Kristine Kathryn Rusch on the Element of Time in Freelancing

Another amazingly excellent tell-all post from Kristine Kathryn Rusch, on time usage and what time means to a writer who lives off of their writing. Rusch has also added a donation button, and I hope if you visit you will donate something, because this is invaluable information.

A side benefit of such a post for writers who don’t live off of their writing to determine whether they’re the personality type who can exist and thrive within that paradigm. For me, too, I have to be working on projects I love and/or projects that challenge me from a technical perspective.

I used to have a day job and now live off of my fiction, nonfiction, and teaching gigs. I’ve seen both sides of this, and I prefer the full-time freelancing. It allows me to be most fully what I was always meant to be, a writer, without pretense of being anything else.

The real key for me is carving out the time for the most personal projects, and to understand that concentrated time can be as powerful as time spread out over years. A constant frustration in finishing my last novel, Shriek: An Afterword, was having to start and stop on it because the day job took up so much of my time. But, again, this is a personal decision for each writer–do I strive to eventually live off of the writing or do I use a day job as an anchor? Which kind of personality am I? Which approach is going to guarantee I reach my full potential in my personal creativity. In my case, I really felt like a spy or mimic for all those years I had a day job. I was undercover the whole time.

Here are a few snippets from Rusch’s post. Rusch indicates that her freelancing posts will eventually be collected in a book, maybe in a year or two. I hope so, because it’ll be possibly the most honest and detailed look at being a freelancer possible. Because it’s easy to make general pronouncements about being a freelancer, or about any aspect of writing. But if you are able to provide specific detail like Rusch does…that’s not just much harder to do, it’s also much more valuable.

No matter what we do, we don’t get additional hours. Our days are 24 hours long, no matter what. The week lasts for seven days, no matter how hard we try to change that.

We can shortchange other parts of our lives to get more time. We can sleep less, spend less time with friends, or give up things we love, but those are only short term solutions. If you do that for too long, you’ll blow. You’ll either get sick or have some kind of breakdown or (my explosion of choice) quit whatever it is that has taken all your time in a loud and dramatic fashion.

The best way to “gain” more time is to use what time you have more efficiently.


  1. says

    I won’t unload with a ‘tricks of the trade’ bit explaining how I do it, but I would say this: The biggest danger when freelancing, especially if like me you’re “indentured” to various editors, is that it’s incomparably easy to put in a 140-150 hour work week while only being appreciated for some 10 or 20. Words and sentences and graphs and all the back-research that goes into crafting anything at all is obviously difficult to quantify. When you’re not in an office under the “watchful” eye of some middle-manager, it’s easy for all that due diligence to evaporate. Out of sight, out of mind, as they say.

    Be cautious. I nearly burned out a few years ago, writing hundreds of feature articles, interviews, reviews, etc. a year for editors with little conception of my work patterns and abilities. You have to know how to manage your workload and have a proper sense of your output capacity, as well as use your time efficiently. There’s no shame in admitting to being a slow writer. Some of the very best writers in the history of the world only ever published a handful of stories or articles or letters.

  2. jeff vandermeer says

    I am helped by the fact I am not a novel-a-year writer. More like every three years. The idea for Finch came to me in 1999 and was refined in my head until late 2005 I think, when I wrote the first 75 pages and then thought some more before diving back into it. I just yesterday layered in three last small changes. And the next novel I had the idea for about three years ago, have 10k on paper, and will think another six months before going further. Point being–I am continuing my normal pace really on novels. The rest of it doesn’t really bother me. Stories are a joy to work on–like meditation. I do get logjams of piecework, and have been careful to back off when it happens.

    Totally agree, though, Matt.