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.

 

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?

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 mediabistro.com, 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.

The Courage to Try Something New

Columnist and author Erma Bombeck said, “It takes a lot of courage to show your dreams to someone else.”

She’s right. I often meet people who tell me they are closet writers and I admit that I keep many of my own secret ambitions tucked away. But this week I’m heading to the New Jersey Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators conference where I will be soaking in every last detail and showing my picture book manuscript to those that can offer valuable feedback. I can’t wait.

I’ve arranged my file folders, jotted down notes for my peer critique group and printed out extra copies of my manuscripts. I’ve also summoned my courage. Walking into a group full of strangers and showing them your work isn’t easy, but the sense of community I’ve already gotten from this group is amazing. I’m excited to share my ideas with them and learn about the business of publishing children’s books.

Leaving our comfort zones is a good thing. It has gotten my creative juices flowing and it also sets a good example for my kids. I always encourage Evan and Madelyn to try something new and now they can see that I do it too. So, wish me luck and I’ll report on the conference next week.

Don’t Sell Stories. Sell Solutions.

I make a living as a freelance writer, but I don’t sell words. I sell solutions. In my business those solutions come in the form of a 2,000-word feature article or a 500-word blog post, but my true value lies in what those pieces mean for the people who buy them.

By meeting my deadlines and submitting well-researched articles time and again, my editors know they can count on me to provide a product that suits their needs and helps them meet their goal of putting out a quality publication on schedule.

I write a lot about transportation, so I stay up industry news. That means I can pitch new articles or angles that my editors may not have thought of. It also allows me to react quickly when I take on new assignments because I am up to date on the latest trends.

To increase the value I bring to my clients, I do my best to be flexible and take on last-minute projects. When they reach out to me with an urgent assignment, I know they are up against their own deadlines and this is when they need me the most. I want them to see me as a go-to resource, which increases my workload and gives them piece of mind.

As consumers, we already know that we buy solutions. I recently spent hundreds of dollars for a company to spray my backyard to ward off mosquitoes, but I didn’t pay for bug spray. I bought the opportunity to push my kids on the swings without getting eaten alive.

The idea of selling a solution isn’t new, but it can help bring what you do into focus. By identifying where your value lies, you can focus on it and better promote it to your customers.

Four Reasons I Love Freelancing

You get paid to pursue your passion. The most successful freelancers I know have used their passions to shape and drive their business. Sometimes that means finding lucrative ways to be able to pursue the things that interest them the most. This month I’ve written about used motor oil, point-of-sale operating systems and parts recalls, among other things. Am I passionate about those things? Heck no, but I am passionate about researching, writing and sharing my knowledge. I am also passionate about making a living as a writer, which means I often write about topics that I’m not head over heals in love with. On the flip side, I can still make time for those subjects that do call to me on a personal level. And, if I can make motor oil interesting, I can do anything!

You create the lifestyle you want. For many freelancers, that means controlling your schedule, which holds true for me. I struck out on my own so I could work around my kids’ schedules. I love dropping my kiddos off at preschool and picking them up with time left over to play on the playground. I like our days at home, which are rarely spent at home. Making the most of my family time is a top priority for me right now, so I build my business around it. As my kids grow and change, my business will, too, but I’ll always get to be in control of what it looks like.

You can work from anywhere (within reason, of course). Some writers may dream of writing from Paris or a beach in Mexico. I love that I can spend a week or two visiting my parents and make time for my writing while also slipping in to watch my dad have a tea party with Miss Madelyn or drive remote control cars with Evan. As long as I have a telephone, internet access and a quiet room to work in, I can do my job.

You can make it fun. Building a business is a lot like playing a game, and I’m a big believer in games. I race my kids to the car, I play beat the clock when I clean the kitchen and I constantly strive to beat my own record–no matter what it is in. Setting and achieving goals is a rush. When you run your own shop, every goal is your own and, for me, strategizing to reach those goals is a game. I love setting financial goals, then seeing what I need to do to reach them (I talk about that a bit in this post about defining goals ). Yes, there is trial and error involved, but learning, adjusting and then succeeding is the best game I’ve ever played.

Using Twitter as a Writer

I’ve had a Twitter account for quite some time, but I didn’t start embracing it until recently. I’m still figuring out the best ways to use it, but I love it. I’ve been connecting with fellow writers and finding awesome blogs. I don’t know why I took so long to join the party.

As I’ve been learning to navigate Twitter, I’ve found a handful of blog posts that are helpful. I am drawn to posts about how writers use Twitter, but these posts are full of great tips for anyone:

A Writer’s Guide to Twitter by Debbie Ridpath Ohi 

Why Writers Should Use Twitter by Alexis Grant 

The Ultimate Guide to Twitter Marketing from Copy Blogger 

20 Essential Tips for Better Twitter Etiquette from writer Jeff Goins 

The Squirrel Channel

Evan Watching a SquirrelLately when I need to entertain my kids for a a bit in the mornings, all I have to do is open up the front door so they can watch what I call the squirrel channel. After we made our bird feeders, we had some bird seed left. Evan sprinkled it across the front porch and squirrels stop by for breakfast each morning.

Kids Looking at Squirrels

They’ve gotten quite friendly and spend as much time watching us as we do them. Opening the front door is so much better than flipping on the t.v.