The most popular reason for staying stuck in a rut (read: full time job) is probably the fixed sum pay check that hits the bank every month. The promise of that decent amount of monthly moolah didn’t entice me for too long. Some may call me stupid. Others who know nothing think I am a rich man’s daughter/wife. But I know how hard I work to keep this freelance career going. Other than learning the multitude of things that I’ve learnt about being successful as a freelance writer, I’ve come across an unexpected lesson. A bad client with no regard for payment timelines, laziness on my part, and a few dry months, taught me the value of material possessions in my life. When I earned a steady pay check, the mall was my favorite destination after work and on weekends too. I spent money without thinking twice. Sales or no sales. Need or no need. I had money, so I spent it. But now, with the uncertainty about how much money will come each month, I’m cautious. Whenever I stray from my grocery list, I ask myself if the item I’m looking at is something that I really need. Most of the time, it isn’t. Then there was that time when I saw the big SALE posters outside every store and jumped in to buy shoes. I walked out empty handed but not feeling bad at all because I had realized that my closet at home contained five pairs of shoes and sandals already. How many more does a human being need, I said to myself. That day, I came home and admired my little collection and felt rich. And of course, I always smile remembering the humble homeless people I know, who spend their lives with a pair of rubber sandals. All that said, I am not a complete monk and treat myself to the occasional pair of earrings or lip gloss. But yes – occasional is the key word here. More importantly, the earrings and lip gloss that I’d buy earlier just because I had money to spend every month, are so much more valuable to me. Spending money is no longer a part of my routine. It is something that I do for needs and pure pleasure.
The storm of words hit after days of a depressing lull. Too much sleep became no sleep at all. A few hundred hit the blankness, but seemed like unimportant drops of rain. She tried to stop but could not. It hurt to think everything could stop soon. Every detail whirled around her head until it came out in a gust. Twenty four hours later, the storm died leaving in its aftermath, 6000 telling words.
Just over a year into full-time freelance writing, I recently realized that things could and should look better. I spent a few sleepless nights stalking other freelance writers on the web. Linkedin profiles, blogs, and personal websites of other people in my field, plus lots of advice from established freelance writers, pointed fingers at my mistakes. The biggest problem was my attitude. Basically, I wasn’t treating my freelance career as a full-time job. Writing a few articles every month and a short story or two, was not much with 24 long hours each day and no commuting to complain about. And of course, less work published means less money in the bank. My second big mistake was relying on one or two regular clients. One client still owes me money from January. While the other client is wonderful, a publication cannot have the same writer’s stories every week. That just doesn’t happen. Depending on the one or two regular clients also encourages extreme laziness that made me pretty much forget about the term ‘pitching an idea’. So, here are some changes I made in my routine:
– I drastically reduced my Facebook and gtalk chat time during the day. Even a freelancer needs office hours for discipline. I also figured out that it is best to work when others are working so that e-mail exchange is timely.
– I made a list of potential clients and started contacting editors. These are magazines, newspapers, and portals, that I’ve ignored just to stay in my comfort zone. Pitching at least one idea a day is part of my work schedule.
– Story ideas became priority. Every day, I sit in silence and think about possible feature articles and short stories I could write. Then I spend some time checking out relevant websites for more ideas and angles to my articles. Earlier, I hardly spent time thinking of ideas. If an idea suddenly came, I asked the editor/wrote the piece. Now I’ve made it a habit.
Just in four weeks or so, I can see a difference because my work has been accepted by new editors and I’ve been writing much more than before. When I worked in an office, I would feel the hours and get annoyed. Doing what I love to do, makes all the parts of my freelance job a positive challenge and makes me forget how long I’ve been working for!
If you read my earlier post (March 13, 2013) called Lessons Learnt (so far), you know that my five years of freelance writing have taught me a lot about the field, social media, and people. I picked up another major realization recently; confidence (and sometimes, overconfidence) can win freelance writers and editors tons of work. I spend hours on Linkedin, noting every detail of other freelance writers’ profiles. I study the language they’ve used to describe their experiences and skills. I look at where they’ve been published and how often they’ve had bylines. Most nights, I reach the same conclusion: a large number of profiles are screaming confidence (or overconfidence). There are those who’ve had a couple of published short stories and still manage to make themselves sound like bestselling authors. Then there are some who hold workshops and the like with just a few published articles to boast of. In short, a fancy social media profile seems to help freelance writers get more work. That said, seeing the words ‘award winning’ on the profiles of numerous writers who nobody knows outside their family, is laughable.
Getting back to the Linkedin profiles, here are a few examples that I recall seeing.
– A copy editor with 6 months experience who says she launched an entire big brand magazine
– A writer with a handful of published pieces runs writing workshops at School X and School Y (both big name schools in the city)
– A ‘behaviorial psychology expert’ who has a bachelors degree in English and mostly freelance writing experience
– A blogger whose experience can basically sum up to monthly posts on his personal blog
And yes, many of these candidates get more work from their fancy profiles – I have seen cases. So watch what you write on your social media profile, because somebody could ignore you because they think Food Critic sounds better than Journalist. Or, because they prefer the person with much less experience who claims to be a ‘regular columnist’ for Newspaper X (read: three published articles in a year or something like that). Talking big often works!
It’s been a year and some days since I left my secure journalism job with one of India’s leading newspapers. There have been great months, a few not so good months, and the horrible patches here and there. Thankfully, I’m surrounded by family members and others who don’t understand a career unless it’s in an office and with bosses and perks – thankfully, because they wouldn’t understand my struggles even if I tried to explain things to them. Thus, I can immediately stop ranting because I never start. On the bright side, many people in India are opting for the freelance life. I’ve received some e-mails from freshers and have had the pleasure of meeting many others who’ve decided to take a chance like me. Writers, graphic designers, editors, engineers – freelancing isn’t such a crazy thing anymore. Not crazy, but definitely not easy. Here are some lessons that I picked up over the last 12 months.
1) Do not agree to work without a contract or at least an e-mail stating project terms including payment: I’ve even come across prospective clients who expected me to begin a project without any approval in place. I felt impolite at first, but there is no way that a professional should do work that he or she may not be paid for.
2) Do not agree to writing several samples when you’re applying for a job: One company got me to write about 5 articles as ‘samples’ of my work when I had considerable experience already. My mentors told me that one or two would’ve been normal, but 5 (with demands for more) wasn’t the norm. Fortunately, some companies are professional enough to pay for samples that they use.
3) Always read at least 5 editions of any publication that you want to write for – from cover to cover: In the beginning, I made the mistake of pitching story ideas without getting the feel of a magazine. I was stupid enough to think that reading one or two articles in one issue would be enough.
4) Use Linkedin: I’ve found most of my freelance jobs through this fantastic networking tool. Along with keeping my profile updated and putting up status updates with every published work, I build working relationships with editors. You can even ask your more experienced writer friends to refer you to their Linkedin connections.
Hope this post helps 🙂
So two days ago, an ex-colleague from another department who had never spoken more than the simple hello or how are you with me, said something that really really really angered me. He didn’t say it to my face, but instead threw his insecurities and silliness onto another ex-colleague of mine. Poor woman had to hear his views about the freelancing woman (me) and herself too. In a nutshell, this man – I refuse to call him a gentleman after the way he spoke – asked my friend what I do now and proceeded to interrogate her about my apparent wealth. “She must have a rich husband?” No, said my friend. “Then a rich father?” No again. Not done with his rant, the man proceeded to talk about how lucky girls are because they can afford to live ‘like this’. Not content with picking on my life, he added a sentence or two about my friend’s wealthy background. That one shocked me because she still works full-time like the hardworking, normal folk.
Well, here’s my answer for this man and all others who equate freelancing with sitting at home doing nothing:We freelancers work much more than you because we have to network constantly in order to get work. If we sat there at our desk, waiting for an assignment to be given, we’d be without a paise. When you work full-time, you have the guarantee of a specific amount of salary each month. Yes, you get perks too sometimes. We freelancers enjoy the benefits of working for multiple places and earning more in some months and less during others. Say I need an extra 3000 bucks one month, I just network and get another project. Full-timers (especially journalists) can rarely write beyond their own employer’s publication. Now comes the question of having a rich husband or rich father; I know lots of people who have either or both and slave in an office all day and earn pretty salaries. Wake up, it’s 2013.
I’d like to conclude with some wisdom that I’ve earned after my switch from full-time to freelance work. Working full-time makes you feel secure and often unchallenged. Working full-time is sometimes necessary in order to support family members. BUT ridiculing freelancers is like showing rotten jealousy without knowing your facts. Freelancing may equal to freedom in terms of choosing clients and office hours, but NOBODY will serve you work in a platter. Nobody. So stay snug in your chairs, continue getting paid for facebook stalking and google talk chats, and comment after you take the challenge 🙂