Diana Kelly Levey

How Do Freelancers Keep Writing and Marketing in the Midst of Tragedy?

man in front of camera reporting the news

November 1, 2017

It’s the day after that horrible act of terrorism in Lower Manhattan. I used to run, walk and occasionally bike that path, which was about a mile from the apartment I lived in the past five years. It hit home yesterday and today. I could have been one of those victims. I could have been a victim in the Las Vegas shootings, or in Times Square last May when a driver mowed down pedestrians. I had to let those realizations sit for a few moments yesterday. I said a few prayers for the victims and their families, checked in on my partner, and let my family and friends know I was okay.

I turned on the news to learn more details, but the businesswoman inside was reminding me that I had things to do, people to email, and calls to set up for upcoming articles.

Emailing people to set up phone interviews and follow up on outstanding issues felt wrong. Looking back to the past few months, it also felt wrong to email people pitch ideas while hurricanes were hitting our country and the Caribbean left and right since August. In between that were massive earthquakes in Mexico and wild fires in California and Oregon.

I’ve come to realize that I need to think about who I’m emailing for a source interview, pitching ideas to, or when I’m following up on projects. I made an error following up on a project with a potential client only to realize too late (smacks forehead) that they were located in Miami and their office was shut down for a few days. The editor was gracious, but obviously they had bigger things to think about than my business proposal.

Sometimes, I let these thoughts and concerns take over and use them as excuses. It felt strange to be promoting my freelance writing course to friends, associates, and former colleagues when others were shoveling buckets of water out of their homes.

But, I need to remember that if I worked for a magazine or website in-house (or anywhere else for that matter), I’d still be attending meetings, assigning stories, and conducting business as usual. Working from home as a freelancer seemed to give me more time to get sucked into the news and stories. (Also, I’m sensitive and susceptible to letting stories settle in and affect my day-to-day if I let them.) While I feel for all of those affected in these extreme circumstances, I need to create some barriers around me and not use these as distractions.

In case you feel similarly,  I’ll share what works for me to help “reset.” I often feel the need to do something productive so I don’t fall behind on my professional goals when tragedies strike and it feels insensitive to send pitches, promote a service I’m selling, or contact sources. (I’m not saying it is insensitive to do these things, but when I feel uncomfortable and unsure of reaching out to others in my industry, I rely on these types tasks to pass the time.)

  • Take a break. After I needed to cut myself off from the news yesterday I went for a walk and enjoyed seeing the joyful neighborhood kids skipping from house to house in their costumes. It also made me happy to see friends and family members post their adorable Halloween costumes and outings on social media. I was glad that this horrific event didn’t (hopefully) take away from children’s delight in the holiday festivities.
  • Catch up on your “to read later file.” That could be magazine articles or online articles you bookmarked.
  • Research magazines to pitch to. Write up pitch ideas in Word documents and find the editor you’ll send it to. Basically, do the grunt work of pitching without sending the idea out just yet if you don’t feel like it’s appropriate.
  • Learn something new. I made a new recipe last night and realized it was too hard to focus on that and the news chatter so I needed to mute the TV after a few minutes.
  • Filter how I’m receiving the news. I personally will use TV news for the latest breaking events, but once I have important details, I need to turn it off. Watching news coverage and images of tragedies impacts me differently than reading about them. So, after I get the information I need, I rely on online reporting from sources I trust to get news.
  • Pick up one of those half-read books on the bookshelf and tackle it. I’ve got a library book due that I keep moving from room to room and it needs to be read. (Here are 14 books every freelancer should read.)
  • Think ahead. Give yourself an hour or so to start planning your business goals for the next few months or year. Come up with an action plan on how you’ll achieve that.
  • Do a meditation. Listening to a meditation on my phone can calm anxious thoughts and help me sleep.
  • Make time to work out in an environment that won’t have the news channels’ ticker feeds in front of you. Put on a favorite playlist and go for a run or walk outdoors (while listening to one of these podcasts), take your dog or child for a walk, or, sign up for a fun class at your gym that will require concentration—like a dance class.

How do you deal when tragedies hit and you’re trying to not let them impact you and your work for too long?

 

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