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Confessions of a Fledgling Freelancer : It’s Not Always Win, Win, Win.

It’s not always win, win, win.

Sometimes it seems that way, and you make a mad dash forward, swiftly lifting your foot to kick the ball and make the goal, hoping and straining every muscle and ounce of energy in your body to make it to that moment when your hard work will pay off.

And then you bite it. Hardcore. Face in the dust. Knees and elbows skinned. Completely humiliated.

So this is me, getting up and dusting myself off after a hard fall. And here is what I’m learning from it :

I have to set a precedent.

Setting a precedent is necessary to anything we do in life – in work, in relationships, in physical health – because precedent communicates our worth. It communicates our standards, our work ethic, our values. When we don’t set a precedent, we leave ourselves vulnerable to others who want to set a lower precedent, one that puts their needs and values (or lack thereof) before our own.

Setting the precedent has to be communicated in tangible ways – a sturdy contract, a timeline of work, a paper trail. For fledgling freelancers like myself, subcontracting with the right agency can help set that precedent so that I’m not fending for myself with taxes, invoices, and my clients’ unruly administrative assistants who resort to excessive profanity over payments due.

I did not set this precedent for myself this time around, and I did indeed bite it hardcore.

Face in the dust. Knees and elbows skinned.

I learned the hard, humiliating, broke-ass poor kind of way that I wasn’t communicating my worth effectively.

Gritty details spared, my freelance client and I did not work with a contract, we parted ways, and there’s an invoice with my name on it that has not been paid.

You’re cringing right now, I know. I am, too.

I have read blog after blog after advice-giving blog about working with iron-clad contracts and adhering to strict deadlines and being firm about my hourly rate and when it came down to it, when someone began to question whether I was worth it, I eased up and compromised when I shouldn’t have. And it made me look cheap and naive, and therefore vulnerable. Easily manipulated.

I have questioned myself in a myriad of ways in the last few weeks.

Was this whole freelancing thing bravery or stupidity? Confidence or arrogance? Faith or false hope?

Why, when I’ve come this far and worked this hard, did I wind up in this situation?

What does that say about me and my work when I am so easily coerced into relinquishing my standards?

And what does it say about how I value my own work?

Am I just not ready for freelancing?

The thing is, there is value and then there is value.

There’s a dollar amount for the time and effort we put into work, but there’s also work ethic. In the midst of this conflict I was hit with the realization that it is not just about what my client owes me or what I am worth per hour. It’s about the fact that we have different work ethics. We have different value systems and they are not compatible. She set a precedent for fast, cheap, just-get-it-done work, and my desire to do things completely and correctly was irrelevant to her because it cost more than she was willing to invest.

It’s about self-worth.

Mother Teresa said,

If you are humble nothing will touch you, neither praise nor disgrace, because you know what you are.”

As painful as it is to admit, it was a lesson I needed to learn in knowing who I am and what it costs me when I compromise that. I’m wiser and smarter for this experience, but it still stings a little, knowing that I am back where I started, that the invoice is still unpaid, that the conflict remains unresolved.

From here on out, I know how it works and that for every talent and opportunity given to me, I have to steward it more carefully than I did this one. I know now that if I want to be a writer, I have to start valuing my work and believing that yes, I am worth it.

Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you compromised the value of your work?

Freelancers, what is the hardest lesson you’ve learned when working with clients?

What is the best advice someone has given you about valuing your work?

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Essential Elements of Blogging : Generosity.

We’ve talked diligence and design, but this third and final installment in the essential elements of blogging is the most important :

Generosity begets generosity.

I’ve learned that if you want people to pay attention to you, you have to start with paying attention to them first.

It’s how you build community. You can write great content, but if you’re not actively engaging with others through their blogs and social media, your blog will remain a lone little island of you, your mother, and that stranger in Romania.

Also, I should distinguish between positive and negative engagement.

It is the difference between demanding versus inviting, marketing versus dialoguing.

No one wants to be put on the spot to share or endorse your work. No one needs another sales pitch.

When we share good, honest, vulnerable, true stories in our work and engage others in their honesty and vulnerability and talent, we don’t have to beg.

If we give and share unconditionally, if we admit that nothing is original and that creativity is cultivated best through community, everything will grow organically.

My blog didn’t start growing until I started connecting with others through comments, Twitter, and content sharing. I didn’t meet other writers until I fell down the rabbit hole of the blog world. The tandem of blogging and tweeting has connected me to the deeper network of writers that have inspired and changed me. And I learned to engage them without expecting anything in return. I learned to build relationships.

A short but extremely important list of people I’ve discovered :

Ally & Darrell Vesterfelt | Jeff Goins | Samantha Shorey | Joe Bunting | Leigh Kramer | Lore Ferguson

And this is why I won’t ever stop doing my Inspired By series; it’s an unconditional exercise in hospitality and giving credit where credit is due. I would be an empty, inert vessel if I wasn’t reading and exploring other blogs and books and articles every week. What I read has an enormous influence on how I arrive at my own content. I share because otherwise my content would be two-dimensional, and in a sense, dishonest. I share out of gratitude. I share because I want you to be inspired to explore and grow, too.

Check back tomorrow for a full list of lovelinks that helped me develop good blogging habits, or jump in right now by perusing my “Inspired By” links in the column to your right.

Share your own thoughts : What are the golden rules of blogging? Or if you don’t blog, how have you learned to be generous in your work?

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Essential Elements of Blogging : Design

Yesterday we talked diligence as an essential element of blogging, but today we’re going to talk about the funner, sexier side of blogging : design.

I have a background in art, although truthfully, I never finished my dual major in English and Art (I opted for English only, and then simplified that to Communications). Certain professors may read this and scoff at my rather liberal use of “background in.” I never even took a digital tools class (although I have basic experience with Illustrator and InDesign through my job).

And yet, I do care about good design and remember a few things from my art classes in high school and college. Plus, I lived with design majors for four years, so their pretention and jargon had plenty of time to rub off on me.

And if that weren’t enough, I’ve found a plethora of well-designed blogs that have trained my eye for this one essential design principle :

Grab ‘em above the fold.

Or in other words, make a good first impression. Get them at first glance. Give the blog your style, but make sure that the design is easy on the eyes. (Another huge thanks to my fairy blog-father Darrell Vesterfelt for designing my blog!)

Don’t believe that crap about good design only being necessary for design bloggers. The design of a blog is especially important for writing bloggers because bad design distracts from good content.

A couple of tips :

1. Build a blog that looks unique, but sophisticated. Your header is a reader’s first exposure to your brand, so make sure that you’ve at least found a way to customize it in some respect – a font, a color scheme, quality photos.

I would recommend picking the most basic template your blog host has to offer, not one of the templates that has flowers and birds all over it. Why? Because the flowers and birds templates are usually less customizable and harder to read. And also, approximately 1.5 bajillion other bloggers have chosen the same template with the same crazy 70’s floral pattern that burns my retinas and forces me to click away before I can read anything.

2. Make who you are and what you’re about immediately apparent. A profile photo and a 1-2 sentence bio will give them a foundation for understanding your voice and your content.

The blog/blogger that has been most influential in helping me comprehend good design is Bri Emery of Designlovefest. She has great tips for creating a clean and unique space. My dream is to someday attend her Blogshop class.

Here are some great examples of simple, sophisticated blog designs that inspired my new blog design :

Snippet & Ink | Smith & Ratliff | Brynna Lynea | Le Projet D’Amour | fieldguided | Hither & Thither

You’ll notice a few common design denominators that most, if not all of them, exhibit :

  • Lots of white space, and a simple color scheme. You won’t see a whole bunch of boxes and lines squishing their columns and content, or crazy patterns, or a rainbow of blinding colors. You have to give your content room to breathe! Make it feel zen. Make it feel like they’re reading a good book on their back porch on a sunny day.
  • A commanding header.They’re simple, with one or two fonts and one or two colors. These headers are sleek, professional, and to the point. And above all, they’re sexy. Again, no crazy colors or overly treated (distressed, frilled) or cliche fonts. Also, you’ll notice I have a thing for dramatic ampersands. Hey, if you’re going to emphasize something, pick the one thing that’s easily customizable!
  • Their ads aren’t everywhere. If they have them, they’re in their proper place, which is to say, they’re not interrupting their blog content! And also, they’re giving the ads equal weight by making them all the same size, or at least the same column width.
  • Their text is formatted. No CRAZY SHOUTING IN ALL CAPS or underlining, bolding, and italicizing every other word.  They write in an even tone, which means their readers can read in an even tone. And they bullet when necessary, highlight when necessary, and their text layout isn’t all over the place.
  • Their width for photos, columns, and text are all consistent.  It keeps everything orderly! Just take a look for yourself. 

 

What design details entice or deter you from reading a blog? Designers, do you have any thoughts to add to this? 

 

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Essential Elements of Blogging : Diligence

I am not a how-to blogger.

You know the kind. They tell you how to instantly improve your blog in 3, 5, 10, 30 easy steps. They talk about platform and SEO and influence. All of those things are important and I do read some of the good how-to bloggers out there, but I don’t count myself among them because I’m a writer; I find more challenge and value in poetic, reflective, personal writing than I do in building my particular brand of advice-giving. Everyone wants to give advice, but no one wants to take it.

Yet I do think it’s important to take time, in light of launching my new and improved blog, to share some things I’ve learned in the last three years since starting She Writes and Rights. So over this week I’ll share one key element of blogging every day, three in all, one for each year that I’ve blogged. The list could go on forever, but when we boil it down and strip away all the specifics, the things I’m sharing are the most essential parts and they can be implemented in a lot of different ways.

Because it’s not just about what to do, but why and how to do it effectively.

So here’s my thought for today :

Be diligent, even if no one is paying attention to you.

Even if your stats tell you that you only have three readers, and you know for a fact that one of them is your mom and the other two are you and some stranger that lives in Romania, be diligent.

Diligence is about consistency, habit, and building your voice.

I lose my diligence easily. My habits ebb with my mood, and for a long time my writing suffered because of it.

The thing that helped me break my habit of non-diligence was creating a weekly series, or blogging about the same general topic on the same day each week. I don’t always follow the series rule, but generally, you can expect me to share a post in my bookish series on Mondays, poetry posts on Tuesday or Wednesday, short, freeform essays/poems on Wednesday or Thursday, and my Inspired By posts full of lovelinks every Friday.

This strategy has helped me face the blank page without fear. It has taken away the “what should I write about?!” anxiety that comes with blogging, or writing in general, for that matter. In effect, I’ve given myself a weekly assignment, or prompt, to help me focus my thoughts.

And that’s the other thing, if you create a structure of consistency, cranking out 500-700 words suddenly doesn’t seem like a big, scary deal anymore. Or, in my case, editing it down to 500-700 words doesn’t seem so hard. Miracle of miracles, I’m learning to write more efficiently. My English profs would be so proud!

What are the ways that you’ve learned to be diligent in your blogging? Or if you don’t blog, how have you learned to be diligent in your work?

Restless Writer

Today is my ritual Writing Saturday. I’m at Starbucks, all by my writing self and a goooood cup of coffee. And I’m enjoying it… sort of. I have a lot of thoughts rolling around and none of them are very helpful. After a long, busy, roller-coaster week, I have nothing to show for it – at least not in terms of my writing. Last Saturday I felt the same way. I wrote a solid 1,500 words, but none of what I wrote is anything that I would inflict on others. Now I sit, coffee in hand, listening to the friendly but distracting sounds of the cafe and I question, Did I come here this morning for the coffee or the writing? I might have just pulled myself into a bad writing habit by coming here instead of sitting at home in the quiet. I know that’s not the only thing bothering me, though. I feel stumped. Uninspired. Frustrated. Displaced. Like something I once had is now gone; I feel the void, but what is it exactly that I’ve lost? I’m just wondering, for you writers and bloggers out there, When you feel like something is missing in your writing, how do you find it? I have a feeling that many of you will say, “I keep writing.” Thank you. That was very helpful. But how do you subdue the anxiety that accompanies the sense of aimlessness? Truth be told, I feel bored with my writing self. Possibly, I am bored with my self self, and it’s infringing on my writing self. (Am I helping or hurting my writing by separating my writing self from my whole self?) When I become restless with my writing, it often feels like I’m talking my writing self down from the ledge. Don’t be so over-dramatic. The thing you’re missing? It will come back to you. Just be patient. Wait it out. Write it out. And then, my self self gets frustrated. I am talking to myself. I am insane. I’m the crazy writer girl that’s going to start wearing all white and never leave my house. Or I’ll wind up sticking rocks in my trench coat pockets and wander into the river. Or stick my head in an oven and inhale deeply until the unhelpful thoughts go away…. See what I mean? It would be great if I could actually be satisfied with my writing self before the end of my life. (Disclaimer: I’m not actually suicidal. I just find it sad and amusing that so many great writers never knew their own potential.) I know I’m not alone in this, so tell me, how do I talk my writing self back from the ledge? How do I break the cycle of unhelpful thoughts? Advice, please. For now, I’m going to keep working on an unfinished writing project from a few weeks ago and hope that it yields something reader-worthy….