The Freelance Life

One of the more daunting aspects of freelancing is meeting potential new clients.

I’m shy by nature, so getting out there and meeting people is tough to start with. I’ve gotten better at it as I go, but it’s still not my favorite thing to do.

I think one of the important lessons I’m learning about freelancing is making do. Got an hour’s worth of sleep last night because the heat triggered my sinusitis for the first time in awhile, and there’s no sleeping with a sinus headache. The sinuses cleared up once I popped my Zyrtec this morning, but I still looked like the walking dead, all hollow-eyed and pale-faced, and no amount of makeup can clear that up (not that it matters; it’s 95 degrees again, and my makeup started melting the instant I walked outside). Sleepiness tends to infringe on my wits, too, so I’m pretty sure I was walking around in a haze as I headed to Starbucks for my meeting.

I tackled this problem as I tackle all problems: threw coffee at it and hoped it went away.

Which brings me back to making do. All I really have to offer is my skill set, but I have to be able to present that skill set. Which means a freelancer needs to be constantly “on,” sinusitis or not. Maybe some rehearsed talking points are a good thing. Everyone’s different; I won’t file this under general advice. Maybe just ruminations. I guess my point here is that a good or bad impression can make all the difference. That’s true in real life as well as the freelance world, but it’s especially relevant to freelancing.

That brings me to the actual freelance life.

When I tell people I work from home, their first reaction is raised eyebrows–and then a blissful smile, clearly imagining my days to be full of Starbucks runs and catnaps.

The blissful smiles fade when I mention I am sometimes working twelve hours a day.

“Twelve hours?” one demanded last night. “Twelve hours?”

“Well,” I amended, “not twelve hours straight…”

I work on and off throughout the day, as work comes in and as writers come back to me with revisions, commentary, and answers to questions. I’m working on a lot of small gigs at the moment, as opposed to a couple of big ones, so I jump around a lot. When I’m not editing, I’m usually working on my own writing, whether it’s the paid variety or not, or putting together submission packages or revising someone’s cover letter. Which is how I wound up at my neighbors’ place at nine o’clock last night with my laptop balanced on my knees, trying to get through a few more pieces before the end of the day, thus prompting the innocent question about how I was working at that late hour.

But yes, it does even out to twelve hours more often than I’d like it to.

“Better than being unemployed,” the neighbor said.

I agreed.

Freelancing’s not for the faint of heart. You don’t get sick days. You also have to be able to make yourself work…sometimes no matter how horrible you feel. I tend to hinge my self-worth on my work, so I’ve always been pretty good at just working, but I’m told that can be a difficult mindset to develop.

My freelancing reality: I shamble out of bed at 9 or earlier, unless I oversleep miserably. I uncover the bird and boot up the computer, and make a pot of coffee or tea. I have breakfast and get to work. At some point I shower and dress, then wind up back in front of the computer. I try to cram any errands in between 9:30-11 or 1-3, as I can usually avoid high traffic and crowds during those times. Then it’s right back to work.

I try to go walking or running (when my knees are up to it) at around 7. I used to do this during the day, before my dermatologist told me I really should just leave the state, because pale-skinned people like me have no business being in California and I should only come out at night. As a result, my friends are starting to wonder if I’m a vampire. If I’ve finished my workload for the day, I usually pull up one of the laptops and try to do some writing. I read before bed. Lights are out at 12 or 1.

If I haven’t finished…I go back to work. Sometimes I try to teach myself new skills, like XHTML or CSS. Then there’s advertising for new clients, or responding to ads I find. That all takes brainpower. Oh, and let’s not forget the bills. Health insurance, car insurance, utilities. Yes, some of them are partial writeoffs, but not all.

More often than not, my freelance life does not involve daily trips to Starbucks (although I do love the place). I either brew cheap coffee here, or–more recently–raid my tea stash throughout the day. My would-be catnaps are 20-minute snatches of sleep on the couch to rest my eyes. My coworker is my pet cockatiel, who is quite happy to rant at me in English when she thinks I’m not paying enough attention to her.

And then there’s the heat. Supposedly it may ease off tomorrow. If not, I may have to suck it up and get a window AC unit, because it’s bloody hot out. I’ve got the windows cracked open, fans on, blinds closed, so the apartment is kind of like a cave. I’m hoping it stays that way. It got really miserable last night, to the point where I packed up my laptop and schlepped two blocks down to my neighbors’ moderately cooler abode (which ended up triggering this entire post, heh).

I hope the post doesn’t come off as a litany of complaints, because that wasn’t my intention. But I think a lot of people hear “freelancer” and think of the exciting parts (no boss! work in pajamas! follow your dreams!) without considering the rest of it before they dive in (cheap insurance covers nothing! when does the fun start?).

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