In case you think freelance writers get a ton of free trips to cool places … well, they do. But not always. More often, I’m left to cover my own expenses, which makes figuring out a budget an absolute necessity. Yuck. 

I always begin with excitement. Yeah! A trip! But by hour three, a throbbing headache has sapped all enthusiasm. So let me do you this favor. Let me give you a few ideas that may save you time (and pain) in your travel planning. 

a. Nice package. I recently blew two hours I’ll never get back cobbling together bed, car and air arrangements via different travel Web sites. Then I tried Travelocity’s package deals and saved an average of $60. So unless you really feel like punishing yourself, do the latter.

b. That’s so random. Don’t forget to add a budget line for food and incidentals. And always round up, not down. I save money on the road by picking up veggies at grocery stores to leaven my predominantly fast food diet. (I always do the double double at In N’ Out Burger. Mmmmm.)

c. Pitch as you plan. I wish I had a better formula. But once I budget air/bed/car and my random expense line, I know have a 24- to 48-hour window to pitch editors before those dollar figures go up. Most editors don’t get back to me in that time frame. But I usually gather enough work to cover expenses and then pick up other assignments later to make money from the trip. If you can’t find work to cover expenses in that 24 to 48-hour window, move on. Try new dates or a new location.

I can’t even begin to count how many times I’ve been told to get my head out of my (bleep). I’ve heard it so often people must think I’m a contortionist. I’m not. I’m just a freelance writer who loses sight of the big picture while dealing with the minutia of my work. In my defense, it’s easy to do. I’m my own assistant handling all the clerical work, travel arrangements and follow up with sources and clients. 

But keeping my head out of my (bleep) is important, too. I want to be going places in life, and I won’t go anywhere with my head up my (bleep). Here are a few things I do to keep my head permanently dislodged and thinking clearly:

 

A. Meditation, sort of. I recently interviewed a small business owner who decided to start her business while meditating in the morning. She does it every day. I snickered at first. But the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. I need time to clear my head, and that requires no distractions. So I rise before the wife and kids wake up, make some coffee and just think. The only challenge is staying awake. I dozed off after 15 minutes, but at least that 15 minutes was quality. I’m doing it again tomorrow. And the day after, and the day after.

 

B. Running/working out. I hate myself for suggesting this. After all, I loathe the smug gym rats and avid runners who talk about their workouts or mileage counts for the week. (Bleep) them. But I admit my mind works so much better after a run or workout. Sure, I think about the physical pain and exhaustion I’m going through at the time. But I’m also NOT thinking about minutia. And that’s what it’s all about. 

 

C. Listening to myself talk in the car. We all do freaky things when we’re driving alone. Just admit it, nose picker. For me, long and short car rides are chances to flesh out the millions of thoughts streaming through my head. I think of it as a verbal journal. When my thoughts are out there in the open, I can piece them together and figure things out. Oh sure, I’ve been busted by people who have pulled up next to me at red lights. But thanks to those fancy Blue Tooth earpieces everyone has now, most gawkers assume I’m using one of those.

There’s nothing quite like the refreshing, clean feeling of a morning shower, am I right? Unfortunately, it becomes an increasingly rare experience for many of us in the freelance world. Cleanliness isn’t a given, not when you don’t have THE MAN forcing you to dress nice for work everyday. Here are a few tips to keep it (relatively) clean:

1. Shave, you greasy monkey. This goes for you, too, girls. And for my feminist readers, allow me to clarify. If shaving is part of your regular routine, then stick to it. If hairy legs are your thing, move on to point number two. For me, though, shaving was one of the first things I stopped doing regularly, and I loved it. I say, fine. Let it go for a day or two. Live it up. But when you start getting food caught around the perimeter of your mouth, it’s time. Or, ladies, when your men howl in pain during bare-legged snuggle time, break out the Nair. Or whatever you use to get the job done.

2. Shower regularly, stinky. I’m not going to admonish you for not showering every day. Not when I don’t. Hey, I realize it’s one of the perks we have as freelancers. But I suggest showering at least every other day, because day three is a code-red day. Your hair will defy gravity without the help of hair care products. You’ll disgust yourself whenever you raise your arms (That aged cheddar smell? It’s you!). The room clears when you go barefoot. And your feet kind of stick to clean hardwood floors. Ew.

3. Slather the lotion, Pepe Le Pew. I’ve found that, on my off days, scented lotion masks BO the best. Better than cologne, which can sometimes exacerbate the problem. And certainly better than body spray, which dies off by about noon or so. And hey guys, good news. Companies are now making masculine-scented stuff for the manscapers among us. Sweet.

4. Get a haircut, hippie. This is my Achilles heel. I’ve gone two months without one, and man, do I look hideous. I used to think I could use a clipper to neaten up the sideburns and lacquer down everything else with a pomade. But I just look like little Elvis at a job interview. Not a good look.

5. Get out of your freaking PJs. On days when I just give up and stay in my flannels (or T-shirt and baggy shorts combo in the summertime), I feel like a total loser. And there’s a good reason for that. I am one. You will never, ever be productive at work while wearing pajamas. You’ll watch a Lifetime movie instead. Or SportsCenter all day long. And if you claim you won’t, you’re lying. Get dressed!

One of the most enjoyable parts of freelance writing can also be one of the most frustrating. Pitching ideas to editors is definitely work. My experience over the last few months has shattered what I used to think it was all about:

A. I could do a lot in a short period of time. Ha! You may have a different experience, but to me pitching takes way more time than I thought it would. I create maybe one or two good pitches an hour, considering all the researching, word smithing and editing I do. It’s frustrating. I like to be — or at least feel — productive. I rarely do.

B. I can do it during my down time. Yeah, right. What down time? I usually have to sprinkle my day liberally with actual work. I’ll do an hour of pitching, then a couple hours of phone interviews and writing. Just be careful. I’ve had lots of days when I blew off real work because the pitching part became so addictive.

C. I can handle rejection. Pffft. I crack myself up. I’m such a baby and felt like crying after a month of fruitless efforts. My mistake was thinking editors I don’t work with would be like the editors I do work with. The latter take my ideas pretty readily because they know me. The reality is rejection happens a lot when you’re essentially cold calling editors. I cope by seeing it as a means to an end. I need to be rejected a lot to succeed in the end.

D. My ideas rock. Oh, I am so hilarious. I’ve found that every story I pitch must have a couple of good angles, not just one, in order for it to stand out from the rest. And man, does that take a lot of effort. I suggest taking a few minutes away from the computer about every 40 minutes to rejuvenate your eyes and brain. Coffee alone doesn’t always work.

The upside of these mental calisthenics? Once an editor likes you, you don’t have to try quite so hard. When it happens to you, please tell me what that’s like …

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