Freelance finances for (wicked) thrifty Thursday

Let’s face it, no one is getting rich by pursuing art. (Maybe a lucky few). It’s going to be a long and difficult road toward supporting myself fully with freelance writing; so far I have only published content I offered essentially for free (as a student payment is verboten, and Examiner has a pennies-per-pageview type setup which I realized exactly zero from). Most freelance writers have to be content with a byline and no remuneration for the first few “clips” so that they have something to include when querying the paying markets. By the way, don’t make the mistake, as I did at 22, of selecting only the publications offering upwards of three dollar signs in the Writer’s Market, when you’re just starting out… Whoops.

I spend most of my “writing” time researching right now: what I need for the business; how to get published; where to get published; whether my writing is a good fit for a magazine I’m attracted to… I should have prioritized investing in a decent printer, stationery, business cards, etc., so that I was ready to go before I got laid off. I can’t possibly expect to make even my first hundred dollars for at minimum eight weeks, and that’s if I submitted something complete to a paying market and it was accepted tomorrow. (Impossible). Only three months of severance pay left. So it’s time for… TA-DA! In addition to a big kick in the ass,  a budget.

Personally, I dislike services such as Mint because they more or less require you to use your debit card, which I have all sorts of ethical problems with in terms of building up the big banks and tearing down small business. Carry some cash, people! Geez. Whatever system works for you, though… I recently downloaded a free app for my Kindle called Spensa Lite which I have been playing with and might be a convenient way to track expenditures I’d otherwise forget (where DID that $100 go?). But I am a big fan of the plain old workhorse spreadsheet,  supplemented by pen and paper for notes on cash. (Writers carry little notebooks anyway, of course.)  If you know some simple pivot table commands and you keep your sheet updated, it can provide you the same category summaries as a website without any potentially frightening personal information divulging, and be more customizable to your needs.

Pay attention to the pattern of the non-essentials and figure out where you can cut. If you spend a good bit out drinking, be old once in a while and try boxed wine and a Netflix movie. Starbucks addict? Make your coffee at home; with filtered water and freshly-ground, fair trade beans with a reusable cup, it’s better on so many levels anyway (yes, I’m a tree-hugger. What of it?). Cobble a good pair of leather boots every year or two instead of throwing away plastic ones every season. (Sometimes thrift means spend more on quality and not pay less.) I cut my own hair and “do” my own nails, which may be more than most girls can imagine, but I’m sure you can find creative ways to spend less and still enjoy yourself and feel beautiful (er, if you’re a woman; I’m not sure there’s an equivalent for guys– perhaps just “hot.”)

Since it’s April (finally Spring!) I tackled my taxes. Bummer! Since I rented out my condo to live with my boyfriend for part of the year, and worked all 12 months while claiming way more than zero, I am actually getting no refund. I owe quite a bit, actually. Ouch! I suppose the good news is that certainly won’t happen for 2013, seeing as I will have almost no income. Ha!

I do need to take the business side of this venture seriously to make sure that I’m able to get the maximum deduction from being self-employed. Unfortunately (for my lazy side), it seems advisable to get a separate bank account, to keep things simple. (You don’t have to get a separate tax ID, though, as a sole proprietorship; the income — if any–  just goes on your SSN.) So far I have only spent a few dollars picking up some reference material and subscribing to select journals, which will not be difficult to add to the banking records. I will have to remember to keep receipts (I am definitely not in the habit, being a compulsive recycler and skeevy about pthalates and such) and not procrastinate with paperwork. A tall order.

If you started a home-based business, did you get a separate bank account? Were there particular big-ticket items you felt you had to invest in? How important is personalized stationery vs. a printed page with your contact information at the top? (I wonder!) Do you keep track of your finances carefully or freak out on April 14th? Please share!

Quick note: I’m going to call this series on finances for freelancers Wicked Thrifty Thursday as a nod to my former blog (which people really seemed to enjoy). I’ll be featuring a little discount shopping (clothing, home decor) to help us all feel fabulous even if we’re poor; what works for me for sticking to a budget and finding the right resources at the best price; and anything else money!

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Motivation for writers and those working at home

How do you get motivated when the internet (Pinterest! DIY blogs! Twitter links! Ack!) and on-demand television seem so much more alluring than writing or whatever you’re supposed to be doing?

When my boyfriend was unemployed, I saw him waste entire days getting sucked into movies or TV series marathons, and (although I generally dislike most TV) I am well aware of how easy it can be for the hours to evaporate unnoticed. So I have pledged, and thus far in this month of joblessness held fast to, no television before evening and thus have at least accomplished a few things every day.

What I need to do now is to turn off the wireless and write (maybe with a timer?) without the constant distraction of email, Facebook notifications, the abyss that is Pinterest… Gah! I did set myself up a home office upstairs in the guest room/music room/craft room, with a real desk, but somehow I always end up on the couch. With the internet on. Bad girl.

“Flylady,” the “home executive” organization website, advocates putting on real shoes as the most important step in getting yourself going. Since I typically go Japanese-style at home and remove shoes at the door (way more hygenic, by the way), this particular suggestion doesn’t really work for me, but I find that the big step of putting my contact lenses in (my “eyes” as my mom would say) somehow signals to my brain that it’s not lazing-around time any more. Some days the glasses stay on longer than others; perhaps that’s another item I should add to my “schedule”!

The threat of having no income is sufficient for many, and will be way more frightening for me as soon as my severance runs out.  A friend who is a self-employed textile artist and seamster, who “homesteads” (as the self-sufficiency movement is being dubbed), gets herself motivated every day because otherwise she won’t have anything to eat. Literally. Today, or next month, or next winter, or pretty much ever, since she bakes, grows, and/or preserves most of her own food. That is a lot of pressure, and a pretty convincing argument. (You argue with yourself, too, right; it’s not just me?)

Another friend swears by the “done” list instead of a to-do list. I have tried this, particularly on major chore days, and it is definitely effective for me. The to-do list is always incredibly daunting; of course, I include just about everything that should be done, rather than making an achievable plan… maybe not smart. The “done” list works well especially if you break tasks down into small parts. I could write in and check off “clean bathroom” but how much more satisfying is “sweep bathroom floor (check)/ mop bathroom floor (check)/ bathroom surfaces (or even sink/toilet/scrub tub!) (check), etc.? This might be difficult to apply to writing, though; “printed query letter / signed query letter /mailed query letter” might be reaching a bit 😉

If you have any special tips and tricks to keep you going please comment!

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Lacking self-discipline

Into every writing blog a post about scheduling must fall (?).

Most professional writers (if books on writing are to be believed) sit down to a desk for a prescribed amount of time every day or on a set schedule; it is rare to “wait for inspiration.” This doesn’t seem to come naturally to us, or certainly to me; creative types are often somewhat scatterbrained (my own nickname is Disarray!) and dislike tedium (art is, after all, about emotion and excitement and beauty and not routine). So it is difficult to force myself to adhere to any kind of exact schedule even though I know it will make me a much more productive writer.

I decided late last night, as April encroached, that although I signed up for NANOWRIMO (National Novel Writing Month) to begin today, I don’t feel that at this point I can commit to writing 50,000 words of fiction this month. 1,650 words a day isn’t so daunting, but I just don’t feel it would be a productive use of my writing hours to delve into a novel I’ve only vaguely conceptualized and barely planned, when my current focus is creative non-fiction.

Instead, I’ll commit myself to 10,000 words a week (this blog does not count) in essays or articles. Up until this point I have mostly been reading about writing and getting published, and it’s time to start fleshing out some of my ideas, and certainly querying…

I am a Virgo and I love lists, so I’ve made myself a schedule which includes writing, research, yoga and the sauna (because you still have to live a little!) and, sadly, housework. The balancing act comes in trying to adhere as closely as possible to that schedule when my natural inclination is to flit about, doing a little of this and a little of that.

If you are self-employed or working on becoming a professional writer, what works best for you to get motivated and accomplish what you set out to in a day, rather than becoming distracted by all of the other things you could be doing? I need all the help I can get 😉

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Life-changing teachers

If you are lucky, one or two or a few teachers through the years made an indelible impression on you through inventive projects or an unusual teaching style or personalized approach. Hopefully someone recognized a gift in you and nurtured it, or managed to impart a love of learning through their enthusiasm.

I was blessed to attend outstanding schools, having been adopted into a family where education was valued above all else. Although I resented being thought of as “stuck-up” by my town peers and not rich enough for my schoolmates due to my straddling of those two worlds, what remains in retrospect after all of the adolescent drama is the love of the language and the confidence to express myself that certain teachers instilled.

In seventh grade history (sorry, Social Studies), Mrs. Gillespie assigned a historical novella. We could choose any time period as long as we included accurate research detail. Being a budding Wicca enthusiast, and Bostonian, I was enthralled by the Salem Witch Trials, so I borrowed some of the plot points from The Witch of Blackbird Pond (not entirely consciously, I don’t think) and dove into the reference material to get exact period details correct, eventually turning in twice as many pages as required.

To my utter shock, she asked me if it would be “OK with me” if she took the novella to share at a teachers’ conference. My paper? Good enough she wanted to take it to be read by other teachers?

I still have those white-out-covered loose-leaf pages with historically accurate (and annotated) illustrations. In moments of self-doubt I can take them out and remember at least Mrs. Gillespie believed in me!

It was in eighth grade that I realized how important the words themselves were to me, under the tutelage of Mrs. McCaffrey. Oh, Mrs. McCaffrey, who later taught us “Writing for Publication” (or WP, which we called WooP, naturally) and bravely struggled through our giggling, trying to give us a love for Edna St. Vincent Millay…

I may have been the only one in the class who felt this way, but as Mrs. McCaffrey doled out vocabulary words and hammered the finer points of grammar into our hormone-addled brains, a piece of me shifted ever so slightly. I had always loved reading, and through my love of reading been exposed to correct spelling and punctuation to a point where it came somewhat naturally to me, but she made me realize that I had a visceral connection to the language. The abuse of words made my stomach churn; on the other hand, good writing was a hot air balloon ride, lilting and lifting and soaring and dipping; exciting, suspenseful, sometimes terrifying in its intensity of emotion.

Mr. Berman gave us American Pie in junior honors English, and explained all of the pop culture references I hadn’t understood. A classic rock fanatic since the age of eight, I was stunned and deeply moved by this seemingly unorthodox method of getting us interested in the rhythm and symbolism of poetry, and will never forget him.

There were others (many others) who touched or inspired me over the years, but the ones who changed my life were those who helped me find my purpose in words. I wish for every child to be encouraged and allowed to blossom and truly engaged by at least one incredible teacher. It is one of the great injustices of this world that our entertainers (sports stars and certain celebrities) are so highly valued, but our educators denigrated and underpaid.

Did you have a life-changing teacher?

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Why I am obsessed with GoodReads

You may have noticed that I have linked my “currently reading shelf” on the sidebar, and also mentioned GoodReads in my “about me.” My obsession with this delightful website stems from two passions, which it merges beautifully:

First, I love discovering new books, through reviews or recommendations, or simply by that unexplainable, euphoric feeling of standing in the stacks (that’s where they keep the paper books about real things at the Public Computer Place, for my younger readers) and scanning the dusty shelves of some beloved subject.

Second, as an editor and grammarian, I like to spout off about the terrible state of editing and proofreading today (in the vague hope that perhaps someone in a position of power might reconsider using only spell-check for proofing), and additionally, of course, I like to spout off in general. Reviews are one form of writing, after all (perhaps not the writer’s usual favorite, as they can make or break a new book). I hardly think my opinion makes a difference as the Times’ Book Review does, but much like my reviews on Yelp, I’m far more inclined to spend time and effort reviewing a book I loved (and wish for others to read) than one that made me long for my hours of life back. More often than not, I kick those out of bed and promptly onto my “read-but-abandoned” shelf.

Life is too short to read books that don’t inspire you or move you or call you to action or make you laugh so hard your sides hurt. GoodReads is one fantastic way to find out what people whose opinions you respect are reading (and you can look for high ratings for Twilight to gauge whether you should revise that assessment), to connect with some of your favorite authors, and to discover books you might otherwise never have found. I’ll be there in the virtual stacks- if you’re not already a member, come join me.

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In which I am grateful to be sacked

The universe works in mysterious ways, as they say. On the Friday after the New Year, I found out I was being “restructured” out of the horrible office job I’d been in for a year (after five in a different, not horrible job at the same company).

My self-worth immediately collapsed. I’m the type of person who isn’t happy with an A minus, know what I mean? Being told I just hadn’t done a good enough job because I lacked the experience required (which they knew when they hired me, of course) was crushing. At first.

In time, once the shock and hurt had worn off, I began to realize that with a severance package and potential unemployment benefits, I wouldn’t necessarily have to rush into a new horrible office job…

I had finally, over the previous year, published a couple of Arts & Living-style articles thanks to a journalism class at Harvard Extension (with a fabulously encouraging professor). More than a decade before, I had submitted a few short stories while pursuing an English degree when a diabolical man at Boston University (whom I shall someday soon tell the story of) stomped on my burgeoning dreams and left only latent shreds.

Over the past five years, I crept back into writing, starting a painfully-photographed but fun little fashion-for-less blog and signing up to be the Examiner for budget living in Cambridge. Since I was raised by a cheapskate, and have never had much extra money, frugality is one of my major focuses, along with living more sustainably and healthfully. I hoped to someday “find the time” to start a novel (doesn’t everyone?) and vaguely (but without action) longed to repeat my small successes in publishing locally. But it had not occurred to me, dude, that I would be giving a shot to making writing my life.

March 1st was my first day of a nice little vacation from everything…  (yes, I had to work for two full months knowing I was being sacked: good times). A successful day included yoga class, sauna time, a trip to the library and languorous reading time with maybe a bit of writing thrown in… and a month passed me by in a moment. Whoops. Clearly it is time to get serious and start querying and coaxing the ideas from my head onto the page.

I would love to have you along on my journey. I hope that my experiences, book reviews, and commentary on the process will be helpful for writers, entertaining for readers, and interesting for anyone trying to take (or thinking of taking) the leap from a day job to self-employment.

Thanks for stopping by.

-Desiree

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