How Do You Bribe Yourself Into Getting Busy?

hungry kittenThose of you who follow me on Twitter may have noticed that I’ve been having a little bit of trouble with motivation these days.

Monday, April 22, 2:27 p.m.: “I just picked up a book, slammed it down, and shouted at myself, ‘You can read that if you get shit done!’ Obviously losing it.”

Tuesday, April 23, 10:41 a.m.: “Today will be one of those days where I only get shit done by bribing myself with Spider Solitaire + hip-hop + @poetswritersinc.” #freelance

Then on Wednesday, I came home from my a.m. yoga class all pumped up to be productive, but was then quite easily lured away from my desk by a fellow Toastmasters member who wanted to meet up for lunch.

I obviously have no self-discipline.

I mentioned to Thursday Bram (on Twitter, obvs) that this is the dirty little secret of being a work-at-home freelancer. As holy-shit-fantastic as it is to be a freelancer (and you’d better believe that it’s holy-shit fantastic, and I feel incredibly lucky), it’s still hard as hell.

So I still manage to successfully juggle the social media management and the three ghostwriting projects and the weekly sex column and the yoga teacher training and my book proposal and my Toastmasters VP of Education responsibilities.

But damned if I know how.

Here are things I have promised myself in the pursuit of being productive. [Read more…]

The Guru I Don’t Want To Be

Crazy new age woman in a yellow robe concentratingA little over three years ago (holy crap), I launched Career Coaching for Word Nerds, a career coaching service for beginning freelance writers.

I did it because, for several years, I had been receiving emails from writers pleading for advice, and I realized there was a real need for the help I could provide. Besides, the bottom had fallen out of the economy, I needed to diversify, and I knew that — with my knowledge and experience — this was something I could really kick ass at.

So I went through a career coaching certification program to make myself legit, and then I opened for business.

In the years since, however, it’s gotten so that you can’t cross the street without bumping into a coach or a ninja or a guru or a Guide To Ultimate (Career) Enlightenment. Entrepreneurship blogs have proliferated… which on the one hand is a good thing. It means that people are opening their minds to alternate career paths.

But so much of the content I see these days is regurgitated crap I’ve read a trillion times before, from a trillion different people.

In yoga, I keep hearing the sentiment that the teacher shall remain as a student, always open to learning something new. It’s a concept I’ve always believed in.

But suddenly, I wasn’t learning anything new anymore.

And I worried that you, my dear readers, weren’t learning anything new either. [Read more…]

Why Freelancing Is Like Juggling a Bunch of Flaming Chainsaws

flamejugglerI went full-time freelance almost six years ago, and I feel as if the entire expanse of it has been one big experiment in finding (and maintaining) the right balance.

And I’m not talking work/life balance. Please. Let someone else write 2,000 words about work/life balance, and whether or not I, as a woman, can “have it all.”

I’m talking about the balance between passion projects and bill-paying projects. The balance between regular clients and the freelance hustle. The balance between doing something for the bucks and doing something because it’s damn good fun.

I don’t know about you, but it seems to me that being a freelance writer has become tougher since I first started out.

Sure, there are increased opportunities: self-publishing, social media management, info-products, passive income, and guru-hood.

But strictly speaking, not all of these are writing gigs. In fact, most of them aren’t. And that’s the lament I’ve seen popping up on every single freelance forum on which I’m active: Can I still make a living as a freelance writer? Is it worth it to continue pitching the same old shit to publications with shrinking budgets? Should I just screw it all and go do something else? [Read more…]

What Got Me Here: Self-Education, Goal-Setting, Hard Work, and a Helluva Lot of Privilege

A perfect illustration of my day-to-day as a freelancer.

A perfect illustration of my day-to-day as a freelancer.

When the Nate Thayer / Atlantic kerfuffle occurred, I cycled quickly through a series of reactions.

First, I felt a knee-jerk “Damn the man! Save the empire!” swell of joyful rebellion.

Then, after reading senior Atlantic editor Alexis Madrigal’s response — an explanation of the limits of digital publishing — I felt recognition.

That’s when I wrote this on one of the freelance writer forums I frequented:

“I must admit, I feel for those on both sides of this equation. I feel as if Nate Thayer obviously deserved to be horrified that he was being asked to re-purpose a piece for free… especially from a publication as well-established as the Atlantic. I also feel as if he shouldn’t have published those emails. Having worked at an online publication with a shit budget, I know that it was out of the editor’s hands. And then there’s Alexis Madrigal’s piece, which I found interesting. Because I think it gets to the root of the issue: The digital publishing model is hopelessly broken and devalues the work of writers, while at the the same time making it difficult for publications to stay afloat.

I’m not going to go into the issues of plummeting ad dollars and whether or not paywalls are a good idea and blah blah blah because it’s all been said before (though, personally, I’d pay for content if it was of higher quality than the drivel so often found on content mills… it’s why I subscribe to publications like Oxford American and Creative Nonfiction and Poets & Writers).

But I will say that the experience Alexis described in his piece rings true. At one point, I launched and managed a blog for an online publication, and it was a lesson in frustration and despair. The budget I was given was insulting. I wanted to bring in quality content, but the money I had to offer wasn’t worthy of the writing I wanted. In some cases, I pushed back against the publisher, trying to negotiate more money or better contract terms for my writers. But it was an uphill battle. And I’m seeing the same thing happening at most other publications.

I mean… isn’t that why so many of us have diversified? It’s become impossible for us to be paid what we’re worth for the work we’re most proud of?”

After writing that, I read through a slew of posts from freelance writers who either championed writing for free or shamed publications for expecting us to work for exposure. I felt the same sort of conflicted confusion I’ve already written about here.

And then, finally, I came upon this post over at Gawker, about what happens when people write for free. It pointed out what wasn’t being mentioned in the endless back-and-forth between online writers and digital editors: the fact that the writing game is “rigged for people who already have money.” [Read more…]

Where the Magic Doesn’t Happen


My husband and I have been in our new house now for just over three months. And though the boxes have been unpacked, and the items inside (mostly) put away, things are not… quite… there yet.

Almost every room needs to be repainted (and, at the moment, the walls sport splotchy blobs of spackle). We need to de-texturize the ceilings in the living room, dining room, and family room. We need up rip up carpet and get the floors beneath sanded and re-finished. We need to replace the front door (which sits askew in its frame, lets in ALL the winter air, and pops open on its own when it’s not locked) and, in fact, need to eventually replace all the doors in the house. We need to get a hot water heater and extend the gas line, because 95 percent of our showers since we’ve moved in have been lukewarm to ice cold. And the list goes on.

In contrast, my new home office is fucking awesome. My dad helped me re-paint the walls a soothing gray. I singlehandedly ripped up the carpet, and then hired someone to sand and re-finish the floors the very next day. I bought a gorgeous, new desk, a matching filing cabinet, and a bookcase I lovingly caress at least once a day. I brought in my mother’s old typewriter, a globe covered in dragons, and other doo-dads and gee-gaws to make the room my own. I even hung a bulletin board / inspiration board. The only thing that’s missing is a purple, velvet, tufted chaise lounge for my “reading corner.”

When I had a housewarming party earlier this month, I told all of my guests that this was “the most important room in the house.”

“Have you been more productive in here?” they asked me, remembering my previous setup.

Well… no. [Read more…]

A Continuing Education in Drawing Up Contracts

iStock_000004854876_ExtraSmallThings I Am Good At:

Writing about sex.

Banging out listicles.

Line editing.

Connecting with other writers and editors.

Making lemon pound cake.

Singing in the shower.

Mimicking the sounds my cats make.

Things I Am Not Good At:

Covering my ass when I draw up and/or sign a contract.

I’ve been a full-time freelancer for about five and a half years now, yet with every new client I take on, I learn of yet another new clause I should have included in our contract.

For example, in drawing up a description of the project scope, I’ve learned to include hard-and-fast dates for when things are due — on both ends. I’ve learned to ask for a portion of my project fee up-front, and also to lay out a payment plan that gets me moolah at different stages of a project. I’ve learned to start including mention of a late fee in my contract… and to also reiterate this on my invoices (because invoices often go through an accounting department that may not be familiar with all the terms of the initial contract). I’ve learned to add in wording that wards off scope creep without an addendum to the original contract. I’ve learned to include a section that allows either myself or my client to terminate the contract if the other side doesn’t deliver (and, in one case, was relieved to be able to use it).

In fact, I thought I’d covered everything I possibly could until this past week, when a delinquent client tried to convince me that he shouldn’t have to pay me the full fee we’d agreed upon. [Read more…]

What Kind of Writer Are You?

My stock photo doppelganger, obvs.

My stock photo doppelganger, obvs.

My writing partner once told me I was the most business-y writer she knew.

To be honest, it hadn’t occurred to me that there was any other way to be.

That was why, when I sent out an LOI last month in response to a call for book reviewers and learned that the position was unpaid,  I told the editor I’d have to regretfully withdraw my hat from the ring. After all, as a professional writer, I use assignments like these to pay my bills. I couldn’t devalue my work by spinning that word glitter for free.

Only a month later, I’m rethinking my response. [Read more…]

Why Your Goals Aren’t Good Enough

iStock_000014911902XSmallEarlier this month, I met up with Susan Johnston of the Urban Muse at the Holiday Shops at Bryant Park. We don’t get to see each other often — she lives in Boston, I live in NJ, and the last time we saw each other was at the ASJA conference back in April — but when we do get together, we often end up chatting about where we are with our freelance writing careers. We take stock of where we’ve been and try to figure out where we’re going.

At the time I saw Susan, I was ghost-tweeting for one client, creating a series of blog posts for another, and ghostwriting a book with a couples counselor. I was also collaborating on an ebook with a fellow word nerd, coaching a beginning freelance writer, and revising my book proposal. As busy as I was, though, I felt adrift.

“What are your goals for 2013?” Susan asked me, and it was a tough question. Finally, I settled upon four:

1. Land a book deal.

2. Start writing the type of stuff I could submit to lit mags.

3. Earn my yoga teaching certification and start teaching classes and planning workshops.

4. Get pregnant.

They were good, solid goals but, out of the four, I’d already set out to achieve two of them in 2012. And I’d failed. [Read more…]

I’m Not Really Much of an Entrepreneur, Am I?

About two years ago, Ryan Paugh approached me about becoming one of the founding members of the Young Entrepreneur Council.

At the time, I had just left behind a permalance gig to focus on building my career coaching practice. Still, I was also juggling a number of writing and copyediting assignments, and singing at funerals for money. I considered myself more of a freelancer than an entrepreneur.

Despite this, I joined the YEC and tried not to compare myself to the other, more awesome members, such as the CEO of DISQUS, the founder and CEO of Klout, the CEO of Hootsuite, the co-founder and CEO of Indiegogo, and the founder of Threadless. I slowly grew into my entrepreneur identity. I created a more cohesive online platform, and brainstormed ways in which I could build out the Word Nerd brand.

Another year passed and I was interviewed by a reporter for the Atlantic, who was doing up an article on solopreneurship.

“Do you consider yourself a solopreneur?” he asked me.

“Absolutely,” I said.

Still, not a month had ever gone by in which I hadn’t experienced Impostor Syndrome. [Read more…]

Taking Stock of the Books That Brought Me Here

My husband and I recently moved out of the one-bedroom condo we’d been trying to sell for the past two and a half years and into a four-bedroom house 10 minutes away.

On moving day, I was giddy at the sight of the boxes upon boxes (upon boxes) of books that made their way to my new home office. Reunited at last! I thought, as they had been in storage this entire time. My TBR pile was ridiculous — and my Amazon Wish List was eight pages long — but I was suddenly seized by the desire to re-read every single book in those boxes.

Yesterday, I finally got the chance to open up those boxes and place my books on the gorgeous new double bookcase my husband and brother strong-armed into place against the wall. (I think it’s actually supposed to be a china cabinet, but watch me not care.) As I alphabetized my books by author’s last name, I was mindful of the limited space I had, and of how my collection of books might grow in the future.

Several weeks ago, I received a review copy of Jane Mount’s My Ideal Bookshelf. Mount paints “portraits of people through the spines of their favorite books: the ones that changed your life, that defined who you are, that you read again and again.” I had admired Mount’s artwork for years, and had been coveting my own custom painting. Getting my hands on a copy of the book — filled with the ideal bookshelves of a slew of notable creatives — allowed me to at least experience a vicarious thrill.

Flipping through the book, and reading the accompanying first-person essays by the book owners, also made me think about why we love the books we love, and how they change the course of our lives. What would be on my ideal bookshelf? How could I possibly pare down my collection to the handful of books that truly define me as a person? [Read more…]