Lately, a lot of people have been asking me about freelancing. I’ve posted a few notes on what I do on Facebook and on Twitter. Some of these are specific for writers, but a lot can be adapted for musicians, visual artists, etc. Today, I wanted to post about something that every freelancer will likely experience at some point in their career. That, dear reader, is the hell known as the dayjob.
If you’re just starting out, you will have to have a dayjob until you make it. (Notice, I did not say “if you make it.” That’s important.) There will also be times when you have to go back to a dayjob because the work in your field is sparse. That has happened to me as well. Twice.
I don’t remember the date I went solo, but it was around this week last year, so we’ll consider today my first anniversary as a freelancer. This, dear reader, is a big deal.
Freelancing is difficult. It might be more difficult when you make the decision to work on your own in a split second, in the middle of the worst economy our generation has seen, with no planning, and no savings, behind you. At the time, though, it was the best option. I had looked through employment boards and the listings for my field had run dry. The last thing I was going to do was take another job that was beneath my education and experience level. If I was going to have to struggle to make ends meet– and, judging from what I saw, that would have been the case– I might as well do it on my own terms.
I wouldn’t say this year has been a runaway success, but, it’s progress. In the past year, I’ve had the chance to work with people I really like on projects I loved. I got to DJ again, something that I had desperately missed while I was holed up in an office uploading slideshows and writing Facebook status updates. Thanks to everyone (you know who you are) who helped with jobs and moral support. In hindsight, this whole freelance thing is going a lot better than I thought it was. I’m certain, though, that the next 12 months will be far more awesome.
Tonight, I’m going to celebrate this milestone the best way I can. I’ll be spinning my favorite records at Underground, at the Grand Star in Chinatown, sometime between 9 p.m. and 2 a.m. Please feel free to stop by and say hi. If you want to go, you can RSVP either on the Underground website or on the club’s Facebook page. An RSVP gets you and one guest in for free before 10 p.m. or $5 thereafter.
Self-promotion sucks. It’s also completely unavoidable if you ever plan on working freelance. Even if you’re a staffer somewhere, there are plenty of companies now who really expect you to be promoting your own work. Self-promotion is a necessary annoyance.
When I started writing professionally, print media dominated the web variety. Back then, the job of a freelance writer was simpler. You pitched. If your story was accepted, you wrote it, you did a basic edit, you turned it into your editor. Everything after that was out of your control. Whether or not people bought the magazine wasn’t your problem. You would never know with any sort of certainty how many people read your work. Your editors didn’t really have a solid answer for that and, in a way it didn’t matter.
Web is a completely different beast. The editors who assign you stories know exactly how many people are reading your work. The more of an audience you can bring with you to every assignment, the more valuable you are as a freelancer. In that respect, writing for the web is more like working in TV. Web has pageviews, TV has ratings, both provide a pretty good estimate of how much of an audience you actually have. This shift doesn’t just affect writers. Visual artists, musicians, essentially everyone in a creative field, has to do the same thing. This isn’t necessarily a good thing, or a bad thing, it’s just the new model. Get used to it.
When you work freelance, you’re going to have to handle the creative and business end of your project. You need to keep track of your finances, get the clients, build the audience and, at the same time, produce the work that will define your career. It’s a near-impossible task. You’re going to need a silent partner.
When I say silent partner, I don’t mean a patron or assistant. You need someone who will be there to push you to do your best, someone who will keep you going when all you want to do is quit. Pick someone who is close to you– a significant other, family member or close friend– someone who knows your faults and someone who won’t actually be silent. For me, that person is my boyfriend, Carlos.
Yesterday, someone asked me on Facebook if I had connections when I started freelancing. The simple answer is that I had absolutely no connections when I started.
I think this is a really interesting question because, when you read a lot of bios for well-known writers, you’ll tend to notice that they often attend the same schools. In the journalism world, these are often the big J-schools or Ivy League institutions. When you didn’t go to schools like these, when you don’t have the kinds of contacts that this particular realm of higher education offers, it’s really easy to feel intimidated. I do all the time.
I actually went to a pretty amazing university– Loyola Marymount– but it didn’t have a journalism school and, frankly, I didn’t think I would be doing what I am now. I also went through a really good graduate program at CSUN, but it’s not a “name” school, so, connection-wise, it didn’t help much. But, what I learned at both of these schools helped me tremendously. Thanks to working at LMU’s awesome radio station, KXLU, and taking a handful of alternative media-minded courses from Dr. Melissa Wall at CSUN, I learned that there’s a way around the establishment.
Maybe we should call this Freelancing the Indie Way.
It’s been eight months since I rejoined the freelance world and finally, things aren’t looking quite as grim. Or, at least, they aren’t quite as grim today.
I was no stranger to freelancing, in fact, I’ve only had one full-time, writing-based job in my life. That lasted two years and, in that time, I got used to getting paychecks regularly. I liked not having to remember to submit invoices and then wait thirty days for the check. I loved not having to scramble to get together money for those ever increasing health insurance premiums. It’s really easy to be seduced by the allure of benefits, so much so that you forget all the lessons you learned in Office Space.