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By Marie Pietersz (, EdVic

US author, editor and award-winner Laura Poole presented much useful advice at EdVic’s August speaker meeting. The lunchtime event attracted more than 55 attendees eager to find out more about her topical subject, given the current environment following the COVID pandemic.

Laura explained that breaking the feast or famine cycle (sometimes called drought or deluge) relates to your cycles of work and is about creating the business you want through your freelance life; however, in-house editors might also find some insights into business practices they could use. It is not a one-size-fits-all solution; you can tailor-make it to fit your situation.

One of the things you can start doing is getting used to not saying “yes” all the time. You can be a “people person”, but that doesn’t mean you have to be a “people pleaser”, which might lead to a lot of work, more than you possibly want. Meeting stacked deadlines, rather than staggered ones, can get the adrenaline going but can become exhausting.

You have to practise not feeling guilty for saying “no”, as this response can come from a place of wholeness and happiness because you want to create a steady stream of work that will allow you to lead the life you want.

On the other hand, if work dries up you may panic and start calling everybody, and then you have a deluge again. So, the cycle is something that needs constant course correction.

Laura explained how you might break the extremes of these cycles.

Coping with “feast”

Usually, the feast or deluge will be seasonal and expected and so you can plan for it. You can do this by noting what happens during a financial year – regular annual events, publication schedules and journals, and other things that may crop up in certain years. Be ready for them.

  • Keep your schedule more open for when work is coming in.
  • Arrange for support services during your busy times. Delegate tasks to others you can trust to do the work, organise household chores, note appointments that you can hold off, and the like. Get the help you need.
  • Triage your schedule (delete, defer, delegate).
  • Put your blinders on and get to work.
  • Support your body to stay strong and healthy and pain-free (get your ergonomics in order, i.e. invest in a comfortable gaming/computer chair, medium/close computer glasses, hand-rests, and the like).
  • Indulge yourself with power naps, focus music (without lyrics) to set the mood for concentrating, and a social media blocker so you won’t be interrupted with messages coming in.
  • Juggling three projects at a time is a good balance; you may go up to six but that might be too much.

After the feast is the time you can learn some lessons and make changes. Ask: how did I get so overworked? What happened that was beyond my control? What did it cost me to finish this work? What choices did I make that affected the workload?

Coping with “famine”

It’s great taking a break after a feast, but if it’s too long, your experience can quickly turn to panic.

  • Turn a quieter period into a time for rest and recharging, building your professional presence, networking and building your business for the long term.
  • Create something as simple as a Google Doc tracking sheet to tell you what is on hand, what is coming in and what is ending.
  • Don’t be afraid to tell your client that you may not be ready now but you will be in a couple of weeks (get a deposit, agree a starting date and finishing date), tell them you need the time to do the job, and the job must have your full attention.
  • Start thinking bigger, beyond the here and now and getting work that pays better.
  • Don’t feel guilty about raising your rate; you are worth it.

Mindset changes

Some key changes that can ease your work but give you that big leap:

  • Be bold – ask clients for what you want and need.
  • Clients need to know what you need, and you need to be aware of what they need. It is a two-way street.
  • Network – make things happen for you through your career, like becoming an international speaker at overseas industry conferences.
  • Write a book.
  • Do the scary things (take big leaps) to move forward.

Business practices

  • Start saying “no” – you don’t have to accept everything. Preserve your sanity and health, take care of your regular clients so they stay loyal to you and respect your time, and train them to change their schedules for completion.
  • Communicate with your clients, be proactive and tell them what your schedule is.
  • Review your schedule and compare with previous years, looking for trends in cyclical work that you can plan for. However, you may be a little restricted if you are an in-house editor and have to wait for the work to reach you.
  • Seek new clients who have steadier work, pay more and offer what you want to do.
  • “Draw the velvet rope”, meaning, weed out some clients who aren’t serving you.
  • Raise your rates – charge what you are worth, not what potential clients say they are able to pay.
  • Charge by word-count – there are fewer hidden traps than page count, such as single-spaced, double-sided pages.
  • Note your passive income – do the work once, but continue to get paid: engage in writing, speaking, teaching.
  • Balance corporate work with work you enjoy – regular corporate work pays better and can offset pay rates for freelance work in areas you enjoy.

Laura’s delivery of real-life wisdom on how to smooth out highs and lows in work cycles to make happier and healthier editors and better business practices won lots of positive feedback from the audience.

A recording of the presentation is available to purchase via the IPEd events page (or will be provided to you free if you paid to attend).

Laura Poole is the founder of Archer Editorial Services (1997), author of Juggling on a high wire: the art of work-life balance when you’re self-employed, and winner of the 2020 Robinson Prize from ACES.