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Between Assignments


May your cup runneth over with assignments blessings—but what should you do when it doesn’t? What about those times when you are between assignments? When waking up in the morning isn’t followed by a clear, coherent plan-of-action, or an obvious objective to be achieved by the end of the day?

illustration of author between assignments

“Now is the time to explore new areas of potential expertise.” Illustration by Josh Quick

You could do what I do between assignments:

1. Read-Learn-Repeat

I keep a running list of topics and skills I want to work on, and I add to it even when I’m working through assignments. Once I have some room in my schedule, I revisit the list and start tackling it.

First, I check out the resources other people have talked about online and offline, and see which is workable for me. I begin with the one that’s easy for me to get started on immediately.

Do you write long-form and find yourself fascinated by how copywriting works? Take a course (either free or paid) that takes up just enough time for you to continue pursuing it even when you get busy. Interested in social media marketing? Start doing it pro-bono, or charge less for a local business or friend.

2. Practice

I am a product photographer and I write for various national and international publications. How did I make this possible?

While I was studying to be a photographer, I traveled for work to some of the most beautiful places in my country. In an effort to hold on to the memories, I began to keep a travelogue. One day, I accidentally discovered that WordPress had a stats section that showed which posts had been read and how many times. I was shocked! My blog was read by at least 200 people every day and a search engine was the source of traffic. 

After that, I was simply unstoppable! Six months later, I applied at a national-level newspaper for an internship and was accepted. That ten-week internship laid a solid foundation for my future “writing procession:” it taught me about selecting writing topics, pitching, drafting, proofreading, fact-checking, reporting, and interviewing.

Have a skill that you think could get you some extra dough? Now is the time to bring that tool out of the shed and sharpen it. To transition a skill from hobby to a profession, start with a local business, like a bakery, cafe, or a local nonprofit organization that works with animals. You could even reach out to a photographer via their Instagram page.

These places are often more welcoming to people who want to practice a skill because the scale of their business doesn’t require a full-time employee for managing photography, social media, content, or graphic design. Also, it’s easy to see the impact of your work in this environment.

3. Be Visible

I cannot stress enough the power of being seen. Visit local chapters and groups related to your field that meet offline and discuss what is keeping everyone busy. If meeting in person isn’t something you thrive on, get online and start sharing what you know between assignments. Take inspiration from people who have it going for them. Chart out a social media calendar for yourself, and focus your content on your domain and your expertise.

If you don’t have enough experience to talk about your field yet, don’t fret. Discuss your recent projects and share your contributions; you never know what could end up serving as an informal portfolio. I landed an amazing medium-term project that added immense value to my portfolio, as the founder of that brand was in my contact list on Facebook. After seeing my posts for a few months, he offered me one of the best projects of my life. Anything and everything that you put online can end up helping your portfolio. You never know where your next project might come from.

4. Teach

Know enough to teach the basics of a skill but not enough to teach formally at an institution of repute? Start small: there are enough people out there wanting to know how you do what you do. Draft a plan regarding the value you intend to add to your students’ lives and establish expectations by chalking out deliverables for each class assignment.

Maintain reasonable expectations for yourself. Even if only two people sign up, two people talking positively about your work can be powerful. I was hired by a student who was a famous baker. She had come looking to learn photography but eventually ended up hiring me because her schedule didn’t permit her to practice.

5. Gain Experience

Does your craft depend on a wide range of knowledge and experience? Now is the time to explore new areas of potential expertise. Have you been toying with the idea of writing about beer or wine? Join your local group of homebrewers or enthusiasts to see if it’s a good fit. Do you think writing about cycling is interesting and could pay well? Join the hobbyists in your area and ask them to connect you with writing opportunities. You’ll be surprised how happily and easily people recommend each other.

6. Contact your existing network

Tap into your old contacts and check if they have a quick task you can do between assignments. Avoid the time-wasting cycle of pitching-waiting-pitching-hoping—familiarity and immediacy dissolve some time-consuming steps for people on both ends. Also, knowing each other from previous stints helps ensure you’re on the same page regarding expectations and delivery.

Most editors will be happy to have some work taken off their plate, without having to entrust it to someone totally new. Ideally, you’ll notice that you don’t have to go looking for work—rather, it will come to you. Seize the opportunity and consistently offer high-value work. That being said, don’t price your services lower than the market rate.

7. Catch up on health

The time between projects provides a good opportunity to undo the impact of your erratic schedule of chasing deadlines. When you feel healthier, you can deliver better work. Focus on your sleep cycle and overall health. If you caffeinate excessively during your projects, hydrate well and live mindfully during less stressful days. 

Are you between assignments? Why not catch up on a few Submittable guest posts for writers

author headshot
Divya Rai (Guest Blogger)

Divya Rai is a freelance writer and a food photographer. Sometimes, she dabbles in copywriting and pop-culture communication. She maintains a travel blog called A Borrowed Backpack.