reflections after a year of freelancing

This is Jinx. He keeps me company at work.

Cosmo, my newest office mate.

A year ago my first freelance story showed up in print.

Amazing how things can change in 365 days.

A year ago I was recovering from a layoff and jumped into freelance writing without much of a plan. My goal was to prevent professional atrophy and keep money coming in until I found some sort of full-time job in journalism. I was willing to write about pretty much anything for anyone willing to pay me (in money, not exposure). I pitched stories about whatever I could think of to anyone I could find. At that time I couldn’t afford to be selective — especially when my unemployment compensation disappeared thanks to a little-known snippet of state law.

But a surprising thing happened on the way to my new job.

Freelancing became my new job. And I actually like it.

I’ve learned a ton about the business behind writing. Since I write for publications with a national reach, I get to talk to intriguing people from across the country. I can choose my assignments and focus on subjects I actually enjoy. I make my own schedule, so I can take on enough work to keep me busy but not so much that I can’t do a decent job on each story — unlike my workload at a newspaper with increasing demands and decreasing staff.  I’ve written for magazines and outlets whose presence is solely online. A few clients have even sought me out instead of the reverse. My income isn’t where it was before, but I’m not eating ramen noodles.

I enjoy seeing my husband more than an hour a day. I’ve discovered how great it is to eat home-cooked meals almost every night. I don’t remember the last time I ate a microwavable Lean Cuisine. In this excellent post, Philadelphia freelancer Christopher Wink points out a bunch of other reasons freelancing is a nice arrangement — including how awesome it is for expenses like phone bills and my new laptop to count as tax write-offs.

Still, there are a lot of things I miss about working somewhere that isn’t my apartment. As I explained to a source a few weeks ago, “The good thing is, I have my cats to keep me company. The bad thing is, I have my cats to keep me company.”

I used to have coworkers, and that’s one of the things I miss most about the newspaper. I often think out loud and get a lot of ideas by bouncing thoughts off other people, but my cats are horrible brainstorming partners. And I regularly heard feedback on my newspaper stories from readers who took the time to call or e-mail me with complaints or compliments. Now, I submit my stories, see them published and hope they have some sort of an impact, but rarely hear if they do. I miss having a defined work day and two days off every week. Like most people, I’m more productive when I’ve had a break, but when you work from home, you never leave. My idea of a light day is not returning to work after dinner.

As for other negative aspects of freelancing, read Wink’s post. Nearly every entry on his list is “No regular salary.” Until now, I never appreciated how wonderful it is to get a paycheck of the same amount every two weeks.

I’m still looking for a full-time job outside of freelancing. But I’m no longer desperate. I can be selective. When I apply for jobs now, I apply to places I actually want to work for, not just news organizations I can put up with in return for a steady paycheck. That’s refreshingly liberating.

But now, my focus lies on getting better at this freelance thing. The major goal I’m working toward is developing niches that I enjoy writing about. That means education, business, politics, parenting and community issues. My favorite subject is higher education. Colleges were my favorite beat at my former job, and as a first-generation college graduate who had to navigate the application process on my own, I love providing information to students who were in the situation I was in 10 years ago.

I’ll continue to lack the time to regularly contribute to this unpaid blog. And I’m OK with that.

(However, if you’ll pay me to blog, I’m happy to talk.)

1 comment to reflections after a year of freelancing

  • Linda Knight

    I certainly understand that “Paycheck about the same amount every two weeks” thing… but there is a certain joy about being able to do things our way… I’m so glad things are working out well for you.

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