Weekend read: Get better freelance work

I just liked this: it’s a pragmatic approach to steadily improving the quality and the quantity of work you get as a freelancer. I’ve been lurching about a lot lately, taking on fun things because they were fun and ignoring that they wouldn’t pay off until next year, so I need to balance that out with shorter term things. This article won’t solve the world, but it’s a good start.

Here’s a simple example from it about the scary part of asking for more money:

Approach your renegotiation one of two ways: either quantify how your workload has increased or how you’ve become more valuable to the client (if you’ve transitioned from an occasional writer to a regular contributor, for example), or simply say, “As we approach the next calendar year, I’m having conversations with all of my clients about my rates.”

Ask a Freelancer: To Get Better Gigs, What Should I Do This Week? This Month? This Year? – Nicole Dieker, Contently (9 June 2015)

Read Dieker’s full piece.

The Paper Round Problem

This is you. I know this because this is me too. You have an idea and moreover you have a raging need to write it – but you also have a mortgage and bills and at times it is all very scary. The last thing you do is write.

Everything I’ve ever done, every job that has become a key part of my working life, has begun as a sideline desire. All of it. Whatever I was doing, whatever I am doing, there is something else that I fancy and I’m working at it late at nights. No question: late night tinkering leads to life-changing opportunities. Sometimes to life-changing necessities.

But late nights also lead to doubt. And the days that follow the late nights can be bad. Nothing happening, not with this tinkering, not with the day job, and the pressures are a wall with a mirror on it. It’s a mirror telling you that you should not be doing this thing, you should not be writing that thing.

It’s the mirror telling you that you should get a paper round instead. Something to bring in even a little bit of cash now is better than frittering away your life with this stupid idea of writing. What cuts so deep is that this is true. Often enough, anyway.

You can tell yourself that you are investing in your future – because you are – but that is a tough sell when your present is tough going. You need to pay the bills now but you need to do this tinkering because that will pay the bills in the future and because it is the tinkering that you’re here for. I don’t believe in souls because I’m not religious at all but I do believe in a need to be more than we are.

I’m here to write. I think you are too.

So let us do that, let us recognise the necessity of it in every sense. And, okay, sometimes we’ll see each other down the newsagent’s.

Should we do this too? Recently Rejected opens up

There’s a new website called Recently Rejected which has artists displaying the work that, yes, well, you got it. Sometimes very beautiful work tossed aside because the intern down the hall did something for half the price.

Do go take a look: I’m not a fan of all of it and you do always wonder what got chosen instead, but there are some absorbing designs in all manner of fields.

But should we do this as writers too? It has a certain appeal but then so does have an unseen bottom drawer of material that we get to drag out, blow the dust off and pretend to commissioners that it’s brand new and just for them.

Do get dressed in the morning, don’t get dressed in the morning

Whatever. I give up. It’s as if we’ve reached saturation point on articles that say writers working from home should pretend they have a real 9-5 office job and instead now we’re embarking on a round of articles saying they shouldn’t. Here’s a shouldn’t:

I polled some of my freelance friends to find out what rules they commonly break. Here’s what came up again and again:

“Work on a schedule, just like you would at a regular job. ”

No thanks, said writer Christine Hennebury: “I don’t set regular hours. I don’t set aside chunks of time. And I don’t turn off my work at a specific time. The whole point of freelancing and working from home is to blend your work and home life together a bit better.” Instead, Hennebury plans her day using author Jennifer Louden’s “Conditions of Enoughness,” deciding what she needs to get done to be satisfied at the end of the day. Then when she’s done, she’s done.

Trying to stick to a “normal” nine-to-five workday can present logistical problems for freelancers, too, as former freelancer Holly Case pointed out. “I remember one big article I was working on required me to interview an important expert. I spent nearly a week trying to reach him and never could. He finally called me at eleven p.m., explaining that he was on his way to a party in a limo and wondered if I could do the interview then. I said yes because I didn’t know if I would get it otherwise

Always Get Dressed in the Morning, and 6 Other Rules Successful Freelancers Break – Meagan Francis, The Freelancer, by Contently (27 February 2015)

Read the full piece.

Don’t bother looking for writing work via LinkedIn

Well, sort of.

But this time, I just couldn’t get the words of a friend out of my head: “Haven’t you ever used LinkedIn to get work?” he’d said. “I just bang out a few mails to connections and—boom!—something always comes up.”

I’ll be honest: I was baffled. Don’t get me wrong—when it comes to LinkedIn, I was a pretty early adopter and trundled past the all-important 500+ connections barrier a while ago. But for me, LinkedIn has only ever been an accessory, a place for potential clients to see I really exist and then, bowled over by the riotous trumpetings of my gold-plated CV, hire me for assignments. Could LinkedIn be more than just a fancy shop window for freelancers?

This Is What Happens When You Spend a Full Day on LinkedIn Looking for Freelance Writing Work – Mike Peake, The Freelancer, by Contently (15 January 2015)

Short answer no with a but, long answer yes with an if. Read the full piece.

Women are the reason some teams are more productive than others

Part of me doesn’t like this. I believe that the differences between us as individuals is more important than the differences between our genders. That I am me and you are you regardless of our sex. But then as a writer and hopefully decent human being, I am also conscious that women are preposterously badly treated in the workplace. Don’t believe me? You’re probably a man. Not going to complain about it to me? You’ve noticed I’m not a woman.

Seriously: a woman writing what I just did would on average get more criticism than I’ll see. And if you genuinely doubt the maltreatment of women in business, go compare some salaries.

So there is a great part of me that rather likes research saying women make teams smarter. This research is saying that, while there are some other factors that come in to play, those are not the ones you’d predict about charismatic leaders or high bonus pays:

Instead, the smartest teams were distinguished by three characteristics.

First, their members contributed more equally to the team’s discussions, rather than letting one or two people dominate the group.

Second, their members scored higher on a test called Reading the Mind in the Eyes, which measures how well people can read complex emotional states from images of faces with only the eyes visible.

Finally, teams with more women outperformed teams with more men. Indeed, it appeared that it was not “diversity” (having equal numbers of men and women) that mattered for a team’s intelligence, but simply having more women. This last effect, however, was partly explained by the fact that women, on average, were better at “mindreading” than men.

Why Some Teams Are Smarter Than Others – Anita Woolley, Thomas W Malone and Christopher Chabris, NYTimes.com (19 January 2015)

Read the full piece.

Just go

It is always better to go than not. If you’re invited somewhere, if something is happening and you can get to it, get to it. The worst that can happen is that you have a bad time and a good story to tell about it.

Okay. The worst thing that can happen is that you have a bad time when you could be at your desk writing. But you still get the story, it just happens to you instead of your having to make it all up.

So go.

I’m minded of this because I went to a poetry event last night and though I did fancy it, I knew it was going to be a long day and I knew I was behind on various things. It would unquestionably have been better for me to stay at my office working instead of spending the day chatting with people and the evening watching a poetry performance.


But it was undoubtedly better for me to go because it fuelled me. I met with people I like very much – I hadn’t realised they would be there, it was a hugely unexpected delightful bonus – and I enjoyed the poetry. It was fuel. It was leaded.

It didn’t have to be. It is not the job of poetry to inspire a writer to write. I don’t think poetry has a job, it just as purpose and a role and a position and a power. Let it do what it may and trust that what it may do is alive.

But it does also fuel me. And the thought of this evening is with me still tonight. Whereas, if I’d worked on into the evening, by now I wouldn’t be able to tell you with any certainty which text I’d written then. Which text was the day before. I might be able to make a stab at it but you’re a writer, you know this: you revise and replace all of your writing all the time. If I wrote something last night, it might not survive the day. And that’s fine, that’s necessary, but choosing to step away and do something that isn’t work, that wasn’t work, that actually took work.

And it’s always worth it.

More on being your own boss at work

Lisa Dill, a recruiter and trainer, has written a Digital Professional Institute article about how to impress your boss and I think her last one is precisely what I’ve been going on about today here and in the newsletter.

Here’s Dill’s take:

I’m sure we all want to be the individual in the office with the next great idea. Occasionally we may even find ourselves daydreaming about how to make certain aspects of what our company does better overall. Then, all of a sudden it hits you, and you’re ready to present your next big idea. Before you do, pause, think it through, and then bring it to your boss with a plan in mind of how you’d recommend getting it done. Ideas are one thing, but making them a reality is entirely different. Presenting your boss with a game plan is going to demonstrate to her that you don’t just have good ideas, but you can put them into action. This provides her with one less thing to think about in regard to how to get something accomplished, but it also gives you ownership of seeing your idea through and the praise when it’s implemented successfully.

Five Simple Ways to Wow Your Boss – Lisa Dill, Digital Professional Institute (undated)

Read the full piece for more specific advice on handling yourself at work.

You’re your own boss

When I went freelance in the 1990s, very many people enthused at me about what it would like not being a boss. I knew they were wrong: it was more like I was taking on 17 bosses, each of them paying me a tiny bit.

All these years on, though, they were right. And I was wrong. (Would you look at that? A man saying he was wrong. Songs will be sung of this day.)

I have all these clients, all these editors, most people have just the one boss. But we are all working for ourselves and as easy as it can be to let the boss decide everything, as even easier as it is to just complain about that man or woman, you will be more productive and you will feel better when you realise that you are in charge.

Let’s not get silly about it. Punching your boss in the face is not empowerment, it’s unemployment and a possible legal case. But take everything your job requires you to do and look at it all is if you are the manager. Which bit does your client, your boss, really need? What bits are quick wins you can knock out in ten minutes? What’s the stuff that you know is just bollocks and busy work? And what is the stuff that you can do that needs help from other people? Best yet: what’s missing? What more can you do that will be really good for you, your boss, your company and your future pay rises?

Look at your job not as what you have to do or as who you are, but instead as this business that you are running. You have clients and customers, you have resources, if you use them like that instead of constantly reacting to whatever happens next or whoever demands things the loudest, you’ll feel in control. It’s the best feeling because it’s real, you’ll feel in control because you are.

Mind you, keep doing that and you could end up being promoted to boss. Or go freelance.