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Tag Archives: freelancing

Take a Class with Me in 2016

I’m pleased to announce that I am now an instructor at Writers.com, and I have two classes coming up:

Pitch Like a Honey Badger

and

The Nuts and Bolts of the Freelancing Lifestyle.

Pitch Like a Honey Badger” is intended for freelancers who want to improve their pitching skills and, by extension, their rate of acceptance and number of assignments. The class starts January 20 and is asynchronous, meaning there’s no set meeting time; you can work through it at your own pace.

In “The Nuts & Bolts of the Freelancing Lifestyle,” I’ll be teaching something almost no other writing course teaches: the finances of freelance writing. This course is designed to help you define what financial success looks like for you as a freelancer and to assist you with developing a concrete, practical plan for achieving it. It starts March 9 and is also asynchronous.

If you’ve ever worked with me before, you know that I’m very hands-on with students and colleagues, offering honest, useful feedback and support that’s rooted in the values of transparency and giving.

I hope you’ll consider registering for one (or both!) of these classes. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me directly at writingjulie [AT] gmail [dot] com.

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After a gaffe, the decision to be more deliberate

Like every other freelancer I know, I get stuck in the not-so-mentally-healthy “feast or famine” mode way too often.

That means one or more of the following:

-I take on a little too much work, work I can do, and do well, but which makes me a little nutty and has me in front of the computer too much.
-I take on a job I don’t really want or that doesn’t pay as well as I’d like because I’m afraid that if I don’t take it I might regret my decision when a dry spell rolls around.
-I spend extended periods in triage mode, ordering and reordering my to-do list by deadline rather than other factors that should probably take more precedence.

This isn’t good, of course, but for a long, long time–far too much of my career–I’ve felt that it’s inevitable, just part and parcel of life as a freelancer.

I’ve made incremental improvements every year, saying no to projects with ridiculously low fees or turning down some projects that felt far too fluffy, but there’s always more progress to be made… as I was reminded yesterday after making a terrible online gaffe involving an overly candid email sent to recipients who shouldn’t have been cc’d on the message.

The email, sent late in the evening, long after people with 9-to-5 jobs stop working, was a symptom–and an embarrassing one–of a larger problem. Despite recent vigorous efforts to scale back–unsubscribing from mailing lists that clutter my inbox and waste my time and saying no to a couple projects that didn’t pay well and were puff writing I don’t want to be doing, for example–I realized that there was (is!) still a lot of work to be done. I need to be more deliberate in every area of my work, and the first order of business is developing a better system for dealing with email.

I don’t know about you, but pretty much every time I look at my inbox these days, I already feel exhausted, even before I make a keystroke. There’s so much junk mail masquerading as important messages demanding my attention. There’s the feeling that I have to have my inbox open from the moment I’m awake until the moment I go to bed, in case an editor or source sends a message requiring urgent attention. And on and on and on. But the reality is, the less time I’m looking at my inbox, the happier and more productive I am. The less urgent everything seems–and is. And, obviously, the less likely I am to feel so depleted that I hit “Send” when I really need to give a message a second look and make sure that it’s appropriate… and addressed to the intended recipients.

This isn’t about slowing down, necessarily, though I feel like lots of freelancers write posts about that, setting goals that are difficult, if not impossible, to achieve. The reality is, this is not a profession for folks operating at a slow pace. It is, however, about being more thoughtful about each action, about taking the time to make sure that every word counts (and those that don’t stay in my head or between myself and my most trusted confidante, my husband), and about devoting time and attention to communication that truly matters.

Have you or do you struggle with similar challenges as a freelancer? I’d love to hear about them in the comments.

Hazards of Freelancing: Freelancing Ourselves into the Oblivion of Neglect

If you’ve followed this blog for a long time or if you know me reasonably well, you’ll know I love the freelance life.

Mostly.

This week, I’m taking a look at some of the hazards of freelancing. The first post in the series was “The Hidden Costs of Freelancing.”

Today? A look at how freelancing takes a toll on our closest relationships.
*
“I’m not waving, I’m drowning.”

He didn’t say this, but he didn’t need to. It’s not as if I didn’t know the signs. It’s not as if I didn’t even see them.

The problem is, I did.

But I kept telling myself that I just had to get through this day, this project, or this whatever and then I’d take a break, decline new work briefly, and spend some quality time with him. We’d bank that time like money. He’d be better. And then I’d get back to work.

That never happened though because freelancing rarely affords a break, and I mean that literally: it’s nearly impossible to build up a financial cushion that lets you even entertain the idea of time off (at least this is true when you’re the main breadwinner in a family of four in New York City). So I’d finish that one project that needed to be finished and find myself picking up another one because what if I came back from a break to find that there was no work to be had? “I just need to finish this,” I said to myself, said to him. He never complained or called me out. He just started to get pulled out by the undertow. I could still see him, so he was ok, right? In fact, he was struggling to pull back to shore. From a distance, he looked so good, so strong, his clean stroke cutting capably through the water. We both looked good, which is what made everything more difficult. But then, he was just beyond my peripheral vision. And when I turned to check on him, he wasn’t waving.

He was drowning.

He wasn’t beyond saving, but we were both worse for the wear and worried about the long-term effects. And all the while, horribly, I still couldn’t stop thinking about all the work I still needed to get done… nor the fact that all that work probably wouldn’t buy us the time or space we needed just to lie on the beach together and breathe.

*
When Orion was born five weeks ago, I couldn’t help but stop.

Here, not unexpectedly but not without uncertainty, either, was a second child. Here was a chance to experience the miracle of birth and infancy all over again, and the particular gift this time was that of knowing what, exactly, to look for and to drink in deep before it went away forever.

“Estás enamorada de ese niño,” Francisco told me, suggesting gently that maybe I was expressing more love for Orion that I had for Mariel when she was a baby. “I am in love with him,” I said, “but not more than with Mariel. I just know what to pay attention to this time so I don’t miss it before it’s gone.” The most clichéd advice passed from one parent to another goes through one ear and out the other with the first child, especially when you’re sleep deprived and unsure that anything you’re doing is right. “Spend as much time with them as you can. Enjoy every moment. It goes so fast.” I happened to be in a pause between projects and so I could enjoy those sweet early days and weeks. But I also knew that soon enough my attention would be divided. Until it was, I told Francisco, I would dedicate myself to the full-time project of immersing myself in the deep, transcendent, almost wordless joy of raising our kids with him.
*
If it’s not obvious to you already, this post isn’t building up to some big reveal. I haven’t got all this figured out. It absolutely sucks–sorry, the only other way to say it is more crass–that the work I love and the work that, in so many other ways, frees me to be able to (theoretically at least) be the master of my own domain, also traps me on its own kind of hamster wheel. While other people are spinning on their wheels in offices without natural light or fresh air, during specific hours they can’t control, I’m spinning on my own wheel, treading at all sorts of hours and often frantically. And my reward–my cheese, I guess–is usually smaller than theirs.

The only difference–and it’s an important enough one to me–is that I can hop off my wheel for a few minutes or hours and do something different. I can spend the kind of time with my family that other folks envy. But it’s not always quality time. I’ve got one hand on the keyboard and the other bouncing a kid on my knee. Meanwhile, someone might be drowning. And it feels much harder than it should to blow the whistle and tell the powers that be that this system doesn’t function quite as it should.

The financial life of a freelance writer explained in two simple images

1. Deposit check from completed project…


Photo: carbonNYC

2. Immediately withdraw money to research next project.

Photo: Tracy O

A day in the life of a freelance writer: 02/12/10

In response to last Saturday’s poll, “Do you work on weekends?” [Current totals on that poll, by the way are : 14 “Yes,” 2 “No,” and 7 “It depends.”], Amiee Maxwell wrote, “Curious what your typical day looks like and how you manage all that you do.”

The following is what one recent day looked like. Whether it’s typical is hard to say.

**

Friday, February 12, 2010

8:30-ish AM: Mariel wakes up smiling, as usual. I feed her and stay in bed until Francisco brings coffee. The deliciousness of the coffee is generally a barometer of how the day is going to be. Don’t ask me how or why, but it’s true. Fortunately, today’s coffee is strong, with a generous capa of foam, dusted with cinnamon and nutmeg.

9:00 AM: I realize, dammit, that the dog hasn’t been out for a walk since yesterday afternoon. Bad. I pull on a pair of jeans and rain boots, grab my keys, and kick through the sludge and generally feel bad about how shitty our dog has had it since the baby was born. I also pick up our newspaper and feel victorious. For the past three Fridays running, someone has stolen it before I’ve rolled out of bed and made it downstairs. Victory is mine. Like the coffee, this is good.

9:15 AM: I crawl back into bed with Mariel, who’s entertaining herself by grabbing both feet at the same time. Each time she does this, it’s as if she’s doing it for the first time. She giggles, throws her legs down, and starts all over again.

9:40 AM: Francisco gives me half of a bagel and I work on making my to-do list. A fellow writer recently told me she thinks most people have electronic to-do lists these days. Not me. Mine has to be on paper.

9:45-10:15 AM: I blast through email. 42 messages later…

10:20 AM: We call Francisco’s mom in Havana. She tells us the DVD he made of Mariel’s birth has now been passed around from house to house in Centro Habana. “I’m praying God gives me the strength to live until you bring her,” she says. A conversation ensues about whether and when I should take Mariel.

10:45-11:15 AM: I format and publish Dona Francis’s article about the environmental threat of toilet paper and contact a photographer about featuring his work on Matador.

11:15 AM-1:00 PM: More email; editing; finish the “Writers’ teeth” article; occasional breaks to play with Mariel when she wakes up from her power naps. Promote Matador articles published today. Read other writers’ blogs.

1:00 PM: I have a Skype call with Andris Bjornson. We talk about photography, Nepal, telecommunications, and Haiti. I come out of the call with lots of ideas about how to write an article about the work he did setting up telecom in Haiti after the quake and start researching publications’ submission guidelines on MediaBistro.

1:30-3:00 PM: Mariel’s up from a nap, so I spent time with her.

3:00 PM: Francisco comes home. We talk about his morning, and I look at his photographs. I download the photographs, do some quick editing of them, and then upload them to Flickr. I make stir-fry vegetables, and he starts prepping dinner. I play sous chef, a role I love but haven’t held for a long time.

3:45 PM: I craft a pitch on the Haiti tech story and send it out via email.

5:00 PM: I finally start working on an essay I’ve been putting off for weeks. It’s not for lack of interest or a lack of feeling for this piece. On the contrary, I woke up at 3 AM a few nights ago, grabbed my journal and a pen and stumbled off to the bathroom to write out–longhand– the beginning of the essay. It’s just that it’s about Mexico, which is so important to me that I need the urgency of the deadline–February 15–to really make this piece hum. This is my relationship with deadlines: the tighter, the better.

And I’m pleased with the way this essay is going. I’m writing what I want to convey and it feels (mostly) effortless. The writing is interrupted, though, by Mariel waking up from a nap. I set it aside for the moment and join Francisco and Mariel.

5:00-9:00 PM: Trying to be present to domestic life, but I really hate leaving a piece of writing midstream, especially when it’s going well. I make occasional notes as we watch choreographer Bill T. Jones on Bill Moyers’ Journal; I’ve long admired Jones and the interview stimulates all sorts of new ideas. I also think Moyers is one of the finest journalists alive and I try to catch his program when I can; I always learn from his engaged, wholly present interview style.

9:00 PM-2:00 AM: Mariel falls asleep. Francisco is editing video, trying to finish a short documentary for this year’s Havana Film Festival in New York. I’m working on the Mexico essay, which I finish; then, I do some reading. We stop once in a while to talk about our projects and ask each other for input, and go to bed around 2:30.

*

What’s your day like? Is any day “typical”? Share some snippets of your life in the comments.

Writers’ teeth (or what you should know before you sign your life over to freelancing)

[Before we begin, let me get one thing out of the way:  I don’t subscribe to the idea that writers (or other creatives) are destined to be poor.  I’ve personally declared 2010 my year of prosperity. But let’s accept that most writers are like most other people who perform vital functions for society (you know, like teachers): underpaid.  That’s not every writer’s experience (ex: Elizabeth Gilbert) and it’s by no means inevitable.  Myself? I fully intend to be flush.

So now that we’ve got that out of the way…]

Let me tell you about my teeth.

I was writing–what else?–a few weeks ago when I took a swig of some cold seltzer and noticed that one of my teeth hurt.

Really hurt.

And then, a couple days later, another one.

Rather than do something useful (like ponder when I last visited the dentist and make an appointment), I indulged in this thought instead:

“I wonder how many famous writers had bad teeth.”

This, of course, led to the welcome distraction of a couple of Google searches:

and

Neither search was particularly satisfying and one was downright frightening, producing a terrifyingly named blog: From the Cave of Rotten Teeth, or something to that effect.

Which is probably where I’ll be living if I don’t dial the dentist soon.

I should have shuddered, picked up the phone, and called the dentist to make an appointment, but I didn’t because That’s A Lot of Money.

I kept procrastinating and thinking about writing and pauperism, writing and prosperity.

*

Then, a few days later, I was at home… writing. The window was open slightly. Mariel was asleep. Francisco was out doing errands.  It was one of those rare moments when it looked like I’d have a full hour to myself without any distraction, without any sound, to bang out a solid little block of prose.

And then Francisco called.

“I think you should come meet me at the mattress store near Union Square. I talked the guy down a couple hundred; we should get this mattress.”

Instead  of saying, “Thank you kindly for undoing the single glimmering moment of concentration I’ve had in days,” I said “Alright,  I’ll meet you in an hour” and hung up, hoping I didn’t sound as bitchy as I felt.

Yes, we need a mattress. And how. My side of the bed is sagging and it’s a matter of time before a spring insinuates its way into my back while I’m sleeping. But a mattress is a Big Purchase. Buying it would really set us back.

Still, we plunked down the money and shook on it: one of us will spend the next few weeks double-stepping in the freelance hustle.

*

I refuse to believe that being a writer conscripts one to a life of poverty, but for a considerable chunk of your career, you’re likely to be dancing with her more often than not.

I don’t view our present economic circumstances as permanent or dire. I’m aware that we’re exceptionally privileged compared to most of the world, financially speaking, and we’re even exceptionally privileged compared to the many friends and acquaintances who are desperately unhappy with their office jobs, who wonder how their kids’ infancy and childhood passed them by, who wish they had more time to spend with their partners, or who would give their eyeteeth to have the flexibility Francisco and I have.

We spend our money on the experiences and items that are important to us. We save $100 a week and put aside money for Mariel in an interest-bearing account every week. We invest an extremely modest amount in the stock market. But if we ever had a real emergency–oh, say, rotting teeth–well, then, we’d probably have to move to Cuba.

*

A few financial resources we’ve found useful: [these may be US-centric. If you have similar resources from another country, please share!]

*Freelancers Union:     Though a frightening amount of our earnings just gets reinvested into the Freelancers Union insurance plan, having an infant makes health insurance a non-negotiable for us. The Freelancers Union offers insurance in several different US states.

*INGDirect: INGDirect offers online checking, savings, and investment plans. With respect to the latter, you can buy stock for as little as $4.00 and there’ s  no account minimum. (Why do you think we invest through them)? Even investing a tiny sum in a crappy economy, I’ve been surprised by the return on investment.There’s no penalty for raiding your savings account, either. Not that we’ve ever done that….

*UPromise:  Anytime I buy anything online, I now check to see what kind of earnings I can get through UPromise first.  UPromise is a college savings program you can set up for your (existing OR future) children. You earn money when you make purchases online–Expedia, Barnes & Noble, and on and on. You also earn money by buying certain products at real bricks-n-mortar stores (these are listed on their site and also indicated by a little U with a graduation cap that’s emblazoned on participating products). Here’s cool feature 2 (because cool feature 1 was that you can start saving for kids you don’t even have yet): You can have friends and family earning for your kid, too. So my mom shops at Publix in South Carolina and uses her frequent shopper card to earn savings for Mariel’s college fund. And here’s cool feature 3: You can link your UPromise account to your child’s 529 savings program. I set up UPromise when I was pregnant and if I remembered to use it every time we buy something online, I’d have a lot more than $11 in the account, buy hey: Over 16 years, a little chunk of change will accrue in there and it’ll make a difference.

*Mint.com: I don’t use this as often as I should, but Mint is a handy tool worth checking out if you’re not one of those types who’s totally paranoid about storing your sensitive information online.