Broadening Your Brain Pool

Broadening Your Brain Pool

Shelf of non-fiction books

You’re never going to find a writer that doesn’t read. It’s completely impossible. Writers come from readers. The desire kicks in when we fall in love with the written word, discover our own inner worlds and characters demanding breath, or find out the book we WANT to read doesn’t exist. Enter a writer’s house, and you’ll find a library somewhere. (And usually see books here and there, as well as the obligatory notebooks needed for when ideas strike out of the blue) We’re the literary squirrels of the world. Which is fine – even encouraged. You need to know what’s current in your genre – WHO’S current in the genre – if you have any chance of surviving the publishing industry.

But there’s another category of reading out there.

If you’re not drifting into the various non-fiction sections in the bookstore, you’re doing yourself a disservice. Those books are research GOLDMINES. You can find ANYTHING. And while some are easier to get through than others, they offer foundations in everything. It’s a necessary exercise for any writer. But freelancers? You should have shelves of non-fiction books (that you’ve read – I hope that’s understood) at your work station. Because over half of your work day is what? Research!

No one knows everything about everything. No one knows everything about anything. You have to tease and pull apart details in order to provide a coherent argument. And that means digging into a topic. There’s so much garbage on the internet it isn’t funny. I spend WAY too much of my time gritting my teeth and shaking my head when I dive into research about animal-related topics. Anyone who’s owned or loved a pet declares themselves an expert and runs off with the bit in their mouth. But the information they share is usually skewed – or 100% wrong. And how do I know?

Research.

I spent a year-and-a-half in school to get my veterinary technician degree. Then I worked in the field for over ten years, where I needed to obtain continuing education to maintain my license. I attended conferences and sat through hours and hours of lectures by doctors and other technicians from around the world. I filled pages and pages with copious notes and tucked away USB drives with the complete presentations. I asked questions when I didn’t understand something. I read the proceedings. I worked every day with doctors with DECADES of experience. I asked them questions every day and added those notes to notebooks. I made my observations and had genuine experiences and cases embedded into my brain. And THAT’S the information I carry forward when I write an article now. Oh, sure, I own and adore my Minions, but my expertise? It comes from SO much more than that.

You have to invest your free time into reading non-fiction. Look up the credentials of the authors. Make sure they know what they’re talking about (because plenty of people land a publishing deal and are idiots), and then settle in to add their brilliance to yours. It’s research you’ll carry forward into your writing career. Because when you freelance, you KNOW the general subjects you tackle. They’re things you ENJOY talking about. That means learning about them WON’T end up as a chore.

You don’t have to pick up books on organic chemistry – unless that’s your thing. (It’s not. Like Skyler from Good Will Hunting, I’m going to call your bluff, “Yeah, it’s SO much fun studying organic chemistry. Are you mad? Have you completely lost your mind? Nobody studies it for fun. It’s not a necessity.”) I read books on animal intelligence, animal emotions, real-life cat stories, and, yes, shark books. They give me new perspectives on how to see the natural world. Have I yet quoted from one of them in an article? No. But have I noticed them influencing my writing on certain topics? Yes. Because I gained new information. They weren’t direct research on an article, but they gave me information.

Open brain – insert knowledge.

Research – and a drive to continue learning – is what sets you apart from the thousands (millions?) of other freelance writers out there. Some people prioritize quantity or quality. They slap an article together in a few minutes and pat themselves on the back. Is the information correct? They don’t care. As long as they fulfilled the minimum requirements of their contract, they’re satisfied. But people on the internet believe ANYTHING. And it’s unfair for incorrect information to start circulating.

Take a stand to be BETTER. Do your research. Improve your knowledge. Expand your mind as much as possible. You’ll start to appreciate things in a new light. And those non-fiction books help in the speculative writing, too. Nothing makes you sound sillier than when you try to describe something mundane and get it wrong. (And you can’t dismiss everything as “magic” and get away with it) There are shelves and shelves and SHELVES of non-fiction books out there. And you have plenty of topics that interest you. Look into the writer’s background, and then bring a few home. Your writing will improve. And your audience will appreciate it. Not to mention your clients.

Just maybe not the organic chemistry.

Rabbit Food

Rabbit Food

Typical healthy meal
Photo by Brodie Vissers from Burst

Before you break out the pitchforks and torches, take a deep breath. I am NOT going to advocate any crazy diet out there with this discussion. I’ve already gone on a rant over the stupidity of meal-planning, remember? (I also went to some lengths on the joys found in cake-tasting, so that should clue you in on the fact that I’m not some diet-Nazi) Every diet fad that’s broken from the surface of hell has peaked and crashed under the burden of scientific evidence. Also, not one works. The best these psychotic crazes manage is to dump any excess water you’re lugging around. You WILL lose weight, but it’s not exactly the fat you were looking to get rid of in the first place.

That said, you DO need to take a look at the food you’re putting into your body. Which is difficult for writers (or any freelancer, really). Why? Because when you get wrapped up in whatever you’re working on, you can’t be bothered to put together something from the…however many food groups the food…I think there’s a pie involved now instead of the pyramid they had when I was a kid. Nope, you grab whatever’s quick. Assuming you grab anything at all. I’ve gone an entire day without food or water because I zoned out completely. My writing brain took over and informed my stomach (and the remainder of my organs, I suppose) that they weren’t vital.

Awesome for the novel I was writing; terrible for my health.

So I graduated to the junk food routine. Mindlessly picking up chips or cookies while I typed? That didn’t require a ton of neurons. The package sat beside me on the desk, and any time I paused, I’d snag something. You know what that diet gets you? Fat. It gets you fat. It also makes your brain feel like crud, which interferes with the creative process. Of the two, when you’re a writer, let me assure you the second is the worse of the two. But it’s so much EASIER than:

  1. Pausing your writing brain
  2. Getting up from the computer
  3. Walking into the kitchen
  4. Putting together even a semi-healthy meal
  5. Attempting to eat and type at the same time

Who wants to go through all of that trouble?! No one. But if you want your body – and brain – to stay healthy and productive, it’s the only answer. (Trust me on this one) Which is why I grumble and fuss and complain EVERY day, but I make myself do it.

But it’s NOT a diet!

Okay, so there’s no junk food in the house in the first place. (There hasn’t been for years) So that eliminates the snacking temptation. I eat breakfast before work starts. That means I can sit down and break out utensils. When I hit the computer, I force myself to watch the clock while I work. When mid-morning comes around, I go back myself a protein shake. It’s a compromise between convenience (I can type with one hand and drink with the other) and health. It also doesn’t take very long to finish, even if I can’t chug the thing. And I’m usually at a place where I’m editing by then, anyway, so the typing’s minimal. It’s a perfect compromise.

A few hours down the road, and I’m ready for lunch. Yes, I have to MAKE lunch. If we don’t have leftovers (a rare occurrence), I have a few easy standbys. My personal favorite is rice cake sandwiches and celery with peanut butter (because I am an adult). Again, I can eat one-handed and type with the other. It’s a balanced diet, complete with protein, carbohydrates, fruit, and vegetables. But it doesn’t slow down my writing process. And my afternoon snack? A granola bar. (Yes, I focus on protein, but I also work out 5-6 times a week, so I’m feeding my muscles) Then my wonderful husband makes us a balanced dinner.

No junk, no AVOIDING meals, and my work doesn’t suffer in the process. I still think it’s annoying, and I complain that I have to GET UP and grab food. But my body likes me better. And I’m eating food I LIKE. Which is probably why I’ve maintained this so-called “diet” and haven’t others I’ve attempted in the past. You better believe I have chocolate now and then. On bad days? When everything falls apart and I want to hide? I have dessert. I refuse to deprive myself. Nothing gets cut from my world. Because as soon as you execute something, you make yourself feel miserable.

There’s a difference between dieting and eating healthy.

And that’s where all of those diet fads miss the message. They pick something out there in the world and condemn it to the depths of hell. And it’s usually something your body NEEDS! You NEED carbohydrates! They fuel your body. Protein rebuilds the muscle you break down every day. Do you need a ton of sugar? No. But is it going to kill you to have a reasonable amount? NO! It’s called a BALANCED diet for a reason. Fruits contain nutrients and vitamins your body needs – and they bring sugar with them. Maybe you need to take it easy if you’re diabetic, but you shouldn’t eliminate them from your life for good!

Diets are stupid. But eating HEALTHY isn’t. And you have to eat healthy when you’re a writer. You have to take the time to pause your brain, get up, and get the food. It’s HARD! You never want to do it. There are a MILLION reasons to avoid those meals (you can eat when you finish – in three months). But your body will HATE you. It devises revenge – trust me on this one. But if you put the proper fuel in the tank, it works happily, and your work improves as a result. It’s kind of a win-win situation.

Defending the Line

Defending the Line

You have to defend your boundaries
Photo by Burst from Pexels

What’s one of the best things regarding freelance writing (or any freelance job)? Getting to set and control your hours, of course. You have complete freedom over when you want to work. Which means you have ZERO obligation to keep a standard 9:00-5:00 schedule if it doesn’t work for you. Want to take an extended lunch hour? No problem. Feel like burning the midnight oil when no one else is up and about (and likely to pester you)? That’s your decision. Only want to work during the week and leave your weekends open for adventures? You have the right to make that choice.

YOU are in control of yourself.

As long as you complete the work and deliver it to your client on time, they don’t care if you “clock in” at 2:00 PM or 2:00 AM. It’s a huge perk. You aren’t squished into the box of regular work hours, staring at a clock and wondering why that minute hand never moves. And you don’t have to get on your knees to beg for time off when doctor appointments or other events pop up out of the blue. You simply schedule them to suit your needs and work around them. It’s one of the best situations out there. Honestly, freelance writing took a GIANT load of stress off my shoulders in that regard.

Until I realized people are time thieves.

The words, “I’m a freelance writer, so my schedule’s flexible,” are absolute poison. Suddenly, I opened a gateway for people to decide they have the right to invade my world with demands. That “flexibility” translates into excessive wait times, multiple appointments over several days (because one makes no sense), and frequent interruptions. After all, why should they worry about taking time out of my life? I can simply work later, right? I gave these idiots permission to intrude on a schedule I worked so hard to carve out.

You HAVE to set boundaries with the outside world. Yes, you have that flexibility – when it’s needed! Otherwise, people need to learn that you’re working! Maybe you don’t punch into a clock every day, with a boss hovering over your shoulder, but you still have assignments and tasks to accomplish. You ARE WORKING! It looks different, but it’s no less important than what they’re doing. How would they feel if you treated them the same way? (Ask them sometime) Stand up for yourself and defend that boundary. The freelance work you do is IMPORTANT, and if you can’t work? Well, you’re not going to pay those doctor bills (or whatever the appointment is for).

Admitting you have flexibility is a dangerous thing. You’re trying to be accommodating. A lot of people struggle with their schedules because they’re trapped in those jobs with bosses that frown at them when they ask for five minutes to breathe. They need specific times. You don’t. So you’re trying to help out the rest of the world. But you don’t want to get taken advantage of, either. It’s a careful balance of being helpful while still setting up walls to defend YOUR time.

And, honestly, I’m still working on the balance.

I cut people off when they start tirades about how great it is to not have a schedule. I point out that EVERYONE tries to steal my schedule. I chop phone conversations short. And if I’m in the middle of an article and feeling overwhelmed? Those calls go to voicemail. I’ll deal with them later – as I would with a “normal” job. Maybe it shocks the doctor, but it reaffirms the boundary I’ve set. My work needs to come first. You need to figure out how to do the same thing. And if you work in the middle of the night, you need to build those walls to defend your sleeping time.

Our work looks different to the rest of the world. That doesn’t make it NOT work.

Double Vision

Double Vision

Two computer screen set-up

When you like habit and routine, it gets difficult to admit you MIGHT need some change. Add in that you already went through a whirlwind of change in the past nine months, and your mind wants to put on the brakes. After all, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” But when you’re doing twice as much work to accomplish a task, that’s a kind of broken logic. It disrupts your productivity, stresses you, and prompts unnecessary errors.

Time to bite the bullet.

Utilizing double computer screens is a freelance writer’s (actually, ANY writer’s) best friend. You half your work load, ease that knot in your shoulder (literally), and find yourself typing away MUCH happier. Why? Because you can see your notes and research material on one screen while you work at the other! It’s pure genius! And unbelievably simple. Yet I fought the temptation for nine freaking months. (Maybe you’re denying yourself this handy writing tool even now)

I’ve watched people use double screens in other fields before, and I shook my head. What was the point? You can always set up two windows on a single screen. And if you don’t want to squint, you can upgrade to a larger monitor without too much trouble. Why turn yourself into a human ping pong? It seemed a ridiculous notion – not to mention a complete waste of time and money. I rolled my eyes at my husband with his double screen set-up. It seemed absurd (and his computer desk comes out smaller than mine!).

Then my freelance work started to pile up.

Even when I split the screen with windows, I struggled. I could only keep one active at a time. (Maybe there’s a work-around for that, but I’m not the most tech-savvy person in the world) So I found myself constantly flipping between one and the other. Then I needed to pull up different tabs here and there. Half the time, the computer got confused on where to put the new tab, and I’d panic over lost work. (It wasn’t lost, thankfully, but when you think hours of work just vanished, you have a mini stroke) I doubled my work time flipping from program to program. And the tension up my dominant arm? Yeah, talk about a pain in the literal neck!

It took some convincing – I won’t lie. I needed a reminder that, as a freelancer, a new computer monitor falls under a business expense (one of the pros of freelancing). And I needed a reminder that better productivity falls into my wheelhouse. But I finally caved in. The double monitor settled in on my work station, and I divided up the icons on my desktop. Everything work-related went on one side, and the rest stayed on the primary monitor. I stumbled a bit, initially, figuring out how to move things from one screen to another (and learning where that critical “dividing line” exists for the mouse), but I’m a quick study. And, to be honest, this wasn’t the most complicated thing in the world.

Holy increased productivity-olee!

Having one screen where I could keep my notes while I worked made everything SO simple! I could write on the first screen and glance at the second. No more flipping around in the windows. No more fighting with tabs and worrying about where my current work disappeared to. And fewer mistakes, too. Everything moves more fluidly. I use the mouse less, so my arm, shoulder, and neck ache a thousand times less (always a bonus), and the battery drains at a lower rate. I kick myself for not moving to a double screen set-up sooner!

I don’t have monster-sized monitors, either. They’re both 21-inch screens. But I’m not a gamer or programmer. I’m a writer. I don’t need a mammoth computer screen – for either purpose. I need a large enough space to read my research material and whatever I’m writing. And while the second monitor currently lacks the polished stand of the first (what can I say, Ikea doesn’t make them anymore), some creative searching through the house yielded enough books to keep the pair level.

Double screens have cut down the time I spend on my writing projects. They’re a HUGE life-saver. I pull up my notes, and I’m ready to go. The fumbling and frustration are gone. If you’re not working with two monitors already, consider the upgrade. You won’t regret it. You’ll take the strain off your body (seriously, you’re eyes alone will thank you), the stress off your brain, AND the workload off your peripherals. Well, maybe not the keyboard – that still ends up working about the same.

It’s definitely a change, but it’s worth it. And if I can grudgingly admit that this big change was a good thing, you KNOW it’s true.

Tag It

Tag It

Screen capture of Evernote tag list

Most people look over my workspace (virtual or physical) and label me psychotic. Because if you can think of it, I have it. Color-coding, tracking sheets, Post-It notes, scratch paper, files with (color-coded) tabs… I even have one notebook for writing down the weirdness with my health and one for the Minions (complete with cute stickers on the outside so you know which belongs to who). Organization is my life. I can FEEL when a book or movie is out of order on the shelf (and I’ll go crazy until I remedy the situation). So it stands to reason that I’d never overlook a way to sort through my research.

Or so one would think.

Subconsciously, I think I allowed some self-sabotage to get to me. After all, following a dream you’ve held your entire life is terrifying. You expect to crash and burn and go crawling back to corporate, soul-sucking America. (Incidentally, if you’re happy in corporate America, good for you. I never was) So when I set up my first few “notes” in Evernote, I didn’t bother with the single-most critical feature of the program: the humble Tag.

Allow me to briefly diverge here and confess that I’m old enough NOT to live in a world of hashtags. To me, the “#” is still a pound sign. You use it to play tic-tac-toe, not to devolve into weird spirals on Instagram or Facebook. When I had my first blog out of college, tags made their introduction as a part of blog culture (before any of us knew what the hell SEO meant). But that blog died ages ago, and I lost practice. I only picked it back up with my writing.

Fast forward to last month when I found myself scrolling back through PAGES of notes, trying to find the name of one stupid fish. I knew I’d researched it at some point, and I knew the title of the Note, but where the Note lay in the “stack?” That was a mystery. Then came the realization that I was coming across the same dog breeds over and over – with no desire to cover the same territory. But THOSE Notes lay buried even DEEPER. And while flipping through physical notecards would take longer than scrolling through a screen, Evernote wasn’t making my job easier.

Because I failed.

If I took a few extra moments after finishing each assignment to type in a few tags, I could simply pull up the entire list and then view the Notes I needed. The option sits at the bottom, waiting happily for input each time a Note’s created. You can throw as many tags on as you want, with no character limits. A level of organization deeper than anything I’ve yet encountered, and I MISSED it!

So guess what I got to do – on my days off, no less. That’s right: go back and assign tags to every single Note. Over TWO HUNDRED Notes! We’re talking an entire weekend, stuck on the couch with my laptop, working through research – some of which I haven’t see in MONTHS. But I finally caught up on everything. (And, honestly, once I had a chunk of the tags set, I got to select them without a need to type them in) The work’s already paid off, too. Which is why I have a little Post-It reminder scribbled down to tag NEW research, preventing the need to repeat this insanity.

Organization exists to save you time and effort. Of course, if you ignore the options, you create MORE work for yourself. And when you’re a freelancer, there’s a GOOD chance you may find some themes cropping up time and again. Rather than redoing work you DON’T need to, tags can save you from going up the wall. It’s a huge time-saver. And when you find yourself filling up your calendar (something you’re probably going to strive for), every moment counts.

Or you can wait until you’re drowning in Notes and then decide you want that last little helper. It’s entirely up to you. Personally, I wish I’d thought ahead – like I usually do. (Self-sabotage is a tricky slope!)

Matter Over Mind

Matter Over Mind

Trust your gut instincts
Image by athree23 from Pixabay

“If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” Sound familiar? People like to throw that bucket of ice water around whenever you get your hopes up over something. And your response is often defensive. They don’t understand or appreciate how amazing the chance you’ve stumbled upon may be. They’re jealous of your opportunities. They’ll see when you’re looking down on them from the pillar of success.

Except the saying’s dead right.

Whether we’re talking about speculative fiction or a freelancing job, you need to keep an important tool in your arsenal to prevent yourself from falling for those obvious pitfalls. And it’s one everyone has (but we often forget to dust off and take down from the shelf): gut instinct. The lurch inside that tells you something feels off – which your brain and heart cheerfully overwhelm with rationalization and hope.

Now, I’m not saying you have to abandon all hope, but that twist in your stomach deserves more credit than we tend to give it. Most of the time, it grabs our attention for a reason. It’s a buried instinct that tells us something feels off and needs a more critical eye. It we’re just willing to stop, set the heart aside for half a second, and employ THOUGHT (not rationalization), we might unravel the truth. Your gut can save you A LOT of grief down the road, but you have to USE it.

BEFORE you make the mistake.

Hope springs eternal, though, and the bugger gets in the way of that gut instinct.

There’s a market out there you’re haunting. It’s not currently accepting submissions, and the notice says they’re working on a Kickstarter – dated five years ago. Your gut assures you that market is dead and gone, but your heart tells you to keep checking, just in case.

Just in case what? Come on. If things were still functional, there’d be an update. Publications DO go under. Move on and find another.

You find another market, but even their submission guidelines tell you they have no response time. You’ll never know when/if they’ll get around to your story. Your heart wants you to try, on the off chance your work might find a home. Your instinct screams it’s a waste.

Again, there are so many markets out there WITH response times and ways to follow-up on submissions. Do you want to roll the dice with someone that isn’t willing to do that for a writer?

You take a contract with someone who tells you they won’t pay you for 45 days. You’re so excited you have a freelancing job that you rationalize the finances. After all, you’ll get paid…eventually. Your gut instinct tells you this is suspicious.

Even the largest magazines pay ON publication. If they have your work and it’s displayed, you have the right to receive payment. Sitting around for over a month, waiting for a check is nonsense.

LISTEN TO YOUR GUT!

Because, honestly, that twist is right 99% of the time. It’s trying to protect you. Sure, evolution developed the gut instinct to preserve our health, but it works in your writing career, too. Maybe it doesn’t speak the way your heart and brain do, but you know the sensation. When that jerk behind the navel happens, take your hands off the keyboard and ask yourself, “What feels off?” It’s a tool that gets more accurate the more frequently you use it, believe it or not. It starts to save you from embarrassing gaffes. And you find yourself succeeding more and more.

That gut instinct? It works both ways. You get a funny swoop when something feels right. You’ll stumble on a writing contest that speaks to one of your stories perfectly. A new market will open up that suits your work perfectly. Or you’ll land a new contract with the perfect client. And you’ll feel a butterfly that lines up with your heart and mind.

Don’t discount what you’re body tries to tell you. It wants the best for you. I mean, it IS attached to you.

2020 in Review

2020 in Review

2020 switching to 2021
Image by sarajulhaq786 from Pixabay

Not many people have warm fuzzy emotions related to 2020. Odds are, you’re one of the majority counting down the seconds until we punt this year out the door. (And cringing in anticipating of what 2021 will decide to bring) I won’t blame you; we got hit with a whopper of a year this cycle around the sun. And it’s easy to focus on the negative – particularly for pessimists (such as myself). That said, pockets of light DID make their appearance this year. After all, I got married this year.

That wasn’t the only positive, though. This was the year I stepped into my forever dream of writing. And while I braced myself for failure when I walked through that door, I succeeded beyond my expectations. That isn’t to say I’m not one of the people shoving 2020 out the door (with a shotgun, if necessary), but I can’t hate it 100% – more in the realm of 95%.

Which is why I’ve decided to do a neat little year-in-review round-up of my writing. Not to brag, but to demonstrate how far I came from the start of this little freelance writing career. Also, it gives me a starting point going into 2021. (If you can’t continue to do better, what’s the point?) Honestly, it shocked me when I started looking at the numbers:

Freelance

  • Clients: 17
  • Articles Written: 194
    • Byline: 130
    • Ghostwritten: 60
  • Edited: 3

Reading

  • Books Read: 57
    • At least – I didn’t start tracking and writing reviews on Goodreads until the spring, so there’s a good chance I mis-remembered my timeline from the beginning of the year

Speculative Fiction

  • Short Stories Written: 8
  • Submissions: 34
  • Rejections: 27
    • Rejections with Personal Letters: 6
  • Publications: 0

I won’t deny 2020 WASN’T the year I expected. From the beginning, it threw me for a loop. And I experienced plenty of downturns and needed to make adjustments I didn’t anticipate. I could sit in the corner and refuse to acknowledge it’s presence in the calendar. Or I could look at everything I accomplished DESPITE what was going on.

And while I’m the furthest thing from an optimist, I’m going to stick to the latter. I amazed myself this year. And I have every intention of doing better in 2021 – no matter what it decides to throw in my direction.

Ghosting (for Writers)

Ghosting (for Writers)

Ghost hand prints
Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

What do writers want more than anything else in the world? To see our work published. To run around and wave a book or magazine and point to our name on the cover or below an article. (It’s harder to wave the internet around, but when you work in online formats, you try to do the same) That’s the dream – to have the world think your writing is worthy.

Why else would we work day and night at our craft?

Which is why it can sound bizarre, crazy, or even counter-intuitive for a writer to sit here and tell you, you may have to work as a ghostwriter a time or two in your career before that magical byline happens.

What’s a Ghostwriter?

A ghostwriter, to be blunt, is a writer who does the work and receives none of the credit. Your writing goes up on another site, often under the guise of another person entirely. Occasionally, it even gets attached to another author’s name (which SUCKS!). You have no rights to the work, and (most of the time) you can’t include the work in the your portfolio – no matter how fantastic the piece might have been.

Some clients specifically label a job as “ghostwriting,” while others skip the step, and you find out down the line as your name disappears from the posts. (Reading contracts closely is always a good clue)

Sounds awful, right?

Why Ghostwrite

So why in the world would an intelligent, aspiring writer EVER agree to do such a thing? Because it’s WORK! Even if your name isn’t attached to it, your voice, style, and quality gets out there for people to read. You may need to work within a specific framework, but your voice always shows through. No one else writes the way you do – no matter what. The more you write, the more people read, the more they put 2 and 2 together.

Also, as you continue to do a good job and build a solid reputation, the more clients start to contact you. A healthy job satisfaction with positive reviews attracts new clients. They aren’t going to worry whether you have your name plastered all over; they want to know you’re reliable and competent. THAT matters more and more, especially as plenty of “freelance writers” out there feel quantity matters more than quality. If you stand out for solid, dependable work, you attract MORE work.

And some clients ARE willing to let you use that ghostwriting in your portfolio. They may ask for specific reference links, but if you’re allowed to keep it and hand it to future clients? That’s worth it, isn’t it? I’ve had a couple of clients who allowed me to do so, and it built up my portfolio nicely, especially in the beginning.

Staying Humble

Do I ENJOY writing without credit? Of course not. Who wants to do something and not get the credit for the hours they spent researching, writing, reviewing, and editing? However, it’s reliable work. Some of my highest bonuses have come from ghostwriting work. And it’s WORK. I’m not foolish enough to call myself a bonafide success and demand that I get a byline every time I turn around. (That’s how you STOP getting work)

Whether my name appears under the title or not, everything I work on SOUNDS like my writing. I have a distinct style and way of writing, and it comes across no matter the topic. As every assignment goes out and spreads through the internet, people start to get a feel for my voice. They recognize MY writing – even without my byline. That’s how I view ghostwriting.

It keeps me grounded. It reminds me to stay smart and breathe when a new contract comes up devoid of credit. And it makes that byline work all the sweeter.

If I never did any ghostwriting, I wouldn’t be the freelancer I am today – because I’d likely still be scrambling for work. Everyone starts somewhere. So before turning into a writing snob, stop and think through both sides.

Writing is writing. No one else will sound like you – and THAT’S what matters the most.

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.

Restraining the Happy Dance

Restraining the Happy Dance

For those that may not know, I’ve been working as a freelance writer (officially) since April 2020. That translates to around only five months. In that time, I’ve had to change my yearly budgetary goal twice. Something I never anticipated happening. (Not that I’m complaining or anything)

Earlier this month, I receieved Top Rated status on the Upwork job platform. Essentially, it reflects the fact that I have 100% job satisfaction from my clients – something I pride myself on and tout in my proposals. It’s also something I work extremely hard at. (My perfectionist streak comes in handy)

None of that holds a candle to getting a video call from a client and getting told they’re bumping my hourly rate. OR hearing the praise that my work is so well structured and written, it beats some of the full-time writers they’ve worked with over the past FIVE YEARS. (Honestly, that was the bigger compliment for me as I sometimes still wonder if I’m any good)

Now, if you want to know how I feel about something, you can read it on my face. I have no idea how I managed to keep my composure to finish the call before jumping up and dancing around the office. They didn’t retract the offer or statements, though, so I think I did okay. (And then immediately regreted the fact I was wearing a t-shirt and hoodie – that “wear anything” idea can bite you in the ass sometimes)

So, yeah, I’m beginning to believe this crazy ride was worth getting in line. And today feels really damn good.