To My Fellow Freelancing Mamas: Mistakes are Okay

Risk a Wrong Turn

Yesterday I received an email from a sweet new mama who is working to chart her own course and create an awesome freelance life. She was hoping to connect and learn from the path I walked when my kiddos were babies, and I couldn’t wait to talk to her. Today while her little one rested, we talked for over an hour about what has worked for me, shortcuts I found and how she can get started.

After we hung up, I thought about the things I forgot to say.

Being a new mama is scary. Those little babies seem so tiny and fragile and you constantly worry that you’re going to make a mistake. Launching a business is pretty much the same way. It seems like there are so many ways you can fail and you want to know every tip or trick to make sure you’re a success.

But, I’m going to let you in on something I wish I’d known back then: Mistakes are okay. Mistakes mean you’re learning. Mistakes mean you’re trying something new.

Maya Angelou said, “You did the best that you knew how. Now that you know better, you’ll do better.” So, to my fellow freelancing mama, the next few years are inevitably going to be filled with tons of self-doubt—over parenting, starting a business, writing, you name it. You’ll replay your decisions and the what-ifs over and over. You’ll learn that there is no magic formula to making it all work, but the beauty is you don’t have to figure everything out today.

In Bird by Bird, author Anne Lamott wrote, “E.L. Doctorow said once said that ‘Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.’ You don’t have to see where you’re going, you don’t have to see your destination or everything you will pass along the way. You just have to see two or three feet ahead of you. This is right up there with the best advice on writing, or life, I have ever heard.”

So, block out the well-meaning dream killers, conquer your self doubt and start scheming. Grow your business at nap time and bedtime and even during tummy time if you can. I can tell you, there are going to be days when demands of family life and your work like will seem daunting. Some mornings you’ll wake up and you’ll be so tired that you feel like you can’t get out of bed. But you can and you will. And one day, you’re little ones are going to go off to preschool and grade school and you’ll look back on those years and wonder how you made it all work, but you’ll sure be glad that you did.


My Best Advice for Overcoming Self-Doubt

IMG: BaseballMy little guy has his first baseball game of the season today. I was hoping he’d be excited for it. Instead, he is nervous. He is worried he’ll make a mistake. He feels like everyone else is better at it than he is and he is afraid that his teammates won’t understand that he is still learning.

I’ve told him everything will be fine, but I know how he feels. Haven’t we all been there?

I’ve assured him that everyone is there to learn, that the goal is to have fun and that mistakes are okay. I tell him that if you aren’t making mistakes, then you aren’t learning. He nods, but I know I haven’t changed how he is feeling in his heart. He has self-doubt, and self-doubt has killed more dreams than anything else in this world.

I know the only way to quell your insecurities is from the inside. He has to learn to overcome his fears in his own way, because one day I won’t be there to force him to keep going or to cheer him on.

I draw on the line my mom told me over and over and over growing up: Feel the fear and do it anyway.

Image: Don't let fear stop you.I say the words to him and smile inside. I think by my teens I started rolling my eyes when my mom would share that advice. But I can’t tell you how many times I’ve repeated those words to myself.

I heard them the day I quit my job to go freelance. They echoed in my ears when I first called on potential clients, and I still say then any time I have to do something difficult.

So, I pass the advice on to Evan. It may not mean much today, and one day he’ll probably roll his eyes at me. But my hope is that when it counts, when he is faced with the choice of finding the courage or walking away, he’ll tell himself to feel the fear and do it anyway.

The Promise of Tomorrow

A New Day

I love the promise of tomorrow. There is a certain satisfaction that comes with saying, ‘We can do that tomorrow.’ And when things are bleak, telling yourself tomorrow is a new day somehow makes things feel better.

Eleanor Roosevelt said, “With the new day comes new strength and new thoughts.” So for a minute, forget about today. Think about what you want to tackle tomorrow. Is there something you want to start fresh? A habit you want to break? An exciting adventure you want to plan for your kids? Put it on the agenda for tomorrow.

But, taking advantage of the promise of tomorrow means making plans today. Otherwise, tomorrow ends up as a repetition of the status quo and loses that special allure it once held.

So, today, write down a new goal for tomorrow. Then, jot down the three steps that will help you get there. It doesn’t have to be life changing. It just needs to be something new. What is on your agenda?

Freelance Lessons Via My Family’s Ranch

IMG: Freelance lessons you can learn from ranching.Growing up, my family operated a cattle ranch, which is one of the best places to learn life lessons no matter what career path you chose. While I have no desire to raise cattle (although I do still love that lifestyle!), I think that background has helped make my freelance a career success.

Here are the top four entrepreneurial lessons I learned from my family’s ranch:

When you take something to market, it is a product. Whether it is a cow or a feature article, when you’re ready to sell what you’ve produced, it is quite simply a product. There is no reason to get attached to it if you want to make a profit. Instead, focus on creating the best product you can. Invest your time in it and tend to it every step of the way. But always remember that, ultimately, you’re creating a product that has to meet the needs of your buyers (i.e. clients). You’ll save yourself a lot of heartache.

IMG: The risks of entrepreneurship can be easily managed.

Business ebbs and flows. “Feast or famine” was a common term in my house as I was growing up. Some years were better than others, and I learned an important lesson: The ups and downs of self employment don’t need to be scary, but they do need to be managed. Be prepared. Save for a rainy day. Live on a budget. Most importantly, capitalize on the good times. Work hard and put in extra hours when necessary. But don’t forget that the slow times can be valuable, too. Use any lulls you encounter to recharge your batteries, streamline your operations and seek out new opportunities.

Change isn’t just good. It is necessary. If you plant the same crop of alfalfa (which is cut and baled into hay) year after year, you eventually deplete the soil and get less productive crops. But if you rotate the crop every few years and plant corn (which is also fed to cattle), the corn adds nitrogen back into the soil, making future alfalfa crops stronger. As entrepreneurs, sometimes we need something that adds vitality to our lives. For me, it is a creative writing class or workshop. Even though I mainly write non-fiction news articles, I’ve found that tapping into the creative process fiction writers use gets my creative juices flowing and improves my writing. It also inspires business ideas and gets me planning for future projects.

Some things are out of your control. For ranchers, droughts are scary. They prevent you from growing crops for winter feed and they suck the life out of the grass the cattle grazes on in the summer. Even worse, you can’t do anything about it. Sometimes you find yourself running on faith. You do what you can with what you have and hope for the best. Whether you’re a rancher or a writer, that’s a life lesson you can apply to any situation beyond your control.

There Will Never Be a Better Time

One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned during my last five years is a freelancer is that there will never be a better time to get started on a project, take a leap of faith or chase a new dream. But the problem is, you always think there will be a better time.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve told myself I’d take on something new once my kids were sleeping through the night or started school or summer came or any number of milestones that I thought were going to magically transform my life. The truth is, the best time to take on that new thing is now. Sometimes you just have to start. In a week, a month or even a year, I’m sure you’ll be glad you did.

IMG: Take on your new dream now.

In the case of this little blog, I’m ready to start again. Sometimes I think starting again is even harder than starting!

When I first started blogging, I had fun with it. I loved drafting the posts and sharing little stories or tips and tricks that helped me in my freelance life. I liked connecting with other freelancers and mompreneurs.

But then something changed. I also started over thinking the blog and feeling like I needed to spend time figuring out SEO and focusing on the ‘business side’ of blogging, which, for me, made it less fun. I know those things are important and I know I should think about them (and recently Alexis Grant featured a great post that breaks down how to calculate your ROI on social media, which makes it seem less daunting). I plan to get to that, but for now, I’m going to go back to simply focusing on the parts I loved because I’ve realized how much I have missed sharing my ideas and a behind-the-scenes look at the freelance life.

I’m going to let myself view the blog as my little playground where I get to come to have fun and share some ideas that might help other mompreneurs out there. I haven’t been here in so long that I know I’m starting over, but I hope that by sprucing it up and showing up each week will encourage others to come back and play!

Finding a Community

After ten years in the D.C. area, I’d built up a great little writing community. I had friends who were freelancers and had my list of writing conferences and events I liked to attend. Of course, there are terrific writing communities online, but I love face-to-face interaction every now and then. I always walk away from meetings with other writers inspired and excited to tackle my next project.

Now that we’ve landed in Salt Lake and most of the boxes have been unpacked, I’m working to re-build my network of fellow writers. The relationships I cultivated in D.C. grew organically over the years as my career grew. I took my time and didn’t set out to surround myself with fellow writers. It just seemed to happen, but now that my network is gone, I miss it and I’m eager to connect with other writers here in Utah. Here’s how I plan to do it:

Take Advantage of Chance Meetings
Connections can come from a number of places, and I find that sometimes the key is simply showing up. Last weekend my family and I attended an alumni event at my undergrad. As my two kids were creating goody bags in the kids’ corner, I bumped into a former journalism professor of mine. We started chatting and now just a few days later, I’ve been invited to take part in a panel at the college on freelancing. I’m looking forward to connecting with the fellow freelancers on the panel and my professors.

Join Local Chapters of Writing Groups
In addition to being a freelance journalist, I’m a budding picture book author. I joined the D.C. chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) and made great friends there (one of which, it turned out, had a son in my son’s kindergarten class). I’ve sent off my emails to the Utah/Idaho chapter of the organization and hope to get involved here soon.

Attend Regional Writing Conferences
There were always a number of writing conferences in the D.C. area. I’ve attended workshops there through, Writer’s Digest, SCBWI and the American Independent Writers Association. This summer I drove two hours to attend the New Jersey SCBWI conference and walked away with dozens of new connections. Because of the population difference between the East coast and here, I doubt I will find the same number of writing conferences, but I’m keeping my eyes out for conferences in the mountain west.

Go Out on Assignment
As a freelancer, I do the bulk of my reporting from my desk, but going out on assignment is a great way to connect with people in the area even if they’re not writers. I’ve been doing a lot of writing about natural gas lately and Utah is a hot bed of natural gas activity, so I’ve been doing face-to-face interviews and expanding my list of sources. I’m also adding value to my editors who are able to take advantage of my new geographic location without having to pay travel expenses. And, like I said, sometimes just showing up is the key, so there is a chance I’ll connect with other writers just by covering a story on site.

How about you? Do you prefer a virtual network or do you like face-to-face meetings?

What I Did Over Summer Vacation

First, let’s start with what I didn’t do. Blog. As a work-at-home mom, summers are tricky and my little blog took a back seat this summer. Now that our schedules are getting back and track, I’m ready to play a little catch up. I thought I’d start with what I DID do over my summer vacation. So, here’s a little list:

– I packed up my family and moved them 2,000 miles to Utah from our former home state of Virginia. This move also involved selling our old house, putting contracts down on four houses and finally buying one house.

–Moving also involved lots of sorting, tossing and packing. This meant I parted with all baby things, except my babies. They were loaded into the car for a hefty road trip, which I actually enjoyed.


–Before the big move, we visited my parents and my in-laws. This involved sitting on the porch, blowing bubbles and eating popcicles.

–I read for fun. A lot. Every time I was reading, I told myself I should blog, but I kept on reading. There is something about summer vacations that make me want to stick my nose in a book. My favorites were Code Name Verity, Gone Girl and The Hunger Games Trilogy, which I re-read twice because, I admit, I can’t seem to get enough of Katniss Everdeen. You can’t go wrong with any of those choices.

–I wrote feature after feature, which I love. I linked to some of them here.

–We played in the water.

–We cheered Evan on at soccer.


–We took trips to the museum, had pirate adventures and made memories.

It was tiring, but it was worth it. As the weather turns to fall and my little guy heads off to kindergarten, we’re starting to settle into our routines and embrace a different kind of busy. One that I think will include a little more time for my little corner of the internet.

Friday Catch Up

It’s Friday. I say it each week, but I’m always shocked when another weekend rolls around and I realize a whole week is gone. I’ve been so absorbed in work and family this week, that I don’t have any favorite reads to share, but here are my three favorite things from the week:

1) I am always thrilled by how much work I can pack into three hour chunks. As a freelancer, the summer is always a little tricky for me because my kids don’t have school and Madelyn is too little for camp. This week Evan is at camp in the afternoons, so I am working from 12:45 to 3:30 while Evan plays and Madelyn naps. With advanced planning and good time management, I have been able to knock out every interview I needed to do this week. That means I can spend the weekend writing away and wrap up the stories that are due next week.

2) Each day when I pick Evan up from camp, he “has some love for me.” That love is in the form of a piece of mulch or a rock he has found for me. Yesterday it was a red piece of a broken balloon. I love that during outside time he scours the ground for something special and tucks it into his pocket. As I pull into the carpool line, I see him retrieve the little gifts from his pocket and he offers them up as soon as he gets into the car but before he is seat belted in. On Wednesday he lost “his love,” which broke his heart. It was a special piece of mulch that looked like a heart, he said. He gave me a kiss instead and I melted inside. I love that I get to spend my days with that little guy.

3) Even with all the “must-do’s” in our day, we’ve made plenty of time for some summer fun. We’ve taken in play dates and a concert, run through the sprinklers and gone for ice cream twice this week. I still feel like summer is slipping away, but it makes me happy that we can take advantage of it at least a little.

What are your favorite things from the week?

Friday Favorites

Yeah! It’s Friday again. Do you have fun plans for the weekend? I plan to wrap up a handful of stories and hope to take my kids to the pool.

Here are a few of my favorite reads from the week:

I’m loving this book about nutrition and kids. I’ve been a little worried about a few things with my little guy, and I’ve wondered if nutrition could be the key. The book is a great eye opener. I highly recommend it for every parent.

My real-life friend Sarah shared great tips on handling email. I need her discipline!

Justine Musk says when you say no to one thing, you’re really saying yes to something else. This blog post is a great reminder of that. 

Picture book authors Tiffany Strelitz Haber and Corey Rosen Schwartz have launched a new blog called The Meter Maids dedicated to rhythm and rhyme. They taught a great session at the NJSCBWI conference and I can’t wait to learn more from them via their blog.

Increase Your Power of Observation with Field Trips

So far June is turning out to be the month of field trips for me, which is a good thing. In 2008, I guest blogged about how I think more reporters should venture out from behind their desks to cover stories. Everything I said still holds true, and now I see the value in other areas as well.

Field trips increase our power of observation. All too often we overlook the things we see every day because they’re routine.  This month’s field trips have included taking in the Beach Boys 50-year-reunion concert with my mom, my recent journey to New Jersey for a writing conference and covering a press conference in downtown D.C.

Henry James said, “A writer is someone on whom nothing is lost.” I agree. By observing and noticing the little things, we become better storytellers. And whether you write fiction or non fiction or newspaper articles or novels, the details are what make your story come alive.

At the Beach Boys concert, the band was great and they played all their hits, but the best part was watching how generations of families showed up together. If I were writing an article about the concert, I would have included the four-year-old little girl who danced and clapped for two hours straight and then fell asleep on her grandpa’s shoulder. He carried her out during Surfin’ Safari, and I pictured both of them snuggled in a quiet spot while the rest of the family continued to cheer and sing.

Field trips can encourage us to start up conversations and make new connections. I’m a firm believer in writing conferences. My recent trip to New Jersey gave me concrete ideas on how to improve my craft, but more importantly, I walked away with a handful of great new friends I’m continuing to connect with online. That initial conference registration fee is going to continue to pay dividends all year.

The few hours I spent covering a press conference last week gave me enough material to file a story that day and I jotted down a list of story ideas that will come in useful for several months. The conference speakers were interesting, but they were just part of the experience. Some of the best learning took place during the casual lunch that followed the event. You never know where you’re going to find your next great idea or that one thought that makes everything click.

Field trips don’t have to take us far. Even checking out a new restaurant or grocery store can exercise our observation muscles, and the more we use them, the stronger they will get.