Wednesday, December 12, 2012

State of the Cat: The December Edition

You want to know what's pretty weird? Actually feeling like I have time to blog. That's what's weird. It's not that I literally don't usually have time to sit down and type out a post now and then, because I do. It's more that it's hard for me to feel like my time and writing energy is really, truly my own... even on the weekends or the evenings when I'm off.

Clients and writing assignments usually take a lot out of me during the week. In fact, I'm sometimes so mentally and physically drained by the time Saturday and Sunday roll around that I feel like I need to spend both days lying around like a slug so that I'll feel rested again by Monday. That really shouldn't be, considering the fact that I work for myself out of my own home in a field that isn't physically demanding at all.  I should feel energized enough on the weekends to at least do some light walking if I want to or -- at the very least -- some reading or blogging. Right now I don't and really... if you actually feel too tired and drained to pick up a book and concentrate on the plot, you're in bad shape.

I'm thinking one of the things I really need to work on most in 2013 is making a concentrated effort to shift my focus from making as much money as possible to actually taking care of myself professionally and personally. For that reason, I'm thinking I'm going to make the rest of December sort of a light month work-wise. I just cut ties with a very difficult client that had been demanding a lot of my time for a while now. They were just getting ridiculous as far as how disrespectful they were in their communications and expectations.

After giving things some thought, I see no real reason to overstuff my schedule again right away when I need the down time a lot more. I have other clients that have been hearing a lot of "sorry I can't right now" from me lately because of the other client, so I will probably be working on some things they wanted me to do for them. That's about it though -- at least until after New Year's. By then, I'll probably feel ready to be busier again.


In other not-so-exciting news, I can't believe that we're halfway to Christmas already. November pretty much came and went without my so much as thinking about NaNoWriMo. Seriously, this year I didn't even bother to sign up or try to tell myself I'd have time to do that shit. I remember other people and other writers posting about it, but what I don't remember is actually giving any kind of a crap about it myself. Normally I at least feel a little regretful that I'm not making the time, even to visit the forums and chat with other writers.

I guess this means I've really, truly outgrown the event at this point. There are lots of reasons why, but I think the most glaring is that it's no longer even kind of a challenge for me. Their daily word count target is... like... 1600 words or something. I type that much in my sleep these days just for clients. That doesn't even count any other personal writing or blogging I might decide to do. In fact, I'd say I average roughly 6000-8000 words on a typical day of writing. Sometimes much more. Winning NaNoWriMo is no longer much of an achievement for me, so I don't really see the point in bothering anymore.

What I would consider an achievement is actually getting back in the habit of making writing truly fun for myself again. At this point, it's totally a job or about at least the potential to make money and I'm definitely almost always in work mode when I sit down to write anything at all, whether it's for a client or not. Being the free spirit that I am, it's never good when something feels like a job or like nothing but a money-making endeavor. 

I've tried so many things in the past to get back in touch with that optimistic girl who couldn't wait to get home at the end of the day to write... and I can't find her. I'm not ready to give up just yet though. That feeling of being completely on fire about writing was just too good not to try to recapture it any way I can.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Why I Think Most Productivity Advice for Creative Freelancers Is Complete Bullshit

If you're someone who only knows me through my professional writing, then you'd seriously never guess at what kind of person I really am underneath. You also would be unlikely to guess in a million years what my real writing habits and personal philosophies actually happen to be.

I get paid to write a lot of resource content that gives people advice on how to be productive at work, especially if they work for themselves or write professionally at home. I always say the same things time and time again because they're what "society" expects and wants to hear. However, I personally think it's all bullshit that doesn't really work... at least not if you're a creative, free-spirited sort like myself who only even writes the things that you do because you have to make a living.

That said, I think it's time I wrote an article on how to be productive that actually works for artistic types and pokes holes in all the standard advice you constantly hear, so if you're someone who actually considers themselves to be a business writer, a copywriter, or a technical writer at heart instead of a poet, a storyteller, or an artist who's just trying to keep the bills paid? Go read someone else's article. This one isn't for you and you won't understand a damn word I have to say.


"Work a standard 9 to 5 schedule even if you work for yourself at home."

This is one of the stupidest pieces of advice I've ever heard spewed in the direction of the creative freelancer. Unless you happen to be someone for whom a standard 9 to 5 business schedule actually works, then don't buy into the incredible load of hooey that all productive people get up early and start working first thing in the morning. Instead, ask yourself when you actually feel the most alert and produce your best work. If you're like most creative types (myself included), that's likely to be at night -- possibly very late at night. That's when you should be working -- when you're naturally at your most productive.

I'm a night owl, so that 9 to 5 bull crap everyone else considers ideal doesn't fly with me. I like to sleep in the mornings and typically am up writing and/or working in the afternoons, evenings, and -- sometimes -- late nights if my schedule is very full. My clients typically hate this because they would prefer to receive their deliveries in their inbox at the end of their business day, not mine. They want me up at 6 or 7 AM, ready and willing to give them instant responses to their e-mails, not out of touch altogether. 

You know what though? That's too effing bad. I'm the boss, not them. That means that I make the rules and other people can like them or lump them. I'm willing to try to accommodate people's needs, but only within reason and only as my personal schedule allows. Basically, if people want to work with me, they have to be willing to accept my oddball schedule as something that comes with the package.

"Put on business attire for work each day and work only at a desk the same as you would at a traditional job."

What type of anal retentive douche bag actually does this? More importantly, who on earth would actually want to associate with such a person? Seriously, I freelance instead of working a day job expressly to get away from nonsense like that. I hated having to get all dressed up every day just to go to work and I know I'm far from the only person on this planet that feels that way. I am at my best when I'm actually comfortable, especially when it comes to clothing. I never, ever dress up to sit around and type on my computer in my house by myself, I never will, and I'm proud of that.

Instead, I wear whatever I please. Some days that's an actual outfit with minimal make-up or something, but far more often it's just leggings, a big t-shirt, and my natural face -- a combination that's comfortable, as opposed to restricting. Occasionally, I don't even bother to put on pants to start (or even finish) my work day. I'm certainly not wearing any today and you know what? I actually feel more open to the idea of being productive and putting in a proper work day because of it, not less.

The same goes for the environment in which you work. I have a desk. Sometimes I set my laptop and work accessories up on the desk and work there... but often, I'm happier stretched out on my bed or sitting on the couch all casual like. Occasionally, I also like the distraction of some television on in the background or some of my favorite music. I'm really not what you would call a natural work horse, so the more I can make work time fun, comfortable, or casual, the better my attitude is about actually buckling down and getting things done.

"Schedule your lunch, schedule your breaks, and schedule every last minute of your work day."

Yeah, a big "no thanks" to that as well! As was the case with the completely unnecessary business attire and "proper" work area, I left my day job behind so I wouldn't have to work according to someone else's schedule anymore. I guess I just don't understand doing things without actual good reasons. In a real office environment, there are reasons why lunch hours and breaks are set up according to a strict schedule. You can't have everyone out of the office at one time or the place will fall apart.

However, when you work at home and are a complete one-man show, there's absolutely no need to abide by such stupid rules. Instead, try actually taking advantage of the fact that you work for yourself and making your own. I take my lunch when I'm at a good stopping point with my assignments for the day and when I'm actually hungry -- you know, when it makes sense to take lunch. I take breaks when I need them... period. Eating via a schedule instead of listening to your body and eating when you're actually hungry is a good way to wind up ginormously fat anyway, but I'm not even going to go off on that tangent right now. (Maybe in my food blog when I get around to updating that next.)

Footnotes on Scheduling

The only exception I would say I find it positive to make with scheduling is in regards to the days and times clients are allowed to contact you expecting you to work. I would actually prefer to just take days off as needed or wanted -- and I used to do that -- but in practice, it didn't work at all and I'll tell you why. After a while, I just got too busy and had too many clients on my roster. Without any boundaries or business hours they were expected to adhere to, not a single one of them seemed to see any reason why I shouldn't be at their beck and call literally 24 hours a day and 7 days a week.

That's actually when and why I started taking every weekend off. I also sorta-kinda have business hours now, at least in regards to when clients can contact me and actually expect an answer -- roughly 1:00 in the afternoon to about 9:00 at night. I might well be online working outside of those hours, but that's going to be completely at my discretion and it certainly won't be something I make known to other people.

Clients in particular are not allowed to contact me, drop assignments on my plate expecting them to be done by morning, or anything else. I tried being accommodating and answering clients as soon as I got their e-mails -- even if it was late at night, on the weekends, or over a holiday. That quickly led to this huge sense of entitlement on the part of those same clients... and when I say "huge", I'm not exaggerating by any means.

Before I knew it, I had people thinking it was OK to contact me at 10 or 11 on a Friday night with a 6000-word order they just didn't bother to ask me about sooner, totally expecting me to be on board with working on it through the night so that they could have it by morning. I'd also frequently wake up to e-mails and offline instant messages from clients who apparently tried to get a hold of me at 4 in the fucking morning and were actually pissed off that they didn't get an immediate response back. These same people who felt it should be all right to contact me that late at night also regularly expressed irritation that my being up at odd hours wasn't in addition to my also being awake and available at 7 or 8 AM when they were starting their days.

Yes, you are reading that correctly. My clients -- all of my clients -- literally reached a level of entitlement where they expected me to never need a day off, never have other plans, and never even need to sleep. I basically existed in their minds expressly to take care of their content and any failure on my part to drop everything else on my schedule for them (including family plans on major holidays like Christmas) was met with complete open annoyance.

If you don't want the same thing to happen to you eventually, I suggest you set strict boundaries with your schedule and demand that your clients respect them from the get-go. You'll be glad you did when you get to a place where you're busy enough that you're actually unable to take on every client or assignment that lands in your lap.

In Conclusion

At the end of the day, you went into business for yourself instead of sticking with your shitty office job for a reason and I doubt it was the peanut-pay most of us creative freelancers wind up living on. I'm betting that you're at least a little bit like me and wanted more freedom to make your own rules as far as how and when you work. Take advantage of that and set rules that actually work for you. It makes a huge difference when it comes to your quality of life, especially when it comes to avoiding burnout and other such situations.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Why (and When) You Should Consider Writing Under a Pseudonym

Back in the days when I was still just getting my feet wet as a professional writer, the concept of using a pseudonym used to baffle me. Now that I have as much experience under my belt as I do, I feel differently... but I also realize that I had my reasons for feeling the way I did at the time.

I consider myself to be a really honest, straight-forward person who fully owns all of her opinions and every grim detail of her existence (even when it doesn't make me look very good). Social networking accounts of mine have always been kept under the actual name I use in life, included real photographs of me, and so forth. If I didn't want to fully own something I thought or wanted to say, I didn't say it at all and I have always thought that other people had no business being any different if they actually wanted my respect.

For a long time, I felt that this mindset should extend to every word of writing I ever produced as well, whether it was for myself or for a third party. I thought that using a name that had no attachment to who you really are meant you had something to hide (which is usually never good). Then I actually started working as a writer and figured out that things aren't either black or white when it comes to this issue. Yeah, there are some crappy, dishonest reasons for not attaching your full identity to writing you produce, but there are actually some really smart, professional ones as well.

You want more control over what's published under your own name.

Prolific writers who write many different types of content will definitely want to think about this sooner or later. I certainly wish I had. I enjoy being known as a writer. However, I don't want to look completely scattered as far as what comes up under my own name when you Google me. I don't want people getting a false impression of who I really am either.

I want people looking for writing produced by Shannon Hilson to be able to find my creative writing, my poetry, my personal blogs, and anything out there written in my own voice that is indicative of my own opinions -- like the movie reviews I write for or editorials I've contributed to publications and other people's blogs. Basically anything that I feel promotes the real me, my real opinions, and my real pursuits is something I'd strongly prefer to attach my name to. What I don't want posted under my name is content written to order for clients -- particularly content that is expressive of their views and not my own. Pay attention here, kids, because I had to find this out the hard way. Don't let this happen to you.

Some douche I used to ghostwrite for decided that it would be a good idea to actually post the content I was writing for him in my name. He did it without my permission or say-so for reasons I still don't quite understand, but my guess is he liked the idea of making it look like a real and semi-reputable person made of flesh and blood was talking about his products and enthusiastically recommending them to her readers. I wasn't and I'm still not. In fact, because of what this person did, I now make it a point to actively discourage others from buying *cough* Mezzi briefcases *cough cough* or any of their related products. When they ask me why, I tell them about the theft and misuse of my identity on the part of their marketing director.

If I had it to do over again, I would probably do most (if not all) of my professional writing -- especially my ghostwriting -- under a pseudonym created specifically for the purpose. If I had, I wouldn't have to worry about people thinking I'm a walking, talking endorsement for Mezzi briefcases until the end of time. It's harder to wipe out unwanted attachments to your name than you think. You can press charges or come after people for sure... but there's nothing you can do to stop someone else from posting whatever they want and attaching it to your name in the first place. Their not actually knowing what your name is can be a huge asset, which brings me to my next point.

You want to protect your privacy.

If you've been reading this blog long, you've already heard me bitch ad nauseum all about how some clients have boundary issues. OK, a lot of clients have boundary issues, so you mark my words. If you are good enough at what you do to inspire curiosity about who you are or if you have the misfortune of seeming like an interesting person in any capacity whatsoever, your clients will take the liberty of Googling your name and hungrily absorbing any and all information to be found about you sooner or later. This includes all of your photos, your personal writing, the drunken tweets you like to post on Friday nights, and any information about your loved ones that's attached to you.

If you don't care about maintaining a strict separation between your professional writing life and your personal one -- or if you're just a huge attention whore who doesn't believe there's such a thing as too much exposure -- then don't worry about it. (I'll just sit right here and be quietly embarrassed for you when it all blows up in your face.) However, if you're like me -- grossly uncomfortable with the idea of some client creeping your Facebook or reading every last entry you have posted in your personal blog, a pseudonym can really help you out if you use it consistently. People can't creep what they can't find and most people aren't really willing to look very hard in the first place.

This doesn't just go for clients either. Maybe you want to start a personal journal somewhere without the hassle of everyone you already know asking to read it. Maybe you want to write My Little Pony fan fiction without worrying that it's going to get your ass kicked the next time you're around your macho buddies. Hello... pseudonym! Don't feel bad about using one either. It's OK that you don't want them to know... because it's none of their business. It's your life and your writing career. Manage it the way you want.

Some parts of your writing career just don't gel well with others.

Some writers want to keep different parts of their identity as a writer completely separate from other parts because they just don't go that well together. Maybe you write for competing publications (or you want to at least consider it). Maybe you're an established romance writer but you've always wanted to try your hand at writing a beekeeping blog because you're just that into bees. Perhaps you've always wanted to start a food blog, but you don't want your horror fiction writers to be confused as to what you're really all about.

Sometimes you'll find that some of the writing you want to do doesn't gel very well with preconceived notions people tend to have as to who you are as well. I'm still not a huge advocate for outright lying about such things... but I will admit that sometimes it's easier for me to be taken seriously as a technical writer or a business writer if people have no idea that I'm a youthful-looking, reasonably attractive, female writer. I'll sometimes use a unisex pseudonym and "forget" to attach a picture to something I'm writing when I'd just rather people form their assumptions about me based on my writer's voice and expertise, as opposed to my face or the particular sex organs I was born with.

"When should I consider adopting a pseudonym?"

The answer to this question differs drastically from writer to writer. However, I think it's safe to say that you should at least be considering using pseudonyms if you're at all varied as a writer (or even as a person). Think about what you do and don't want attached to your real name sooner rather than later and plan your presence as a writer accordingly from the beginning so you can avoid hassles later.

Maybe you're like me -- someone who considers themselves to be a fiction writer at heart... or a blogger -- but you want to try your hand at copywriting or technical writing to make a little extra money on the side, even though you don't consider that to be what you're actually about. Maybe you're a doctor, a teacher, or a police officer by day and want to start a personal blog without it interfering with the name you've already made for yourself or making you look like a serious multiple personality case. When you start having concerns like that for any reason? That's when to think about a pseudonym.

Pseudonyms are a great way to explore every nook and cranny of the writing world to exactly the extent you want without worrying about how it's going to affect the way your existing circles already see you, whether that's as a writer or otherwise. There's a reason why even famous folks like Anne Rice or Stephen King use them and really... that's it -- freedom to be exactly the writer you want to be and no less. Don't put limits on yourself as a writer. Just put limits on what's attached to your name.

Monday, August 13, 2012

How to Choose Freelance Writing Jobs and Manage Your Clients

I get a lot of e-mail in my inbox from friends and acquaintances who know I write for a living. Sometimes they just want to shoot the breeze about it, but mostly they're looking for advice on how to get into freelance writing for themselves and make wise choices in regards to the jobs and clients they take on.

Now... generally speaking, my best piece of advice -- especially to creative writers, poets, and bloggers who want to do the sort of writing they already do for a living someday -- is not to get started in content writing or copywriting at all. Not if you actually want to maintain the creative spark and unfettered enthusiasm about writing you currently enjoy. Trust me when I say that writing ad copy and web content for freelance clients the way I do will hijack your entire life if you let it just like any other profession will. It will definitely change the way you write and approach the act of creative writing in the first place and probably not for the better. You need to be really sure you're ready to make that kind of sacrifice, because content writing is definitely not an effortless, easy way to make money.

However, that's never what people want to hear, so the best I can do from there on out is try to give advice that helps reduce the chances of their being taken advantage of, winding up choosing the wrong people as clients, or getting so horribly burnt out that they never want to write again, because those things happen to everyone who doesn't know how to avoid them. I'm now passing on some of that advice to the intrawebs at large so everyone can benefit.

The Lay of the Land

The world of online freelance writing has changed a bit since I first started doing this on a full-time basis years ago and I feel the need to comment on it right off the bat, as it figures into a lot of what I'm going to say in this article. Whether or not it's changed for the better depends entirely on what you personally find more valuable as a would-be content writer -- being able to find plenty of work or being able to be paid more for the work you do.

If it's the former, you're in luck because there are more people out there looking for paid content writers than you can shake a stick at these days. If it's the latter though? Find yourself something else to do with your time, because you won't be happy doing this. The standard seems to be calling more and more often for a lot of content written quickly, priced "reasonably", and delivered via a tight turnaround schedule -- often within just a day or two. Whether or not you're able to complete enough jobs to make your efforts worth it depends entirely on how well you can write and how quickly. A freelance writer who makes good money doing what they do isn't just skilled; they're fast and capable of really churning out writing by the mile on pretty much a daily basis. Most people aren't prepared for that reality.

My job is work, people... and sometimes it's stressful work. It's always time-consuming work. It's not always easy and most of the time it's not fun either. It is something I'm good at though and even though I gripe a lot, I'm proud to be someone who writes for a living at the end of the day. Freelancing is also worlds better than trying to tolerate a timeclock job somewhere else that would ultimately prove to be just as stressful. For that reason, as long as you're approaching this expecting it to be work instead of a perpetual vacation or a relaxing break from responsibility, you'll be fine.

Who are your clients going to be anyway?

Your average paying client these days isn't going to be some bigwig at a Fortune 500 company or the editor of a glossy magazine willing to pay you $50-100 for a stunningly written 500-word article (although you will occasionally get lucky). They're not usually going to be throwing money at you to write fun stuff that people typically want to write either -- like movie reviews, personal essays, poems, or short stories. Those are generally the sort of things you get to do in exchange for a byline, a publishing credit, and a chance to have your "real" work seen and appreciated by a bigger audience.

Most people looking to actually pay for freelance writers are average Joes and Janes trying to make a buck or two on the internet, same as you. They're just choosing to sign up for affiliate sales programs and make money off of online advertising and whatnot, as opposed to pimping out a service they're able to offer the way you are as a writer. They will be paying you to research and write tons of content about odd subjects that are often pretty boring at best -- like black mold infestation, penis enlargement pills, van insurance, or anti-snoring devices (all things I myself have actually written about for money, some way more than once). That brings me to my first piece of advice.

1. Don't settle for clients who are unwilling to make an investment in their content.

Everyone and their mother is trying to make at least a supplementary income online these days with an affiliate program or a website and you need original web content in order to do that -- a lot of it. You need a perpetual supply of fresh web articles for the site you're building, as well as backlink content, newsletter content, advertising copy, and so forth. That's why there's so much work out there.

However, average people don't have a lot of extra money to throw at some writer to make their latest scheme to get rich selling Clickbank products a massive success. Some will, but most will expect you to churn out a ton of content for some ridiculously low price that barely makes it worth your while in order to stretch their dollar as far as possible -- probably just a couple of dollars an article. You will hear every sob story in the book all about what they can and can't afford and how they think you should give them all these discounts because there is just so much work they have for you. Surely you're willing to give them a break on prices because they're willing to keep you so busy.

Yeah... no. Let those people outsource their work to some non-English speaker in India or Pakistan who can barely string a sentence together, because that's all anyone has a right to expect for a dollar or two an article. Seriously, don't let them get better quality work from you for the same prices they'd get away with paying those guys because that makes Baby Jesus cry! It also ruins the writing market for the rest of us, because it trains otherwise decent clients to expect the moon for the price of a pack of gum.

Hold out for clients yourself who are practical in how they're approaching their products and are willing to make an investment in well-written web content from a skilled professional. Leave the guys who think it should all be a cheap piece of cake to be someone else's headache. A native English speaker from America, Australia, the UK, or somewhere similar who is capable of composing a coherent, well-written article should be making no less than $8-10 per 500 words for garden variety, filler web content. If we're talking about something that requires special expertise, experience, or a lot of research, it should be more. If a given project doesn't come attached to at least that amount of money, keep looking.

2. Know the best places to look for work.

Some sites used to be awesome for picking up freelance gigs or making solid connections, but aren't so much anymore. Helium is a pretty good example of one I used to take more seriously, but just can't anymore. They used to have a marketplace section where there were jobs that paid out up to $150 if your submission was purchased. Now they've done away with the marketplace altogether and have this "assignment program" to encourage writers to fill on-site categories that need more content. The best assignments pay out... like... $2-3 at the most. Their contests aren't worth it anymore either. I might be willing to spend a lighter work week competing to win $50-75 for writing a small but complete collection of articles, but $5-10? You must be joking.

Personally I see that as just one more manifestation of the phenomenon I mentioned above. So many people are looking for freelance writing gigs these days that things have gotten disgustingly competitive, especially for amateurs or people who are merely average as far as skill level goes. As a result, a lot of writers are working for that kind of chump change and it makes me sad. It also pisses me off, because I have to deal with more and more potential clients approaching me expecting to get my articles for just a couple of bucks a pop, forcing me to break it down and tell them how it is.

For fill-in work, I recommend checking out Constant Content instead. The quality standard is a lot higher there, so filling requests for desired content pays out much better. In fact, it's possible to score $50-100 per article just depending and you can make good connections with potential permanent clients as well. The rest of the time, I recommend staying on top of job boards at sites like Elance and applying for the gigs that strike your fancy. There are still a lot of tire-kickers and cheapskates there to sift through, but also a lot of reliable, serious clients looking for writers with solid portfolios and a good work ethic. Stay the hell away from sites like Get a Freelancer and Craigslist, at least for writing jobs. Seriously, those seem to be where all the freaks and scam artists hang out and it's more frustrating than it's probably worth to connect with the couple of serious individuals who keep accounts there.

3. Set your boundaries and stick to them like glue.

Sooner or later, your focus with your freelance writing isn't going to be about finding or getting jobs anymore. It's going to be about managing a group of regular clients if you're any good at what you do. There are a lot of bad writers out there just like there are a lot of bad clients, so decent clients almost always want to keep working with the same person again and again should they luck out and find someone who can strike a good balance between affordability and quality. One of the biggest challenges you'll start to run into at that point is the maintenance of boundaries... and mark my words. Let go of your boundaries and you're fucked.

For some reason, people don't seem to view a freelancer the same way they would an employee on payroll at a standard job. They tend to see us more as friends than business colleagues and some clients will even enter into their relationship with you actually expecting your friendship to come as part of the package. This can sound like a blessing or a positive, but trust me. It's not. People take liberties with friends. They expect friends to do constant favors and put up with treatment they'd never try to inflict on an employee. Before you know it, you're miserable because you're not getting the kind of treatment and professionalism you deserve in exchange for working so hard. This is double or triple the case if you offer creative services like writing, design, or art since many people expect creatives to be a lot friendlier, less structured, and more lax than average.

The best way you can make sure that doesn't happen to you is to set solid boundaries right from the get-go. Set your rates and availability as far as when you can work in stone and do not make exceptions. Not even once. So you don't work Wednesdays? State that up front and keep things that way no matter what. Sooner or later, even your most reasonable clients will ask you to work on a Wednesday even though they know what they've been told. A given article is just that important or urgent. They're in a jam. They're pleading with you to make an exception "just this once".

No. Decline by politely reminding the client that you're not available to work on Wednesday. You don't have to explain it or justify it to them either. An emergency on their end does not constitute an emergency on yours. The minute you bend one little bit, the floodgates are now open, because it's never an isolated occurrence. You'll be asked to make the same exception again some other week... and another after that... and the client won't see why they should take no for an answer, since you made an exception before. You'll never get that Wednesday back once you let your clients have it "just this once", so don't give it up in the first place.

Don't get too chummy with your clients either. Don't sit and chat on IM about your personal life or spend time shooting the breeze about non-work matters. Discuss business only. Lock up the social networking profiles you keep for personal purposes -- talking to friends and family, writing about your love life, sharing a lot of personal photos, and so forth -- and don't add your clients. Knowing little tidbits about you like how often you like to play with your FarmVille, how you dress to sit around the house catching up on True Blood, whether you're a cat person or a dog person, and whether or not you like ketchup on your eggs at breakfast only makes it harder to keep things professional, because you're now starting to seem way too human and easy to relate to. The more this is the case, the more likely your clients will start to friend-zone you instead of treating you like the professional you are.

There are, of course, happy mediums to be found though. Instead of adding clients to your personal page on Facebook, create a "like" page for your company or your business services and direct clients to that instead should they ask if they can add you on Facebook. Create public blogs that are sanitized as far as really personal stuff goes and let those satisfy clients or associates who want to know more about you and read some of your thoughts and insights. Keep your personal diary on LiveJournal where you bitch about your family, post web cam photos of yourself making funny faces, or share half-drunken TMI-talk about how much sex you had last weekend between you and your actual friends.

Generally speaking, I find that I have the best luck and make the best money doing what I do when I remember that my freelance writing is a job and treat it as such. I demand that people treat me like the skilled professional that I am. I make sensible decisions in regards to the rates I charge and the schedule I keep. I give myself regular days off. I look for opportunities to advance, get better at what I do, and make new connections. I'm hardly rich or anything because I do this, but I certainly make as good a living doing it as I would putting in the same amount of hours somewhere else. If you do the same, you won't be able to help but to do well, too.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Art Was My Magic Talisman

Lady Writing a Letter With Her Maid - Vermeer
Those who know me personally are also quite aware of the extent to which self discovery has been a major theme in my life over the past several years. Art and creativity are two things that have always been such a huge part of who I am that they have -- of course -- been key elements of the whole process. This comes as no surprise to me when I think back on my history as an artist and reflect on what creativity has meant to me over the years.

When I was younger, I was extremely shy. I also felt like I was very different from other people my age. Although I wanted to be liked and accepted as much as anyone else, I found the process of forming connections with others to be really difficult. Other kids didn't seem to enjoy the same pastimes I did or have the same values. However, my ability to create -- especially my ability to draw and paint -- has always been something that served as an instant "in" with other people no matter how big the gulf. It didn't matter how weird and odd others thought I was before. Once they saw my art, they were suddenly intrigued by me and at least marginally interested in getting to know me better as a person. As a result, I began habitually using art as a way to connect to other people on a social level.

This process would really kick itself into high gear when I discovered the internet. All of a sudden, I was no longer limited solely to the people and connections I could find in my own little town, so it was much easier to locate people who shared more of my values and interests. I also found myself immersed in an environment where I could communicate solely through writing instead of talking. Suddenly I didn't need to push myself to approach others anymore. It turned out that socializing came as naturally to me as it had always seemed to for anyone else. I just needed the right environment to present itself first. I made a lot of friends and even achieved a certain level of popularity... all because I was putting myself out there and letting my creativity connect me to people. The internet even introduced me to Seth eventually and he is without a doubt one of the better things to have ever happened to me.

I only ran into a snag when I tried to put my professional life in order through my creativity the same way I had done with my personal life. Jobs, careers, and money-making have always been difficult for me to master. Personally speaking, I've always been someone who would just rather be a homemaker and not have an outside job at all. However, life has never really graced me with the opportunity to do that for very long at a time. I dislike having to spend a lot of time away from home and I loathe having to work face-to-face with the public. I've always been happier and better adjusted when I can call my own shots or work by myself.

I thought art and writing might be a solution to that -- and to some extent they have been. I can offer services that allow me to earn a living through my computer without having to leave the house or interact in person with my client base, which is a huge load off as far as stress. However, since I'm not yet at a place in my career where I'm making my money expressing myself or bringing my own ideas to life, there's still a lot about the whole career dilemma that creativity can't fix for me yet. I'm still serving people for a living. I'm still a working grunt who spends her days hooked up to someone else's plow, ultimately making other people successful instead of myself. The scenery is just a little nicer is all.

The frustration that resulted from this has been at the roots of why I've just kind of stopped with my personal work for a while. It's like I was angry at my art for failing me or something. It was supposed to magically fix my issues with earning a living the way it fixed my lack of fulfilling personal connections... but it didn't. I'd never once actually been let down by my creativity before, so it's ceased to be sort of a magic talisman that I feel like I can count on to keep my life on track. It's taken me a while to figure out what to do with it next.


Lately, I've been slowly finding my way back to my artistic side. However, I've noticed I now have a different problem than I had before. Before, I sincerely and utterly did not feel moved to create. Now I actually appear to have found my way back to a place where I turn to art or creative writing to fill a weekday's evening or a Sunday afternoon with pleasure again. I don't really feel as readily moved to share anymore though. I'm also realizing that this growing lack of desire to let others take my creative journey with me going forward has been a huge factor as far as why I'm not that interested in NaNoWriMo anymore... or creative communities like DeviantART.

It's honestly like I hit the reset button on the whole process and wound up back at the beginning again. I'm back to being a teenager who jealously guards what she creates and doesn't feel moved to show it to a soul. I haven't even really shown any of it to Seth, although I do at least discuss ideas and such with him more readily than I do other people. I'm definitely worried about letting the whole process get poisoned again by the personal pressure from within to make money and acquire publishing credits. I even thought quite seriously about just going to make sandwiches for a living somewhere and quitting even my copywriting business awhile back in the hopes I'd be able to feel the way I once did about these pastimes. That's how much I wanted this part of my life back. I hate waiting on others for a living, as I find it demeaning... but I still found it preferable at one point to continuing to sell my creative gifts down the river the way I've been doing.

I now realize that I still very much want to "be" a writer and an artist -- my own way when the time is right -- but for now, I'm enjoying letting my personal creative work just be something for me and no one else. I do feel like there's a danger of my slipping back into total recluse mode though. I liked living in my own little world when I was a child. I was fine that way and didn't particularly feel any need to change things. However, the adult I am now does realize that to go back to that 100% is to stop growing and evolving. That said, I'm trying to hold onto the way it did feel to let my art connect me to other people just for the sake of connecting. I'm slowly but surely forgetting... and the more I forget, the less I miss it. Probably a dreadful shame, but there it is just the same.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

The Poetry of Everyday Life

As you all know, I've been trying for a while to jumpstart my ailing creative drive any way I possibly can and coming up empty. I've seen some signs of life now and again that give me hope. I've even managed to shit out a thing or two that I'm proud of. However, I seems that no matter what I do, nothing really moves me or inspires me the same way it used to. I barely remember what it's like to be so on fire about an idea that I don't want to eat, sleep, or do anything else besides create. You and I both, dear readers, know for a fact it has to do with my being burnt out on most of my creative outlets because they are now all part of my living -- jobs. Yes, I said the "j" word.

I am quite possibly the world's worst workaphobe. I work hard. I work a lot... but I also admit to not actually liking to work. When I didn't have to work for a living, I didn't. If I ever get back to a place where I no longer have to work for a living, I won't. Once something becomes a job for me, it's no longer fun or enjoyable and losing my creative hobbies to that phenomenon was hard for me. Necessary, but hard. My creativity was and is everything to me and I'm nobody without it. Sometimes I sincerely feel like when I lost my ability to have fun with what I create, I lost my soulmate, because sometimes I do feel like I'm grieving for someone I loved dearly once and who is no longer around. This is perhaps a bit of an over-dramatization, but I'm a Pisces, so you'll have to excuse me and give me a bit of a break.

I have recaptured perhaps a pale shadow of that old spark over the past week or so though. Seth's BlackBerry died recently, so I decided to just upgrade both of our phones to shiny, new Motorolas equipped with Android. They came with these killer cameras that put the cameras in our old BlackBerry Curves to shame, so I haven't been able to help but experiment a little bit with mine.

I don't consider myself to be a very talented photographer... or even a moderately good one, for that matter. However, there is something about capturing the mundane poetry of day to day life that appeals to me. Instagram has been all the rage for a while now, but I haven't been able to use it myself because, like most of the really cool apps, it wasn't available for BlackBerry. However, since I've had the Android, I've really enjoyed checking out other people's photos and sharing some of my own. Some of the photos on there are fucking spectacular. Others are of more mundane, everyday subjects, but spectacular in their own way. I love them all equally.

I know what you're thinking: "Great, this bitch got an Instagram like everybody else on the internet and now all we're going see are her boring filtered photos that she wrongly thinks are awesome." You shouldn't think that though, because that's not what this is about. It's about me thinking I've found a way to make some progress with some of this artist's block I've been fighting with for a while now.

The desire to take new photos and participate a bit on Instagram has been a pretty good thing for me. It's actually gotten me out of the house for reasons other than errands or must-keep obligations. It's encouraged me to notice more things in my day to day life for their own sake and look for more ways to participate in the rhythm of the average day a bit more, instead of simply observing everything out of the corner of my eye while I work on other things. It's encouraged me to meet new people and share in their lives as well.

Plus, taking photos is something that is creative in a sense, but completely free of all the elements that are currently making me not want to do art or creative writing:

  • It's creative, but nevertheless different from anything else I do. I don't and never have taken photos for a living, so it's virgin territory -- unspoiled by the stain of work or obligation.
  • It's low commitment and delivers gratification that's pretty much instant. You literally find something you like, point, shoot... and you have something new sitting right in front of you immediately. No hours of pain-staking detail work. No need for a level of concentration I'm simply incapable of right now. That means almost no need to "psych myself up" before I can see my way clear to actually doing it.
  • I'm actually not that good at it, as you can see, so I don't actually expect anything from it. That means I'm just free to enjoy it for what it is without any personal pressure from myself to turn it into yet another way to make a buck. It's mine to keep to myself or share with my friends... and nothing else whatsoever.
I need more things like that in my life, to be honest. Money, business, and my constant quest to "get somewhere" with what I consider to be my only real talents have spoiled everything I once cared about for me. This... hasn't been spoiled yet and probably won't be, because like I said, I am an insanely boring photographer. I'm hoping that it -- among other things -- eventually leads me back to where I used to be. From there, maybe the incredible paintings and brilliant creative writing pieces I long to do again can't be far behind.

Friday, April 13, 2012

On Finding Motivation and Inspiration to Write

A while back, I had another writer friend tell me I should post something sometime about motivation. You know... tips on how to stay inspired, how to motivate yourself to work on your personal writing, how to stay encouraged, and so forth. She wanted to know what my "secrets to success" are in that regard and requested something she could bookmark and come back to when she's having trouble getting inspired.

I promptly laughed my fool head off, because to me that's a lot like asking the wart-covered, back-hair having, cheese-scented old lady across the street for her carefully guarded beauty secrets. I don't actually think I do a very good job staying motivated, to be honest and I certainly do not consider myself successful. I'm not a smiley, bright-eyed, enthusiastic young thing who always has a smile on her face either, believe me. I'm an aging, negative, sour cynic who -- more often than not -- has the same troubles every other writer has and I told my friend all this.

Then she said that that's exactly why she thinks such tips would be good coming from me -- because I appear to be a "real person". I actually admit to the fact that I often give a number of fucks that is equal to or less than zero when it comes to being productive. I also have always been open about how frustrating being a writer can actually be. I don't glamorize it or give people the impression that being a creative person is the equivalent of winning the life lottery. She wanted to know how people like me get and stay motivated, not the grinning douchebags with their insipid, buck-you-up mottos and their fake smiles. So... I decided to give this a whirl. Maybe it will actually help someone feel less alone, if nothing else.

Read a lot... and read the type of material you want to be writing.

One of the best pieces of advice I can possibly give any writer is to also be an avid reader. Seriously, reading cures a magnitude of ills when it comes to a lack of inspiration or creativity. It keeps your mind and imagination in good shape the way time spent on a treadmill keeps your muscles in good shape. It gets your own creative juices flowing and helps you to generate your own ideas for pieces to write. It's also a great stress reliever, as it allows you to forget that your actual crappy life even exists for a couple of hours.

Best of all, reading actually makes you a better writer. Your vocabulary increases, as does your instinctive understanding of how to string words together so that they sound right and achieve the effects you're after. You learn about plot structure, character development, and scene-setting as well. Everything I know about writing, I learned from reading voraciously ever since childhood, not school.

You also want to make sure you're reading the type of material you want to write. If you want to be a poet, read a crap ton of poetry. A novelist? Stay on top of that New York Times bestseller list. Interested in being a food writer or a restaurant critic? Chew through food magazines, culinary columns, and existing restaurant reviews like they're going out of style. In my opinion, that is really the easiest and most effective way to get really good at producing whatever material you're most interested in.

Don't work too much, especially if you write for a living.

Other people's mileage may vary, but if there's one thing that can suck my will to create right out of me Dracula-style, it's work. I'm definitely not one of those people who adores working for its own sake or anything. I'm certainly no workaholic. Any time in my life I haven't actually needed a job, I've been all too happy not to have one. When I do need a job, I'm pretty much only interested in doing what's required of me, collecting my paycheck, and then skipping off to enjoy my real life until it's time to hook myself up to the old plow again.

Putting in long hours, constantly having to reschedule things I actually want to do to make room for more work, and consistently doing "extra" because that's what my clients want makes me grossly unhappy. When I'm unhappy, I don't feel creative and I definitely don't feel motivated to work on personal creative projects. Of course, this is only compounded by the fact that I make a huge chunk of my living writing very boring, very dry sales copy and articles for other people's websites, so if I'm logging too many hours at work, that's "writing energy" that can't be poured into a novel, a screenplay, or even a blog entry instead. It's important to avoid that "tapped out" feeling any way you can.

I personally have never known a creative sort who actually thrived creatively while also struggling to maintain a workaholic lifestyle. The only exceptions would obviously be people who are lucky enough to be making a living expressing themselves and doing exactly the sort of writing they actually enjoy, but I doubt that applies to anyone reading this. No, don't quit your job and yes, go get your work done... but don't take extra shifts unless you need the money. Clock out when you're supposed to. Take your days off and take your vacations. I would seriously even take the occasional personal day off during the week if you need it. You'll be a lot less stressed and a lot more likely to feel creative more of the time.

Don't hang too much on your work. Just... produce it.

Despite not being a workaholic, I do consider myself to be accomplishment-oriented. When I put a painting or a piece of writing out there, I like there to be a point and -- in many cases -- I would like there to be at least some kind of return on my time investment in the piece. That might be a publishing credit, or an art sale, or a new opportunity that comes along because of it somehow. Naturally, that's not something you can rely on when you're a creative person. Sometimes you get the return you're looking for, but most of the time you don't, so I find that it helps to consciously try to stop yourself from expecting anything.

It's hard sometimes, I know! If you're creative and serious enough about what you do to even be reading a post like this in the first place, then you probably feel very much the same way I do. You want to "get somewhere" with your stuff so that you can say that's "what you do" instead of the job you have right now. However, putting pressure and expectations on your art like that is exactly the way to make sure you never actually churn out the Great American Novel you dream of writing someday.

Creative work produced under pressure is typically not very good work. Trust me, I know. It's hard to stop life, expectations, and such from getting in the way, but I think that's something every creative struggles with. And if you're the sort who is helped by being reminded you're not alone, take a look at a lot of the greats. People like Oscar Wilde, Van Gogh, or Virginia Woolf. A lot of people before you struggled with inner bitterness, frustration, mental illness, being misunderstood, and being poor. Many weren't even successful during their lifetime. Some were very prolific and productive, but not all. Sound kind of like you? It sure as hell describes me to a tee.

I do my best work when I'm just doing it for the same reasons I used to do it when I was a kid -- because I had a neat idea and felt like writing a story would be a great way to spend my afternoon. Chances are this is also the case for you. Don't pressure yourself too hard to write though. If you're just procrastinating, then it's OK to crack a whip over your own head once in a while. However, if you really don't feel like it one day, give yourself permission not to do it. The last thing you want is for your writing to begin to feel like a chore, because that's the beginning of burnout, a much smellier demon indeed.

Accept your limitations and work around them. 

I think one of the things I hate the most about most "how to find motivation to write" articles is the syrupy sweet, synthetic cheerfulness that permeates almost all of them. I especially hate the ones that say "you should just choose to be motivated". Well, if it were that easy, wouldn't we all just do that? In my experience, it's actually not possible to choose your attitude. If you're cynical, you're cynical. You can pretend to be one of those happy, shit-eating assholes I can't stand, but that won't make you one. Instead, you'll just be a cynic that also feels completely stifled. Instead, get to know your limitations and personality flaws. Then accept them as part of you. It's only at that point that you can learn to work with them... or at least around them.

Also, here is some food for thought. Did it ever occur to you that you might have been made the way you are for a reason? How many writers do we know who wouldn't have been the writers they were if they were slap-happy douchebags made of cupcake frosting instead? Can you imagine Oscar Wilde's work without the social cynicism? I sure can't. What would Ernest Hemingway's stuff be without the soul-munching anger he struggled so hard with? My guess is it would be pretty boring. And would we even have a Mrs. Dalloway if Virginia Woolf wasn't the melancholy, pensive person that she was? You know that we wouldn't.

So get in touch with the writer you were meant to be and let him or her out to breathe once in a while... even if other people assure you he's an asshole. Then tell anyone who tries to make you do otherwise to sit the hell down and shut up. They don't know you. You know you and that's final.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Proper Care and Feeding of Your Freelance Writer

A long time ago, when I still had my full-blown website and before I decided that a collection of bare bones blogs was really a better fit for me, I had this article I'd written and posted all about how to piss off an artist. It was obviously written in a humorous vein, but it was at its core a resource for people who were looking to hire a freelance artist and wanted to make sure they knew how to treat them in order to avoid stepping on any toes or leaving them with a bad taste in their mouth.

A couple of people have asked about that one since I made the switch to this blog, so I've been thinking of coming up with a new version of it sometime soon. However, I've also had people I did freelance writing for in the past ask me about what writers look for and like in a client. Made me think an article like this one wouldn't be a bad thing to throw out there as well, since I write more than I draw or design these days.

I'd say the following tend to be things that a lot of clients don't always seem to understand about the writers they hire. It's not all clients or all writers by any means, but still. I'd say it's a good checklist to look over if you are thinking about enlisting the services of a writer and are looking to establish a long-term working relationship that's actually harmonious and mutually beneficial.

We have lives outside of your project and need to be treated accordingly.

Even the clients I've had who were the fairest and the easiest to get along with seem to occasionally lose sight of the fact that my life doesn't begin and end at the point with which it intersects with their project. Most freelancers -- especially if they do what they do on a full-time basis -- maintain relationships with multiple clients and juggle multiple projects at any given point in time, as they have bills to pay. They also have families, a social life they probably wish to maintain, and other obligations outside of work just as you do. Many freelancers also have day jobs or go to school full-time. What their life involves outside of their relationship with you as the client may vary greatly... but you can rest assured that it's something.
  • Do be understanding when we explain we won't be available to write for you over a certain period or when we occasionally need extra time to complete a given project because it turned out to be more research intensive or time-consuming than previously estimated.
  • Don't expect to monopolize our time or imply that we're not working hard enough if we're not able to give you the kind of time you want right when you want it.
We need you to pay us fairly, frequently, and on time.

As is the case with any creative pursuit, people sometimes seem to lost sight of the fact that what we do for you as the client is part of our living. That said, if we've made an agreement with you to write your web content, sales copy, or newsletter in exchange for money, we're in this primarily for the money just as with any job. Respect what we say our rates are and don't ask for discounts. (If we feel one is required or has been earned, we will offer you one.) 

I also can't stress enough how important it is that you honor the payment schedule you and your writer agreed to before you started working together, because it will make a big difference in the extent to which they prioritize your project over other things on their schedule. I'm not even gonna lie. If my schedule gets really super tight and I have to choose between one client's project and another client's project -- both of which are due around the same time -- I'm going to prioritize the guy that I know will pay his invoice immediately without having to be reminded, not the guy who always seems to have a convenient excuse ready as to why he can't pay me for another week or two.

It's nothing personal. I have to do that! I don't write content because I enjoy it or because it's fun. (I don't and it's not.) I do it because I have bills to pay and I'm apparently good enough at this stuff to make a living at it. That's all. Expecting more than that out of anyone who works for you is an exercise in frustration, trust me.

  • Do give your writer a bonus for a job extra-well done or offer them a raise if you can afford it. This will set you apart from the pack in all the right ways, as most freelance writers are used to being under-appreciated and they probably already undercut themselves considerably when setting up their rates. A pay boost they didn't have to ask for will be more appreciated than you probably even realize.
  • Don't ever make the person ask you for their pay if it can be avoided. If a payment is due, send it without delay and without waiting for the writer to request it. Definitely don't make them ask you more than once and do not leave them waiting for days or even weeks when it comes to seeing their pay. This more than anything else is the reason writers decide to part ways with clients -- trouble collecting payment in a timely, efficient manner.
Understand that we're business people and treat us like professionals.

Many freelance writers have one very big problem in common, so if you can avoid this as a client, trust me when I say you're really in our good graces. People who aren't writers or creative individuals themselves think that we're all lax, laid-back, friendly individuals who will welcome it if you try to make your relationship with us very casual. While this may be the case for some writers, it's better to err on the side of caution. 

Don't assume it's cool with a writer who works for you that you add them on Facebook or start commenting on their personal blog. Don't comment on an attractive writer's appearance or ask personal questions about someone's family life. You may think you're simply being friendly and showing an interest, but we may regard you as intrusive, inappropriate, or rude. In other words, don't cross any boundaries with the person that they haven't given you overt permission to cross. If you're working with the sort of writer who prefers to keep things casual, you'll know because they'll volunteer access to their Facebook page or tell you things about who they are as a person without you prodding them.

  • Do treat your writer the way you would any other professional you might find yourself working with. Yes, we're creative types... but that doesn't mean that we don't appreciate respect, professionalism, or clear boundaries.
  • Don't ask personal questions or expect your writer to want to add you on social networks, hang out or chat outside of work time, or anything else along those lines. Definitely don't act all butthurt about it if you try to cross a boundary and the writer expresses discomfort with it. Simply apologize and avoid doing it again in the future. 
Understand that freelance writing is actually hard work.

Because we work in a creative field, people think that writing just about anything must be a blast and a half for us, even if it's ultra-dry business manuals or something. They think we have limitless supplies of energy to devote to writing each day and that we write all day, every day without exception. That said, some clients are baffled that we would want or need the same number of days off or free hours in the evenings after work that anyone else at any other job would get. They think they're doing us a favor by over-filling our schedules and giving us something -- anything -- to do with every last minute of our time.

To that I only have one thing to say. Think back to when you were in high school or college and you had to write a paper on a subject you did not choose, that you weren't particularly interested in, that required you to do loads of research, that had to be a really specific length, and that had to be written to order according to someone else's standards (your teacher's, obviously). How much of a blast was that just for its own sake? Probably not much of one... and I bet on the days you had to write more than one of those papers, you were pretty tired afterward. 

Well, that's a pretty accurate description of what factual, business, or content writing is like. Freelance writers often have to produce thousands of words worth of content in a day and that uses up an immense amount of our energy for the day. Spending a solid 8-hour work day writing your company's brand new employee handbook for you is not the same as whiling away an entire Sunday afternoon updating our own personal blogs for pleasure or hashing out a short story idea for fun and self-expression. Please don't treat us like you think it should be. 
  • Do understand that what we do for you is a job and treat us accordingly. Respect our business hours, don't guilt-trip us for wanting or needing time off, and treat us like the professionals we are.
  • Don't assume that you're doing your writer a favor when you give them more work than they've clearly said they want or can handle. If they want or need more work at a given time, they'll be sure to let you know they're available for that and/or ask for it directly.
Understand that freelancers require freedom in order to be productive.

There's a common misconception out there about freelancers, especially freelancers who work in the creative arts. Many people think we must be hopeless, lazy dreamers who just don't like to work. Otherwise, we'd have "real jobs" like everyone else. However, the truth is most freelancers do what they do for the same reasons I do. They are self starters who don't fit well into an established office environment and who work best when they have the freedom to create their own schedules and set their own ground rules. 

That said, we don't like it when our clients make us feel exactly as we would if we were perpetually chained to a desk somewhere with a boss looking over our shoulder. We don't like to be micromanaged, badgered for constant status updates, or expected to stay in unbroken touch with you 24/7. If you send an e-mail or a message to which you need a response, send one and then patiently wait for your response to come along. Do not send one... and then another in 20 minutes... and then another 20 minutes after that... and two more half an hour after that. 

Yes, people do do this to freelancers -- at all hours of the day and night sometimes, as if we're robots or machines who owe you every last micron of our time and attention; never needing to log off, go to sleep, or work on other things -- and it drives us up the wall. Even when we are online and available to answer you, we can't work with constant interruptions like that. I'd say that after problems with payment, excessive badgering of this nature is the number one reason I've personally stopped working with particular individuals in the past. Don't do it!
  • Do give your freelance writer lots, and lots, and lots of space to work independently. It's not something that they'd like to have in order to be the best they can be. It's something they need to have.
  • Don't stuff your writer's inbox with multiple messages in quick succession, even if it's urgent. Definitely don't be insulting or condescending... ever. Send one polite, to-the-point message explaining what you need and then wait patiently for a response. To do anything else is nothing short of insulting, rude, and intrusive.
Don't assume we need you more than you need us.

Many people have this image in their head of what a freelance writer's situation actually is when it comes to their schedule. They think we're always starved for work or have a hard time finding people interested in our services. This actually isn't the case for a freelance writer who is any good at what they do. The writing market is saturated with amateurs these days who produce terrible work or people in other countries who can barely speak the language offering crap content for cheap. However, knowledgeable, skilled, and effective writers who can adhere to high standards are few and far between. Plus, everyone and their mother is trying to start a website, run an e-business, or get an affiliate program off the ground these days and they will need more written content than they themselves can produce in order to do that.

This means decent content writers who can produce results are actually in shorter supply than clients willing to pay for content. If you're lucky enough to find a really talented, hard-working writer, you'd do well to keep them happy any way you can, because the chances are excellent that they're very busy and most likely have all the work they can handle and then some. Every so often, they probably even need to cut clients from their line-up in order to keep their heads above water... and you know who gets cut? The guys who complain about rates, who don't pay on time, who think a freelancer's ground rules are up for interpretation or discussion, and who don't treat freelancers like professionals. Don't be one of those guys, because you don't necessarily have us over a barrel the way you might think you do. 
  • Do remember that your freelance writer is a free agent who makes a choice to work with you just as you make a choice to work with them. Treat them as an equal whose assistance you value. 
  • Don't try to short-change them or browbeat them into agreeing to terms you know aren't really fair to them. You will probably find yourself out of a writer.
At the end of the day, establishing a good relationship with your freelance writer is a lot like establishing a good relationship with any other professional. It boils down to respect, appreciation, and positive reinforcement. No, it's not rocket science, but you'd be surprised how many people don't get it nevertheless.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Is Selling Just Another Form of Storytelling?

For someone who admittedly doesn't like dealing with people, I find it ironic that just about every career path I've ever explored has eventually boiled down to me becoming yet another incarnation of a salesperson, someone who engages in a highly social line of work. It's not inherently bad or anything. I just personally think it's... weird.

I think so do a lot of my copywriting clients, to be honest. Obviously, I have a strong sales background and a lot of skill in this arena or people wouldn't keep hiring me to produce sales copy. However, they're often surprised to find out that I've never been a people person and that I've never particularly enjoyed selling or sought out to do it on purpose. I always get "but you're so good at it" as if every person who is good at something must have studied hard and pushed themselves to become so at some point in the past out of passion for that pursuit.

Yeah, I worked retail for many years, but I never, ever wanted to be a salesperson. I wanted to work in gift wrap or -- better yet -- completely behind the scenes dressing mannequins, or folding t-shirts, or something. The last thing I ever wanted was to be spending my days all dressed up and talking to people for a living, trying to figure out how to get them to buy some expensive sofa or designer suit they didn't really need. I hate being social, I hate being judged on how I look or how I'm dressed, and I hate being the center of attention with all eyes on me. However, I was apparently good at selling nevertheless and was able to make a decent living at it without putting in a lot of hours, so... cool, I guess. Sure could have been worse! Thank goodness I have the ability to swallow my feelings and convincingly pretend I don't feel myself dying inside.

When I became a professional writer, the plan was to maybe write factual content here and there for a few extra bucks until I could manage to make a name for myself writing short stories, novels, or some jazz like that. It was never actually to become a full-time copywriter and to wind up with so many clients wanting to hire me to sell things with my writing that I really didn't have time anymore for the stories I originally wanted to write. I'm learning to strike a better balance there and ask firmly for the free time I want and need when it comes to my clients, but still. Most freelance copywriters aren't as busy as I am, it would seem, so again... weird.

I've often wondered why I'm actually good at any sort of selling, let alone apparently every kind of selling when it so goes against my nature and my preferences as far as how to make a living. Then I got to thinking and discussing the subject with Seth just for shits and giggles. It occurred to me that perhaps selling and creative storytelling really aren't all that different from one another. Perhaps there is an art to selling after all.

It occurs to me that selling a product successfully doesn't have a damn thing to do with thoroughly informing the consumer in regards to the product's actual merits or uses. However, it has everything to do with convincing a person that if they buy this product, their lives will ultimately change for the better with little to no effort on their part. They'll become thin without actually getting off of their doughy asses and changing their diets or lifestyles first. They'll be attractive to others without having to work on their annoying-ass personalities first. They'll be rich without having to cultivate a skill and work hard at something. They'll have everything they want, but for free and without toil or true self-sacrifice. It's not you that's wrong, it's the rest of the world... and we can fix that for you!

In other words, you're not selling a product; you're selling a fantasy that doesn't really exist. You're spinning a fluffy pink bedtime story, saying "now doesn't that sound nice", and getting people to see themselves as part of that. It has zilch to do with actually conveying information or delivering anything solid, but everything to do with making people believe in fairy tales... and trust me. People do want to believe in fairy tales and they need very little convincing in order to believe in yours.

It's like when your wife asks you if she looks fat in those jeans, she doesn't want to hear the real answer, because she already knows it -- that she looks like a sausage cannelloni ready to burst at the seams and that she should probably go change before she leaves the house looking ridiculous. She's not stupid. She has eyes and can see for herself. However, she doesn't want to go change and put on something that fits. She wants to wear the jeans, but she needs you to sell her the fantasy that they actually look OK first. Once you do, she could care less about the cold, clammy tentacle grip of reality.

Apparently all people are wired this way. (Not me, because really -- I just want to know the truth -- but then that's probably why sales pitches don't work on me and definitely why I wind up on the other end of things so often.) Everyone wants to just move into a sparkly sand castle that someone else built and live there for as long as possible, whether that comes in the form of a short story, a really good movie... or a really convincing sales pitch. And people will pay out the ass for the privilege of doing so.

All that said, I used to worry that my apparent status as a born salesperson (God, how it hurts even to joke about that) might mean that I wasn't born to be a fabulously imaginative storyteller, because it doesn't really get more ordinary and humdrum than selling, in my opinion. However, I think I may be having an epiphany. Ruminating upon where my selling talents apparently come from has led me to the conclusion that perhaps my success with copywriting is proof that I'm a good storyteller and that I have the talent to make people truly believe in the pictures painted by my words, not proof to the contrary. (It certainly isn't my natural love of people; that much is certain.)

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Oh, DeviantART

"Renegade Redhead" by Shannon Hilson
When I actually matriculate past my DeviantART profile, it's the weirdest experience. On the one hand, I have all these memories attached to that place, so there's a real nostalgic value to the site at large. On the other hand though, I've done so much growing since the last time I was anything like active there. It's almost... creepy in a way.

When I was younger, I almost considered myself to be the type of person who actually doesn't progress the way normal people do. I felt like I'd been much the same throughout my adult life as I had been as a child. I even think I recall writing all about the experience in my little personal locked blog at the time and illustrating the experience as only an emo poet/writer/wallflower could. I described myself as a tree planted on the side of the road, rooted in place while all the other humans in the world came and went, mobile and free. I felt so left out at that point and I really didn't think that was something that would ever change for me.

Eventually, shit happened as it has a tendency to do. I toughened up quite a lot and became way more realistic and even cynical than my little Piscean heart thought possible at one point. I grew the balls to actually put my art and creative writing out there for public consumption and the first place I ever actually did that was DeviantART. Now it sort of seems comical to me that I had any sort of stage fright or uncertainty about opening my profile and putting my shit out there like I did, but at the time, it was kind of a big deal for me.

I'd heard all my life that I was talented, but I never really knew what that meant. DeviantART was really my first time interacting with perfect strangers as far as my art was concerned and comparing myself to others like me who were doing the same things I was doing, so it was also the place where I think I truly learned that talent does exist and that it's something I do have. That site is probably directly responsible for the way I eventually became a professional as far as the arts and I sincerely don't think I'd be the same without it.


That was a while ago though and at this point in time, I'm realizing that I'm not the tree planted on the side of the road that I always thought I was. I've really outgrown a lot of things and DeviantART is sort of one of them. When I go there now and see that the dynamic on that site is exactly what it always was, I don't feel like I'm going back to be among peers or anything. People actually seem sort of immature, and needy, and insecure for the most part.

I was never totally on the same page as most of the other people on that site, even when I was active there. I wanted to make money with my art and get somewhere professionally with it while everyone else thought that the booty pats and empty compliments on my stuff should be enough for me. Now the differences between me and them seem even more pronounced, especially since I have been doing this professionally for quite some time now.

So many of the other deviants I used to know are still on the site complaining that someone left them a fave, but not a comment. (Oh, boo hoo hoo -- the humanity!) Others are getting all butthurt over the fact that they asked for "honest critiques" (code for "kiss my ass extra hard") and someone dared to actually say anything critical or constructive about the piece. Don't even get me started on the people who go around giving  critiques (code for "I don't know; I just don't like it") to artists who are light years better than they are while their own galleries are full of stick figures doodled on notebook paper. Every single time I think about becoming active there again, stuff like that reminds me of why I'm not anymore... and I stay away for the time being.

For whatever reason, that little profile I created on DeviantART still gets visits though. Every time I check in, there are new faves, comments, and questions to answer about my art. My visitors are still over the moon about this art even though I don't think I've uploaded anything new in years. It... baffles me really. Most profiles die when you neglect them and leave them to languish. My DeviantART profile hasn't. In fact, the weblink on my profile is still the number one source of traffic to this little blog of mine, which is sort of the reason it's on my mind today.

People ask me all the time if I ever plan on coming back to DeviantART, uploading content regularly again, and being an active part of the community. Officially speaking? Yeah, I think I do. At least as far as the uploading content and creating new prints thing goes. For the reasons I mentioned above, I think my identity will be different and my approach will be different, just as I am different. I'll probably recede into the background and become one of those assholes on that site that everyone hates for not really answering their comments or taking the time to reciprocate gallery visits and whatnot, but yeah. I'll be back one day nevertheless.

I don't miss the ass-kissing and immaturity that permeates DeviantART, but part of me really misses adding to my personal art gallery there, especially the wild, passionate creative spurts that would come over me and compel me to complete something like three original pieces of art in a single day. It's just been so long since I really spent any time on it to speak of though. Getting back in the saddle is now a "thing" and you know how it is once something goes to that country.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Inspired by a Traveling Red Dress

Jenny "The Bloggess" rockin' her red dress
Over the last couple of weeks, I've actually been doing something novel. I've been limiting my work hours to 8 a day/40 a week just like other people do. I've also been taking every Saturday and Sunday off. At first, I was really just doing it because I was fucking tired and needed a break. However, I've also begun to realize how many incredibly awesome things I've been missing out on while I was too busy overworking myself, so I'm now doing it because of that, too.

This project about a red dress that travels around to different women in desperate need of something impractical in their lives is apparently one of the awesome things I missed. I'm most likely the last person on the planet to actually hear about this since it's been going on a while, but whatever. I'm as enchanted by the idea of this as I would have been had I known about it from the get-go. I've probably spent the better part of the last hour or two reading all the red dress stories people have shared with Jenny since she first made that post as well.

I've also been realizing that my life really needs a lot more "red dresses" in it. I don't mean literal red dresses of course, because I have at least two I can think of right off the top of my head collecting dust in my closet right now.  I mean impractical things that are done, purchased, or experienced just to bring a little bit more magic into your life and possibly by proxy, the lives of other people around you whether you know them or not. I haven't had any magic of that particular variety in my life in a long time and I sincerely doubt I've been spreading much around lately either.

The sad thing is I used to be someone who was considered something of a magical person, both in my own eyes and in the eyes of a lot of people who knew me. I used to have zero problem with identifying potential "red dresses" and acquiring them simply for the hell of it. If I wanted to wear an actual red dress complete with matching red lipstick on a given day, I just did it. I didn't need to be going anywhere special.

If I felt like learning French, it didn't have to have any practical application to my life at all for me to decide it was worth making room for in my schedule. I just put Rosetta Stone on my computer, started learning it, and had a blast in the process. Years ago, I read a blog post all about how to make cheese from scratch, so I made the damn cheese even though they obviously still sell ready-to-go cheese at the grocery store. Then there was this one day when I felt like buying a sword for no reason other than I wanted one and I had the money. Did it!! Still have it, too.

Somewhere along the way though, I let the world convince me that every second of every day should be about working, trying to make money, and striving to "become somebody" in a professional sense. Also, every choice, every purchase, and every thought you have has to be practical in order to be worthwhile. Ironically, that attitude only really became part of who I was when I started doing things I actually care about for a living. Before, yeah... maybe I was just a retail slave with a shitty job that made me feel about two inches tall the minute I punched in for my shift, but something about being "nobody" and not seeing any potential for that to ever change also freed me up to pour my real energy into making magic and being magical more of the time.

I thought that people who were "normal", and scheduled, and planned, and practical were better than I was, so I wasted a lot of time wishing I was like that, too. Now that I am them to an alarming extent, I'm realizing how much I hate it. I have always instinctively disliked people who are like that and I'm beginning to remember why for the first time in a while.

I felt irresponsible at first drawing some boundaries and taking back even a couple of days a week of my life for the sake of re-devoting them to actually having fun and doing things I enjoy, whether that's playing a game or catching up on my blog reading... or my blog writing, for that matter. However, I'm realizing that those were (and are) the days that count the most. When else are you going to wear your red dresses... or have a chance to discover other people's?

I don't know how to "see" red dresses anymore and it's been depressing me... quite literally. It's also really destroyed my creativity. Without red dresses, swords, impromptu French lessons, and homemade cheese made for no reason, I have no stories to tell and no pictures to paint. That's no kind of life for a free spirit. I'm hoping that the balance will begin to restore itself naturally. I can tell that somewhere inside myself, I'm still the vastly creative person who did all those wonderful things once upon a time.