5 Reasons Freelancing Sucks Ass

Courtesy Eloquent Science.

Yesterday, you were treated to some of the positives of the freelancing experience. As previously mentioned, freelancing is a double-sided coin. To keep a positive spin on the post, I’ve included possible solutions to each of the 5 reasons freelancing sucks ass.

1. Self-motivation is tough. Ever had trouble scrounging up the energy to leave the house? Take a shower? Make your bed? Put pants on? If you’ve ever been unemployed (or just really, really bored), you probably understand that the power to create your own schedule can also be the undoing of your schedule. It’s great to have that freedom, but there are days when self-motivation is tough.

Solution? I try to solve this problem by visualizing benjamins. I’m not some greedy, money-grubbing bastard. But everyone likes a little extra cash. Because your income is tied directly to how much work you do, you can use this fact to kick your own ass into gear.

2. Taxes. Taxes are perhaps the single worst wake-up call in the history of freelance writing. As a freelancer, you’ll love getting massive paychecks with no withholdings. The problem? You’ll have to pay those withholdings quarterly or at the end of the year. Of course, you can write off a world of new expenses. But that comes with hours and hours of administrative and accounting work.

Solution? Pay diligent attention to your finances. Be sure you’re putting away at least a quarter of your monthly earnings every month. Work with a professional accountant as soon as you go freelance so you know what to expect based on your state’s tax laws. SAVE EVERY RECEIPT.

3. Less social interaction during the day. Freelancing doesn’t exactly imply psychosis-inducing loneliness. Still, you’re going to have fewer meaningful interactions with a human throughout the day than you’re used to working in an office.

Solution? Get out of the house or apartment a couple of days a week. You’ll exercise your social skills buying coffee. You’ll surround yourself with other people at the library or a coffee shop.

4. More distractions. Sometimes, the opposite of having no motivation is having too much motivation. If you’re trapped in your house or apartment all day, you’re bound to think of things that need to be done around the house. Errands are a popular way to distract yourself from working. Whatever the activity, you’ll find things you’d usually save for nights and weekends to do during the day.

Even working for too many hours can become a hassle. If you’re a super-awesome self-motivator, you may be tempted to work into the night to get that paper.

Solution? Make a to-do list and take distractions one at a time. There are positives to having the day to yourself; if you can stay disciplined enough to take care of business in piecemeal, you’ll be able to keep yourself on schedule for work. Plan night activities with friends to keep yourself from becoming a workaholic recluse.

5. Access to alcohol. Let’s face it: writers tend to enjoy the drink. It’s inevitable that you’ll hear the call of that six-pack in the fridge before the day is done, especially if you’re working with stressful clients.

Solution? Simple. Don’t stock your fridge with booze. If you’re aching for a beer after work, force yourself out of the house or apartment. The convenience factor lowers, reducing the chances you’ll start to get your drink on too early in the day.

5 Reasons to Go Freelance Immediately

Courtesy SummerBrew Films.

Freelancing is a double-edged sword. But it’s a lot of fun and games. You take the good with the bad. In this case, let’s take a look at the good. Here are 5 reasons to go freelance immediately.

1. Make your own schedule. I’ve riffed on this one before. Freelance includes the word ‘free’, which makes it the most ‘Merican occupation in the country. You’re free to define your own schedule. Work all day and all night. Or don’t work at all. The power is in your hands.

2. Get more monies. When you’re locked down at a company, higher pay isn’t an easy thing to come by. With freelancing, you determine your own net worth. If the potential client doesn’t want to pay you what you’re worth, you find someone who will.

3. Expand the breadth of your portfolio. If you’re writing anywhere other than an agency, you’re focused on one topic. It’s great to become an expert. But if you’re stuck in a market you don’t particularly enjoy, it’s difficult to move elsewhere with a narrow portfolio. Play around in other fields until you land on something you love.

4. Break your chains. Reporting to clients can be a hassle at times. Still, you’re ultimately your own boss. No more corporate drama. No more managers looking over your shoulder. Break free from your cubicle. Explore your new space.

5. Become a mercenary. Don’t like where you’re at? Move on. Find the highest bidder. Take part in a commission program. Write about a new market. Try to sell articles to your favorite magazines. Your world is a gyrating glowworm of opportunity.

Cultivating the Creative Mind

What’s happening with creativity?

A fair question, is it not? It’s suddenly lost on Hollywood. You won’t find it in the widening gulf of politics. Today’s popular literature literally shuns creativity. Everyone is rehashing the same old ideas. And there are no twists.

You could make an argument for creativity in tech development. But then again, aren’t we just pushing ideas that require us to think less? Is that intellectual evolution?

This guy could have created you out of existence with a snap of his fingers. (William S. Burroughs, circa some time after a heavy heroin binge)

As our collective knowledge grows, it’s become clearer that the constant stimuli surrounding us are killing our creative juices. We have the answers at our fingertips. Thinking is unnecessary. When faced with a blank page, today’s writer is super efficient. Unfortunately, most of that efficiency comes from borrowed content. It’s a necessity sometimes. But as a writer, it’s important to exercise your creativity from time to time.

Take a second to breathe. Here are some simple ideas to get your mojo back.

Disconnect. Every time you interact with technology, you’re shooting up. Kick the habit for a day or two. Go the old-fashioned route: carry a notebook and a pen and jot down ideas for later.

Read. Sit down with a good book, a magazine or an honest-to-god newspaper. You’ll find it’s a lot easier to process information when you have a single focal point.

Escape. The traffic. The late night drunks. The texts and calls. Get out of the city. Go enjoy the outdoors for a bit. And remember to bring that good book (and notebook) with you.

Simplify. If you’re like me, you have 50 browser tabs open. In addition to 33 documents. Add Skype, AIM and Gchat to the list and you’re going nowhere fast. Close everything and put Microsoft Word into “focus” mode.

Exercise. It’s taken me a long time to finally get into this. But I’m surely reaping the benefits. Exercise is an important part of getting in tune with your body and clearing your head.

Mute. I’m a gigantic music geek, but it can add a layer of overwhelmingness to your brain. Turn it off and work in silence for a few hours so you can focus.

Additional reading: check out this recent article in Fast Company for psychological perspective into the world of the creative process.

5 Lessons Professional Writers Can Learn from Moby-Dick

Moby-Dick is a timeless classic published way back in 1851. It’s perhaps the most enduring work of American literature.

One thing’s for sure: writing was a lot different back then. Perhaps an attempt at ‘life imitating art’, the book itself is a beast of white whale stature.

The camera catches Mr. Dick off-guard. Picture circa 1851.

Moby-Dick is still read for a reason. And there’s plenty that writers can learn from the masterpiece. Assuming the right interpretation, of course. Having just finished it, I will now debase its literary prowess by relating it in terms of the lowlier professional craft of writing. Check out 5 lessons that professional writers can learn from Moby-Dick.

1. Easy on the adverbs. If there’s one thing Melville isn’t bashful about it’s his use of adverbs. Today’s writer should use adverbs sparingly. When overused, they tend to slow down the reading process. This is especially true for ‘-ly’ adverbs. Flowery language found a niche in the writings of Melville’s era. But there are better, more succinct ways for today’s writer to create a clear depiction.

2. Vivid description sets you apart. When Melville isn’t using his adverbs, he’s launching into long bouts of vivid description. In fact, he sets aside entire chapters for description. The length won’t appeal to the contemporary reader. But the sheer vividness and enthusiasm of them compels. You can learn a lot about painting a lifelike picture from Melville.

3. Obsession can be bad. Actually, this one is kind of the moral of the entire story. Ahab’s obsession with the white whale brings about his doom. What’s your white whale? If you obsess over perfect writing, you’ll never finish a piece. Revision is necessary up until a point. But obsessing over that revision can lead to hours of useless changes and edits.

4. Submerge the ‘I’. I’ve written a bit about this before. Taking the ‘I’ out of your writing helps establish more credibility. Of course, Moby-Dick starts out with the famous line “Call me Ishmael.” But as the story rolls along, you get more and more detail about the events occurring around Ishmael, rather than those happening to him.

5. Have no fear. Seriously, you’re afraid to say, write or publish something? These guys manned tiny little boats and watched agitated whales swim from the depths to attack them! And sharks! Christ. What I’m saying is the only way to make a splash is to jump right in. Don’t be afraid to try something new in your writing.

How to Freelance in Style

The best part about freelancing is making your friends jealous of your new lifestyle. It’s okay! Embrace the envy.

If you plan to freelance, best to do it in style. If anyone knows style, it’s me. I got styles for miles.

Below, I’ve laid out my step-by-step guide for freelancing in style. Note: these style tips do not take success or productivity into account. These tips help improve your lifestyle as a freelancer. But like all good things in life, they should be enjoyed in moderation.

Step 1: Stop wearing pants. Take Homer Simpson’s words to heart and stop wearing pants. Enjoy the freedom that comes with rolling out of bed and walking five steps to your computer. Working without pants can be a liberating feeling. Now, if only there were a picture to sum this tip up perfectly…

Ah, here it is.

Step 2: Work outside. All you need is your computer. Set up shop at a cafe, by the water, in a park — wherever you can get work done while enjoying the summer weather. Glare of the sun too much? Work in the shade or grab yourself a cheesy-looking laptop visor.

Step 3: Socialize more often. You have freed yourself from the daily commute. Make the most of your newfound time to catch up with friends on weeknights. Keep yourself disciplined — late nights still translate to rough mornings.

Step 4: Get in shape. Self-improvement: you now have time to participate in this ages-old activity. Slot out some time to hit the gym during the day. You’ll miss the rush and you can always make up the time by working an extra hour into the evening. All your friends will be commuting during that hour anyway.

Step 5: Learn a new language. It’s important to diversify your activities. Learning a new language can help get the creative juices flowing while taking your mind off of writing in English for a bit. Branch out and you’ll have the opportunity to open a whole new world of business and personal potential.

Step 6: Take more days off. Freelancing isn’t all fun and games — but you will notice a quality of life improvement. Stay disciplined and put in some extra hours during the week. Then, take Friday off and enjoy a three-day weekend (with email access, of course).

Step 7: Travel to exotic locales. Worry no more about budgeting your vacation days. If you’re feeling uninspired, take off for a couple of days and see the country. Or, if you’re big into traveling like me, plan 2-3 international trips a year. Watch your friends’ jealousy go through the roof.

Do Shorter Sentences Hit Home Harder?

Crafting sentences is an art.

We don’t always think in sentences. Putting thoughts straight to paper usually results in stream-of-consciousness. It’s way easier to loose a reader that way.

Keep your readers. Write shorter sentences.

Let’s look at the contrast. Virginia Woolf is the master of stream-of-consciousness. But her writing exists in a medium drastically different from the business writer’s. As a result, she gets a pass. Everything else about her writing is so enthralling that we award her with artistic license.

Hemingway, on the other hand, was a breath of fresh air for readers. His prose made it nearly impossible for readers to miss the point. And that’s one reason he’s lauded as one of the greatest storytellers of all time.

“I don’t always drink beer, but when I do…I drink an entire case in one sitting.”

Consider this slightly-altered quote from The Sun Also Rises:

You don’t want to mix emotions up with a wine like that because you lose the taste.

This isn’t the original quote. But what if it had been? Worse yet, what if Hemingway wrote the entire book in that style?

Thank the modern literary gods that he didn’t. Here’s the statement as it originally appears:

You don’t want to mix emotions up with a wine like that. You lose the taste.

Clearly, this is a cause-and-effect statement. But consider how much more impact the thought has when the concepts are separated by a stop.

For professional writers, long sentences are usually the result of combining multiple thoughts. In good literature, to contrast, we excuse long sentences. Exhaustive description is usually the culprit in lengthy diatribes.

But your audience probably won’t read your writing for fun. They want the point. Short sentences lead to clearer points. The. End.

6 Ways Freelancers Get More Clients

Getting clients is hard work. Just about every other freelance task can be performed from home in your underwear. I mean, I’m wearing pants right now. But not because I have to.

You can do this. It took work to build up a portfolio. Now, it’s time to kick into gear and find some clients.

First thing’s first. No freelancer made a living by quitting a job without a lifeline. My first freelance client was a pain in my ass. I had to work nights and weekends to build a strong relationship. Alas, my first years as a young professional were split between work and drink. There wasn’t time for much else.

Of course, once you quit your job, you’ll have to supplement your current assignments with more. Sometimes, you can tap that current client for more work. But expanding your portfolio for long-term success means you must diversify.

Here are 6 ways to get more freelance clients:

1. Attend meetups and networking events. Old-fashioned face-to-face meetups still deliver for business development. Meetup.com is a great resource to find small businesses and marketers in your area. Become a regular attendee and chat people up. Hint: Approach prospects casually. You’ll get yourself a bad rep for acting too salesy.

2. Build your digital brand. Get yourself found online. Most marketers are focused on brand success in the digital space. If you’re active online, you can prove that you’re steeped in the medium, bolstering your status as a copywriter. Use social media channels like Twitter, LinkedIn, blogs, About.me, Tumblr and your website to get the point across and improve visibility for your services.

3. Ask clients for referrals. I’ve found great success asking happy clients for referrals. If you perform solid work for a client, you have the ability to turn them into an advocate for your writing. Don’t be afraid to ask a client in good standing to spread the word.

4. Check Craigslist and job boards. This one gets a little tricky. Sign up for services like FreelanceWriting.com to have jobs delivered to you. The catch here is that you’re sure to come up against hefty competition. Check the writing section of Craigslist under gigs. But be careful — you’re sure to come across as many crap jobs as legitimate ones.

5. Tap your network. Everyone knows a communications professional. The problem is that they don’t always approach their networks in the right way. Advertising your services via Facebook or LinkedIn status crushes the personal element of networking. Try researching your friends first and contacting relevant people individually.

6. Reach out. Cold emails are a tough way to break through to a business. If you craft a compelling pitch, you may get some traction. Compile a strong list of organizations you’d like to work for. Do your research and create a strong pitch. At least one of those two hundred pitches has the potential to hit the mark.

If You Can’t Say Something Nice, Say Something Constructive

There’s no curing the epidemic of negativity on social networks. You, however, can gain immunity. An apple a day and such.

Your social networks are jam-packed with negativity and passive-aggressive content. It leaks into the blogosphere, too. As a reader, you can sniff out negativity. It usually doesn’t sit so well.

I get email updates every now again from a prominent blog in its space. But I just can’t bring myself to read it anymore. Every post details something you shouldn’t do. It tears down some company or individual who is doing the wrong thing. It reeks of self-importance and a downright negative perspective. There’s nothing attractive there anymore, so I delete the update almost every morning. (I stay subscribed because every now and again, he shares an interesting nugget of information.)

Negativity will naturally seep into your writing sometimes, especially when you’re inspired by a conflicting opinion. Unless it’s done with purpose (for humor, a one-off or a direct response), it may be killing the reader’s will to live.

“I disagree with him, Mr. Trump. Your hair looks like a live muskrat today, not a dead one.”

The real problem with negativity is how it affects the overall tone. You can be snarky without being negative. Sarcasm is more difficult to pull off.

Guess what? There’s a cure for negativity. It’s called being constructive. Remember that short fiction class you took in college? Of course you don’t; you were stoned. The first rule of that class was to always contribute constructive feedback. Use that every single day when you sit down to write. The process is kind of like laundering money: take that negative energy and invest it in a related, constructive concept. It comes out clean on the other side with your point intact.

Here are a few examples:

  • “Five Reasons Mitt Romney Sucks Ass” becomes “Five Ways Mitt Romney Can Improve His Campaign”
  • “I hate everything about the Jersey Shore” becomes “Jersey Shore may be the downfall of America, but here’s what we can do to stop it.”
  • “Someone should punch Donald Trump in the dick” stays the way it is. There’s just no getting around how much that guy sucks.

Now fly, my minions, and spread some positive thinking!

In Writers We Trust…Right Guys? Right?

Trust does not necessarily imply segregation.

It’s clear we writers are an egocentric bunch. Get a little experience under your belt and suddenly you have the world by its balls.

Then again, a crew of writers out there cater to their clients’ every whim. Many of those writers come from an agency background, where the client’s happiness is of the utmost importance.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with putting the client’s happiness at the forefront of your business. But your client may not know what makes them happy. The truth of the matter is that you’re hiring a professional writer to do the job correctly. In the end, would you rather have a mediocre or strong product?

Trust your writer.

Writing is a medium where egos constantly come into conflict. That’s what happens in a creative field. A good copywriter lets go of his creation and subjects it to the whims of the person paying for it.

On the other hand, taking pride in your work is another animal entirely. As the client, you’ll get your hands dirty. Let’s face it: there’s no such thing as a perfect first draft. But work with the writer and trust them instead of deciding they aren’t living up to your expectations.

Of course, you can always try to take the project on yourself. After all, you know exactly what you want, right?

To become a writer, you start with talent and interest. Next is training. Finally, it requires experience. Even if you have the talent, you don’t have the training or the experience. Trust your writer.

If you’re feeling disillusioned and misled by your writer’s strong resume/portfolio, ask yourself these questions before you give ’em the boot.

  • Have you clearly outlined your expectations?
  • Do you understand the purpose of the piece?
  • Have you written all this information down, perhaps in the form of a creative brief?
  • Have you given the writer all the information he/she needs about the piece’s topic?
  • Are you holding on to an assumption of strong copy that the writer doesn’t agree with?
  • Have you pointed out exactly what makes you unhappy about a prior draft?
  • Have you clearly explained whether you want the writer to work from the draft or start from scratch?

Yes, there are bad writers out there. But if you’re working on recommendations or a strong portfolio, chances are you’re working with a good writer. Remember that your expectations may not always align with reality.

You Get What You Pay For

Fat Joe and Lil Wayne: voicing the plight of the freelance writer since 2006.

Hey, you. Yeah you. Why you gotta be so tight with your pocketbook?

I’m talking to the business owners out there. We writers understand you’re careful with your money. We understand that you’ve set aside a strict budget for marketing.

Next time you plan your marketing budget, remember: you get what you pay for.

I’m not just trying to pad my own wallet here. (Okay, maybe a little.) But right now, with the state of the web the way it is, you need content. That content should be high-quality. It should take SEO and digital marketing know-how into account.

If a writer doesn’t understand his or her value, he or she probably hasn’t been writing very long. And if they haven’t been writing very long, they probably won’t produce high-quality content. If you want to give your cousin’s nephew’s boss’ illegitimate son his start in writing, that’s great! Thanks for supporting young writers. But if you’re skimping on quality writing to save a couple bucks, you may be shooting yourself in the foot.

And writers: stop undervaluing yourselves. Writing is absolutely crucial to start-ups and enterprises alike. If they aren’t willing to pay you a fair market price, walk away. You have projects in your portfolio, and you live to write another day.

Whenever you writers start considering lower pricing, read the great anecdote at the top of the page here. Reprinted below for convenience.

A well-known freelance ad writer stopped in at the shoot for a commercial he scripted, just to press the flesh. It was a big-time film production, with a huge crew and the requisite bevy of agency and client hangers-on.

He watched as the on-camera talent endlessly repeated a fairly pedestrian line she was having an uncommonly hard time interpreting.  As costly shoot time dragged on, the agency account executive and the client pulled the copywriter aside. ‘This is costing us a fortune,’ they said. ‘Could you come up with something that would work better?’  The writer nodded, grabbed a pad of paper and walked over to a dark corner of the studio. A few minutes later he returned and handed the account exec a sheet from the pad. The AEs face immediately brightened. The client read it and pronounced it brilliant. The talent delivered it flawlessly, thus saving the shoot.
Later at the wrap party, the client spoke to the writer. ‘Of course, I expect you to bill me for your work. How much will you charge?’
‘That’ll be $1200,’ said the writer.
‘$1200?’ the client exclaimed, ‘Why, it took you only three minutes to write!’
The writer fixed him with a firm, confident stare. ‘Buddy,’ he said, ‘that took me twenty five years to write.’