The Writing Life, Part 3—Why Freelance?


I was scared when I decided to take the leap from a full-time position as member of the editorial staff of a magazine to freelancing. But I was more scared not to.

That probably sounds odd, however, the thought of never experiencing the thrill of working for myself, of living my life only working for others terrified me more than the uncertainty that goes with not having a steady paycheck.

When I was growing up, most of the adults I knew—family, neighbors—owned their own businesses. I had difficulty understanding what my classmate’s fathers did for a living because they had to go to work at some destination called an office or a factory or a construction site.

At sixteen, I got my first ‘real’ job. I felt like a captive because I ‘had’ to be at work at a specific time each day. That feeling continued as I graduated college and entered the workforce. Even when I got my dream job working on the editorial staff of a magazine, I felt like a captive. I loved my job and the people I worked with were terrific. Still, I felt constrained by the requirements of being in an office for a specific length of time each day. I felt like I was missing out on my life.

In my mind, freelancing offered me the perfect mix of focused work time and flexibility. Sure, sometimes I had to be on site to work with a client. However, there were a lot of other times when I could work from home in the comfort of my own office. And those were the times that more than made up for when I needed to be on site.

They still are and they still do.

The Writing Life, Part 2—Freelancing Without an Agency

Although I enjoyed the agency work I did when I first began freelancing, there comes a time in every writer’s life when it makes sense to freelance without an agency. Why? Because most writers are independent souls, free spirits who feel constrained by the rules and regulations of agency work.

When I decided to branch out on my own, I felt excited, elated, and terrified all at the same time. Amazingly, one of my first non-agency clients was one of my former employers. Shortly after I decided to drop the agency and fly solo, I unexpectedly received a phone call from the manager I’d reported to at the first magazine I worked for. They needed a freelancer to work on a premium product they planned to give to new subscribers.

It sounded like an interesting project. It also felt great to return to familiar surroundings—and at twice the hourly pay I had received as an employee. After that, I was convinced that freelancing without an agency was definitely right for me.

The Writing Life, Part 1—Working With Agencies


Agencies that hire and place writers are much like temporary agencies that hire office personnel or laborers. They find clients who want to hire writers, then they negotiate the contract, find and hire the writers, schedule the interviews with the client company, collect the payment, and pay the writer, keeping a percentage for themselves for the work they’ve done.

It’s fair, but it means you’re working for much less than you would be paid if you worked directly with the client. Still, I loved working this way when I was relatively new to freelancing and still learning how to find clients and negotiate contracts. I also appreciated that the agency would go after any delinquent payers.

Still, after a while the constraints of working for an agency became apparent and I determined to work for myself. More about that in Part Two of The Writing Life.

3 Things Editors Don’t Want Writers to Know


I’ve been both a writer and an editor. Sitting on both sides of the hiring desk has provided me with an insight that most writers don’t have access to. What’s more, there are three things editors don’t want writers to know because if writers knew these things, editors fear they would lose their negotiating power.

The three things that editors don’t want writers to know are:

1. They Need You.
Editors need writers. Writers provide editors with job security. Without writers and what they write, editors would not have jobs.

2. Editors Depend on Writers.
Editors know that they can depend on professional writers to meet the deadlines they set for them. This is important because if a writer misses a deadline, the editor may have to come up with a replacement article at the last minute. And editors do not like to have to do this. So editors depend on their stable of writers to meet their deadlines on time or even early.

3. Editors Have Favorite Writers.
Editors, like teachers, have favorites among the writers they work with. Their favorite writers meet the deadlines they set and often over deliver. That is, they provide sidebars, graphics, and backup information that editors can use to enhance page layouts and provide filler. All of this makes the editor’s job easier. Who wouldn’t like working with someone who does this?

Why Writers Write

Writers are compulsive. They write because they have to. Most professional writers write because they have a compulsive need to share their thoughts, experiences, research, and knowledge with others. That’s why they started writing in the first place.

I think true writers are born to be writers. I remember wanting, desperately, to go to school so I could learn how to write. (Child prodigies who learned to read and write at 2 were rare when I was growing up.)

I cannot begin to describe my dismay, disappointment, and impatience when I realized that I would have to wait until first grade to learn how to write because my kindergarten teacher was only going to teach me the letters of the alphabet, numbers, and how to write my name.

The compulsion to write continued and once I did learn how to write, no birthday, Christmas, or holiday was complete for me if I didn’t write a poem or special message in the accompanying greeting card. I simply had to write.

That compulsion grew as I entered middle school and high school. I kept a diary. I wrote poems and short stories. I wrote commentaries about what was happening in the world and I dreamed about someday writing my own column for a newspaper or magazine.

Most of all, I dreamed about writing something meaningful. I wanted to make a difference and I believed that writing was the way to do that. I still do.

Character Is the Stuff that Stories Are Made Of

Most of the people who know me are unaware that I am a writer. Oh, sure, my business associates and my clients know I am a writer. However, most of my neighbors and several of my acquaintances have no idea that I write for a living. Why?

I stopped telling people that I’m a writer several years ago because I got tired of hearing 18-year-olds say they wanted to write their autobiography because they’d “had such an interesting life.”

“At 18?” I want to ask, scoffing derisively. Since I’m also polite, I don’t usually scoff, derisively or otherwise. However, I do find myself immediately growing impatient with young people who think the world wants to hear their story just because it fascinates them. Certainly some young people have lived lives that others may want to read about, however, that number is miniscule.

Do I sound jaded? I hope not, however, I fear I may. And, yet, each time someone says something to me about how fascinating or interesting their own life has been, I find myself recalling a conversation I had years ago with one of my university professors, a celebrated artist in her native country.

She said that in her twenties she’d met and had become friends with the famous painter and sculptor, Pablo Picasso. A few years after they’d met, she asked Picasso if he would paint her. Picasso refused with a gentle, yet meaningful explanation. He told her to ask him again in 10 years when she was in her mid-thirties because then her face “would have character.”

When 18-year-olds tell me their life story is book material. I want to tell them to wait until they’re 50 or 60 or older to write their autobiography –when their life has more character.

Steve Jobs died this month on October 5th. He was 56. Now Steve was a man whose life had character. He and Steve Wozniak had a dream about putting a computer on every desktop worldwide. And with just that dream, they built an empire. Apple computers, iPads, and iPhones are just about everywhere. Jobs and Wozniak changed the way people worldwide do business.

Jobs, in fact, went on to build several empires. He will, perhaps, be remembered as one of the most amazing innovators of our time. Think different is an Apple mantra.

The Macintosh computer changed the world and the lives of many millions of people when it was introduced in January 1984. And Steve went on to become a living legend.

When we speak about a life that has character, Walter Isaacson’s biography of
Steve Jobs’s
is one that is well worth reading, especially for those 18-year-olds, so they know to aim for the stars.

Character is the stuff that stories are made of. Develop that and you have a story worth writing—and reading.

Rest in peace, Steve, and thank you for changing the world for the better.

Words Are My Currency

Words are my currency. I thought about putting that on my business cards because writers exchange words for a paycheck. Then, again, maybe not. I prefer to be paid with cold, hard cash.

Words are, however, a medium of exchange. Writers use words to teach, to impress, to persuade, to win over, to exhort, to move others to action, and so much more.

The currency of words flows easily for some writers and clumsily or even slowly for others. Sometimes the current of words slows to trickle or not at all. The writer’s only comfort is that writers block is only temporary.

Although most of the writers I know are rather quiet and shy, you can rest assured knowing that they are not silent. Writers write because they have a driving need to communicate. Thank heaven for that. For where would the world be without writers?

A Cure for Writer’s Block—Part 3

Failure will never overtake you
as long as your determination to succeed
is strong enough.

Those words were penned by my favorite motivational writer, Og Mandino, in his classic book, The Greatest Salesman in the World.

I first read them when I was 12 years old. I’ve carried that book with me ever since, reading it in good times and in times of distress. It’s always served me because if anyone needs determination, it’s writers.

The standard words of encouragement that many new writers often hear from their more experienced counterparts is that they have to be ready to paper their walls with rejection slips (and not let the rejections defeat them) before they can begin to succeed.

I don’t believe the situation is quite so dire. Although writers must have strong egos, so they can deal with rejection easily and move on because writing is subjective. You can write an article, give it to 10 different people, and get 10 different responses from good to negative.

The Greatest Salesman in the World is the story of the persistence and determination of Hafid, a young camel boy, who dreams of becoming the greatest salesman in the world. When the caravan leader learns of Hafid’s ambition and recognizes his potential, he gives Hafid the gift of 10 scrolls of wisdom, each of which comprise a chapter in the book. Hafid carefully studies the scrolls and eventually achieves the greatness and wealth he desires.

Whenever I find myself wondering how I can possibly write because the words don’t seem to be flowing easily or how I can possibly achieve a goal I’ve set for myself, I remind myself of Og Mandino’s words: “Failure will never overtake me as long as my determination to succeed is strong enough.” Then I sit down and start writing.

If you’re looking for a way to strengthen your determination and persistent in building your writing career, I encourage you to check out The Greatest Salesman in the World. It’s one of my favorite pick-me-up and kick-me-into-gear books.

As an inspirational side note—this book was not only Og Mandino’s first book. It was the book that catapulted him to fame and inspired him to write 18 other books. His books have been translated into 25 languages and have sold more than 50 million copies. Although it takes most writers a while to achieve a modicum of success, I hope this book, if you choose to read it, and Og Mandino’s success, inspire you.

What inspires you to persist in writing? Please tell us in the comments.

(Note: If you do not see the comments section, click on the title of this post, then scroll to the bottom.)

3 Do’s & Don’ts When You Meet Potential Clients

You have a meeting with a potential client and you’re excited. The phone is finally beginning to ring and your business is taking off. Congratulations!

After the euphoria subsides and you slowly float to earth, the anxiety sets in and you begin to worry about what to do, what to say, and how to make sure he hires you and not some other freelancer.

Here are 3 Do’s and Don’ts to help you make a great first impression and turn this potential client into a paying client.

3 Do’s for a Successful First Meeting


1. Arrive on time.
This one’s a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised how many freelancers show up late for meetings. So arrive on time, even a few minutes early. Your potential new client will be impressed by your punctuality and you will feel calm and focused.

2. Observe the proprieties.
Make eye contact, smile, and shake hands firmly. Okay, that’s three packaged as one because you do them simultaneously when you first meet someone.

3. Arrive prepared.
Arrive prepared to sign this client at this meeting. Make sure you have the following items with you: your business cards, marketing brochures, laptop, portfolio, and two copies of your contract (one for you and one for your client, so you both have a signed copy).

Avoid These Don’ts to Make a Good Impression


1. Do not wear jeans.
Let me repeat this because it is critical. Do not wear jeans even if it’s casual Friday for the client company. Make sure you are dressed professionally.

2. Do not answer your cell phone.
Better yet, turn it off as you enter the meeting. When I am in meetings with clients or potential clients, and even when I visit with friends, I turn off my cell phone, so I can give them my undivided attention. When I first enter a business meeting of any type, I usually take out my cell phone and casually say, “Let me turn off my cell phone, so we’re not interrupted.” This subtly indicates that I think they are special because they deserve my undivided attention. It also acts as a prompt for them to shut off or silence their cell phones, as well.

3. Do not lie.
When you lie about your experience or on your resume, you will inevitably get caught because the publications community is a small one and people talk to each other.

Use these three Do’s at every meeting you attend, avoid the 3 Don’ts, and you will be on your way to impressing potential clients right into hiring you on the spot.

Do you have a favorite Do or Don’t for meetings with potential clients? I invite you to share it with us.

Write On With Confidence!

Cara
The Writers Inkwell Muse

How to Write With Surgical Precision

When you write something, an article, a book chapter, even a letter, how do you do it? What I mean is, do you find writing easy and effortless or do you work at it, at least a bit?

The aura that surrounds writers includes the perceived ability of professional writers to write well the first time, every time. People who are not writers seem to think that people who are writers have some secret gift for putting words on paper the right way the first time.

Do you write it and your’e done? Or do you write it, read it, edit or rewrite, read it again, then repeat the process?

Inevitably, every time I teach “Writing for Results,” someone says they’re taking my class because they want to learn how to ‘do it right the first time.” By ‘do it right’ they mean they want to write, with every word, sentence, and phrase correct the first time and be done with it.

Delving into their determination to do it right the first time usually yields the information that their sixth grade teacher or a college professor told them they couldn’t write and never would.

Let me assure you that even professional writers usually do not write perfectly correct the first time. We write our first draft, then we mull that over. Then we rewrite our second draft. Sometimes we may even write a third or fourth draft or more. At some point, we decide that what we have written will do and we begin to copyedit the document. That may take us through it a few more times.

I usually tell my students, “If you want to do it right the first time, you need to get over that because doing it right requires more than one time through the document.

If it’s any comfort to those of you who still feel like you need to do it right the first time, keep in mind that writing with the surgical precision you think professional writers have is a result of the writing and editing process.

On a magazine the editorial process goes something like this: the writer writes a first draft, re-reads it and writes a second draft (or third). The writer then submits the article to the magazine’s editor who edits it. The editor then hands the article to the magazine’s copyeditor who does a thorough copyedit. The copyeditor then hands the article to the magazine’s proofreader who does the final editorial review prior to shipping it to the printer.

I get exhausted just thinking about the editorial process for one little article. . . .

Write On With Confidence!