The Struggling Writer

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

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.


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