Friday was my last day at the office. I had a final meeting with a colleague, put my last “out of office” message on my work email, uploaded my last post to the company blog, and packed up my personal items to take home. After fourteen years on various payrolls, I’ve set out to return to the life of my early twenties, full-time freelance writing.
The reasons for this leap off a cliff are many and varied. The final kick for me was motivation from the inspirational creatives I interviewed this summer on my cross-country road trip across America. But like many creatives who are driven by a bit of self-deluding mania, I believe I can actually make a go of supporting me and my family by putting my right brain into hyperdrive. I need to at least give it a shot.
The left side of my brain will have to work neuron-in-neuron with the right for this to succeed, however. So I’ve created 9 practical steps to success I intend to follow going forward. I invite in the comments section below thoughts on the wisdom and merits of these steps, and also other suggestions and observations.
- Set Reasonable Expectations: I could sit around and wait for a Random House editor to read this post announcing my self-employment and ring my doorbell with a seven-figure, multi-book contract in hand. Or I could beat the bushes for actual paying work that might not be high in prestige but would put food on the table. Over time I hope to be a bit choosy, but work is work. Brian Fitzgerald, the photographer I interviewed in Portland, Maine, has thrived in self-employment by taking occasional work that might seem mundane and bringing his creativity full-force to the project to make it less so.
- Follow a Schedule: In theory my days will be wide open. In practice I will be needing to write, to market, to handle back-office business matters. I’ll have periods where I’m highly creative and times where I’ll be lucky to be able to alphabetize my file cabinet. To stay disciplined and productive, I’ll need to create a schedule that maximizes my efficiency and then hold myself to it.
- Stay Connected: It will be easy to hole myself away in my basement home office, writing and dreaming. That won’t do professionally. I’ll need to get out of the house. I can go to professional gatherings. I can schedule lunch or coffee with former colleagues who I should really stay in touch with. Serendipitous professional opportunities won’t find me if I’m not easily found.
- Embrace the Interwebs: I have long been resistant to social media. I launched my Twitter account and this blog only a few months ago. I’m still not on Facebook. I remain in learning mode as far as how to grow from the connections I’m making online. I see little utility in turning my Twitter account into a recurring plea for work, but social media can be an extension of #3 above, staying connected and waiting to see what the universe manifests from that connection.
- Self-Promote: I have experience in marketing and communications, but I’ve generally promoted other individuals and organizations, not me as a self-employed creative. But done in a tasteful and considerate way, it only makes sense to let people know what I’m capable of offering them professionally.
- Keep Up the Business Side: This is something else Brian Fitzgerald talked about. Self-employed creatives need to do the things they hate, like calculating quarterly tax payments and keeping a ledger of expenses. They need to pay bills, send invoices, follow up with those who still haven’t paid for work. They need to send queries, and keep up their professional web site. I will do those things. And I’ll try to bring creativity to those tasks as well (but no “creative accounting”).
- Make Time for My Own Creativity: I knew I had to pursue self-employment when I realized I was giving all of my creative energy to my job. I loved my job and had no regrets about being “all in” with it, but my hope with this move is that at least some of the fuel in my creative tank can go into projects that may not have immediate yields. An analogy would be performing a bit of basic R&D in addition to project-specific R&D. Some of the most amazing inventions have come from scientists being free to tinker with no specific goal in mind.
- Embrace the Positive: I will face a lot of setbacks. Queries will go unanswered. Manuscripts will be rejected. To stay motivated, I’ll need to seize on the small victories and hold them tight.
- Show Gratitude: I can pursue this new adventure because I have a wife who is, while nervous, full of encouragement. I have two kids who know next Christmas might not have the volume of loot as the one we’re about to have but aren’t complaining. I need to remind myself of the support I’m receiving, and let those people know how much I appreciate their support.
We’ll see how the New Year progresses. I may find this summer that this list was completely misguided. But at least I have a plan, and I’m excited to move forward with it.