Ask a freelancer: When freelance feels like freefall

Dealing with the despair of freelancing. 

Internet Culture

Published Aug 5, 2013   Updated Jun 1, 2021, 9:54 am CDT

Melissa Chadburn is a lover and a fighter, a union rep, a social arsonist, a writer, a lesbian, of color, smart, edgy and fun. Her work has appeared in Guernica, Salon, and the Rumpus, among others.  In Ask a freelancer, Chadburn fields questions about writing, the blogosphere, platform building, and all things scary. She doesn’t presume to know everything, but she knows people that know more things than her and if there’s one thing she’s learned it’s that there’s nothing to be gained from withholding information. Reach her at fictiongrrrl(at) or follow her on Twitter. She loves your whole outfit right now.

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Dear Freelancer,

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I am very, very tired. I barely make ends meet every month doing some mix of teaching, editing and copywriting. I barely have time to work on my own writing, much less have a life. I had a day job, but it was only part time, and I ended up doing better freelancing. Not a lot better, but a little better. Just figuring out taxes alone is a full time job. I'm burnt out. I've tried meditating, but that only worked for a minute. I need a nap. Or a vacation. Or a sugar person. But none of those options seem to be presenting themselves at the moment. In fact, as I write this, I have 9 different things I'm supposed to be working on, plus a class to prepare for in 6.5 hours. I probably work 70-90 hours per week. And yet my monthly income is considered, per the mayor's office in the city in which I live, "very low."

It's time to torture a metaphor: I'm at the end of my rope, but there's nowhere to go but fall down from where I've climbed, and it's not that I've climbed that high, but maybe it's that I've climbed out over a canyon, like Wile E Coyote sometimes runs over one, and it's a long way down from here, and I'm not a cartoon.

I guess I don't really have a question. I just want you to make me feel better.

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When I was five my mom and I were living in a quadplex on 11023 Wellworth Ave. in Westwood Village, the college town attached to UCLA. It was our nicest place together. We had hardwood floors and for a while we had a vacant extra bedroom. We had a fireplace mantle. But mostly between boyfriends and roommates we had a lot of space, alone together. I think I took that time to really be a kid. I remember dancing and playing handball against the back wall in the parking garage. I propped up all my stuffed animals in the spare bedroom and lectured them all and assigned them homework. I wore my mom’s shoes and click clacked around the house. We went up the street and purchased 3-D glasses at 7-Eleven and spooked ourselves by watching Elvira together.

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Then when money got tight and boyfriends and roommates came and flooded our private world I found a cupboard. I’d sit in this cupboard, in this small defensible space and I’d repeat the word, “Cupcake.” I’d sit and I’d say, “Cupppa Caaaakkke Cupppa Caaaake.” It was like an altered state that I could reach by making a word with meaning take on elusive shapes and sizes by repeating it over and over again. The space around me and the space in my head stretched to infinite length. I was safe in this home of a word.

So I get why it can be a scary sucky thing when you are in a world of words but feel unsafe. We are on the same cliff. It’s even scarier to think that no matter how high we climb we will still be on a cliff. Another metaphor for the cliff is the hallway. I remember a time when I felt equally panicked and there’s that saying you know, when one door closes another window opens, but the hallway sucks. I spend 85% of my writing life in the hallway. But the doors—the doors get nicer, and there will always be a next bigger door.

And so really what are we talking about? I recently reached out to some new friends to do something contrary, to get out of my malaise. It can be awkward hanging out with new friends. One of the friends decided we play a game called “Destructo.” It works like this: one person draws something, and then the person sitting beside them draws something to destroy that thing, then the next—a thing that destroys that. It can be literal, like a hammer destroys a nail, or figurative.

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I thought I had unlocked a key in the game when I drew love. I thought nothing can destroy love. I’m always thrilled when I unlock the thing. The girl beside me drew—fear. Fear destroys love. We kept on bouncing back and forth like that—fear love, fear love. That’s what it all comes down to: love and fear. No matter what we write that’s what we’re writing about. So, Panicked, you’ve drawn fear; the only way you can destroy that is love. Here it is, staring back at you. You are quite possibly one of my favorite people.



Photo by jblahblahblah/Flickr

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*First Published: Aug 5, 2013, 2:08 pm CDT