Lu-Hai Liang

thoughts from a freelance foreign correspondent

The secret anxiety of being a freelancer

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I am not the world’s most prolific freelance journalist. I tend to report and write fairly slowly. I don’t pitch all that often and I’m not insanely busy with assignments. These are all great faults that I need to improve. And yet even with this somewhat leisurely state of affairs I find myself feeling stressed, anxious and under pressure.

This boils down to one thing and something perhaps unique to the freelance trade. And that’s you always feel like you should be doing more. 

I find myself constantly worrying about story ideas, about the fact I haven’t written enough pitches, or that I haven’t pitched enough, or about new ideas. In bed, at cafes, at diners, my mind is abuzz with activity, always whirring, constantly active. A lot of the time it’s cycling through trivial, arcane bits of matter, pop cultural references and connections, things people said and the songs that are for some reason stuck.

And yet this constant activity is conducive to making the sorts of connections and curiosity that can be a freelance journalist’s source of power: that ability to generate story ideas that people have not yet identified previously.

But it can be tough on your sanity to be living with such an always-on state of mind. I know other, better, more experienced, more meticulous freelancers will be more organized and have routines that best manages their workflow. I guess I still need to fumble and reach toward that ideal.

April. It’s a transitional month. It’s still fairly cold at night here and the days are sometimes warm enough for a light jumper. But it’s windy and everyone is expecting real warmth to arrive. I feel April should be the month you spend, if you’re a freelance, on those tasks, some of which may be leftover from the previous year, that are important but not urgent.

Any creative will have those ‘just-started’ or ‘half-finished-but-haven’t-looked-at-it-for-months’ projects that they know are important. Even if it’s just something they want to produce, create, get out into the world, they know it’s important to finish such projects because the value of these things can be great.

I’ve been working on an essay (nonfiction memoir) for a while now and I have no idea if it’s even halfway complete, but I know that once it is complete it may be worth more than those urgent journalism pieces. Why? Because it’ll capture something important for me personally, and for others it may be a piece of writing that leaves a more memorable and longer lasting impression than a news report. But I hope the anxiety of living, working, doesn’t leave me bereft.

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