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Emails to my Therapist

Busy Busy All The Time? I’m Reconsidering This Situation

Dear Nicholas, I don’t want to say I’m slowing down. I don’t like the sound of that. But I may be on the edge of something  similar–no more overscheduling is one way to think of it. Or: allowing more time for things. Busy all the time is not the way I want to be.

busy all the time

It’s probably characteristic of the self-employed, certainly of freelance writers, to seize every opportunity. But I ought be using a little more sense about it by now; I’m hardly new at this; I started freelancing in 1972.

Not So Busy All The Time

I tell myself that I’m really not busy all the time. And it’s true. It’s only my work schedule that leads to the busy-ness and pressure. “Seizing opportunities” has been my way for so long that I haven’t really felt it as pressure–until, by design, I had a few quieter days not long ago–without leaving town on vacation. I was startled at my sense of relief. Apparently, mild agitation about getting stuff done has been the water I’ve swum in. I hadn’t really noticed it until I paused.

busy all the time

I already enjoy uncrowded leisure hours. My chief play-time activities are reading and gardening and hanging out with my husband. I also meet friends for lunch: these are my major social events. I long ago ceased to be a party animal. Nor am I known for my delight in entertaining– I’ve probably hosted some kind of large-ish gathering once a decade.

But Then There’s Work

So this really is a matter of how much work I agree to do and how quickly.

The projects I take on now, aside from working on my own books, are critiquing other writers’ manuscripts and doing some career counsel. I like this work very much. It’s an ongoing education in an astonishing range of subjects.

However, I probably need to take on slightly fewer projects or spread them out a bit for a more reasonable pace. This, of course, means raising my page rate for critiques, maybe more significantly than I’ve done from time to time over the years. I’m getting up my nerve to do that.

Three Times?

I recently heard of someone offering a price three times what I had just charged for a similar-sized project. I felt a little ashamed of myself for my own rate. Was I really so lacking in confidence? On the other hand, I always hesitate because I hate to be out of the price range of people I’d like to work with. Back when I offered a lower “starving artist rate,” it was embraced so enthusiastically that the starving artist was too likely to be me.

But the more I charge, the more I feel pressure to do a better and better job. I already do the best I know how, so this puts me in an awkward bind.

I think my unruly pace is based on an old fear. My parents were retailers, in the clothing business. I remember a year or few into my freelancing, I asked my father how long it took to stop being scared. He said, “Every Monday morning I’m sure I’ll never sell another necktie.” I may still be running on a thought like that. That guy charging triple my rate didn’t get the job.

Scary Topics

It feels a little dangerous to write about this, money being such a touchy topic. I also want to give adequate time to my own writing. I’ve always remembered the Keats sonnet from when I first read it in school:

 When I have fears that I may cease to be
    Before my pen has glean'd my teeming brain...

It does occur to me that reading others’ manuscripts may sometimes be a means of procrastinating about my one. Well, I guess I’ll see what I wind up doing, or not doing.

I have the feeling that a change is taking place in me about the issue of busy all the time, without my making any decision about it. I just remembered that I interviewed you many years ago, Nicholas, for an article on decision-making for Cosmopolitan. I’ll see if I can dig that up.


Note: Raised my page rates a couple of hours after posting this. Writing this–and the responses I get–are always so helpful to me. I hope they’re of some use to other folks as well. That’s always my intention.

busy all the time

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  • Robert Braxton
    May 1, 2019 at 6:28 pm Reply

    The “Busy”Beth I married means I do not have to (be busy). I have a “Rule of zero” – for me, to allow room for things to happen, my ideal is to schedule “zero” (nothing)!

    • Peggy Payne
      May 1, 2019 at 8:25 pm Reply

      Your Rule of Zero is a stroke of genius, Bob. I mean to use it for selected chunks of time.

  • bob
    May 1, 2019 at 9:33 pm Reply

    I love working just 3 days a weekHaving plenty of scheduled – unscheduled time is very wise. I love working just 3 days a week, and I like not having to do scheduled things 5 days-plus a week, which leaves me plenty/enough unscheduled time built in to my weeks.

    • Peggy Payne
      May 1, 2019 at 9:35 pm Reply

      You have this thing worked out well, Bob. I think unstructured time is one of the great things in life.

  • kenju (Judy)
    May 2, 2019 at 12:45 pm Reply

    Be careful about raising your rates in order to have more time for play. A former friend had an engineering consulting business, and he was getting too busy. He had to decide if he wanted to grow the business or stay the same size. He decided to raise his rates and during the following year, he had more clients than ever before. Eventually he had to hire other engineers and more staff.

    When I had my business, I stayed busy 6-7 days a week, for there was always something to do. Now that I am retired, although I stay busy enough, I treasure the days where there is nothing planned and I can “go with the flow”.

    P.S. I’d love to be one of the friends you meet for lunch!

    • Peggy Payne
      May 2, 2019 at 2:22 pm Reply

      Like you, I treasure unstructured time, Judy. Interesting story about your engineer friend. I hope all worked out well with him in the long run. Will email you.

      • Ron Perkinson
        May 5, 2019 at 1:54 am Reply

        At the peak of my career as a mediatior I was swamped with requests for my time. There were complaints about my availability. A successful businessman advised me to raise my rate. I did and never felt any decrease in demand but the work was more challenging than before. Any loss would have been of less desirable matters. Now that I am retired I have found I have an ability to do absolutely nothing may be unexcelled. It is serving me well.

        • Peggy Payne
          May 5, 2019 at 2:53 am Reply

          Well, I’ve heard great things about you as a mediator, RonPerk. So, no surprise. I’m glad you’ve also developed the talent for doing nothing.

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