Posts Tagged ‘freelance’

You see this face? This is my happy face!

You see this face? This is my happy face!

It’s not that long since I last wrote about what I’m enjoying about freelance writing, but recent developments are exciting enough to justify another post.

I now have a paid project writing genre fiction. As long as the clients remain happy with my writing – and so far they’re very happy – I will effectively be a full time paid fiction writer for the next two months. This is incredibly exciting. I would go so far as to call this living the dream. The only upgrade would be if I was writing fiction with my name on the cover, but right now that would be icing rather than the cake.

I can’t go into details because it’s a ghost writing gig, but I’ve met two of the people I’m working with and they seem pretty awesome. The plot has already been worked out by someone else, and my job is to turn that into novels. Their approach to collaboration, creativity and business processes is absolutely spot on. If they’ll let me then I’ll write about it in another post, because I think it’s a great example of experimenting with the process of producing a book.

But for now, let’s just stick with yay, writing is awesome!

Over a year since I started freelance writing, I’m getting to the point where I’m really interested in all of my work. Don’t get me wrong, from the start I was more interested in writing anything than being back in an office, trying to improve working systems for people who didn’t want to change. But now, now the writing is almost all on topics I’m actually passionate about.

Statue of Cromwell in St IVes, Cambridge - not a dude you want to mess with

Statue of Cromwell in St Ives, Cambridge – not a dude you want to mess with

This afternoon I’ll be working on a biography of Oliver Cromwell, one of the most fascinating figures in English history. A guy who went from nobody to king in all but name, and who was central to the most dramatic upheavals England’s ever seen.

Once that’s done I’ll be writing fifteen articles on different bits of British history, including some personal favourites like the Diggers and the Chartist movement. It’s not all working class radicals  – I’ll also be covering the First Crusade and Thomas Becket‘s murder – but I’m a real sucker for reformers.

I also have a regular gig writing management articles, which isn’t so firmly in my super-keen zone but is useful learning for a one-man-business. And sometime soon I expect to be editing roleplay sourcebooks, which means that I have to read the core books for professional purposes – hardly a hardship.

All of this comes from a decision I made a while back. I realised that applying for projects that paid better but didn’t interest me was trapping me in the same mental place as my old job. Except that now facing tasks that killed my enthusiasm meant I put them off. I wasn’t actually getting paid better, because I spent so long avoiding the work and was slower once I got to it. And the experience I was building up would mostly help get more gigs I didn’t really want.

So now, as far as possible, I only bid on work that interests me. It pays worse now, but it still pays, and it means I’m getting the right experience and contacts. Over time, what I can charge for this work will go up. And meanwhile I’m actually having fun working, which was the whole point in the first place.

We too easily get trapped in doing the work that we think we ought to instead of the work that we want. So if you’re not content with your day job then look at what you want to do and ask ‘how can I get there?’ Maybe it’ll take some sacrifices along the way, but isn’t it worth it in the end to be happy?

Working for myself, at home, is great for having a balanced lifestyle. I can go to the gym while it’s half empty in mid-morning, then make up the working time in the evening. If I have a bad day I can give myself a rest and catch up later. Household chores get done in the breaks between work instead of piling up for the evening.

What do you mean, an origami fezz isn't real work?

What do you mean, an origami fezz isn’t real work?

But that also means I don’t have those clear, distinct periods of rest many people have – evenings and weekends. This weekend is going to be the first one in ages when I’ve completely set aside work, as the Raptor comes to visit. We’ll drink and talk and generally set the world to rights. It’ll probably lead to some great ideas for this blog. But for a couple of days I won’t be working (not even my Saturday blog post – I’m writing and scheduling this on Friday).

This integrated life, without the clear distinction between work and other, feels healthier to me, but it’s also taking some getting used to. Learning how and when to switch off, when it’s OK to take a break, when I need to stay motivated regardless. It leaves me tired or uncertain at times, as my body and subconscious rebel at the loss of old routines, ones learned over many years. But I’m getting used to it, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Today I’m really appreciating the freedom that modern technology and my freelance work allows me.

By the time you read this I’ll be on the far side of England, having crossed the country to help out my dad on short notice. It’s not a crisis moment, but my presence will be helpful for him and reassuring for me. It’s on short notice, but I don’t even have to drop everything to go, because so much of my life exists either through the internet or through a small number of electronic devices I can easily carry myself across the country on a day’s notice.

Being self-employed makes a huge difference to this. I’ve previously worked in a job where I had to fight to get time off for a funeral. My last employer was far more flexible, but I still would have had to run around making arrangements and getting permission before I left. And the time would have come out of my holidays, rather than just being time I spent working on a train or in someone else’s living room.

But this isn’t just about how lovely it is to be a freelancer. It’s about the age we live in. Changes in technology and society are letting us live our lives in more dynamic, flexible ways. We can cross entire countries in a few hours. We can stay in contact with work, family and friends through pocket-sized devices. We can carry half our lives with us in a backpack. It frees us up to take more care of ourselves and the people around us. Big social institutions like how we’re employed can be slow to change, and so just as living in a first world city lets me make the most of technology’s potential for entertainment, so too working freelance through the internet lets me make the most of this flexibility. But over time we’ll adapt to the possibilities on offer.

I’m extremely privileged to live on the edge of social and technological change. But that change is spreading, and it makes me optimistic for the future.

Now excuse me, I have to go pack. Don’t want to forget my books if I’m going to spend hours on a train.

 

Oh, and for those of you in the UK reading this on Thursday, go out and vote! I know it’s ‘only’ local and European elections, but this stuff matters. This is how we build that better future, by voting for people who will help it happen.

Sense of purpose is important in fiction writing. As a writer you need a strong sense of purpose to keep you going through the challenges and down patches. Your characters also need a sense of purpose to give them drive, agency and that most critical of story elements, conflict.

Fortunately, and surprisingly, a management book has helped me with this one.

Sinek’s ‘Start With Why’

As I’ve mentioned here before, my freelance work often involves dabbling in the pool of management thinking. I’ve read quite a few books on this, and particularly on marketing in recent months. One of them was Simon Sinek’s Start With Why.

The central message of Sinek’s book is simple. Organisations that understand why they do what they do, what value they bring to the world, become more focused and more effective. It helps create consistency and effective decision making, as when in doubt employees can turn to that ‘why’ and find solutions that fit the organisation’s purpose. It also motivates people. Lets face it, it’s easier to get passionate about ‘keeping patients safe’ than ‘answering phones’, to take the example of a medical call centre.

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As many businesses are discovering in their efforts to tackle poor morale, people don’t just want to be cogs in a machine. They want purpose. They want to know why they do what they do.

Asking why as a writer

As a writer, I think this applies in two obvious ways to my work choices.

One is that I need to understand why I’m a writer. What do I think I bring to the world and to my own life through this choice, that makes it a better choice than some other job? Because nine times out of ten, if I’m getting demotivated then it’s because I’ve lost track of that purpose and am trying to do something that misses the point of being a writer. Maybe I’m accepting jobs I’m not interested in, or writing stories that don’t interest me. If they don’t fit with my ‘why’ then it’s probably time to stop.

Same with stories. I need to know why I’m writing a particular story, and why I think it will be worth people’s time to read. Does it do something new with the genre? Does it represent different perspectives? Does it ask a question no-one else has? If there isn’t a good purpose behind the story, something making it worthwhile for me and for readers then it’s unlikely to ever see the light of day, and I should put my effort into something else instead.

Life’s too short to be writing this year’s seventeenth Tolkien knock-off.

Asking why of characters

And of course asking why is great for finding purpose in characters too. Why does Johnny rob banks? Why does Helena care what happens to the kingdom? Why is Iqbal on the side of the righteous rebels?

Knowing why gives your characters purpose and helps keep them on track. It’s something you can turn to for sources of conflict and for guidance on how to push a scene forwards. And signs of the why will make the character more compelling to readers.

Starting with purpose

So go forth, find your purpose, find the mission behind your characters! And then tell me about it – why do you write? why are you writing the story you’re writing now? what is the driving purpose behind your favourite character?

Show us all that you know your ‘why’.

 

 

Photo by Bilal Kamoon via Flickr creative commons

Today marks a year since I left my job and started working full time as a freelance writer. That’s come around pretty quickly, and I can’t say that I’ve made as much progress as I would have liked. That said, I’m far happier and healthier than I was doing the office nine to five, and as the main aim was to improve my mental health I’d say that this was a win.

During that year I’ve done some pretty awesome stuff. I’ve written for a bunch of blogs and websites. I’ve contributed content for a mobile phone game. I’ve had my best short story sale yet and been a runner up in a talent hunt by a major comics company.

So, what big things have I learned in a year of writing?

I've learned how to make an origami fez - that's useful, right?

I’ve learned how to make an origami fez – that’s useful, right?

Discipline vs balance

When you’re working for yourself discipline is really important. Making sure that you knuckle down to work even when you don’t feel like it. Not getting sucked into long lunchtimes of sitcom repeats or Assassins Creed.

That said, striking a balance is also important. Sitting at the keyboard all day in the name of discipline will drive you nuts. It’s not productive. Recognising when you need to do something else, balancing physical and mental activity, giving your brain time to rest, it’s all part of the real discipline. The interruptions you get in other jobs provide some of that, so creating the right level of interruption for yourself is important.

I’m still working on getting the balance right and achieving more discipline. Here’s hoping for a more productive second year.

Interest

I’ve done some seriously tedious and frustrating work as a freelancer, just to get myself established. But I don’t do that work as well or as quickly. Sometimes a worse paid job that interests me more will work out better financially, because I’ll get it done far sooner and with less time wasted on delays. Also it makes me far happier.

Staying on target

Sometimes I get sidetracked. We all do. Remembering my medium and long term goals is vital to regaining my focus. I hate to say it, but all those years of office work and management training are actually paying off.

It hasn’t been a perfect year, but it has been a good one. Now it’s time to celebrate – I think I’ll go do some writing.

So much for the romanticised pain of the writer’s craft, grappling with wild internal passions in a bohemian loft apartment. The real pain of the writer’s craft comes in your shoulders.

I’ve been getting aches in my shoulders and neck on and off for months now. Thanks to Laura I realised that this was also causing me headaches, and at long last yesterday she dragged me to the physiotherapist.

Holy cow. I have never had such a painful and yet strangely satisfying experience in my life. After an hour of vigorous pummelling and sage advice, my muscles feel looser, freer and more relaxed than they have in months.

The small of my back feels like it’s been stamped on by an elephant, but that’s a price I’m willing to pay.

The most disconcerting part came when the physio compared the muscles along my shoulders with bubble wrap, as she went through the process of pressing out those bubbles. The very painful process.

Hey Paul

I do not want a body comparable with flimsy packaging kids destroy for fun.

Of course all of this comes from sitting at a computer all day, posture deforming my muscles over long years of office and home based work. I now have exercises to balance that out, and I swear by Tolkien, Asimov and Banks, I will do those exercises every damn day to avoid a time when I get this bad again.

So please, in the name of all that is good and holy (or wretched and despicable, whatever does it for you) if you work at a keyboard and you’re starting to get those aches, go see a professional now. Sort it out sooner rather than later, get those exercises in early, and save yourself much pain down the line.

Now excuse me, I need to stop hunching over my keyboard for ten minutes.

 

Picture by Hey Paul via Flickr creative commons

I’ve long held to the theory that anything can be interesting if you look at it in enough depth. The pleasure of listening to Mark Kermode’s film reviews doesn’t come from expecting to see the films but from listening to him talk intelligently and passionately about a topic he loves. Books on fonts or map making can become enthralling by taking the right angle in addressing their subject.

But there are certain topics I have always thought of as unutterably dull, and one of them is motor racing. I mean seriously, they just drive round and round in circles making noise and smoke – what’s so exciting about that? The only time it gets interesting is when it goes horribly wrong, and I don’t enjoy seeing people go through real life car crashes. If I want that sort of entertainment I’ll watch a Jason Statham movie – the camera angles will be better and there might be a fight scene too.

But today I had to read about motor racing for a piece of freelance work. I was writing about changes to Formula One rules this year and the challenges this raises for people building and designing cars. I’m no engineer, I’m no car enthusiast, and I’m certainly not someone with a deep and abiding love of rules and regulations. I was all ready to yawn my way through this one.

And yet, to my complete surprise, it fast became fascinating. Looking beneath the bonnet of motor sports, seeing how designs arise from competing interests of safety, excitement, aesthetics and even environmental concerns. Recognising the huge chains of people and organisations involved in making the sport work. Appreciating the precision engineering that goes into every detail of car design, making some of the articles read like passages from a book on spaceships. Even the cursory reading needed for a single blog article involved varied and complex combinations of engineering and game design.

This doesn’t mean that I’m going to start watching motor sports, or that I’ve got over my deep and abiding loathing of Jeremy Clarkson. But maybe next time someone mentions Formula One I’ll pay a little more attention.

 

One of the good things about working as a freelance writer is the endless sources of ideas. It’s not that I never got ideas out of my old job – just people watching from my desk gave me moments of character inspiration, and any job with a bit of analysis to it gets you thinking. But the insights were few and far between.

This is your brain on ideas

Practising levitation, or something

Now they come at me all the time.

Take today. Today I was writing about smartphones for a guy who sells – guess what? – smartphones. I’m not terribly interested in smartphones in general, but researching his articles has led me down some interesting paths.

The Blackphone – almost as sinister as it sounds

Like last week when I did some reading about the Blackphone. You’ve probably never heard of this device, and you certainly haven’t seen it as it’s not yet on the market. But it’s a phone whose designers have put all their focus into protecting the user’s data, providing them with security and anonymity. It’s a smartphone response to the ongoing battle between forces of privacy and intrusion. It’s a change in the market to make phones more varied. It’s a business acting like something more than a profit making machine. And it’s also a cool little slice of near future potential, a source of inspiration for science fiction gadgetry.

Building addictions

I also read about some legal and PR battles surrounding King, the company behind many simple but addictive smartphone games. And that led me back to some things I’d read before about the psychology behind these games, the way that they’re built to tap into particular parts of your brain and manipulate you into keeping on playing. You may be using your phone but now maybe your phone is using you. Look at all those tasty conflicts – business vs business, business vs press, man vs machine, man vs himself in a fight to stop playing Candy Crush Saga (seriously, knowing it’s manipulative and addictive is one thing, putting it down is another). That’s some story fodder right there.

Putting it all together

Mix those pieces together with this week’s Writing Excuses episode on AI and I had a story idea bubbling in my brain, all before lunchtime.

And what’s the point of all this reflection? Well, it’s cheered me up, so that’s something. There’s the old lesson that you can find inspiration everywhere. There’s even an element of pointing and going ‘look, our science fiction future is here!’

Beyond that you can take whatever lessons you want.

So what have you seen today that’s inspired your inner story teller? And what cool story ideas have you stumbled across at work? Share your thoughts in the comments, inspire each other.

 

Image by Matthew Wynn via Flickr creative commons

Working mostly through the internet has introduced me to a whole new set of problems around time, ones that are probably going to shape our future. As we enter an era in which men in London write accounts for managers in Hong Kong whose factories are somewhere in the middle of Asia, time starts working differently, professionally speaking. The same goes for leisure. If the new episode of Sherlock shows at eight o’clock GMT in the UK, how quickly do BBC America need to show it before they start losing viewers to torrent sites? (Answer – straight away because that show is awesome.)

The only real way of getting round this

The only real way of getting round this

 

So if it’s Tuesday in Australia…

I’ve noticed two different aspects of this in the past week.

First up is the employer day problem. I’m doing some work for a chap in Australia. Problem is, half the time Australia’s on a different day from me in England, never mind a different time. And Australia’s a big place, so I imagine it’s not all on one time zone. If I say I’ll provide some articles on Tuesday, when do I need to send them to reach his Tuesday? Do they need to go Monday night or sometime in the middle of Tuesday? Do I have until Wednesday morning?

Yes, I could work this out for myself if it was a big issue. But the point is that, for a couple of hours a week, it’s an issue at all.

The other thing is blogging. I read an interesting article (sorry, lost the url) that gave data on the times of day to post blog posts to maximise links (7am) comments (8am) and views (10am). But whose timezone should I be working on here? Should I go by American time, as that’s where the largest number of potential readers for my blog are? Should I go Greenwich Mean Time, as my core readership is built around fellow Brits I know outside of the electronic sphere? What about the people reading me in Australia and Estonia (hi guys!)?

And now for some science fiction

The issues I’ve stumbled across are ones I can work out with some research and a bit of trial and error. But they highlight the fact that our sense of time is no longer as geographically bound as it once was. That has potential for the future, and for social science fiction.

Cory Doctorow beat me to this one by a decade with his novel Eastern Standard Tribe, but there’s still much more to explore. Will we start to align not by daylight but by our professional schedules? Will we one day be split not by Greenwich Mean Time, Dubai Time and East Coast Time, but by Accountant Time, Cleaner Time, Writer Time? Will there be some mishmash of the two? Are there people already living in Britain but on Australian time because that suits their lifestyle? Or on New York Time, Hong Kong Time, Berlin Time?

There’s a character in this, and a story. I haven’t quite come up with either yet, but if you have an idea then maybe share it below. Or go write about it yourself, because everybody should take the time to write.

And has our fractured temporal landscape (note to self – use that in a book) affected you? Let me know how. Share below. I’m curious.

 

Picture by Toenex Lacey via Flickr creative commons.