September 28, 2009

Ten Things I've Learned from 10 Years of Freelancing

OCTOBER 1 marks my ten-year anniversary as a full-time freelance writer. There have been highs and lows along the way. It hasn't always been easy, but somehow it's always worked out. I've made a lot of adjustments on my journey, and this week I'd like to share some of the things I've learned.

1. I own and maintain a business.
I think of myself not only as a freelance writer but also as a business owner. As a business owner, it's my job to attract clients and keep them satisfied. As a freelance writer, I'm the employee as well as the product. Everything I write serves to maintain and build the business. In the beginning, I felt a bit schizophrenic, but now I'm used to wearing all those caps.

2. A marketing plan is essential.
Every successful business has a marketing plan, and freelancing is no exception. It's crucial to create and implement a plan to interest potential clients and persuade them to use my services.

3. An online portfolio is mandatory.
When I started freelancing, few writers had online portfolios. Today, there's no excuse not to have one. An online portfolio can be part of a web page, or it can be writing samples on a blog. I have both. My web page includes covers of some of the books I've written, and my blog showcases my writing skills. I promote both as part of my marketing strategy, and they are critical extensions of my resume.

4. Solid relationships lead to work.
It's vital to build relationships with potential clients. After my initial contact, I follow up every other month about the possibility of freelance assignments, and I try to offer something new about my work or myself. This is effective on two levels: it keeps my name on the list for new projects, and it establishes an ongoing relationship. With both new and customary clients, I've found that a solid relationship pays off.

5. It's important to maintain a routine.
Every day is a workday. Freelancing doesn't mean sleeping in on mornings when I don't have a project. I get up at a set time and "go to the office." If I don't have a writing assignment, my job is to find one.

6. Nothing is a sure thing.
One of the toughest lessons I've learned is not to count on anything until it actually happens. As a person of faith, that's hard for me to do. Many times, I've had a client tell me that an exciting new project is on the horizon only to have it not materialize. In these hard economic times publishers are tightening their belts and postponing projects. That means fewer jobs for freelancers.

7. It's necessary to look toward the future.
A few years ago, I had a great freelance job writing 30 hours a week for a client. It was a job that came with healthcare benefits, a 401k plan and the opportunity to write for a leading educational textbook company. My only regret is that I didn't look beyond the present. When their business slowed, I was let go. I had few other clients to rely on, and it took a long time to rebuild my client list. Lesson learned: Always look to the future and plan for the unexpected.

8. It's imperative to save for a rainy day.
I've had some lean times this year. The publishing industry is feeling the economic crunch along with everyone else. As a freelancer, I pay for my own health insurance and other benefits that often come with working for someone else. I've learned not to splurge on anything unless I have several months of living expenses saved in the bank.

9. It's good to be positive.
There are days when I wish that I had a weekly paycheck and the benefits that come with it. Then I think of all the great things about freelancing: I'm doing something that I absolutely love, I can work from home and create my own schedule, I can take time off to run errands, and I can wear shorts or sweats. On days when I wish for more work, I remember that I've earned my living doing this for ten years, and that's something to celebrate!

10. Everything is better with coffee.
Last, but not least, I've learned a lot about coffee during these ten years. I've become a coffee snob who often starts her day with a little something special. No plain, ordinary joe for me. I've graduated from Sanka to pumpkin spice lattes and hazelnut cappuccinos. I bought a French press coffee maker, a milk frother and enough flavored syrups to last a lifetime. I think I'll celebrate my ten-year anniversary with a morning jaunt to one of my favorite coffee houses…

What else can I say? The freelance life is good.

September 22, 2009

Three Great Reasons for Writers to Blog

Do you blog? If you're reading this post you probably do, or at least you're thinking about blogging.

It seems that the whole world is blogging these days. How many blogs are there? The most recent statistics I found are from 2008. In April of last year, there were approximately 110 million blogs with another 175,000 new blogs added each day. Tally the number of days since April 08, multiply that number by 175,000, add it to 110 million, and you'll have a pretty good idea of how many people are currently blogging. (If you read "The Walrus and the Carpenter" regularly, you know how math challenged I am. So, YOU do the math.)

Apart from following the crowd why should writers blog? There are many good reasons, and here are a few of the best:

1. Writers should blog to practice writing.

A writer's blog can be much more than a journal of everyday life. It can show off a writer's unique style and expertise. A well-planned blog serves as a collection of solid writing samples. Don't be afraid to mix things up a little. Along with personal narratives, throw in an essay once in a while, a review, or even a short piece of fiction or a poem.

2. Writers should blog to market themselves and their work.

A blog is a valuable marketing tool. I often direct potential freelance clients to my blog so they can see samples of my writing and also learn more about me. Sometimes, if I know that specific clients will be reading my blog I include a few posts tailored to their interests. One of the biggest mistakes a blogger can make is forgetting that the whole world is watching. Once you blog something, you can't take it back. Everything on your blog should be well crafted and work toward promoting you and your writing skills. Think of the blog as an extension of your resume and make it work for you.

3. Writers should blog to practice deadlines and stay motivated.

Working writers always face deadlines. Turning in work on schedule is an important part of the job. There will be times when you don't feel like posting on your blog, but again I remind you that the world is watching. Posting on a regular basis, whether daily or weekly, shows potential employers that you are self-disciplined. Setting writing deadlines also helps unpublished writers to stay motivated. Think of the blog as an editor assigning you a due date.

Is blogging worth my time? This a question most writers ask. The answer is yes if you use the blog to your best advantage. If you blog just for the sake of blogging, you will most likely lose interest. But if you blog to grow as a writer and promote your work it can be well worth your time.

WIN a copy of The Kids' Bible Dictionary!

Thanks to Susan J. Reinhardt for interviewing me on her "Christian Writer/Reader Connection" blog. Visit her blog, read the interview, and enter a drawing to win a free copy of my latest book, The Kids' Bible Dictionary. Contest ends Saturday, September 26, 2009 at midnight. The winner will be announced on the "Christian Writer/Reader Connection" blog on Sunday, September 27, 2009.

September 12, 2009

Roald Dahl's Writing Hut

If you've been reading my other blog, "God is in the Compost Pile," you know that my favorite writing place is in my car at the lake. Where do other writers write? I wondered. I asked my Twitter friends to tell me about their favorite writing haunts. Here's what some of them had to say.

"I always work in a coffee shop -- same one, preferably same table."

"On my porch."

"I love to write in the evening and I usually write while sitting up in bed with a lot of pillows tucked all around me nice and comfy."

"At the museum near the dioramas."

" …notebooks always w/me. I usually write in (the) am and I get a lot done in the shower."

Wherever writers choose to write, their places inspire, motivate and encourage them.

Agatha Christie said the best time to plan a book is when you're doing the dishes. Virginia Woolf preferred to write in a quiet place by herself. She said, “In solitude we give passionate attention to our lives, to our memories, to the details around us.” Roald Dahl might have agreed. His favorite writing place was a shed in his garden.

Since September is Roald Dahl Month, I thought it would be fun to explore Roald Dahl's writing hut. It was his place to be alone to work on his books, and no one else was allowed inside. In fact, Dahl told children that wolves lived there so they wouldn't come and distract him.

Imagine having a little place like this tucked away in your garden. This is the hut, a shed really, where Dahl wrote his most popular books.

From the outside, it looks inviting with its rambling roses and bright yellow door.

But if you looked inside, you might be surprised. Today, it is exactly as Roald Dahl left it, and… well…let's just say that he wasn't the best housekeeper.

Here's a description of the hut's interior as written by Christopher Simon Sykes in Harper's and Queens magazine:

“A dirty plastic curtain covered the window. In the centre stood a faded wing-back armchair, inherited from his mother, and it was here that Dahl sat, his feet propped up on a chest, his legs covered by a tartan rug, supporting on his knees a thick roll of corrugated paper upon which was propped his writing board. Photographs, drawings and other mementoes were pinned to the walls, while a table on his right was covered with a collection of favourite curiosities such as one of his own arthritic hip bones, and a remarkably heavy ball made from the discarded silver paper of numerous chocolate bars consumed during his youth.”

I've also read that on that side table next to Dahl's hip bone, he kept a jar containing bits of his spine removed during an operation on his lower back. And according to those who have seen that ball of chocolate bar wrappers, it closely resembles a cannon ball. I can't help but wonder if it was Dahl's inspiration for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

The hut was cold in winter, so Dahl tacked Styrofoam to the walls to try to keep the heat in. Over time, the foam yellowed from his cigarette smoke. He jury-rigged a heating system in the hut, and wires hung from the ceiling (a fire inspector's nightmare). If it got really cold inside, Dahl would climb into a sleeping bag to keep his legs warm while he wrote.

And then there's the story about the goat. Apparently, a goat wandered into the hut one day, and Dahl had to sweep out globs of goat droppings before he could get on with his writing….Like I said, he wasn't much of a housekeeper. But don't take my word for it. Thanks to the Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre, you can take an interactive tour of Dahl's hut online. Make a note, though, it's best viewed using Internet Explorer. I had trouble trying to navigate it using Safari and Firefox.

If you visited the garden that leads to Dahl's hut you would see a slate paving stone with this inscription: "...Watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don't believe in magic will never find it." Dahl's magic happened in a little hut tucked away in Great Missenden in Buckinghamshire, England. It was there that he wrote Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach and The BFG.

Where does the magic happen for you?

(Note: Read more about Roald Dahl in this interesting interview with his wife, published this week 9-12-09 in The Times Online, London.)

Photographs courtesy of The Roald Dahl Museum.