a little in your office, and just blaze away as hard and fast as you can. Authors and freelance writers all recognize that “burning the candle at all three ends” feeling that happens regularly. The life of an author is always feast or famine. It’s always better to have too much than too little, but you’re still going to work hard for it at times. You may console yourself with the thought that this is a job with no heavy lifting and keep typing.

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