Fish Funerals and Free Caribbean Vacations: The Joys of A Flexible Schedule

This morning I refereed an argument over whether or not Yoda could make a whale levitate. Over the years, I've been summoned from my desk to host fish funerals, build Lego towers, examine worms, wipe bottoms, wipe tears, sing to stuffed animals, slurp pretend soup … You get the idea.

These interruptions are rarely convenient. Yet, they're one of the things I appreciate most about "the writer's life." My friends who are physicians, teachers, and partners at law firms simply don't have the flexibility I do. They feel guilty about "missing out." I feel lucky my three kids think of me as being "around." (Never mind that the sentence they'll swear they hear most out of my mouth is, "Just a minute honey, I'm nearly done with this paragraph … ")

I take generous advantage of the fact that I control my schedule. And you should, too.

Advice: Put activities on your calendar which don't involve copywriting. Get coffee with a friend. Play a game of tennis. Pick kids up at school. Slot these things in, preferably, when the "working stiffs" of the world are stuck in their cubicles. And then relish the fact that your life is your own.

I like to travel. In the last 13 months alone, I've worked much of the time from my home in Colorado, of course (where my tax-deductible office is exactly 11 steps from my bedroom and has a million-dollar mountain view). But, I've also worked in that time from Vail, Denver, and Leadville. I've sent copy from Santa Fe and Las Cruces in New Mexico. I've toted my computer to Paris, Las Vegas, Florida, Ireland, and Nashville. And before the summer is out, I'll have worked from Toronto, Cape Cod, Omaha, and Santa Monica, too.

Advice: Go. Take your computer with you and see some of the world. Visit with friends and family — work in the mornings and spend the afternoons doing something fun. You can. You should.

In fact, armed with a few simple secrets, you can actually get paid for those afternoons of fun.

Let me explain …

Because I control my schedule, I can carve out time for other kinds of writing. Lots of copywriters I know do this. They take time to work on a novel. Or articles like this one. Or they blog or update their websites. But what I like to do is write travel articles.

That is, articles geared for visitors, about wherever I happen to be. I like to do this because when you travel with an eye to writing about a place —

a) You experience it in a richer way — you notice more, you have an excuse to meet people, you're automatically more engaged …

b) You can often cash in on great freebies. Because organizations are eager to get "good press," they're often willing to invite travel writers to sample what they have to offer, free. Over the years, I've cashed in on everything from all-expenses-paid trips to the Caribbean to complimentary zoo tickets. (And then been paid to write about my experiences.) People are writing me checks to go on vacation.

Plus, you don't actually have to travel to do this, either. You can just as easily write about what there is to see and do right near where you live. Once an airline magazine paid me $950 for five paragraphs and a handful of photos about a tourist attraction 14 minutes from my house. Not a bad haul for an afternoon spent out with my kids …

And the thing about travel writing, too, is that it's a lot like copywriting. So everything you know about writing persuasively translates. In copy, you're trying to get somebody to take action — to buy what you're selling. But in travel writing, you're essentially "selling" a destination.

My point is: If you're writing copy, you've already got a leg up when it comes to travel writing. And these days, so much of what publications are looking for is short-and-sweet, so you don't have to invest hours on end in front of your computer. Often just a few paragraphs will land you a by-line. And once you have a few little pieces under your belt, you can easily start cashing in on those perks I mentioned.

Advice: Branch out. Take advantage of the doors copywriting opens — and the time it leaves you to walk through them. So many people are lashed to their desks. You don't have to be. Set yourself free … you may just be surprised at where you end up (and that somebody is actually paying you to be there).

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Published: June 8, 2010

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