There are lots of books out there like this, making staggering claims for how they will revolutionize your life. I’d never have opened this if it had not come from a trusted recommender who was convinced enough to send me the book and tell me to read it. It happened to come at the perfect moment when I was bottoming out, and I can honestly say it’s the one that has made a difference. There are no shortcuts to hard work, lots of very hard work, but sometimes we need a little hand-holding as well as some butt-kicking and Marie does it all generously and compassionately. There are exercises to complete and it’s highly recommended to do them. I will have to go back and complete some of them as I got to a point where I was just hungry to read the next chapter. I should re-iterate, “there are no shortcuts in this book”. It might be for you, it might not be for you – but if it is for you, it’s a game-changer! Everything IS figureoutable.
I’m not complaining for a minute; this is the life I have chosen for myself and I love it. As in any job, though, there are good days and bad days.
I am often asked for advice by people who are considering going self employed in creative fields and my first line is a reality check. If I had known all this when I started three and a half years ago, I don’t think it would have changed anything, but this is my second attempt to “go it alone” after I learned some hard lessons the first time round, which was about ten years ago.
|Shuffling to your PC in your pyjamas with a cup of coffee at 11am to start work||Getting up at 6am and sometimes working ‘til midnight to meet a deadline.|
|Lunching with friends||Skipping meals because you are “in the zone” and don’t want to lose the flow|
|Being your own boss and beholden to nobody||Working for a string of “bosses” in succession and often simultaneously|
|Never having to fill in another job application||Being on a permanent job hunt to line up the next month of work|
|Never having to go through another annual performance review||Trying to stay on top of your game and develop your skills with virtually no guidance|
|Holidays when you want them||No paid leave and the laptop comes on holiday with you because it’s impossible to “abandon the baby”|
|Extended amounts of time in your own little world||Missing the banter and mutual support of a work environment|
|Doing what you love every day||Tax returns, accounts, marketing, pitching and admin at least 30% of the time|
|Time to work on your “big idea”||Shelving the “big idea” until things calm down a bit|
|Having control over your working environment||Moving to the kitchen because the desk is too cluttered, tripping over the laundry pile and the dog/cat who is doing everything in its power to distract you|
|“My office is a coffee shop”||Spending half an hour trying to get access to their unfeasibly slow WiFi, getting the shakes by lunch time (after your 4th espresso), going outside to take a phone call that you don’t want to be overheard|
|Practice the guitar in your “lunch break”||Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook and Stumbleupon in your “lunch break”|
- Adventures in Freelance Writing (angloadventure.com)
- The Ins and Outs of Freelancing (aesthetic-online.com)
- Freelancing: It’s not impossible – it’s downright smart (trumpetpage.wordpress.com)
Back in my nursing days, my right to practice was contingent upon staying up-to-date with developments in the field and being able to show evidence of continuous learning and improvement. The possibility that the NMC could call in my learning portfolio at any point was always in the back of my mind. In reality, the organisation I worked for also required, and arranged, a certain amount of mandatory training and extra courses that covered my CPD needs.
As a freelancer, nobody sends you on courses or asks for evidence that you are keeping up with changes in your area of expertise; it’s down to you.
You are your own training department.
You expertise is your stock in trade and you are responsible for keeping it fresh and for staying informed. I aim to spend at least three hours a week on CPD and, as you will see, this doesn’t have to be much more than religiously reading a few blogs or listening to a podcast. Remember, Most freelancers sell a skill they have developed plus the stuff they have stashed in their brain cells; we need to keep the stock fresh.
My field is copy editing, document support and coaching written communication across academic, business, technical and fiction writing. As we go, I will share a few links to free resources for my fellow word-mongers, but here are a few CPD ideas to keep any freelancer on the ball.
We all know where to go to download information if we need it. I use web searches several times a day to check facts or verify current practice, in the middle of my workflow. However, the CPD dimension of my work requires time that is set aside for it (out of office hours, usually soon after waking up). Decide how many hours a week you are going to spend purely investing in yourself as a professional and block out that time in your schedule.
A professional musician racks up hours of practice on a daily basis; they don’t rely on performance time to learn and improve technique. It should be no different for other freelancers.
The reading list
A shelf of books to consult on-the-fly is essential for any freelancer. However, you need as much of that stuff on the tip of your tongue as possible because you can’t take “SEO for Dummies” to a client meeting. For this reason, my books divide into “to refer to” and “to digest” categories.
Maintain a list of books to read and books read, and set yourself a target to read two or three books in your field every month. It is tempting to read more books on becoming a better freelancer or running a better business, and these should form part of your diet, but don’t neglect learning more about your actual trade – the stuff you sell.
While we are on the subject, libraries are great, too. How about using your local library once a week for a dedicated reading session.
Grab the news
As well as subscribing to the leading RSS channels in your field, it is worth setting up a couple of Google searches for key terms and having them pushed to your inbox. This makes it easy to add keeping abreast of developing news and trends into your email-reading routine.
For example, I currently have a news search on “grammar” set to send me a daily email so I don’t miss a story.
Read a blog, or two
This is not difficult for most of us. In fact, the challenge is to restrain a tendency to disappear down the rabbit hole on a fairly boring “clickathon”, only to emerge a few hours later either choking on information reflux or wondering how we ended up looking at LOLcats … again.
Choose two leading blogs in your field and read them, religiously. Separate them out from all the other channels. My online RSS reader aggregates lots of fluff for me to read in my spare time, but these come to my mailbox.
If you have a commute, these are ideal for the train or car – you can get edumacated on your way to work.
Since my journey to work tends to be down the stairs and through the living room, I still make time to listen to podcasts every week. As with the blogs, pick one (two at the most) and block out time to listen. Think of it in the same light as learning a language: you are going to spend a certain amount of time with the headphones on … learning.
If you listen at home or in an office, you may even want to treat it like a classroom and take notes.
Quite apart from the fact that Mignon Fogarty taught me most of what I know and is still my “go-to guru”, the 15 minutes I spend listening to her Grammar Girl podcast two or three times a week often gives me the edge.
Find a coach
There is no substitute for the walking, talking expertise of someone who is further along the road than you.
I’m extremely lucky to have worked for and with Hannah Juby of Express Language in the last few years. This has included informal mentoring and feedback that has corrected a lot of my worst habits and pushed me to improve.
Finding a mentor who is prepared to share their knowledge with you for free could be tricky, especially if you are a potential competitor. However, scroll through your phonebook now and you will surely spot someone, perhaps in a parallel or overlapping sphere, with whom you are friendly enough to be allowed to draw on their brilliance.
Online (and other) courses
Finally, I have a few thoughts on courses, because I’ve thrown money at them and I know people who have thrown money at them.
Be cautious: there is an industry that plays on your ambitions by reselling stuff you could find out quite easily for yourself. Having said that, they are not all scams. Some will offer certification of some sort and, at the very least, someone has usually put a lot of time into making the information structured and digestible. You may also find that paying for something means you are more likely to follow through on it – so courses do work for some people.
In my experience, people who have completed courses don’t necessarily have more expertise than the folk who rig up their own CPD program as recommended in this post.
Use it reflectively
Reflect on learning before moving on to the next chunk of information.
In my nursing portfolio, I used to have blank copies of a form I would fill in every time I read an article. I forced me to think about how what I had read would affect my practice in the future. It asked me to respond to a few questions (if I recall correctly):
- Do you agree with this?
- What are the problems with this article?
- How will you apply what you have learned?
- Has it raised any further areas of enquiry to direct future learning?
Put what you learn into practice at the earliest opportunity.
In summary …
- DO take your continuing professional development seriously and block out time in your schedule to train yourself.
- DON’T flood yourself with information or lose yourself on the web, find a few good resources and digest them thoroughly on a routine basis.
- DO draw on your personal network.
- DON’T sign up and shell out for courses on a whim.
- DO see it as a journey and enjoy every minute of it.
As much as I despise psychological profiling, I know I don’t score highly as a completer/finisher.
Nevertheless, few things beat the thrill of finishing something; it’s a natural high.
If you have woken up to Monday morning blues, could it be the hung-over unfinished things of last week that are to blame?
If I ever start to feel bad about myself, I often find that not finishing something is at the root of the bad feelings. Conversely, actually finishing just one thing can put me back on top of the world and inspire me to go on to finish something else.
Unfortunately, it sometimes feels as if the price to pay for finishing is too high; I often settle for the cheaper thrills such as being ‘tweeted’ by a ‘celebrity’:
@seeingmore legend mate thank you half asleep !
— Jamie Bruce (@JamieBrucie) May 15, 2013
Finishing doesn’t have to be an expensive drug. There are all sorts of small things you could finish in the next five minutes – like emptying and reloading the dishwasher.
In order to get the week underway, I prescribe what I call a “finishing ladder”.
- Start with a small task and finish it. It feels good.
- Enjoy the endorphins but move up to a slightly bigger task before they subside.
- By the time you have two “finishes” under your belt, you’ll be looking for your next hit – go get it!
- Move on up the ladder towards bigger tasks.
- Before the day is over you just might be hooked on finishing.
Try to finish some stuff today …
Your dopamine receptors will love you for it.
As a natural procrastinator and date-phobe, deadlines do nothing to lower my blood pressure. In the last two years of trying to get established as a freelancer I have tried every single time management strategy available. I have probably spent as much time re-structuring my diary and prioritising to-do lists as I have spent actually working. More recently, my growing workload has made it an imperative that I get this thing nailed down – pinned down, to be precise.
All my experimentation and money spent on index cards and software has not been in vain. I’m going to share with you the system that I have evolved to suit my way of working in the hope that it might help other freelancers like me.
You will need
- A large cork board
- A large assortment of different coloured pins (I have about 50 of each colour)
- A marker
- Some labels
- Possibly some coloured tape or sticky notes that are the same colours as your pins (these are to indicate deadlines)
- Take the marker and divide the board into eight rows (for days of the week and a label) and as many columns as you can fit across it.
- Label the bottom seven rows Monday to Sunday (or Monday to Friday if you strictly don’t work weekends … as if!)
- Use the top row to add labels for each coming week. These will need to be removable so you can update it with fresh weeks every so often.
- You are ready to go.
How to use it
There are a few simple principles to grasp:
- Each pin represents an hour’s work. When you take on a new job you need to estimate how many hours it is going to take you and set aside that number of pins (I write at about 500 words an hour and copy edit at about 1,500 words an hour).
- Use different coloured pins for different clients or jobs.
- Populate the “calendar” with the pins, showing when you are going to do each hour’s work. Each of my days has space for nine pins (nine working hours). Loosely, the first pin is 8am-9am and the last pin is 5pm-6pm (with an hour off for lunch).
- Use a specific colour (I use white) to block out days when you are not available and hours when you have appointments or non-work commitments during the normal working day.
- Indicate your deadlines with a piece of tape (or even a dedicated pin) in the colour for that job.
- You can play with the pins as much as you like but there is one rule: red pins can’t go past the red deadline, and so on.
This system works for me because there is something about physically moving pins around that really helps me to understand how my time is distributed in a way that paper or a computer screen never does. I can tell at a glance if someone phones me up and says “can you do it by Tuesday?” If a job takes less time than I expected I can just subtract a few pins. For each hour of work completed, that pin gets removed and put to the side so progress towards completion can be seen instantly (and taking a pin out is a nice feeling). If something else needs to be slotted in, it is very easy to arrange the pins around it.
There is lots of flexibility and scope for creative variation, but here are the basics.
It is not until you start using it that you realise the elegance of the system. Give it a go!
Accept that you will make mistakes as everyone does. If mistakes are so inevitable would it not be better to incorporate them into your creative process and use them as opportunities to be exploited rather than set-backs or even fatal flaws in the project.
The ever wise Dorye Roettger famously said, “There are no problems – only opportunities to be creative,” and for a person who adopts this as their maxim, every mistake made in the creative process can become an extraordinary opportunity, too.
At the very least, a mistake can be a lesson in what doesn’t work. The inventor Thomas Edison said, “Results! Why, man, I have gotten a lot of results. I know several thousand things that won’t work.” However, a mistake can be so much more than that. It can be a prompt that kicks you off the tramlines of your typical thought processes and in pulling your best effort in order to compensate for your “mistake” you may find that you excel yourself or stumble into new paths.
A chess player who makes an error in their opening line of play could throw their opponent off guard with their unorthodoxy, be forced to invent a new line of strategy and work ten times harder because of their vulnerability.If your inventive mind has a tendency to fall into a rut a mistake can jerk you awake and bring you back to a sense of presence in the task.
A songwriter who always finds themselves going back to the same old chord progressions could take a hint from John Lennon and switch to a less familiar instrument. He is reputed to have done most of his writing at the piano because it was much less familiar and he was therefore more likely to stray into new musical territory. He may not have called it progress by mistakes but this is much closer to the kind of attitude that an opportunist creative needs to take to make the best of the inevitable.
Hints for using mistakes as a departure point for creativity
Get Socratic: Ask “why” at least five times until you get to the root of something. “Why did this happen?” “Why do I see this as a mistake?”
Get Freudian: Is this slip up some expression of a deeper subconscious intelligence? How might this “mistake” be seen as a wise move?
Get Existential: Instead of lamenting your stupidity in the past, even the past five minutes, embrace the fact that you are here now and nothing will change that. Enjoy the moment. Assess your options in the “NOW”.
Zen Out: Walk away from it for a while and settle your mind on something else. You may have made a “mistake” because you were trying too hard or wanting it too much. If you take a break and look away as if you do not care quite so much, you give your mind a chance to engage the subconscious.
A creative breakthrough is never far away from a mistake, let it find you.
- The Art of Invention: The Creative Process of Discovery and Design (prweb.com)
- “Because in some sense, when I’m talking about magic, I’m only talking about the creative process….” (vimoh.in)
- True Creativity (munchow.wordpress.com)