A Year in the Life of a Professional Writer

497606412_640As it is the last day of the year, I thought I would do a sort of evaluation-style blog. Earlier this week, I received a report from WordPress telling me how well my blog has done this year. Interested parties can check it out here, but the highlights are as follows:

Total blogs posted: 38
Total views: 3200+/-
Top viewed posts:

Looking over this report, I find it interesting that three of my top rating posts were written 5-6 years ago. I love evergreen content as much as the next writer, so I guess I shouldn’t complain. Besides, with entities like Netflix and comic books reinventing themselves every few years, I probably shouldn’t find it too peculiar if a resurgence in canceled TV shows, such as Heroes, causes some of my old blog posts to become popular once again.

Lessons Learned from 2014lessons-learned-in-project-management

I spent a large portion of this year job hunting for a permanent 9-5 position with benefits. Yes – there are a lot of perks to being a freelance worker, but there are a lot of downsides. After my divorce in 2013, I found myself in a position where more stable employment seemed like a better option. Unfortunately, although I had many wonderful interviews, (as well as some not so wonderful interviews that resulted in serious discrimination that is currently under investigation), I did not land a permanent position, and as of August 2014 I rededicated myself to the cause of freelance in all its many forms.

After everything that has happened this year, I can safely say that there are five key points that I want to contemplate as I prepare for all my projects and plans in 2015.

#1 The Pros and Cons of Old Clients

I was fortunate to have a few returning clients this year. One client in particular I had not worked with for over six years, and I was quite surprised to be contacted by that client. The last time I worked with the client I remembered it not ending well. I had done several projects for the client, each of which received 100% satisfaction. The final project I did, though, did not satisfy the client, and though I offered to fix it, we ended up parting on awkward terms. You can imagine that I was wary when the client returned to me after such a long period of time, and after such a strange separation, but I needed the paycheck, so I gave it a go.

Once again, the first set of projects I did for the client were all well accepted. The client offered me a much larger and more diverse project, to which I thought I understood. Unfortunately, what I produced was not exactly what the client wanted, but I was willing to negotiate and try to find some common ground to produce what they needed without overstepping the lines of my contract. The client and I tried negotiating, but some unfriendly words were said, and despite apologies on both sides we could not completely move forward on the project.

I feel like I lost my temper a bit on the project, and that is my own downfall. I also feel I should have delivered the project in sections rather than as one bulk entire order. I had given the client that option, but the client didn’t feel it was necessary. I knew better – it’s always easier to change aspects of the project in smaller sections rather than having to change everything. If nothing else, I relearned the cardinal rule of freelance writing:

No matter how small or insignificant, never make any assumptions about what the client wants.

Each client’s vision of what she/he sees is often very different from the reality of what he/she needs or describes. ALWAYS take the time to really draw out the details from the client, and send small samples to make sure you are on the right track. It might seem tedious, but in the end it will potentially save a lot of time and a lot of apologies. I know it would have for me.

#2 Diversify

In 2013, I really only had one main repeat client. All my other clients were one-and-done deals. My repeat client had employed me for over three years, and since they were a content production company, I felt that I had some level of security with them. In September 2013, however, the company dropped all 200+ freelance employees, because they were moving in another direction. I had no other main repeat clients at the time, since I had dedicated so much of my time to this company. Shortly after that is when I decided I would have to find full-time employment through some sort of corporate organization.

As I spent almost a year trying to find full-time employment, I picked up several one-and-done freelance clients as a means to pay the bills, all of whom were referred to me by either past clients or associates of mine. I was so focused on finding permanent work, though, that I didn’t realize the truth right in front of me. There were lots of clients out there, and there still are plenty of clients, I just have to be willing to look for them and be willing to diversify my work load.

When I rededicated myself to full-time freelance in August of this year, I had one repeat client lined up and a few potential repeat clients in the wings. I’ve since been building up my clientele so that I’m not dependent on only one client, which is never a good form of business for any organization or freelance worker. Part of my goal for 2015 is to diversify further by writing content for other publications as well as new clients. It’s always a balancing act doing freelance work to pay the bills while still having time to promote and make your own art, but that’s part of the game.

#3 There Is Always More to Learn

I have spent large amounts of time this year researching the ins and outs of not only my craft as a freelance writer but also as a self-published author. I have gained so much knowledge about promotions, marketing, fan-base building, client maintenance, and pitch writing, yet at the same time I feel I still know very little. As impatient as I am – and I am probably one of the most impatient people you will ever meet – I have to remind myself that there is always more to learn. I can’t master everything, which is why I have to accept that I can only spend a very limited amount of time researching all of these topics.

Furthermore, as much as I feel like I am constantly playing catch-up with this information, the majority of other writers I know are doing the same thing. Writing is no longer about just writing. It has become an interdisciplinary act that combines English and grammar with business, marketing, media communications, research, and, to some extent, the legal system. I will most likely have to spend the rest of my life conducting my own independent research to learn more about these topics, so obsessing about knowing everything now, now, now is really just wasted energy.

Plus, a good portion of the research is simply a matter of trial and error. I’m going to try a lot of different things to promote myself as a writer and author. Some of these tactics will work brilliantly, but many will fail. Heck, some of the ones that fail now may do very well later down the road. Writing is a tricky industry. People need fresh content 24/7, but the market is flooded with content producers of various skill levels. Getting your own work out there in the hands of the right people takes a lot of time and a degree of patience. I know that the main reason I conduct so much research is to give myself an edge in this industry. What I cannot do is let my obsession with research stop me from working, because no matter how many facts I know, it doesn’t matter if I don’t spend the majority of my time producing new content and querying potential new employers.

#4 Rome Was Not Built in a Day

As I stated above, I am Queen Impatience, ruler over the Restless Nation of myself, which resides next to the turbulent seas of my own mind.

That fact aside, I somehow have to come to accept that it will take many years to build up my fan base. I need to produce a lot more content, and I need to get my content out in multiple venues. Self-publishing is great to begin with, but I need to get more exposure on my name to build my brand. That means producing more short stories for magazines and writing articles for various periodicals. Luckily, amidst researching this year, I’ve stumbled on some great tricks for locking-in on the best markets and figuring out which magazines and periodicals would be the most likely to publish my work.

For my fellow pitch writers, if you are looking for ways to speed up your magazine research time, I highly suggest you read this post: Freelance Tricks of the Trade: Researching Magazines in Record Time.

I think it will help me to create some sort of 3-5 year plan. Small businesses create a similar projection when they approach financial institutions for loans, so it makes sense that I should create such a plan, because it represents not only a reasonable process but also a realistic one. There are many things I will need to do over the next 3-5 years to grow my brand. Right now I have a base concept of some of the things I could be doing, but all of those ideas are jumbled in my brain after extensive research. In January 2015 I plan to take some time to make serious scheduling plans that allow me to balance client work with my own projects, and that will include making this long-term plan for fan-based building.

#5 Time Is Always against Me

No matter how well I plan out my days, there just never seem to be enough hours in the day. The larger issue is that I have such a huge list of projects I want to complete, but I only have so much time to put into each project on a daily or weekly basis.

Prioritizing has not been an issue this year, thank goodness. I knew which projects I wanted to complete, and I directed all of my attention to those projects. When I see all my other projects still in the planning stages, however, it’s easy to get depressed. I keep telling myself I will get to those projects when I get to them, but as new ideas appear, and as my file of outlined projects grows thicker, it becomes more difficult to fight back those dark thoughts and fears of failure. Through a more optimistic perspective, I suppose I could look at all of my project ideas as security against hitting writer’s block. It’s not much of a happy thought, but it might be enough to get me out of frumpy mode and into high gear on content production.

The bigger issue for me these days is balancing my time. Like everyone else, I have family and social commitments. Next, I have to pay my bills, so I have to work on a certain amount of client projects each pay period. The time left over is my time to work on my own projects. I’ve been experimenting with readjusting my schedules in an attempt to find something that lets me feel the most productive on all fronts. To me, schedules consist of complex formulas that remain always in flux. However, I believe I have solved a small portion of one of those formulas related to some of my client projects. I’m still in the experimental testing phases, but every step closer I get to finding a balance with my schedule makes me that much happier.

2015, Here I Come!!!

Discussing these key points has psyched me up for my future that starts literally tomorrow. As I get ready to ring in the New Year, I’m reminded of something that Neil Gaiman said during a commencement speech in 2012. I made a sticky note with the quote and have it attached to my desk as a permanent reminder.

Neil said, “Make good art . . . Pursue the climbing of your dream mountain.”makeGoodArt

I feel that Neil specifically focuses on the aspect of climbing, because the journey shapes us so much as artists. We reach all of these achievement destinations on our climb, and they are great points on our journeys, but the journey for good art must continue. When that journey stops, so too does the art. As tired as I get on this journey, and as frustrated as I get with promoting, marketing, and producing, I always think of Neil’s quote and remind myself that all of this helps me to make and to keep making good art, so the torment must be worth it in the end.

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