Skipping the Free Lane

Skipping the Free Lane

Photo by Suzy Hazelwood from Pexels

Let me preface this post by reiterating a simple statement: I have the best job in the world. I wouldn’t trade it for ANYTHING. After all, I took the time last week to explain why freelancing is the most amazing concept in the world. But, in all fairness (that’s such a terrible concept, isn’t it?) I now need to bring the excitement level down a few notches.

That’s right, lasers and jellybeans, it’s time for the crash. (Feel free to boo – I know you want to)

Why You May NOT Want to Freelance

No one likes to think about the “negative” side of things. And I want to make sure I clarify that these little snags aren’t necessarily BAD – they’re just less glamorous than the shiny bubbles I mentioned before. If you can swallow them, then you’re good to go. I just have this obligatory, guilty conscience prodding me to make sure I put ALL of the information out there. (That tiny creature in the back of the mind is annoying, by the way)

1. Organize or Die

Remember getting to stand on your own? No boss except you? That means all responsibility also falls to you. No one else keeps your shit together. Assignments come with deadlines, some come with templates, and all come with specifications. You have to keep track of ALL of those details. Slip up, and you’ll screw an article. Unhappy clients don’t pay you. If you’re part of a job board such as Upwork, those clients submit poor ratings that get published on your profile for potential clients to view. Guess how many want to hire someone with a poor performance review?

You can’t be the kind of person who “wings it.” You’ll end up overwhelmed and sink FAST. I use a TON of tools to keep my work streamlined:

  • Color-coded white board calendars
  • Excel spreadsheet of ALL assignments (also color-coded)
  • Evernote
    • Every client has a notebook
    • Each assignment is an individual notecard
    • All mandatory information gets bolded at the top
    • I create a checkbox with due dates (and cards are in order of due times)

Color-coding assignments by client makes my life a THOUSAND times easier. A quick glance at the calendar tells me who’s work is due when. The system allows me to usually finish my work early. I’ve definitely never missed a deadline. Can you hire a virtual assistant to handle all of this for you? Sure – but that’s money out of your pocket. The choice is yours.

I don’t have a 100% satisfaction rating and a solid string of five-star reviews for nothing.

2. Paperwork

You WILL need to do homework. That means investing in some books. If you can, talking with people who’ve done the groundwork helps, too. Freelancing is WORK. That means filing paperwork. Why? Because the government still wants taxes. And guess who has to file them? That’s right – you. You’re your own boss, remember? No one else is going to do it for you.

I lucked out. An awesome friend dumped two vital books in my lap and shoved me off the cliff as a start. I also had friends and family with their own businesses. They gave me the information I needed to set up my sole proprietorship. Every city and state is a little different, so make sure you look up the rules where you live. Just remember, as the money rolls in, YOU have to set aside the tax portion. YOU have to keep track of your client contracts. YOU have to be ready to juggle all of those W-2s come tax time (or fork over more cash for an accountant to do so).

It sounds overwhelming, and if you don’t do your homework, it WILL be. Once you have the basics under your belt, you’ll be fine. But you don’t have a boss or corporation to handle that pesky paperwork for you anymore. And when you’re used to someone else handling the tedious chores, it can get irritating.

3. Got a Healer?

Know what else you sacrifice as a freelancer? Insurance. Well, in theory. Basically, you just lose the comfort of a job that COMES with insurance. Freelancers don’t have a cushy life, much as society likes to think we do. In fact, if you poll most writers, they’re rampant with chronic illness. Most artists, in general, suffer from chronic disease and even cancer. And we don’t have the safety net of job-funded health insurance.

You have a few options:

  • Get a bubble (just kidding)
  • Find insurance on your own (watch your pennies)
  • Get on your spouse’s/partner’s insurance
  • Roll the dice and hope you never need insurance (may the odds be ever in your favor)
  • Start a GoFundMe

This is one of the biggest drawbacks to being a freelancer. Because healthcare in the U.S. SUCKS! Even WITH insurance, health costs get ridiculous. And if you fall ill and can’t complete your work? You’re out income. It’s a dangerous game. You need to take care of yourself (which is why you get my Dead Pool posts). And, honestly, you need to find a way to get yourself insurance. The risk is too high.

4. Motivation

You’re the boss. No one can MAKE you do the work. Except you. If you don’t “feel like it,” nothing gets done. Which means you don’t complete your assignments, and you don’t get paid. No biggie. Freelancers can’t have “off days.” You can’t submit sub-par work. If you aren’t at your best, you have to step up and tell a client you need more time. It requires a level of frank honesty that you didn’t have to present at other jobs. (Face it – were you always as sick as you claimed? I know for a fact people I worked with lied through their teeth)

You don’t want your reputation to slip. Your work is YOU. You’re representing yourself on a public platform in a way no other job really does. And lazing around doesn’t work. No one’s going to walk through your office and bang on the desk to urge you to get to work. (Okay, so I have a tiny demon that jumps on my desk, but it’s not really motivating)

You have to have an inner drive to get up and work every day (or whatever you set your schedule to). You need to tackle every assignment with the same level of enthusiasm. If you can’t, don’t accept the work. It’s better to turn a job down then submit half-assed crap.

5. What’s a Vacation?

Surprise! Freelancers don’t get time off. Not officially, anyway. No paid vacation, no paid sick leave. Sorry. You DO make your own schedule, so you can elect to take time off whenever you want. You just won’t get paid for that break. So consider those vacations wisely.

If you’re a writer, you CAN use trips to a certain advantage. For instance, you can pitch a story to a magazine centering around the location, the activities you’re planning, etc. The fact you’re not asking them to foot the bill for the trip AND already planning to have boots on the ground helps to sell the story. You just need to make sure you choose the appropriate market and find a unique angle for the story. And you need to realize there’s a good chance they’ll reject the pitch.

Tempering the Excitement

Freelance writing IS the best thing that ever came into my life. It just came with strings attached. (Newsflash: everything does) If you want to follow your freelance passion, make sure you shine a light on EVERY aspect of your chosen path. If you know where the pit traps are, you’ll be better for the journey. You may still fall into them, but you’ll have a better chance of climbing out the other side.

Freedom!

Freedom!

Freelance Writer Needs
Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

I won’t lie: I have the best job in the entire world. In my down time, I marvel that it took me so long to get my act together and start on this path.(Here’s a huge secret, lasers and jellybeans: if you have a dream – GET TO IT!) That’s how fantastic my life is. And, so , out of purely educational purposes, I’m going to run through all of the reasons you might consider making a similar career choice.

Why You Want to Be a Freelance Writer

When I first ventured into the freelance world, I wrote a sample blog article about working from home. Of course, now most people are pros at working from home. That ISN’T one of the points I’m going to hit on (exactly), though it’s certainly a perk. Nope, I have five other reasons to delve into.

1. You Get to be You

While I fully admit I’ve never worked in the food service industry (which is for the best, as I lack the grace and dexterity required), I’ve worked in most other industries in the past. They all have one thing in common: soul-sucking requirements placed by management. Uniforms, rules about tattoos/piercings/hair, and restrictions on office decor. It’s conformity at it’s worst.

When you freelance, all of those little nit-picky details float away. Case in point: for work today, I’m wearing Harley Quinn socks, comfy shorts, and a Bruni tanktop. (And before you snicker about my being a slob, all of them have purple on them – so there) The majority of my clients communicate via direct messaging or email. Which means I have the freedom to dress exactly as I want. My personality gets to shine. I can experiment with whatever hair color I want and play around with my pixie cut. I tossed out my boring, practical tennis shoes in favor of adorable Demonia Cult shoes. My geeky wardrobe might raise eyebrows out in public, but it makes me happy and keeps me smiling.

My office is ME. (I promise, photos will come as soon as the new prints I ordered arrive and get framed) Oh, sure, I have reference books on my shelves, and there are sticky notes, notebooks, my whiteboard calendars, and pens (well, at least one that Tonks hasn’t stolen) present at all times. But I also have tiny stuffed animals, Funko POP! figurines, shark teeth, and signed photos and posters from my theatre days. I don’t have to suffer with the decor foisted upon me by others. I get to decide what I want to have around me, channeling my creativity. It’s the best kind of freedom!

2. You’re the Boss

You decide who you want to work with. At this point, my work schedule is full. (I’m not exaggerating, either. My calendars – yes, I had to break down and buy a second one so I have two months up at a time – have up to three assignments due every day) While I still duck onto the job boards and submit proposals here and there, a lot of my work now comes in through invitations. (Awesome feeling, by the way) I make the calls on what I accept.

If you don’t want to work for a certain price, you can make that call! If you don’t want to accept a job, you have that choice! You hold the power to make all of those decisions! There’s no weight sitting on your shoulders, telling you you have to do something because…well, you can fill in the blanks. If you aren’t comfortable, or you feel something’s off, you have the right to step back and say, “No.” It’s the most liberating feeling ever!

Even better, for people like me who demand nothing less than perfection for themselves, freelancing grants you to outlet you always wanted. Clients WANT the best, and they respond to the exacting standards you set for yourself. I have a 100% satisfaction rating on Upwork (one of the job platforms for freelancers). I’m damn proud of that rating, too. I’ve rejected job offers that prioritized quantity over quality. I don’t compromise my standards, and I can do that because I’M THE BOSS!

3. NO Co-Workers

Okay, that may be a slight exaggeration. After all, I have Assistants that wander into the office and interrupt my work every day. However, they’e not on the payroll.

However, in general, those obnoxious people you want to throttle on a daily basis? Yeah, they don’t exist! People who get away with breaking rules that you get slammed for, people who sit around on their ass all day while you get sniped at for breathing for 5 minutes, and people who lie through their teeth to get out of work? Not here! It’s just you, baby! You can stretch out and breathe in the freedom of not having to deal with those irritations ever again.

This goes in conjunction with being your own boss. You don’t have to deal with the inequality inherent in the workplace. While a client may employ more than one freelancer, odds are you won’t interact with them or even speak with them. (You may never even know who they are) Even if you exchange messages, they don’t share your workspace. You can always let messages pile up while you work and answer them when you’re finished. (The equivalent of a “mute” button you wish existed in the real world)

4. 9 to Whatever

Freelancers create their own schedule. Yes, you have to meet deadlines set by your clients. You negotiate a lot of those deadlines in the first place, though. (And, most of the time, they’re a day and not a time) As far as WHEN the work happens, that’s up to you. Want to work through the wee hours of the night? Go for it! Want to stick to standard daylight hours to match a family member? No problem. Want to skip a day? No one’s going to say anything (provided you hand work assignments in on time).

You’re in control of YOURSELF. (I know, it sounds crazy, right? Almost like you’re an adult) I don’t work weekends. I save those days for family. Obviously, holidays are hit or miss (since I am working today – but I did my research ahead of time to minimize my working hours), but you can make a decision not to work holidays, if you choose. I’ll take the week of the wedding off, which means working my ass off right up to that point.

It’s a freedom you can’t find out of the freelance world. But it makes my life a MILLION times easier. I can schedule appointments whenever and work around them. I don’t have to go grovel to a manager and face an annoyed or disappointed look because *gasp* I needed to see the doctor. I don’t have to apologize to a frazzled receptionist when I have to beg for a weird appointment time to avoid inconveniencing my job. It’s one less stress in my life.

5. Personality’s a Plus

Does your regular job hand you binders of precisely how you’re supposed to behave? Do you get scripts of recitations to make sure everyone speaks and behaves exactly the same? You’re such good little sheep. Freelancers don’t have that problem. In fact, clients seek out freelancers precisely for their individual personalities! Ditch the uniformity and find your voice!

I get templates for some of my work. Clients want specific formats for the blog articles they request. Which I don’t mind, because I understand the look they’re adhering to. But within that framework, the voice and writing style are mine. It’s what the clients liked in my proposal (or the writing samples they clicked on in my profile). If they wanted a different voice, they would have hired someone else. Instead, they picked out my little quirky voice from the pack.

Instead of focusing on trying to follow the pack, you get to stand out. You WANT to stand out. Find your voice and make it sing. Figure out what makes your writing (or other freelance work) unique and play it up. The humor and geek culture references I always slipped into my narratives in other jobs (and caught flack for) are what earn me clients and five-star reviews now. You have an element of your personality destined to shine, and freelancing will turn it into a diamond.

Fly Your Freak Flag

Drone jobs suck the life out of you. I know – I’ve been there. Now I work my dream job, the job I assumed was always out of reach and impossible. It took NOTHING more than having the confidence to step up and say, “I want it.” It sounds insane, but it was that simple.

If your dream involves a freelance opportunity, then start exploring your options. You won’t regret it. Languishing in a job you hate – you’ll regret that forever.

End Reading Shaming

End Reading Shaming

My current To Be Read pile

My parents had a simple philosophy when we were growing up: “reading is reading.” They never confined us to a specific section of the bookstore, and they never took a book out of our hands because it wasn’t “age-appropriate.” (Unlike several librarians I can name) Which is why I bypassed what would now be considered the Young Readers section by the age of 8, moving on the Fantasy & Science Fiction section. (Young Adult wasn’t a thing back then)

I’ve held to that philosophy throughout my life. Simply put, I read what piques my interest. I don’t care what section the book comes from. Why should I? I write speculative fiction. My worlds don’t exist in reality. My ideas come from anything and everything. As such, I explore EVERY possibility. That means reading every possibility.

People give me the strangest looks in the store.

I grew up watching Anime. As such, I love Manga. Some I read because I loved the Anime and want to compare the original comic. (If you’ve only ever made fun of Sailor Moon, you don’t know the beauty you’re missing out on) Some are hauntingly bewitching in their art and make me cry no matter how often I read them (Full Moon o Sagashite). Others I’ve become so obsessed with, I’ve started learning Japanese because I can’t stand the fact I have to wait AN ENTIRE YEAR between volumes (Skip-Beat – my sister’s to blame for getting me started on that one).

Japan has light novels, which combine gorgeous drawings with writing. Anime usually follow these creations. They’re shelved in the same section, and I have a host of those I follow. Typically, they’re released faster than Manga, so my wait time is shorter. Sword Art Online was my first obsession here, and I’ve followed the series through multiple story arcs.

But I’m not a teenager, so people stare.

I write in the YA genre. Logic says read what you write. Okay, fuck logic – there’s amazing YA out there. The majority of what I read these days is YA. I stalk certain authors (Cassandra Clare, Rin Chupeco, Sarah J. Maas, S.J. Kincaid, Merissa Meyer) through Amazon so I know when their books are hitting the shelves. While that section isn’t my first stop in the store, I do always end up there eventually. I take risks on new authors in the YA section – something I’m usually loathe to do in other sections. I can’t explain why other than to say the blurbs are more appealing and the cover art is better. (I don’t listen to book reviewers – sorry) The majority of authors I buy hardback books from are YA authors.

However, not a young adult, so people give me strange looks.

And don’t get me started on the alarmed looks when I hit up the Young Readers section. Let me explain something to the uneducated: a book is considered a “Young Reader” because of the age of the characters in the book. That’s it. Which is why His Dark Materials is shelved there, despite the fact the religious debate and concept of duality in human nature are WAY over the heads of most children Lyra’s age. I re-read my copy and marvel every time at nuances I’ve missed (and laugh hysterically that I had to hunt the book down in that section – it is in the YA section now).

Have you ever been over there? There are ENORMOUS books over there! There are amazing books in that section! Read the blurbs sometimes. The worlds an characters – they’re phenomenal! Artemis Fowl is one of the best antiheroes I’ve encountered in a long time! If you skip the section because it’s next to Dr. Seuss (and, seriously, why are you NOT reading Dr. Seuss?), you’re missing out. Brave the looks and walk your butt over there.

Stop reading shaming!

READING IS READING! Where you pick up a well-written book shouldn’t matter. Comics (totally love Spider-Gwen/Ghost Spider and Harley Quinn) your thing? Fine! (If you feel a need to call them Graphic Novels to make yourself feel elevated, whatever works for you) Children’s books? Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book is one of the best things I’ve ever read.

I don’t understand this need to put people in a box. Bookstores are OPEN. Libraries are OPEN. Stop shuttling people into sections like cattle. Let people explore and find new ideas, new authors. I put everything I read up on my Goodreads feed – I’m not ashamed! I’M A READER! I pull out anything and everything for my niece and nephew, exposing them to the best books that have crossed my paths. I want them to be readers, and I don’t want them to be afraid to explore.

If you’ve never left your “section” for fear of the LOOKS, try it. You’re missing out by confining yourself. Pick up a new book, a new author. You won’t regret it, I promise you.

Let There be Cake

Let There be Cake

Sampling of cake slices
Image by dydona from Pixabay

While there’s controversy behind the quote and the intended message behind it, Marie Antoinette was definitely onto something. When things are going haywire, and you feel like throwing in the towel, few things make you feel better quite like cake. (I’m not advocating eating cake to solve your problems, so don’t fuss at me) Guess what happens to be a part of most weddings?

CAKE!

Even in the insane, crazy times we’re currently living in, most bakeries are still in operation. That means wedding consultations (and, subsequently, wedding cakes) are still possible – a fun fact I learned this month. We put off trying to schedule our consultations until the state started reopening, assuming that consultations were impossible. Turns out, most of these bakeries were smart and found ways to adapt. Since take-out and pick-up have been staples for a lot of restaurants, they followed the same pattern. Pick up your chosen sampling flavors in the morning, and then you could have a phone consultation in the afternoon. Easy as pie…er, cake.

I’ll get to the cake in a minute. What I want to share is the amazing communion with a fellow artist. Now, I can barely get a boxed cake to work, and anything short of smearing frosting is beyond my capability. These bakers took our Pinterest images, pictures of our cake toppers, and our conversations about our wedding theme and ideas and came up with the most amazing designs. It was like watching magic unfold!

The excitement they had for everything, from colors to tiny details, was infectious (the good kind). For that short hour, we forgot what was going on. Forgot we were wearing masks (not everyone wanted phone consultations), forgot we had to ask about their plague policy, forgot everything else that was bothering us. We laughed, we smiled, we imagined our wedding day and what our cake was going to look like. Those awesome people took us out of the mess of the world and gave us a moment of joy.

There aren’t enough thanks for that!

Even the bakeries we elected not to choose (I mean, we only need one cake) – there’s just no way to express the appreciation for the solace granted. An hour’s peace? How do you reward that? It was beyond description. Artists, in every way you can think of to define the word.

And then there was the cake.

The CAKE!

If you aren’t getting married, find someone who is and beg to go to the tasting. Seriously – find a reason to go. I mean, obviously make sure they aren’t going to one star bakeries first, but then beg to go. (Why would you go to a poorly reviewed bakery, though? That’s madness) Now, I’ll admit, some cakes were better than others. But you get to eat cake – in the middle of the day! You’re ENCOURAGED to eat cake! With frosting!

Okay, so you have to share it with your significant other, but…CAKE! It was awesome. We’re having cupcakes along with the cake, so we chose bakeries specializing in cupcakes. That meant getting to split cupcakes between us rather than a piece of cake. So awesome! I mean, the sugar crash wasn’t so great, but I regret nothing. Especially from the bakery we settled on: Twisted Sisters.

Think it can’t get better?

A lot of these small bakeries (we’ve intentionally aimed for as many small businesses as possible) have perks. We’re now enrolled in their loyalty program, which means (once we’ve completely paid for everything) a lot of free cupcakes. How do you beat that?!

So, yeah, things are screwed up in the world right now. But this month I got a few hours to smile. I got a few hours to laugh. I got to eat some amazing cupcakes. And I cannot thank the people involved enough for granting me those hours of mirth, joy, and peace.

Maybe it was their job. Maybe it’s something they do for every couple.

To me, it meant the world.

Shoveling…Something

Shoveling…Something

Writers are often told to sit down and write something – anything – at all times. All writing is just “shoveling sand into the sandbox” so you have something to work with later. It’s a beautiful thought, and, in theory, it works great. It stops you from working too hard at finding the perfect turn of phrase, and it get can you around writer’s block.

In reality? It doesn’t always work.

Sometimes, you look down and realize that what you’re shoveling isn’t sand – and you are never going to build a sandcastle out of that mess. When there are extenuating outside circumstances intruding and overriding your brain, you get blocked in other ways. In that case, there does come a time to set the shovel down.

I mention this because I’m facing such a time myself. Pain has invaded my entire brain, and everything I put down is absolute crap – literally. There’s nothing redeeming about it, and simply throwing words down to get words down is more frustrating than helpful. Writing when you’re frustrated?

Bad idea!

All I’m going to end up doing is erasing everything later – waste of time. So what do you do in these situations? You read. You read your previous work. You read someone else’s work (don’t edit someone else’s work – that isn’t fair to them). You read cereal boxes. Just engage the creative part of your brain in another form.

And let the sandbox have a break – the sand will be there tomorrow.

We’re Awesome

We’re Awesome

"Smile and the world smiles with you"
Image by Alexas_Fotos from Pixabay

Writing is competitive. Whether we’re submitting a pitch for a magazine article, sending in an essay for a competition, or submitting our novel to an agent or publisher, we know that hundreds of thousands of other writers are doing the exact the same thing. When we sit down to draft that cover letter or proposal or scrutinize that final draft, we’re trying to make sure that we’re doing something that will stand out from everyone else and shine all the brighter.

Nothing wrong there!

After all, we want to win that competition, or secure the contract to write that article, or net that agent/get to sign a deal with that publisher! We’re aiming for the dream of being a published author, seeing our name in print. Along with all of the others out there that we encounter in our writing groups and workshops.

What sets us apart, though, from other careers, other vocations, is that even though we’re in competition with each other, we’re also the biggest fans of one another.

Read that again:

Writers care about and cheer each other on!

Madness, right? Yet we do!

We sit down in workshops, and while we pick each other’s works apart, we do so with the intent of making the work BETTER. We aren’t sitting down to belittle each other or tell the other person they’re a hack. We sit down and analyze words on a piece of paper to figure out how to make them shine. We offer suggestions and marvel at the ingenuity and imagination of one another. We lift each other up and offer encouragement. We puzzle out knots and, when necessary, we murder useless characters. We’re frank with each other, and we emerge better for every session.

We post about our accomplishments and cheer for everyone, regardless of how small or large. We “hold hands” when one of us is going through a rough patch. We boost one another during our slow times. We send laughs and jokes when we’re down. We form a net of support and reassurance that is always there – unwavering, constant.

It’s wonderful, and it’s refreshing because I haven’t always experienced this circle of acceptance and caring. In my previous career, it was a false smile carried over a sharp blade that could be buried in your back at any moment. No one actually cared about you – everyone was out for themselves. No one wanted you to succeed, and if they said they wanted you to learn, it was only so it would benefit them. It was gutting, and it ate at the soul.

And I will never do that again!

Writers genuinely care about other writers, and we like to see each other succeed. Sure, we feel a twinge when someone close to us lands that publishing deal and we don’t, but it spurs us on to try harder. The best part is, our writing friends don’t just spontaneously ditch us – they continue to haul us around and demand better from us.

Writers seek the best from each other, and they know what each of us are capable of giving. We all want one another to succeed, and we want the best from each other. I think that’s why we form the support network we do, and why it’s so empowering to belong to this group.

You’ll definitely not find another group that’s better out there.