I'm getting kinda tired of reading all these posts about the right and wrong way to behave as a full time writer (and apparently, I'm not the only one). I'm also curious about all these myths that we are supposed to be worried about that ultimately (in my experience anyway) do not matter.
For the past two weeks I've seen a great number of posts on various writing blogs about how freelancers must fight against stereotypes and adopt certain conventional behaviors in order to "make it." As a freelance writer who personifies many of the freelance writing stereotypes we are supposed to be fighting against and who, apparently, embraces no conventional behaviors but who does manage to make a living, I'd like to set the record straight about how little each of these points have mattered in my career--and I'd like to get your feedback about how they do (or don't) affect you.
So here are my favorites:
Freelancers are people who don't work well in a corporate environment. When I first read about this myth that freelancers are people who were (or are) unable to “make it” in the corporate world I disagreed violently. I mean, just because we are freelancers doesn’t mean we have not or would not make it in the corporate world. After all, I left a successful career in order to freelance so I already had made it.
But then, when I really thought about it, I remembered that I was never really happy in that environment. I hate dress codes, meetings, restrictive schedules, commutes, seminars, speaking engagements, working with other people—all the things that a corporate life entails. So how did I succeed there? I sucked it up and faked it for years and you know what? I would not have been able to do that for another 30 years until retirement. Nope, not at all. So for me, this myth is true... and I don't care. Does that mean my freelance writing career is doomed? Does that mean I have to pretend that this myth isn't true for me? Um... really this doesn't generally come up in conversation nor does it affect how well I do my work so I don't think it really matters.
You can't be a successful freelancer if you hate working with people. I don’t hate people. I like people. I’m fun, easy to get along with, and I sometimes enjoy hanging out with people. But I hate working with people, so I don't. That doesn’t mean I can throw all my interpersonal skills out the window though, because I do have to occasionally talk to people on the phone and through email—but come on. That is so not the same as working with people. You don’t have to go into an office, listen to someone's boring stories about their weekend or look at their vacation pictures and pretend to care, you don't have to collaborate, consult, or do any other partnering exercise if you don’t want to. As a ghostwriter you need to interview people and be comfortable with a back and forth--but if you have ever worked in the corporate world then you know this is not the same thing as a team environment--something I avoid like the plague.
Freelancers who want to make it cannot wear bunny slippers all day while writing and simply must get dressed and, if necessary, put on a bra. Okay, I don’t actually have bunny slippers but I do wear my memory foam slippers a lot and I often stay in my pajamas all day. There is just no reason for me to get dressed if I don't feel like it. If getting dressed helps you become more motivated or focused then by all means have at it. But if you are better off working in a comfy flannel PJ set, sans brassiere, with slippers that make you feel like you are walking on a cloud, what’s the difference? Sure, my boobs are going to sag earlier than my corporate equivalents--but does that really have anything to do with my ability to write and communicate for clients? This myth that you have to wear clothes and (gasp) real shoes is crazy. No one but you knows what you are wearing. Unless you have an in-person meeting. I would totally put on a bra for one of those.
Freelancers who want a real money-making career as writers cannot sleep until noon on weekdays and must work some sort of traditional daylight-hour-based schedule. The best argument for working a traditional 9-5 schedule that I read is that freelancers want to be available to their clients—and I totally get that... but I do it a little differently. In each of my contracts I have a guarantee that I will respond to all emails within 1 business day unless there is a holiday. This comforts potential clients but also leaves me uncommitted schedule-wise and means I don't spend all day waiting for an email or phone call that may or may not come. I have clients all over the globe so it is really impractical to try to be available for them all during their normal work schedule. But also, I don’t work for my clients. I work for me. I need to be available for my boss… which is me. I have to work the schedule that allows me to be at my best—not the schedule that someone else works.
Since this is one of the most popular myths about successful freelancing, I have a little theory about it. I think a lot of freelancers work a rigid schedule because they are afraid that they might not work otherwise--and they could be right. They may also be concerned that their friends and family will lose respect for what they do if they do it at all hours. But remember, it is YOUR career. YOU define it, not anyone else. You may have to be available for the occasional scheduled client phone call, but that doesn't mean you have to work 9-5. Think of all the successful WAHPs out there who have to work nights and weekends--are they less successful than freelancers working 9-5? Are they worse freelancers? What about people in school, caring for a loved one or doing anything that requires them to work a modified schedule? Even if you are like me and just sleep late because you prefer writing at night or you like to spend time at the beach between 9-5, it really does not matter. No one even knows you are doing it. Just do your work, do it well, and get it done before the deadline.
So the way I see it, you don’t need to worry about whether or not I wore clothes and a bra as I typed this (hint: I didn’t), you don’t need to worry about being available 24/7 based on someone else’s schedule (hint: if you set guidelines at the start, you don’t have to), you don’t need to worry about being a corporate failure (hint: you’re a leader not a follower; an independent thinker not a conformist), and you don’t need to worry about your hatred of collaborative environments (hint: some of us just work better alone). Worry about putting out quality work to your clients by the deadline while fitting in a little marketing and networking. If you are in the early stages of your career, you might be a little less flexible and may have to put in some more hours, but you can still do that the way YOU want to. When I decide how to run my business, I think of Mr. Wizard from Tooter Turtle, “Be just vhat you is, not vhat you is not. Folks vhat do zis are ze happiest lot.”