Digging Your Well

Almost 15 years ago, a guy named Harvey Mackay wrote a book called Dig Your Well Before You’re Thirsty. A business classic, it discusses the importance of — and techniques for — maintaining a network of contacts if you want to succeed in business.


If you’re paying attention to the freelance writing industry, you might have seen news that many of the major clients have been ordering less work over the past year. The forums for these clients are full of people complaining about how they can’t make their rent because of this work shortage. They compare their experience to being “laid off.”

Losing clients and droughts of work are just part of the deal for freelancers. The best defense is to maintain an aggressive habit of making work contacts, proposing new assignments and looking for work.

It can be hard to stay motivated for this kind of work. It can be tedious. It doesn’t pay off immediately, or even directly. You’ll get more rejections than with any other activity in your day. It’s no fun.

But it’s vital to success as a professional writer.

Depending on what kind of writing you like to do, some activities you’ll want to do regularly might include:

  • Applying for jobs posted on “cattle-call” sites like Craigslist.
  • Sending in proposals on freelance writing market websites.
  • Querying with article ideas for various print and online magazines.
  • Contacting magazine editors you’ve worked with in the past, soliciting assignments.
  • Researching the market for nonfiction book deals in topics you’re an expert on.
  • Sending holiday or event greetings to former clients.

Alert readers won’t be surprised to discover I approach this using a systematic schedule. Some I do multiple times each week. Others, monthly. Others represent long-term projects I work on each week. Your system might be the same, or it might be your own program.

Most of your work will feel wasted, but it’s just like marketing money spent by the businesses you approach. Some of it will be wasted. Some of it will build a general awareness of your name and work. The rest will lead directly to getting assignments.

So long as you do it regularly, and without fail.

Thanks for listening.


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