The Struggling Writer

The chronicles of a freelance writer as he tries to make a living.

Sunday, December 31, 2006

December scorecard

Even though December isn't technically over, I suppose it's close enough for me to evaluate the month. How did I do?

Note that all references to "make more money" should really read "submit a higher dollar value of work". Although getting paid is certainly important, at this point I'm more concerned with the amount and value of work actually done. This keeps out such complications as getting paid next month for work done this month or not getting paid for an article done on spec.

One of my ongoing goals is "Make more money this month than last month". I did that, thanks to my new client. Hey, there's another goal: "Get a new client".

One of my milestones is "Make more from writing than from any other source". That didn't quite happen. December is a wacky month as everything but the retail industry shuts down from Thanksgiving to New Years. I'm hoping this new client will be able to provide more work in future months than December which will go a long way to meeting that goal.

My goal of "Do one thing every day" didn't work out so well. I still think it's a good goal for me, but I need to get more disciplined about it. I have applied for several new projects in the last couple of weeks, so I haven't been wasting TOO much time.

Right now all of my goals revolve around money. Once I am more financially stable, I can focus on things that are more fun.

That's one of the reasons I don't update the blog more. On days I feel like writing, I feel like I should be writing for money. I mentioned some time back that I was part of a group who was going to write a book about hydrocephalus. That project has languished and I have come to realize that I will be of no help. The book won't make a lot of money and, although I have a lot of personal interest in the topic, the return on my time investment isn't high enough to justify it right now. Later, when I have the luxury of picking my projects, I will revisit the idea.

I want to write about special needs, and that is something I want to develop this year. I just need to think of a way I can add that to my workload while making enough money that I can pay some bills.

That's why I like my "make more money each month" goal. It lets me ease into things, but it will force me to become more focussed and efficient in the future. I will re-evaluate my career choice this fall and, although I don't need to be self-sufficient by then, I need to be a large step closer by then.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

The obligatory "resolution" article

Angela Booth recently wrote about setting tiny writing goals. In this time of New Year's resolutions, it's easy to set grandiose goals that will do more harm than good. Although I understand the "Aim for the stars; settle for the moon" philosophy, it more often becomes "Aim for the stars; realize it's impossible and go back to bed".

I'm definitely a "tiny goal" kind of guy. I'm not making anywhere near the money I could be making, even this early in my career, and I'm fine with that. I'd rather ease into this, making sure I take on only what I can handle, and building to a solid career over time. I'm here for the long haul, not to win the lottery.

I'll add my own advice to goal setting.

It's OK to recognize a goal isn't going to work. Sometimes an idea that seems good at the time turns out to be unrealistic. Rather than futilely chasing rainbows and getting frustrated, get out the eraser, get rid of the goal and replace it with a new one. For example, one of my attempts at motivation was "Lock myself in my office X hours per day" hoping that I'd write out of boredom more than anything else. That worked fine...until I realized that the door wasn't actually locked and I could leave any time I wanted. I ditched that goal and replaced it with "do one thing every day", whether it's write an article, respond to an ad, research a magazine, or read a chapter in one of my writing books. That is working much better.

Use your own goals, not other peoples'. It's fine to use other people for inspiration, but everyone is different. A goal that works for one writer may not work for you. You know your personality, you know your strengths and weaknesses, and in the end you are the only one who can find realistic goals.

When you meet a goal, set a new goal. I know Angela already said that one, but it bears repeating. I see writers get stuck in a rut after meeting some moderate goal rather than improving themselves professionally. One of my goals is "Make more money each month than last month". That is really a path to the goal "Become self sufficient". When that happens, I will replace it with "Become self sufficient +X%" so that I can start building up my retirement. Even once I make enough money, that's still not the end because I can replace that with a goal like "Make the same money but work fewer hours" so that I can have more time for other things. This, of course, is all leading up to the goal "Be a millionaire working only five minutes a day" that so many not-a-scam-at-all businesses offer me.

Goals are not just for the new year. It's better to evaluate your progress regularly. I do a mental checklist about once a month and find that it keeps me on track. A set of shiny and new resolutions can be a great way to start the new year, but resolutions tarnish quite quickly and need constant care.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Libraries - What Happened?

Recently I was thinking about writing an article for Learning Through History, a print magazine aimed at middle school students. For something like that, online research won't cut it. You have to break down and use those old fashioned book things. So I headed down to my local library.

Other than my stint over Thanksgiving, I haven't been in a public library in probably twenty years. My how things have changed since my day. Back then libraries were places to study. That meant you were supposed to SHUT THE HELL UP!

On my left I had a woman on her cell phone. That's not bad since, contrary to popular belief (and practice), you can have a quiet cell phone conversation. She, however, was using the speakerphone feature.

On my right I had two guys carrying on a conversation while standing over fifty feet apart. Downstairs was the woman with the screaming two year old. The real kicker was when I heard someone shriek, "Woohoo!" I looked up and realized that was one of the staff. I can accept that the visitors might not know to keep quiet, but the freaking library staff should behave better.

My experience was further enhanced by their Wi-Fi. I wanted to complement my book research with some online work. I understand that the library has to lock sites out to avoid abuse. But I'm a little confused when I can get to Blogger, but not to two sites about the history of the Byzantine Empire. I'm also confused when I can't access the library's own website to use their online card catalog.

I lasted about a half hour before giving up. It was pretty close to deadline and I figured it was only about 50-50 that I'd get it done anyhow. Plus it's writing on spec which is always a little shaky.

I'll try again next month. I won't go back to the same library. Instead I'll drive into Phoenix and use one of the "big city" libraries in hopes my experience will be better. If not, I'll have to break down and get a library card so I can take the stuff home. I was hoping to avoid that since that just means a second trip to return the books and maybe more trips to get additional titles. Plus, of course, you can't check out the reference books anyhow.

I suppose if worse comes to worse I can just take my Walkman to blot out my noise. Oh, wait, it's "take my iPod" now. Well, something with headphones anyhow.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Am I a flaky writer?

I've talked often about procrastination. It's a terrible curse for a freelancer. I deal with it as best I can by setting short term goals and trying to trick myself in various ways.

I've also occasionally talked about my niece, Maria. I try not to mention her too often because that's what my other blog is for, but she's a big part of my flakiness. She's not a typical two year old. She has a number of serious neurological problems and the two days a week I take care of her are nonstop parades of therapy appointments, doctor visits, exercises, as well as the usual eating, drinking, and sleeping. This is complicated by the fact that she can't do anything herself yet; she hold her own bottle sometimes but that's about it.

There are four of us who take care of her: her parents, me, and the nanny who is a retired nurse. But when one of us can't work their time, the rest of us work extra days. We're happy to do it, but it's exhausting.

On the other hand, my clients don't care. OK, maybe they care, but they shouldn't have to. I have commitments and I have to meet them.

Freelance Rule #1: If you don't treat writing as a business then it will never be more than a hobby.

On the third hand, no one lies on their death bed wishing they'd spent more time at work.

Let's consider two recent examples.

I have my new client who gave me my first batch of work last week. I finished it but made a stupid blunder that rendered much of it useless. She asked me if I could fix it before the deadline. Normally I could have, but that week I pulled an extra day watching Maria and I just couldn't. She either did it herself or pawned it off on another writer.

I'm not annoyed about the blunder. It happens. It was just ignorance and, now that I know, I won't do it again. But I am annoyed that I couldn't correct the blunder in time. She was nice about it, but she shouldn't have had to figure out an alternative.

Before that, during my brief tenure at LTK, my editor had to extend my training deadline. It was in part due to Maria, part the holidays, and part my own stupid self. Again, she was nice about it, but shouldn't have had to be.

I'm a good writer. I'm a good researcher. I work fast and I take the work seriously. But I am and always will be a flaky writer.

That doesn't mean I can't do this job. As a freelancer it is important to recognize your limitations and find ways to work within that framework.

Today, at least in the US, you're not supposed to admit you have flaws. If you do you're being negative. Um, no. To say the glass is half-empty may be pessimistic, but to say it's completely full is just delusional. If you never see your own flaws, you can't fix them.

I have to work within the context of being a flaky writer. For me that means taking on less work than I'm capable of to ensure that I have some maneuvering room when real life intrudes. It means setting short-term goals. It means meeting those short-term goals rather than just ignoring them. It means occasionally, though not very often, saying "no" to my sister. Just because my family comes first doesn't mean they have to eclipse the job.

Even flaky writers can make a living.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Busy, busy, busy

I'm both pleased and annoyed at how busy I've been lately. I'm pleased at the writing work I now have, but I'm annoyed at how much non-writing stuff has chosen to pop up. Plus the usual, "Stop calling me - I'm working!" thing that all freelancers go through.

I mentioned before that I might have an opportunity to write a grant proposal. My niece's eye doctor is starting a study examining her type of vision and hearing impairments (cortical vision impairment and auditory neuropathy if your interested) to determine why they often occur together. He told my sister that the project needed a grant writer and she mentioned me (the weak network strikes again). I was going to follow up with him but got sidetracked when my niece was hospitalized, then came Thanksgiving, and so on. I made a point of tagging along to her appointment last week so I could give him my card. He seemed quite enthusiastic and said he has "several projects" for me. Good money and a strong personal interest should make this a terrific opportunity.

I've started my other new project. The articles are pretty straightforward. The keyword-heavy content is certainly a new experience. It requires a whole different style of writing to cram a lot of keywords into text without making it sound like you are. The first one took me an absurdly long time because I was trying too hard. Once I got the first one I could use it as a template for the others. I'm almost done but I can only do one or two before I have to take a break. Once I pick up the skill, I should be able to pop these out pretty quickly. It's not what I want to do eight hours a day, but it's kind of brainless and sometimes I need brainless.