Category: | Freelance Work

Taking the Leap to Fiction

I have long held to the idea that the greatest tragedy in life is that it is so short. This world is so big, and so full of strange and wonderful things, that I am often struck with a sense of overwhelming loss at the idea that I will only experience a minuscule portion of it. It’s the reason I exercise and why I quit smoking. If I can buy myself even a few more years on this planet, to explore the vast array of sights, sounds, and tastes it has to offer, I’ll do whatever it takes.

This has often lead me over-commit myself. I take on too many projects because I get excited about new opportunities. I know I do, and I’ve been thinking a lot about that lately. Ever since I took this new job, freelance jobs have been coming out of the woodwork – go figure. Good, high-paying gigs have just landed in my lap, and I’ve had to hand them off to other writers I know because I simply don’t have time to do the work.

This has made me think seriously about going back to freelance. I like the flexibility and the diversity of the projects. I even took one of the jobs, writing for a new phone app that I can’t really tell you about yet except to say that it aligns with my travel writing. (I’ll tell you all about it once they launch.)

This little side gig is fun. It’s interesting. It’s a break from the norm and chance to try something new, which is always a draw for me. But it was due two days ago, and I’m going to spend all day today wrapping it up (today, which was supposed to be a day of fiction writing), and in the end, for the amount of time I will spend on it, the pay is a lot less than I’m making at my job.

Freelance work can be great, but it requires constant hustling for the next job, and it often doesn’t pay for shit. And all that has shifted my thinking yet again. The question came to me: what if I never go back to freelance – ever? What if I just put that out of my head entirely? What if I get up in the morning, write, go to work, maybe even write on my lunch break, and use my Mondays to write my novel instead of dicking around with little freelance jobs? That was why I negotiated to have Mondays off in the first place. I wanted more time for my fiction, but I keep getting distracted, and then frustrated because I’m not making more progress on the novel.

When I look at it like this, it feels stupidly simple. Focus. Cut out all the distractions and just focus on what matters most to me: time with my family and time to work on my fiction. It would be foolish to quit a job that pays me so well to do what I love. I think now is a time to stay the course and focus on my fiction.

One time, when I was in grad school, Janet Fitch said to me: “If you’re thinking of writing anything but fiction, just stop.” At the time I smiled and thanked her for the vote of confidence, and even though I wrote that on a post-it note and stuck it over my desk, I kind of ignored it. I don’t know why. I think it’s because it’s kind of scary committing to fiction. It’s an art, and being an artist is hard. It invites criticism, and requires vulnerability in a way that being a travel writer does not. Honestly, nobody is ever going to critique my work on this travel app.

So this is me, the fiction writer, deciding to make the leap. If you are in need of a good freelancer, please feel free to drop me a line – I know lots of good writers, but as for me, from now on, I’ll be writing fiction.

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Goodbye Kleverdogs

It was with mixed emotions today that I packed up my things and left my co-working space. I’ve been there for 5 months, I love it. There’s coffee and people to talk to, and folks are always baking things to bring in and share.

But I was talking to Daniel a couple weeks ago, about finances and stuff, as married couples are supposed to do, and my office space is a big expense. Well, it’s actually only $300 a month, which is pretty great, really, as office space goes, but Daniel is also paying for an office space, and we had the thought – what if we were only paying for one of those? We’d be saving a lot of money – that’s what.

Daniel works with his sis and it turns out that a space in their building, a bigger space with a separate, second room, just opened up. It’s that second room that’s the big deciding factor. See, one of the reasons I didn’t just move into their space in the first place was that both our businesses require regular phone time, and the space they have currently echoes (hard wood floors, bare walls). Only one person can be on the phone at a time.

But with that back room, we can use it as a conference space/calling room/editing suite. The room is also much bigger than their current space. And it’s only $75 more a month than their current place.

So I’m moving into the office of Divisadero Pictures tomorrow.

I will miss the Kleverdogs, but Daniel’s office is MUCH closer to home, it’s literally two doors down from the preschool our little guy will be going to, we’ll save a big chunk of cash every month, and I’ll get to see a lot more of Daniel, which, I’m happy to say after all these years, is still a good thing.

If you happen to be in the market for office space, you should definitely check out Kleverdog. It’s just north of downtown in Chinatown. Tell Kelly an David I sent you.

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I Figured It Out

Okay, I figured it out. It actually wasn’t so hard. It just required me taking a good, honest look at how I’m spending my time.

I’m actually quite good at time management. I track my work hours to the minute using TaskTime4 (which is great), and I’m a planner by nature, so the problem was not in either of those arenas.

The truth is, I’m losing 3 to 4 hours a day to two new activities.

The first I’m actually quite proud of. I’m training for a seriously hard-core obstacle race called the Tough Mudder. My friend Alex, who is also in my writing group, convinced me to run it with her in February. It’s 10-12 miles, with a crazy obstacle ever mile or so. I’m a little scared, no wait – correction – I can’t believe I’m actually doing this. I’ve never run a race of any kind, let alone one designed by British Special Forces to kick your ass from here ’til Sunday.

So to avoid any serious embarrassment on the course, I decided to train using the Insanity workout program. It, too, is stupid hard. I mean ridiculous. But for the first five weeks it was a 35 minute workout, which (even with a shower after) fit nicely into a lunch break. Now that I’m into the second half of the program the workouts are closer to 50 minutes. Once you factor in shower and a snack after, it kind of starts to spill into the category of time suck. Still, I only have three weeks left. After that I should be in perfect shape, and will never have to work out again. Yep. Never again.

Okay, not really. But I am loving how I’m feeling, so while I may not keep up my workouts at this intensity after three more weeks, I will need to find some consistent method of keeping in shape.

The other 3 hours a day that I am pissing away, I am not so proud of. I’m ready to admit, here, on my blog, that I have a serious “Breaking Bad” problem. I can’t help myself. My guy and I watch an average of three episodes a night, all the while cursing Netflix for their convenient streaming form of distribution. We both have so much we could be doing with that time, but now that we’re in the fourth season it’s almost as if we’re pushing through to the end just so we can be done with it and go on with our lives. How appropriated that it’s a show about meth. We are junkies for it.

So mystery solved. If I want to have more time to work on my novel I need to put down the remote and step away from the TV.

Or, I could go for the cigarettes in the closet option and stay up all night tonight to watch all the remaining episodes straight through.

But that would be crazy. Right?

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Riding the Freelance Wave

I promised myself I would start the next draft of my novel on August 1.

It’s now the 8th, and I haven’t so much as looked at the thing.

The reason (I swear it’s a reason, not an excuse) is that I’ve had a lot of work coming in, which is great. My freelance business has been riding a bit of a wave, with some great new clients coming in, bringing lots of interesting work. Given that my guy and I both work independently, I feel like it’s important to take all the work I can, as I can, because we never know when one of us will hit a dry spell.

But dry spells are historically when I make progress on the novel, so I find myself conflicted. I don’t want the paid work to slow down, but I’m not working on my precious book. I feel like I have very little time lately (I’m writing this blog post as my girl gets ready for school, quick and dirty like – so please forgive me my typos this morning).

I need to figure out how to prioritize so that the novel keeps moving forward. Maybe I need to stay up later. Maybe I need to take the time I’ve set aside for exercise and use that. I can’t imagine turning down work, but maybe that time will come. I just don’t know. I’m feeling frazzled. Are there any other freelancers out there that have some wisdom on this?

I’m setting a goal of getting my head wrapped around this by the end of the week. I’ll post on Friday to let you know what I figure out.

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Ah, The Military

Yesterday I interviewed a two star Army General. I will admit I was nervous, seeing as he’s a big shot and all. I kept thinking “I should being saying ‘Sir’ more,” but he was quite nice, and easy to talk to.

The thing that struck me was the strategic level at which this individual thinks. He was smart, well spoken, totally understood what I was going for in the piece and gave me great material to work with. I wish all my interviews were so easy.

I don’t mean to sound surprised that he was such an interesting and intelligent individual. I guess it’s just that growing up with an ex-Marine father, I’ve been trained to think that all other branches of the military are inferior. Just kidding. Kind of.

The more likely source of my bias is that my main experience with military men is in one of two contexts: dating grunts from Camp Pendleton as an undergrad, and my dad’s buddies all drinking and telling wild stories about the crazy sh*t they used to get into in Vietnam. Either way, I guess I never connected the military with the people who actually run the country.

Turns out they do. And I’ll tell you what, not only did I get what I needed for my interview, I also got a teeny tiny glimpse of the efforts the government is making to be more efficient. You know, that giant budget deficit we’ve all been hearing so much about? Folks on the inside are actually working on that.

Anyhow, I wrapped up the piece today, and it came out quite well, if I do say so myself.

In other news, it’s looking like I will, in fact, get to help write the pro and con sheet for Prop 37. The work is for the League of Women Voters, which, not surprisingly, has double and triple layers of review for this sort of thing so that no one can slip their own biases into the work (not that I would ever do such a thing). I’m not even the sole writer on the initial draft, so rest assured, the arguments will be thorough.

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A Deep Respect for Democracy

I’ve been getting a lot of questions lately about how Daniel’s doing. I’m thrilled to report his recovery continues to fall under the heading of “amazing.” His surgery was on June 7th, and yesterday (July 15) we went hiking. Hiking! We haven’t done that in years.

We loaded the little guy into the baby backpack, and Celeste walked. It was our first hike ever as a family of four. We did 1.5 miles to a water fall in the Angeles National Forest called Stuteravnt Falls. Daniel was a little tired after the three miles round trip (the last .6 is straight uphill), and Celeste was outright exhausted. That’s the longest hike she’s ever done, but she did it (the last .6 was a struggle). I was giddy.

I love hiking, and with Daniel’s back so bad and two little ones in tow, I had kind of just put it aside, accepting the possibility that it might not come back, but then, like magic, there we were. Even with Celeste’s periodic whining, and the little guy pulling my hair, and the crazy crowd at the waterfall, it was bliss. I’m already imagining the back country trips we might some day take in Yosemite. Here are some photos of us at the falls (yes, my girl hiked in  dress – she’s fancy like that).

As for the writing, I’ve been super busy. I’m working on three different articles for one client, wrapping up a newsletter for another, and I *might* get to write up the pros and cons of a ballot measure for the coming election. I have phone call to talk that through today. It’s unpaid, but it would be a great opportunity to write something that actually has a huge impact and I have to admit, it’s not an issue I can claim to be impartial on. It’s Prop 37 – the measure that would require the labeling of genetically modified foods.

In case you don’t know, I’ve done a lot of writing on this topic. For one month in 2010 I tried to avoid Monsanto products, just to see if it was possible and blogged about it on a blog called Month Without Monsanto. That morphed into a whole “know your food” campaign called Digging Deep that now has nine different bloggers writing for it.

In my opinion, the data on the safety of genetically modified (GM) foods is lacking, and people have a right to know if the food they’re buying contains food that are of questionable safety. Did you know that in the US you can’t study a patented item (say a GM soybean) without permission from the patent holder? So here in the states the only people studying the safety of GM soybeans are the people who make them (Monsanto, among others). That’s a serious conflict of interest, in my book. In Europe, where the laws are different, Monsanto can’t seem to get approval on their GM soybeans. Hmmmmm.

Anyway, don’t get me started.

And that’s why I say I *might* be writing the ballot measure pro and con sheet. If they can provide me with the argument for the con side and all I have to do is polish it up and make it match the pro side, I can do that. But if they want me to actually research the con side, there’s no way I can be impartial about it. I wish I could. I even considered downplaying my passion for the topic, or out-rightly pretending to not care so that they would give me the job. Sadly, I have a deep respect for democracy and an informed voting public.

So I’m not sure if I will get the job. I’ll keep you posted.

In the meantime, I’d just like to say – YES on Prop 37!

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Phone Phreak

Have you ever had the experience of talking with someone on the phone, and you both try to talk at once, and then you both stop to let the other one talk, and then there’s a weird pause before you both say “sorry, you go,” and things continue on like this for the duration of the call, to the point that you never feel like you hit a groove talking with that person, and after hanging up, you feel kind of wrong?

You were probably talking to me.

I hate the phone. Something about not being able to see a person’s face causes me to miss ever single stupid little cue as to when I’m supposed to talk, and when I’m supposed to shut up. My girlfriends all keep in touch with each other via phone, having long phone conversations about their lives, but the ones who have known me the longest don’t call – they know I’m a total spaz on the phone and that if they want to keep in touch they really have to either come visit or write me an email (surprise, I’m best at written correspondence).

So when I have freelance assignments that require me to do a lot of phone interviews I tend to procrastinate. I have a job right now that is actually really interesting. I get to talk to a bunch of city officials about their work and compile it all into a narrative article, but getting over my aversion to phone actually took some serious emotional bolstering. Picture me chanting “you are not a spaz,” a few times before dialing.

Of course, this is not the first project I’ve ever had to do interviews for, so I am getting better. I’ve learned to state my questions clearly, then just shut up and wait for an answer. I squash the urge to jump in and explain myself further if they haven’t answered in two seconds, and to just be patient, and let them speak. I am friendly and don’t waste their time with a lot of chatter, and ultimately, the feedback I’ve gotten from clients has been good, but it’s a battle every time.

Why on Earth has the transporter not been invented yet? Seriously, it’s the 21st century. I would gladly change out of my pajamas and do my makeup to pop on up to San Francisco for an interview, if it could be done Star Trek style: Beam Me Up. Sure, there’s a lot of potential for disaster–my molecules being scattered to the atmosphere, or whatnot–but at least I wouldn’t have to talk on the damn phone.


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My Day Job

One of my (cooler) clients asked me, hypothetically, if they were to hire me on as an employee, what would I be looking to make as a salary.

For a simple question, it had my head in a bit of bind. I love working freelance, for the schedule flexibility, and the different types of projects that teach me all kinds of new things (I’ve learned a whole lot about golf in the last three weeks – I’ll probably never use this information, but it’s still always fun to learn new things). The downsides are no great mystery: irregular pay, no job security, no health insurance.

As I was contemplating the pros and cons of “real” employment, it suddenly occurred to me – this is my day job. I feel super blessed to get to write to pay the bills, but the ultimate goal is to be a novelist. If I’m going to waste time and energy worrying about something, it shouldn’t be the day job. Day jobs are for doing (and doing well), and then putting aside so you can work on the thing that you love. And I love writing fiction.

Because so few writers actually get to call themselves professional novelists, I’ve always assumed that I would have to do something else to pay the bills, but shouldn’t the ultimate goal be to just work on my novels? I know the odds are slim that my first novel makes me rich, rich, rich. But it’s silly to shoot for a goal so low as “finish my novel.” Odds be damned, I’m setting a goal of writing a damn good story – something that will get my foot in the door as a respected writer and then pry that door open far enough to let a sizable chunk of money fall through.

Ultimately it doesn’t matter if the day job is freelance or a salaried position. It’s a day job. Every hour I spend on it should remind me that I need to get back to my novel.

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Don’t Rush Me

I have a deadline on Friday for a feature article I’ve been working on since the first week of October. It’s coming along well, and I feel quite calm about my approaching deadline, but two weeks ago I was freaking out.

This is something I’m learning about myself as a writer. I need a lot of time for the final stages of writing anything well. That is, for polishing my work, I have to be able to read it through, tweak a little, walk away, come back a few hours later, tweak a little more. In these final days I may literally change two words each time I read it, and since it’s 20 pages long, it takes a lot of time.

Then I send it to trusted eyes to read it for fresh perspective, and I start over, incorporating a little bit, changing the work ever so slightly, with each pass. This just seems to be how I work.

With that in mind it makes sense that I was panicked about my deadline two weeks ago, but feel fine now. Two weeks ago I knew I needed to start entering into this polishing stage, and I only had it half written.

To friends and family it’s hard to explain why I can’t run off to the beach/park/movies because a piece that isn’t due for weeks is only half done. But that’s just how I work.

I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to recognize this pattern. I never have been one for last minute dashes. In college I was terrible at cramming, and if I’m going to pull an all nighter there better be loud music and fair amount of whiskey involved. I’m a planner. It’s boring but true. I like things (or at least my writing) to unfold predictably.

It might be a little dull, but it does allow me to make my deadlines, and I’ve always felt like that’s an important part of building a career as a writer. When I’m a big time, famous, hot shit scribe maybe I’ll be able to blow off deadlines without a care, but then again, knowing me, I never will.

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Dissolving Stitches

Three weeks ago my baby boy had a minor, outpatient surgery to fix a hernia in his groin and allow his left testicle to drop into place. It went very well, despite my fears about the general anesthesia. The incision was just above his left hip, and the stitches were actually made underneath the skin, so all he had was a few thin strips of tape over a developing scar that will be quite small once he is full grown.

But then yesterday the stitches (which the doc said we would never see because they are dissolving stitches), began poking through the skin of his abdomen. The site thankfully doesn’t look infected, but I wanted to check in with the doctor just to be safe. Here’s how it went down.

Me: “I’m concerned that the stitches that are supposed to dissolve are pushing through his skin.”

Nurse: “No, they won’t do that, they’re dissolving stitches.”

Me: “But they are, I can see them.”

Nurse: “But they won’t.”

Me: “Okay. Let’s pretend for a minute that my son’s ‘disolving stitches’ ARE in fact pushing through his skin. Should I be worried?”

Nurse: “I’ll have to call you back.”

So now I’m waiting to hear. While I’m waiting, I am beating my head against the opening paragraph of the feature article that’s due next week. It sucks. I can’t seem to find an in to the story. It’s making me crazy and I really want it to be good. I almost hope the doctor does need to see my boy so I have an excuse to avoid working on the article a little longer, but then again, no. What I really want to have happen is that the next time I change his diaper the stiches have amgically dissolved like they’re supposed to. Then I come back upstairs to my lap top and find the intro to my piece has written itself, and it’s stunning.

Is that so much to ask?

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