10 Ways Freelancing is Like Cross-Country Skiing

Carol Tice

Recently, I had an unusual opportunity to do some cross-country skiing — out my front door. We don’t usually get enough snow that sticks around, where it stays cold enough to go out and ski right on my street.

But that’s just what I did. We hauled the skis out of the garage and off my husband and I went. It was hard, but a lot of fun. I’ve only done cross-country a couple of other times, so let’s say I’m glad no one was filming that for YouTube.

It was hardly ideal conditions. Snowplows had come through and mashed down a lot of the snow into hardpack, and it wasn’t very deep, maybe 4 inches at best.

While I was struggling to ski along on this difficult surface, it came to me that trying to carve out a life as a freelancer is a lot like cross-country skiing.

Here are the similarities I thought about as I skied along:

  1. Get some tips before you start. Don’t want to end up with your legs tangled up and your skis crossed? It makes sense to take a few classes first to learn the basics. I took a few UCLA Extension classes in magazine and copywriting once I realized I was going to be a freelance writer.
  2. Grab the opportunity. Like my seldom-snowy road, sometimes a chance presents itself to a writer that you have to just grab. Otherwise, it will soon melt away and be gone. Last year, I got a couple of offbeat opportunities I wasn’t an obvious choice for — a government agency’s annual report and a hospital’s nurse-recruiting package. I had no direct experience with either types of writing, but I just plunged in, and both projects turned out great.
  3. Sometimes, it’ll be slow going. At points, the snow was perfect and pristine and I could schuss right along. Then a car would come and we’d have to sidestep over to the edge of the road and wait. Your freelance career is like that too. You want to be going one direction, but you may have to take a few detours before you get on track. Just be patient.
  4. There will be icy patches. Seemed like every time I got in a good rhythm, I hit ice and start slipping and struggling to stay upright. In freelancing, even when you’ve got a great stable of clients, you should never get complacent. No client is forever in the world of freelancing. Suddenly, you won’t have any revenue booked at the beginning of the month and will have to scramble to find some new work.
  5. You are going to fall down. Yes, it happened to me — I hit a sudden bald patch in the road and ended up facedown. I’ve screwed up freelance gigs and client relationships, too. All you can do is get back up and do better next time.
  6. You can’t be afraid to look stupid. Try to envision me wearing three different layers of clothes, gloves, scarf, hat, clunky ski boots, and also trying to get into some kind of skiing rhythm. It was especially fun when my neighbors would come walking by. Anytime you’re writing something, your similarly exposed. Sometimes, your writing won’t be Pulitzer-worthy. I once misspelled an 80-point, front-page headline. But as one editor once said to me, today’s error is tomorrow’s fishwrap. You have to just keep moving forward and write again.
  7. It can feel a little scary. When you ski a slippery roadway, you’re not in control. It’s the same in freelancing — one day a client’s budget is eliminated, and you’re done. There’s always the uncertainty that you could fall at any point. Freelancers have to push through this fear and keep going.
  8. Keep your knees bent and your head low. Get cocky skiing and you’ll usually find yourself taking a pretty ungainly spill. It’s the same in writing. You want to keep your mind on your work, stay humble, and not worry too much about what others are saying about you. Just write your way to where you want to go.
  9. This is not for sprinters. Cross-country, like freelancing, is a long-haul activity. It’s assured you won’t get where you want to go instantly. They’re both about the journey, and the chance to carve a path and work your way along to get to the places you wanted to see.
  10. You can go faster if you get in a groove. Once you get a rhythm going in cross-country skiing, you move much faster and it’s easier to travel forward. Often, you do that by traveling in existing ski tracks. In freelancing, I’d liken that to using tried-and-true marketing methods like in-person networking or prospecting emails, rather than poking about online hoping to find a client through a Craigslist ad. It also reminds me of sticking to a niche where you have expertise — it’s always easier to report and faster to write stories where you know the material well.

What have you learned about your freelance career this winter? Leave a comment and tell us what happened.

Image: stock.xchng – Wia-Tirol


  1. Michael Chibuzor

    Great analogy Carol. I like skiing, and the way you related it with freelancing makes it cute. Thank you for writing this. I thought you have never made mistakes in your writing, but I know better now. No one is perfect (maybe not yet). Get up and write better – I’m sure taking this advice home.

  2. Leslie Miller

    What a perfect comparison. (Wish I could think of these type of posts for my blog!) I’m in an icy patch with my career right now. I had most of my eggs in one basket, and that client hired a full time writer, in-house. I’ve been looking for more work but so far no luck… Number 7, It can feel a bit scary, is in full force right now! This is really a great post, light and fun but relevant and helpful as well.

  3. Josh Sarz

    “It can feel a little scary.” Yes it definitely is scary at first. It made me want to quit lots of times.

  4. Rosa Lee Jude

    I love this post! It is spot on! I think I have come to the realization this winter that this is a very personal journey and you have to decide what works for you. I work full-time and am building a freelance business slowly and carefully. But have learned that I have some great contacts already that can help me reach my goals.

  5. Aisha Ashraf

    Write your way to where you want to go. I like that. I’m just following my heart. I have come out the other end of raising babies and am re-discovering what I love – that happens to be writing. Staying humble and focused seems to be good advice.

  6. John Soares

    Carol, I’ve definitely hit my share of icy patches during my freelance writing career. It’s important to be prepared for them and have a good marketing plan to turn to.

    And your post reminded me of great memories of cross-country skiing from my doorstep when I lived near Ithaca, New York back in the day.

    • Carol Tice

      Hi John — what? So you don’t live far enough up Shasta to do it?

      BTW I was thinking of you on my winter break vacation, as we drove right through there on our way to L.A. 😉 Ah, the excitement of Yreka.

  7. Terri Huggins

    This is great. I have to agree with you. You definitely can’t be afraid to look stupid. In writing and in life, you never know what looking stupid can do for you in the future. And as an old acting coach once informed me, “You’re not doing right if you don’t feel stupid.”

  8. Mellissa Thomas

    Very interesting opportunity you had there, Carol – and a great testament to you and your husband’s perspective. Some would’ve just complained or stayed indoors, but you guys chose to have some fun.

    Excellent analogy as well. Unfortunately, I’m somewhere between the slow and falling stages, but oh well. I’m not giving up. Period. I will be a successful freelance writer.

    And thanks to generous folks like you, at least I’m getting some tips on how to improve.

  9. Derek

    Thanks for this Carol. Great advice, and great encouragement.

  10. Khaalidah

    Number 6 is awesome! If you seek to first impress yourself, the rest is a non issue. Right?

  11. Karen Cioffi

    What great tips. I love the analogy. And I agree, #6 is really good to know – we all make mistakes and that “today’s error is tomorrow’s fishwrap.”

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