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There’s been something brewing beneath the surface since I decided to begin freelancing.  It took me a while to put my finger on it.  But my transition from a 9 to 5 job to working for myself has been met with low rates by many clients and a lack of support by people in my personal life.

Whether it’s a client with ridiculously low rates, or the constant inquisition by certain people about when it is that I plan on getting a “real” job  — I’m over both.  Frankly, I was exasperated with having to defend and explain my line of work over and over again.

Here’s a typical Groundhog Day-esque conversation about my work:

The Inquirer — “How’s work?”

Me — “Work’s going well, thanks?”

The Inquirer — “Huh, so what is it that you do again?”

Me – “I’m a writer.”

The Inquirer — “Oh, yes!  You work at that medical publishing company.”

Me – “Uh, not anymore. These days I’m a full-time freelance writer.”

The Inquirer — “So you’re just doing that in the meantime until you find a real job.”

Me — “Nope, not really. I work for real clients and they pay me real money.”

I don’t want to take you through the rest of this long-winded conversation— it gets really redundant with the person asking me the same thing in different ways.  Basically, I get the sense that some people I know really comprehend what I do. But they still make judgments with respect to my line of work. Whether it’s the ill-conceived notion that I have a lot of time on my hands or that writing doesn’t take a lot of work.  After all, in their minds, I’m probably just stringing together words to make sentences.  How hard can that be?  Ha!

respect

No one takes into consideration that I’m not just pulling words out of thin air.  I’m working on building a business and that involves a lot of work: I have to market myself to get new business clients. Freelancing also means that I have to manage my finances quarterly and pay estimated taxes. I have to manage projects in a timely fashion so that I don’t fall behind on my work. I’m usually juggling more than one client, and I also have to find time for my own writing endeavors. There’s research, editing, interviews, and loads of administrative tasks involved…and this is before I sit down to write.

My issues don’t only lie with some of the people in my personal life.  I have major issues with some would-be clients too.  When I first decided to work as a freelancer I was literally shocked with the expectations of some potential clients when it came to rates.  The work that would have to go into the assignment, and the meager earnings that they expected to pay me made my jaw drop.  I mean some of the prices being offered for assignments compared to the amount of time and effort I would have to put in was preposterous.  I recently listened in on a webinar hosted by Carol Tice and featured guest speaker Laurie Lewis that covered how to handle  the discussion of your rates with clients.  Well I have to tell you it was really refreshing to participate in that webinar because I realized that I wasn’t alone in the idea that writers have to command their earning power.  And that webinar really provided some helpful points on how to to make that happen.

In these next few months in 2011, I’m implementing strategies that will help me build my career as a freelance writer. And these tactics will also secure my position as a writer who commands respect for her work from clients who undervalue what I do and to people in my private life who thinks a career means having a cubicle or office space (not a laptop, discipline and—ahem, a latte).  Here are the top three things that I do to command respect:

  • Exude Confidence: I’ve been freelancing for a while now, and I’ve secured some great clients and projects. So when I’m asked, “What do you do?”  I respond unequivocally, “I’m a writer.”  I don’t explain myself to people who don’t get it.  I refuse to indulge in negative conversations. The fact that, in a short amount of time, I’ve worked on many writing projects and received positive feedback from my clients after leaving a full-time job speaks for itself. If someone doesn’t get that then it’s not my burden to convince them otherwise. At the end of the day I love what I do, which is something very few people in my personal life have bothered to ask me.
  • Don’t Take Low for an Answer:  To be fair I think when I first started freelancing I didn’t realize just how much work was involved.  But now after many assignments under my belt, I know exactly how much work goes into writing given the amount of research and revisions among other things that I’ve had to do.  So, when a client is vague about rates, I jump right in there to discuss the details of the project and what that’ll costs.  If the client refuses to appreciate that what I’m charging is right for the amount of work then we’ll have to part ways.  A hassle in the beginning makes for a messy end…at least that’s what I’ve learned.
  • Stay in Good Company: I find that surrounding myself with like-minded freelance writers who know their worth and command respect for the work that they do is great for my writing chi.  Before I became of full-time freelance writer, I dabbled a bit in content-mill writing.  It took me 60 articles after the fact to realize that I was not recognizing my worth.  I let the fact that I don’t have a journalism background and a lot of other negative mental chatter in my mind get in the way of success. Which is why, I surround myself with other writers who believe that quality work deserves quality pay.

Commanding respect as a freelance writer is about making good choices for your business such that people sense your confidence, business acumen, and passion. Once you set the bar high for yourself people will respect what you do because you do it so well.

This past weekend, I watched in amazement as my 3-year-old nephew spat out the word no with relative ease and affirmation.  Whether it was about picking up his toys or eating his veggies — the reply was a swift, definitive no. NO  As I watched him, albeit frustratedly, I also started to wonder when did it become so hard for me to say no.  After all, if a toddler could do it so could I, right?  One of the reasons I think it can be difficult to say no as an adult is because we learn different social behaviors, which makes it difficult to say no when someone asks us to do something.  I think most people can attest to having a difficult time saying no, and it doesn’t matter if it’s personal or professional.

The key to breaking out of the vicious cycle of taking on too much because you can’t say no begins with acknowledging that you are the problem and the solution.  I’ve already started to put into practice the art of saying no sans the toddler attitude, and I’ve already begun to see a change in my own life (For starters, I’m not so stressed).  Here are some of the tips that I’ve implemented in my own life that I hope may help you as well:

  • It takes a bit of introspective work to figure out why you can’t seem to utter the word no.  Are you a people-pleaser?  Are you afraid that if you say no to an assignment you won’t ever hear from that client again?  Or is it that your family has dubbed you the “official” go-to person for planning family events (How could you say no after all those years of planning baby showers and buying pinatas for kiddie birthday parties?)
    • Examine your feelings next time you’re asked to do something.  Taking the time to evaluate your emotions can be quite telling when you find yourself in a compromising situation.  And it can be the start toward taking control of you life and doing the things that you choose to do, not the things you feel obligated to do.
  • Really understand and revisit your personal and professional goals. It’s easy to get lost in the shuffle of your everyday routine.  And before you know it you’re off-course and that vacation you were planning to take went poof and vanished into thin air all because you bit more than you could chew.
    • Establish boundaries with people in your professional and personal life.  If it’s a family function that you can attend, but don’t have time to bake your famous chocolate cake — just say no (and by no means should you offer to bake brownies instead because you’re feeling guilty).  On a professional note, let’s say you’re working on several projects, and an editor you’ve been meaning to work with again contacts you for an assignment.  The only problem is your deadline is really tight, and you have a lot of other obligations.  So, what do you do?  You say no.  Nope, you didn’t read that sentence incorrectly.  It’s okay to say no to a client.  And if they dump you for saying no then you don’t need to work for a company like that anyway.  But if they value your work then you’ll hear from them again.
  • Practice makes perfect!  If you’ve gone into many situations before with the intention of saying no only to find yourself uttering yes then you need to practice.
    • Tap into the inner assertive you and practice saying no in front of the mirror.  Ask your family and friends to help you practice by acting out situations that you know you don’t want to do or don’t have time for.  Learn to keep it simple, no is only a two-letter word.  Yet, people tend to feel that they need to go into a long-winded explanation as to why they are unable to do something.  I’ve learned that a simple: “No, I’m unavailable”, is quite sufficient.  And leave out the “I’m sorry” part.  Because if you’re busy or have other obligations then you simply can’t do what’s being asked of you.

So take heart and begin the journey of saying no to the things you’re unable to do or the things that aren’t a good fit for your personal and professional aspirations. And you’ll begin to see  that you have more time for the things that truly matter to you.

Going-to-the-Sun RoadI’ve been working on my first novel for a couple of weeks now as part of my June Writing Month goal.  And it’s been challenging, if not more so than I expected.  I’ve been meeting my daily word requirement–somewhat (okay, it’s not always 1000 words, I may fall short and land somewhere around 800 words.  As I mentioned before, the goal was to start writing my novel, which I’ve been putting off mainly because of time.  So, in that sense, I may not hit that magic number of 30,ooo words by June 30.   In any case, I’m happy that I’ve been writing, developing my story, and getting to know my characters.

One of the challenges I’ve been dealing with has been writer’s block.  And as a someone who writes magazine article on health matters, I know that when I hit a roadblock in my writing it has more to do with what’s going on in my personal and professional life than anything having to do with figuring out dialogue or working out the details in a scene.  Because frankly all of these details will be reworked again and again in revisions anyway.  So, what’s the deal with the blinking cursor on the blank page?

Well, it has a lot to do with a couple of things?  And most of these issues I’ve been able to get a handle on (or at least I’m aware of).  I think it’s important to have a roadmap that shows you where you’re problem areas are and what you’re doing to get around them. It’s just like driving and you come across a road that’s been closed off, you just don’t sit there and wait for the problem to work itself out.  You work out a plan to get to where you need to be when it comes to your writing goals.

Here are the key areas I’ve found that have contributed to my writer’s block and what I’ve been doing to map out solutions:

Designate a Time to Write: And I mean just writing my novel.  Not checking email intermittently, researching a location I’ve mentioned in my book, or answering phone calls.  This is why I’ve decided to switch my writing hours to first thing in the morning.  I also have freelance assignments that I’m working on.

However, if I don’t put myself first then this book will never get done.  I’ve found that switching my novel-writing activities to priority No. 1 has been helpful.  So far, this seems to be working out well for me, and it’s improved my writing flow–writing chi, as I like to put it.

Previously, I was writing later in the evening.  Frankly, I was just too mentally drained by that time of the day.  While writing in the morning may be a good switch for me, other writers may find that late nights are the way to go for them.  Basically, you just have to try out a few different times to determine what works best with your schedule (and personality).

Take a Chill Pill: Writing a book has been a lifelong dream and now I’m actually doing it.  I know it’s hardly in any publishable form.  But I’m working toward a goal.  The writing process can be frustrating, and any writer who takes a leap of faith to begin to write a book should be proud.

So take the frustration away from your writing.  Your fears and anxieties about being well-received as a writer are honest feelings.  I do deep breathing and yoga to calm me down.  It allows me to focus and release my pent-up frustrations and anxieties, which are most likely contributing to my writer’s block.

The Policy on Honesty: Issues in your personal and career life can mask itself as writer’s block.  Take a moment to examine your feelings and assess what’s been bothering you lately.  Are you off your game when  speaking with a particular client or co-worker?  Are there any unresolved issues at home that you’ve been avoiding?  Sometimes talking things out with the person involved is helpful or discussing the issue with someone you trust can shed an enlightening perspective on the matter.  And for issues that are more difficult to resolve seeking the help of a professional can offer therapeutic options to get you and your writing back on track.  Getting to the core of life’s matters can help you handle your writing issues.  Maybe working through these issues can even provide you with a new idea for your book.

Become Your Own Cheerleader: Writing a book isn’t an overnight process.    And although recent buzz surrounding John Locke’s success with How I Sold 1 Million eBooks in 5 Months! might light a fire in some writers, I’d say this isn’t a route in book publishing often traveled.  So, in the meantime celebrate each milestone no matter how small you think it is. By celebrating your successes you create a positive atmosphere for writing that is fueled by you.  I try to generate joys from within while writing my book and that’s helped me to clear up my writing chi as well.

Whether one of my characters enjoys a victorious moment while bumping into an old flame who dumped her, or I’ve worked through a difficult scene, I appreciate the smallest things in my writing process.  Because it’s been helpful in boosting my morale and drive.