Saturday, November 19, 2011

What I've Learned From 6 Months of Freelance Work

This is exactly what freelance anxiety feels like.
Or it might be a photo of a baby seriema from a German newspaper.

It doesn't seem possible, but I've been working as a freelance writer for six months now. That's half a year, folks! Back in May, when I quit my day job, it felt like I was jumping into an abyss. What would the future hold? Could I find enough work? Well, so far so good. Which doesn't mean that working without the relative safety of a steady paycheck isn't continually terrifying. But it does mean that I've learned a couple of things. Maybe you're contemplating jumping into the abyss too? If so, here are some things to consider:

1. Fear is the mind-killer.
Yeah, I know. A quote from Dune. How unoriginal. But here's the thing: in this case it's true. There are ups and downs in any job. Some days you feel like a genius for solving some problem, sometimes you feel like an idiot for screwing up something simple. And some mistakes are epic. But no matter what, chances are you're used to working with people, getting daily feedback from your boss and coworkers, and knowing that you couldn't have screwed up too badly if you come to work in the morning and still have a job. When you work from home none of that's true. Oh, you may get feedback from your editor or your cowriter, but nothing like the feedback loop you find at any "normal" job. It's easy to go through a rough patch, become convinced that you're a horrible fraud, and stop working. Don't let that happen. Instead, let the fear pass over you and through you. When it is gone only you (and the work you cranked out) will remain. And if you start with a Dune quote, you damn well better end with one.

2. Remember to invoice.
It's possible that this only applies to me. In fact, it's probable. But when I finish a project I often feel like it's done. Wrong! Getting paid is really, really important if you want to pay the rent. Don't expect your editor to chase you down and remind you either, because chances are the department that signs the checks is completely separate from the one that tells you how wonderful your final draft is. Plus, many places only pay once a month so missing the invoice cutoff might leave you living off of savings for longer than you'd like.

3. Tell the truth, but don't break their hearts.
When you agree to take on a job part of the deal is doing the work by the deadline. That's a given. But sometimes bad stuff happens and you know for a fact that you're going to miss it. Personally, I hate to miss deadlines. Doing so makes me feel like the photo above. It also leads to the feedback loop mentioned in #1. So, what to do? The best policy is honesty. Tell your editor, and give them a date that they can expect the work by. Talk to them about how to mitigate the damage. But don't give them a long, sad excuse. Even if the excuse is true and really, really sad. 

Here's how it should work: you say "I'm sorry, but it doesn't look like I'll be done on Friday. I can have everything to you on Tuesday though, if that's alright". They say: "That's cutting it close, but we can make it work. Although getting it in Monday would be better". You say: "Okay". Or work out what will work. But don't make them feel guilty. You're providing a service and it's up to you to get everything done. Editors are busy people. Don't make them too sad to do their jobs. And don't flood them with extraneous details.

4. Leave the house occasionally
This one's all about balance. Now that my husband and I both work from home it's very tempting to  simply never go out into the world. There are people out there, and traffic, and other things that interfere with getting a lot of work done. If you find that you're counting days instead of hours since you've gone farther than your driveway, you may want to schedule in some free time for yourself.

5. Learn how to say no, or at least how to say "when my schedule opens up"
There are countless ways to fill up your time doing favors for other people. Many of these people are well-meaning, they just don't understand that "work from home" doesn't mean "unemployed and looking for something to do". It's okay to tell them that you can't do a project, meet them for lunch, pick up their dry cleaning, whatever the case may be. Why? Because you're working. Even if you aren't on deadline, even if you are working on a creator owned property, you're still working. If you let other people forget that you run the risk of forgetting it yourself. 

So there you have it, my five top tips, culled from a whopping six months of experience. Now, back to work!


  1. Well said! I've always had a problem with #3. And surprisingly, few editors believe "my dog ate my homework." Although, perhaps, "my baby seriema ate my homework...."

  2. Can I add...Number 4 and 5 - SUPER IMPORTANT! I've been working from home for two years and definitely forget that there's a world out there...that is until my mom calls in the middle of the day and asks me to go let her dogs out because she's going to be late, "you're home, you can do it, right?" Excellent advice!

  3. Haha, Brenda! Upcycled, exactly! And so hard to avoid, sadly.

  4. I will keep your great advice for the future when I'm too old/broken to do science field work/or just want to focus on photography and art.

  5. What? Too old for field work? Never!


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...