I didn’t set out to be a freelance writer. It’s the compromise I made in order to do it all, be a writer and a mom. It’s resulted in a good life and a good career. There are days – especially during the spring newspaper awards season – when I envy friends who’re still on staff at daily papers, especially the few who’ve won those big awards. But with newspapers in their current state, I wouldn’t trade places with them anymore. Besides, over the years, freelancing has let me to make my own hours and be there when my kids get home from school. It’s also let me volunteer as classroom helper, room parent, school auction chair, Girl Scout leader and field trip chaperone. And it’s portable, as I found out when my husband took a job in a different state and my business didn’t miss a beat.
I don’t regret it. But I’ve had to work hard to do both. Here are my secrets for making life work as a writer and a mom:
1. Get organized. If there’s a golden rule of being a writer mom, it is organization. Use whatever works for you. I’ve always been a list maker. I put everything in Microsoft Outlook: Tasks Manager is my friend. I mix work, family and personal to-dos, but I’ve mixed my work life and personal life for so long it doesn’t faze me.
2. Use work time wisely. My most productive time of day is early morning. If I have deadlines or a pile of work, I get up and plow through a couple hours before anyone else is awake. When I’m at work, I work. I don’t go out to lunch, watch TV during the day or even listen to music. I’ve been doing this for years and it took me until last year to feel OK with putting a load of laundry in the dryer during the work day.
3. Be OK with OK. If you’ve got kids, a house, pets, a yard, friends and family, you’re busy. You can’t afford to be a perfectionist (that doesn’t include grammar, spelling and fact checking though). If you are, you’ll constantly be stressed that everything’s not just so. And just as you’ve got one part of your life sorted out another part crumbles. That’s how life is. Messy.
|Working lunch at Michelle's desk|
4. Be a model employee. When it comes to work, however, strive to be the best – it’s in your economic best interest. You’re not anybody’s employee, but act like one. Turn stories in on time, or notify editors in advance if you run into problems. Be the go-to freelancer that editors call with assignments. Do it and you’ll get steady work, which means you can spend less time marketing and more time with your family.
5. Your boss doesn’t need to know about your life. Your editor doesn’t need to know you need an extra day to file a story because your child has the flu. Just ask for the extension. If you’re that model freelancer, your editor won’t mind if you miss a deadline here and there. Likewise, your child’s teacher doesn’t need to know you have to reschedule the parent/teacher conference because you’re running late on an assignment. Just ask to reschedule. In other words, don’t offer excuses, negotiate.
6. If you have to volunteer, do something you’re good at. Our kids have gone to Catholic schools that require parents put in a certain number of volunteer hours a year. If I can, I sign up for activities that use my skills. It’s easier for me: I do the work at home and fit it into my schedule. The school profits by having someone with professional experience in the job. Over the years, I’ve written auction catalogs, the monthly parent newsletter, weekly email blasts and served as the PTA secretary. One year I was communications chair for a non-profit mother-daughter service organization. I oversaw four people and was responsible for PR, a member directory, monthly newsletter, weekly newsletter and submitting articles to the group’s national newsletter. The organization got my writing talent, and I got to learn how to manage projects and people, good practice for freelance editing gigs.
7. Sometimes you can’t do it all. I retired when our third child was born, though it didn’t last long. An offer to teach news writing to graduate students brought me back. I realized how much I loved what I did and started writing again part time. A couple years later my son was diagnosed with a learning disability, and I quit a second time. When that happened, I needed to be with my family more than we needed my income. I was lucky my husband had a job that could support us all. I knew I would freelance again eventually, and here I am. So get your priorities in order. The jobs will still be spinning around out there if you jump off the carousel for a while.