The truth is, you don't need all the work. And all the work doesn't need you.
Some projects are just not worth the time and energy necessary to do them well (or even submit a proposal to them), and some will cause you far more anxiety and nightmares than the financial stress of refusing the job in the first place.
This is why it is critical that freelancers learn to prequalify leads before beginning the process of writing a proposal.
Let me tell you a story. Once upon a time, I was desperate for work. So I agreed to write five short blog posts for a client for $25. Not $25 each, $25 total. I whipped them out fast enough that I ended up making about $15/hour. I agreed to do another set for him, and another. It was easy and it was money, and I thought it was probably worth it. Then, the platform I was using took 13% of my earnings.
I quit. I should have been spending the time writing proposals for other jobs, and never should have considered this job in the first place.
Let me tell you another story. Once upon a time, I was still desperate for work. I applied for a position stating that they needed a contract writer for 35 hours a week. I was a little hesitant, but I thought, that would probably be fine, at least for a few months until I get other work to replace it. Then I can take fewer hours so I can work on my other clients' projects. They would start me out at $20/hour to "train" me, and then bump me up to $25/hour after 8 weeks of "training." And they wanted a Skype interview. So I agreed to talk.
As it turns out, they wanted 35 hours a week permanently, not just for a few months. They were completely unwilling to be flexible and didn't want me to have any other clients, even though I told them I was a freelancer and already had other clients. And the "training" period, was, in their words, "us giving you permission to be less efficient for a little while." I found that a little insulting. If I had listened to my gut, I never would have applied for the opportunity in the first place.
There are dozens of reasons why you might decide to say no to a job, and it doesn't always have to do with money.
When you are considering a contract or a job, keep some of these questions in the back of your mind to help you filter through whatever opportunities you're considering writing a proposal for. Because remember, not all jobs are worth it.
You don't need all the jobs, and all the jobs don't need you. So narrow down your scope of work, and spend your time applying for the jobs that are actually going to help you grow, pay you what you're worth, and not sap all the joy and happiness out of your life.
Let me end by telling you another story.
Once upon a time I was desperate for work (I'm not anymore, for those of you that are wondering/contemplating sending a care package [although I do like presents]), and a friend sent me a listing for a contract job writing short activities to help people develop their professional skills. I could find nothing wrong with the job; in fact, it looked perfect. I sent them an email and they asked me for a sample. They loved the sample and sent me more to write. And more. And more. And I'm still writing for them. And I love every minute of it: the work is of value, the people are wonderful, and the pay is good.
So don't take all the jobs, or all the jobs will eat your soul.
(If you're looking for some more in-depth strategies on pre-qualifying leads, check out Zoe Uwem's article on the Be a Freelance Blogger blog.)