Wednesday, February 19, 2014

5 Things No One Ever Told Me About Freelance Writing

When I left my sixteen-year bookstore job to tackle full-time freelance writing, I was plenty prepared. I’d been doing freelance work on the side for years, writing for magazines and doing web work for a growing list of clients. I also did my homework before taking the plunge, reading what experienced freelancers could tell me about what to expect.

Freelancing: day one.

I was prepared, then, for the droughts and the rainstorms (though I still felt a little shocked when I went through a stretch with no assignments to suddenly find I had twelve in one day—all with a one-week deadline). I was prepared for not really having days off (see previous line about twelve assignments at once). I was prepared for the fact that a freelancer sometimes has to be extremely aggressive about getting a client to actually send a check when the work is done.

Yet, there are a few things I still never expected from freelance writing.


You’re not at home all the time. It’s the opposite. You’re always at work.

While it’s true that you can spend the day in your nightshirt (and it’s glorious), there’s not much lounging around. In fact, relaxing at all can be difficult when your home is your office. It’s largely psychological, but be prepared for your house to feel a little less like home. Having a dedicated workspace helps, but there are days when the walls feel every bit as confining as the cubicle at a 9-to-5.

You’re the boss … but you’re also the janitor.

In other words, every job is your job. It’s not just that you’re the writer and the editor and the accountant—those are the things any freelancer ought to expect. You have to take care of all the little annoyances, too. Working on a project in an office, you can close the door and hold your calls. Writing at home means that you not only answer the phone (which seems to ring in direct proportion to how busy you are), but you also clean up the cat vomit.

The day speeds by.

Remember how the day used to drag at your other job? That you’d watch the clock and be horrified that only seven minutes had passed since the last time you’d checked? Start freelancing, and you’ll soon find that you can’t cram all the things you need to do into one day. When you’re paid by the piece rather than the hour, it’s almost like factory work. Though you’re writing articles rather than sewing buttons on jeans, you’ll still be shocked at how soon the whistle blows.

You’ll have even less time to work on that novel.

I worked much harder at my pet projects when I had a regular day job. It’s true that in some ways I needed the escape more to counter the workplace tensions, and my freelancing is vastly more fulfilling, but I do have hopes of completing a book, and there are scads of personal projects languishing on my laptop. Now that I need to make a living from my writing, those pie-in-the-sky writing dreams take a backseat to finding more clients that pay the day-to-day bills. Don’t despair that you’ll never finish your creative epic if you’re trying to write for a living, though. Like everything else when you’re freelancing: you’ll just have to put it on the schedule.

You won’t give every job your all.

Bear with me, because I’m not talking about delivering slipshod work. I’m talking about doing what’s required and not over-delivering to an insane degree. When I was freelancing part time, I often had only one assignment to focus on, and I tended to research the subject until I was practically an expert. I wrote and rewrote like my Pulitzer was on the line. That kind of passion is great, and I still like to feel that I give a little more than is expected, but now that I need to complete multiple assignments to make a living, I work faster and smarter. When I need to deliver a 300-word marketing piece for a seafood company, I don’t need to re-read Moby Dick. If you don’t reign yourself in, you’ll never be able to complete enough work to survive. Save your all for the projects that demand it.

Sure, I’ve run into some snags along the way, but in every case, I’ve adapted. I’ve tweaked my schedule. I turn off my phone. I take a walk when I feel like I’m losing my mind. Part of being the boss means finding the best way to get higher productivity out of my one employee: myself. But it also means making sure she stays happy. I’d like her to stick around.



What’s hardest for you about writing at home, whether you’re a freelancer, a novelist, or a blogger? Share your gripes, successes, and tips.


19 comments:

  1. Great post - thank you for that. I especially relate with home feeling less like home and not giving everything my all. I watched TV last night while reminding myself I couldn't really advance on that article with making a couple calls...and they wouldn't talk to me at 10pm. Also an newspaper editor I freelance for recently told me his standard was to leave a county meeting after two hours and get the article written in one. That is not going to be my best work...so either I do a quick reread and send her off, or a work harder without more pay. Joys of freelance! Bon courage!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You really have to have a sense of which jobs are worth spending a lot of time and which ones just need a quick turnover.

      Delete
  2. I have no experience in this area, either writing (for a living) or working at home, but this was very interesting nonetheless. We always think someone else's job is ideal. At my age it is not only money that is driving me to continue working past normal retirement age, but also the desire to see people every day and do meaningful work... because otherwise I am pretty much of a recluse. And I am very lucky that I work with some great people in a great environment.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I've always maintained that every job has it's version of crap. You just have to find one that has crap that you, personally, can take.

      Delete
    2. Absolutely, I agree. My previous job where I spent most of my working life had lots of crap, but both my husband and I were working for a publisher producing reference materials at college level, so had its good points.

      Delete
  3. This sounds like you have approached this change very wisely and sensibly Kelly but it must be exhausting a lot of the time - I certainly find it very hard just to "switch of" from my office (where I am right now in fact ...) but because I do also work from home when there is a deadline, when I do take leave I often find myself finding it hard not to think of home as a work space and I really have to fight to not let my mind do that! Well done for handling this so well and so rationally!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's a challenge, and I'm still learning.

      Delete
  4. I need to be alone in order to write ANYTHING. I find that I can't do much if my partner is in the kitchen and I'm at the laptop trying to compose the briefest blog post. And I can simply forget about trying to do any real creative writing as long as he's in the house. I'm bombaded with questions and anecdotes. For that reason I either write on breaks at my day job or early morning or very late at night when at home and I know Joe is sound asleep. Finding time when I can luxuriate in solitude in order to write, however, is becoming increasingly difficult these days.

    I give you a standing ovation for finding solutions to the freelance life -- something I thought I might want to do someday, but now realize I simply don't have the discipline to undertake.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Here's the thing: I didn't think I had the discipline, either. I am ridiculously unorganized and easily distracted. Knowing that, though, I have forced myself to stick to a schedule. I do it, knowing that if I let any cracks in, I am DOOMED.

      Jumping off the cliff and quitting my job changed everything for me. It's amazing what you can do once you have no other choice. I have to write to live now, so I do. I'll bet that in a similar situation, you would find that you have more discipline than you think you have.

      Delete
  5. What’s hardest for you about writing at home, whether you’re a freelancer, a novelist, or a blogger?

    1. I should be doing something else. There are household chores to do. There's backlog at the day job. There are things to attend to for the parents. The cats want my attention.

    2. I should be doing this better. If it's worth doing, it's worth doing right.

    3. If I'm going to do this, I better get at it. There's only so much time in the day, and there's the fact I'm no kid. And I should be taking better care of myself.

    4. I've sold or written for hire, if not for much money too often, about forty or fifty pieces, picked up some minor awards (campus awards, shortlist citations off-campus), have published in national magazines and in some reference works. And yet I'm often condescended to by people who are publishing more widely mostly in webzines for pittances or nothing, and those who refuse to do so and endlessly workshop. These people are full of shit, of course, but their condescension is irritating nonetheless. And my lack of making time to publish more professionally nags at me as well.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I guess a few were international magazines. Because what magazine isn't, that isn't hyperlocal.

      Delete
    2. Ugh, I'm sorry people have condescended to you. Ultimately, I've found that it never pays to compare yourself or your accomplishments to anyone else (easier said than done sometimes).

      Delete
    3. Indeed. I try not to. I find myself toting up my mild track record usually only when treated like a nonentity by the above-mentioned.

      Delete
    4. I see I never was explicit about my pocket career in writing and publishing essays, reviews, fiction and poetry on a pro level, and being snotted at by the kinds of folks who published 28 stories this year already in JOE BIVISKY'S SPACEWORLDS.org, THE MELTING GUN PI DRABBLES blog, and GRAYS OF SHADE ASPIRING FANFIC site, or who, again, sneer at anyone who submits to other than THE NEW YORKER while waiting for OMNI and MARY HIGGINS CLARK'S MYSTERY MAGAZINEs to come back and pay them $2K for the shorts they endlessly workshop down at Open University till that time. And occasionally by the less generous, more productive pro/semipro, usually one with or who had a supportive spouse to put up with them picking up $25 or even $400 checks sporadically (or who become wise in the ways of grants) in lieu of a salaried job, when they start out.

      Delete
  6. I'm not a writer or freelance anything but I really enjoyed this post Kelly. I think you sound like you will be successful at anything you undertake!

    ReplyDelete
  7. The way you've described this is the way it is with my blogging now. And I'm not even getting paid for what I'm doing. I really should change my current lifestyle but I'm so hooked into it that it's hard to quit. Blogging has become like heroin for me.

    Lee
    Wrote By Rote
    An A to Z Co-host blog

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I enjoy blogging too, but it has to take second place to the paying jobs. I do my best to not let it languish too long.

      Delete
  8. Interesting post for sure.

    What has helped me separate home from "office," and this ONLY works if you can have a room with a door as your office, is to do two key things...

    1. Get a lock for the "office" door, with a key, and lock that door when you're done for the day (set a time to be done for the day). Train yourself to avoid unlocking that door, and the key seems to help with that.

    2. Get a work laptop, and a leisure laptop, do NOT use the same one for both. This separation helps remove the temptation to work on stuff while you're surfing / checking email in leisure time.

    Also, have a personal email and a "work stuff" email, at different online locations (e.g. a Yahoo! and Gmail if you use online services, or self-hosted and Gmail etc...). Don't check work stuff once you've locked that door.

    It helped me anyhow. :)

    ReplyDelete