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What Bodysurfing Taught Me About Freelance Writing Success

Carol Tice

Ariella rides one all the way to shore

On my vacation last week, I got some freelance-writing inspiration from a fun activity I haven’t gotten a chance to do since I was a teen: I went bodysurfing and boogie-boarding with my kids, in southern California.

Those waves keep coming, and they can be fun to ride — or they can pick you up and pile-drive your head into the sand. (I got to experience some of each.)

The ocean is ever-changing…just like the freelance-writing scene today.

We’re seeing waves of change that seem to come faster and faster. The recession. New media. Social media. Content mills. Bidding sites. Magazines folding. New online sites.

As in surfing, there are a limited number of responses you can make to the approach of the oncoming change-waves in our industry:

  1. Get out of the water. If you can’t cope with learning social media and writing online content, you might want to go into another line of work. These changes are here to stay. I think many writers have simply moved on in recent years.
  2. Stay where you are and take a pounding. If you’re halfway into the water, you’re going to just keep getting smashed into by a terrific force. It won’t be easy to hold your ground as it will be sucked out from under your feet and drawn toward the wave. You can keep doing what you’re doing, but you’re basically fighting the tide.
  3. Swim as fast as you can toward the wave. This option gives you a chance to get on top of a wave before it gets any bigger or crashes down on you. It carries the risk that you will fail and be mauled by a wave that breaks right over you and rips your boogie-board out from under you…but also holds the promise that you could rocket past the wave into calmer waters.
  4. Move sideways across the wave. This is what boarders do when they shoot the curl — instead of fighting the wave, they ride across it and let its energy carry them along parallel to shore. In freelance writing, I’d compare this to learning a new specialty niche such as technical writing or white papers.
  5. Dive under the wave. If you swim along the bottom of the ocean just as the wave approaches, the wave’s force will pass right over you and you can come up on the other side. It might not be pleasant, and seawater could go up your nose. I’d liken this to getting a day job for now, in hopes that the freelance markets will improve later.
  6. Get out past the waves. It’s not easy to do, but once you’re past the breakers, life is fine. You can float along, enjoy the sun, and then pick which wave you want to surf back to shore. It’s like being a fully-booked freelancer — you’re in control and pick and choose your clients.

Both in the surf and in freelance writing, I liked that third option — swim hard, straight into the wave. Often, you can surprise yourself and get over the crest in time.

Sometimes I feel like I’m out past the waves. For example, I haven’t had to do much active marketing in the past year, as my passive marketing strategies — referrals, SEO for my writer website, my LinkedIn profile — have sent me enough business. But then a new challenge tumbles me back to the beach, and it’s time to fight the swells again to get back out there.

When I was having trouble getting past that final set of far-off waves, my teenage son Evan gave me the answer: “Sometimes, you’ve just got to let the waves beat you up, mom. Just keep fighting your way out there.”

What’s your approach to the changing world of freelance writing? Leave a comment and describe how you’re surfing the waves of change.