The beauty of freelancing is the "free" part. If you don't let it stress you out, that time spent unemployed (in the not-getting-paid sense of the word) is a great time to tackle other projects of importance to you. I like to do creative projects for friends. Logos. Websites. Illustrations. Strictly speaking, I'm not a designer, but it keeps me happy and busy, and just like any other larger job, it's a chance to learn, explore and make mistakes. The objective is still the same: you're solving a problem and attempting to make a client/friend happy.
Above are exploratory bits of a small project I did for a friend of mine who is a talented culinary writer, food events planner and interview moderator. I had two other directions for her, but she loved the warmth of this color palette and the clean representation of the spoons and knives. It spoke to her.
Below are some explorations I did for a creative director/writer—again, a friend of mine—in Milan. His direction was "type writing, blue note album covers...oh, and I'm a storyteller" which he is. I followed those directions with the following "sketches". His favorite, in the end, was the simplest of all. The proposal, in black and white, with contact info on one side and a piece of a story on the back. The idea is to print a series featuring different narratives. It's always interesting to me to see where feedback leads me, and then to see where gut instincts lead my client in their choice, in other words, to discover which parts of their own feedback were the most salient in the end.
The thing is, you never know where small projects will end up or what they'll lead to. This simple die-cut invitation that I did with a friend (Sissy Whittington) for another friend's bachelorette party with a lingerie theme ended up in Communication Arts' design annual. What started as a favor ended up with a bit more clout. It was done out of friendship, and with a good deal of freedom, but we would never have anticipated that outcome.