It occurred to me the other day that I tend to prefer short, manageable chunks of information much of the time, as opposed to in-depth, long, heavy explorations of topics with detailed explanations.
This is occurred to me in relation to my NPR podcast habit, which has got the best of me lately. I am almost at the point that I can't shower or take my morning run without an adequate lineup of these bite-size pieces of information. Sometimes, when I take a longer run or have a more leisurely week, I run out of my backlog of podcasts, and am forced to instead download some of NPR's more lengthy radio shows, such as the Ted Radio Hour. My attention span doesn't seem to like this.
However, I've forgiven myself, as I realize this is either a cause or effect of my freelance life. Yup, I'm blaming my penchant for shallow, easy information on the writing life.
Freelance writers spend a lot of our time researching. In fact, the hours I spend on the internet sometimes outnumber the hours I spend actually composing text. This habit of hopping around the 'net, picking up the building blocks of my clients' research seems to have affected my information preferences.
Variety of Clients
One of the most accepted bits of freelance writing wisdom is the directive to avoid "putting all your eggs in one basket." Therefore, a safe freelancer has likely cultivated a cadre of clientele that can vary from a University that needs marketing materials (yes, I used to edit for NHU, eons ago), all the way to an interior landscaping company that needs new content or blog posts. The diversity of my client list seems to train my brain to know the surface of their field, but that's it.
Look, when the magazine editor asks you to produce a 600-word article (firm!), you're not going to have a lot of room to expound on the depth of knowledge that you've gained from the subject. Trust me, editors are serious when it comes to word count limits!
Internet composers have realized that readers prefer easily assimilable content, and so that's what they give us. Or perhaps we prefer that content because that's what we're used to. I'm really not sure. If you want to know, you can take a couple minutes to read this long, well-researched article on how Google is making us stupid. I don't have the focus to read it, myself.
Ok, so this post is mostly tongue-in-cheek. I assure you I can read an Atlantic article and even finish a book now and then. But the truth is, most freelance writers tend to pick up a little bit of information about a whole lot of different topics, and this practice might influence your tastes and practices in your life outside of work, too. Now, please excuse me while I go troll NPR for some new content!
Just a quick note--today is the first day of my class "How to Become a Paid Book Reviewer." This is the fourth time I've taught this class, and those students who go on to apply the knowledge are able to easily earn back the class fee. There is still time (a day or two) to sign up here, via Women on Writing.
I recently received an email from a new-intermediate freelance writer who had explored my site in detail trying to develop her business a little. I was intrigued by what she had to say. Check it out:
I wanted to thank you for the numerous articles and blog posts about freelance writing, especially the ones that chronicle your own experiences and solutions. However, I'm overwhelmed, and I think I know partially why.
It seems to me that there are a lot of potential things that a writer can do to collect a roster of clients and make some "real" money (that is, money that replaces a full time job, in my humble opinion). But they're just sort of thrown out there. What's the return on investment on some of these ideas? What's the pay off? You really don't say much about balance. For example, is it really worth it for me to build a website from scratch via Wordpress? Is it really worth it for me to prowl the job listings every day? Will a change in my office environment really affect my productivity? I guess what I'm saying is that it seems you've simply written everything about everything, and I can't possibly do "everything." Where's the balance?
Hannah's got a point. No, we cannot ever do everything. We can try. But we will most likely fail.
Now, I must insist that I've got some opinion in many of my articles. Most of it is in the form of personal experience. I often tell you "this worked for me," meaning the balance paid off!
For example, a Wordpress site may be labor-intensive, yes. But I've mentioned again and again that you're in full control, and these sites seem to be infinitely more searchable than websites-in-a-box. Or, I can say that keeping on top of the job listings in your niche area will save you trouble of applying for projects that are probably already filled, if they're older than a day or two, that is. Why waste your time? That's balance. In addition, I always try to provide the most efficient way to do things. Notice that when I mentioned a room makeover, I suggested avoiding real plants, which are simply more work. Heck, not having to think about too much extra care is one of the benefits of silk trees!
So, I'm all about efficiency, and I'd say that's balance, too.
One last point though. Sometimes, I don't want to color your perceptions about this career. What worked for me may (or may not) work for you! You may be writing in a completely disparate topic area, or working in a different genre than I am. Sometimes, not making that call is purposeful. I would prefer that you try it out. Remember, you can always leave your results in blog post comments, thereby providing an element of that "balance" to your colleagues.
Great question Hannah!
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If you follow me on Facebook or Twitter, you likely know that I've got a veritable zoo of incorrigible pets that constantly interrupt my work day here at my home office. Last week, my husband finally upgraded the door to my office, installing a sound-proof, solid alternative that allows me to retain the peace I need to compose. The difference was immediate and incredible, and I got to thinking about other ways to improve my home office, and thought I'd share the list with you, fellow writers!
Regular or longtime readers of this site have heard this one before. I am sold when it comes to standing desks, and have often mentioned them as a possibility for other freelancers. Since the act of sitting seems to do so much damage to our bodies, this arrangement is not only good for your health, but it could have an immediate positive affect on your productivity, too. Worked for me!
Freelancers often spend a lot of time in their home offices, because the line between home and work is blurred. Sometimes, the practice of 8-5 and done is just a fantasy. So, you may as well make your environment work in your favor. When I redid my home office (which I chronicled on Pinterest), I chose colors and styles that I found soothing. In the last couple weeks, I've added some foliage and a surround sound speaker. You might consider adding plants, or even artificial palm trees to get the ambiance you need to be at your best during your work day.
Intuitive Equipment and Placement
Nothing is more annoying than having to stop in the middle of writing production to journey to a printer in another room, or have to get up to figure out why the wireless router is choosing not to work. In order to minimize time-eating distractions like this, freelancers should carefully plan the layout of their office and equipment to account for these kinds of issues. For example, not only can I reach the wireless router and printer within a few steps, but I've also got access to a coffee machine, my files and a drawer full of office supplies in my immediate vicinity. Maybe I'm just distractible by nature, but I need this and urge you to try it if you're having productivity issues.
Like I stated in my introduction, sound-proofing has been a godsend. I don't understand why my dogs choose to bark at every single movement in the neighborhood (oh-my-gosh-the-mailman-chose-to-come-again-today-didn't-he-learn-the-other-million-times-we-barked-at-him?), but it can be jarring. It's hard to say what will work for any individual home office area on a case-by-case basis, but we started with the simplest upgrade- the door- and it is heaven. If you can't go that far, have you ever considered a white noise machine?
Of course, no discussion about the home office is complete without a nod to ergonomics. We've visited this topic many times and I've provided several resources and suggestions in the past. Taking care of your body in this way is integral to assuring you have a long and health freelance life.
I sure hope that being proactive about your office environment helps your writing life like it helped mine. Be sure to leave your suggestions in the comments!