Category Archives: WAHM

Great (WAHM) expectations: myth vs. reality

NOT!

I ventured out of my lair last week for the ASJA conference in New York City, a wonderful opportunity to learn more about the business of writing, meet many of my freelance friends and network with editors and agents. Anybody who saw me, polished and professional-looking (one hopes)  in suits, heels and actual accessories, might never have guessed the flurry of craziness it took to get me there.

Even though my kids are a bit older now, I essentially still need to replace myself when I leave for any longer than one day. If I was to go to the conference, I knew I’d need someone to put the kids on their respective buses Friday morning and be there when they came home. And, just to make things more interesting, my husband had already planned a Boy Scout weekend away for himself — and only one of our sons. To take care of the other two until I returned Saturday night, my best friend and my sister-in-law were called to duty, each keeping one kid.

It took a village to keep everything afloat when this WAHM, for a change, stepped out of the house to work. But really, it takes a village to stay home and get it all done anyway. Whether we delegate chores to family members, hire help or choose some combination thereof, very few of us can expect to actually work and take care of the kids and house even if we are at home all day.

One of my favorite bloggers, Meagan Francis, has been knocking around this issue lately on The Happiest Mom. When she divulged that she hires a cleaning lady twice a month to keep her digs in order (and mind you, Meagan has 5 kids), some of the comments on her blog were less than understanding.

“I think working-at-home moms walk a difficult line sometimes,” she wrote. “We’re expected to occupy both worlds: working to support our families financially without ever admitting that we can’t, in actuality, earn an income plus raise the kids plus do every bit of housecleaning by ourselves.”

Full disclosure: I hire a posse of cleaning ladies twice a month to make my house sparkle, too. At this point I honestly don’t know how I’d manage without them. But I won’t apologize for deciding I needed the help and I don’t think any other WAHM should either, whether it’s child care, cleaning, a laundry service or grocery delivery. (I’d definitely be getting my groceries delivered if that service were available nearby.)

Just who do people think we are? But here’s a better question: Who do we think we are? I may bring home the bacon and fry it up in a pan, but my teenagers are darn well going to clean that pan when I’m done. And do their own laundry. And take out the garbage. And whatever else I ask (grumbling expected).

I always laugh at the Staples commercial featuring their signature gimmick, the Easy Button. If only the WAHM juggle were really as easy as pushing a button. But we need to forgive ourselves when the world pushes ours.


How freelancers stay motivated

What’s a freelancer‘s most important moment of the day?

Maybe it’s those few minutes you spend getting your to-do list ready each morning. Or maybe it’s the moment you hit Send to turn a story in to your editor.

For me, that moment is at 6:15 a.m. when my alarm clock rings. I’ve realized through trial and error that my first conscious moment of the day is also the most influential on my daily productivity. Go figure.

Why? Because that’s the moment that I decide whether I’ll jump into the shower and get dressed immediately, or keep my PJs on as I begin the process of ushering three kids out the door to school. Believe it or not, that single decision sets the stage for my entire day ahead.

I discovered this anew recently. Usually I’m dressed and pressed — makeup on, hair flat-ironed — by the time the last kid gets on his bus at 8 a.m. Then I sit down and begin working, and this raring-to-go mindset carries me through some crazy-busy hours.

One day last week, though, I lapsed on this routine. I thought, What the heck? I’ll just work in my jammies today. Nice and comfy.

Comfy, yes, but a veritable disaster to my motivation level. I ended up scrolling through Twitter and Facebook for about two hours as if it were Saturday morning before getting down to writing. I’d planned to finish two assignments that day, but only one actually got done because I’d squandered so much time on this weekend mindset.

Can I really blame it all on the pajamas? Yes, I think I can. There’s a subtle mental shift that occurs when I go through the motions of getting dressed each morning, a shift that makes me sharper, more prepared. Clothes and makeup = productivity. Pajamas and dirty hair = slothfulness.

People like to joke that freelance writers are lucky. “You can work in your pajamas if you want to!” some of my friends say admiringly. And they’re right. We can make that choice, and for some of us it makes no difference to our output what we’re wearing. But it’s funny how much what’s on the outside can affect what’s going on inside.

For me, the clothes really do make the woman — a woman whose success apparently depends on the very first moment of the day.


The WAHM life, then and now

I remember the moment I decided I would be a WAHM. I recently learned I was pregnant with our first child and wondered how in the world I could go back to the unpredictable hours of a newsroom with a baby at home. I loved being a reporter, and my husband and I needed my income.

But a reporter’s income would barely pay for the child care needed to go to work every day, and I was bereft at the thought of having my baby cared for by others. When I revealed my pregnancy to my editor at the three-month mark, I already had a one-page proposal in hand. I could work half-time at home, I told her confidently, sending my stories through a modem hooked up to my PC.

This was a revolutionary idea at the time (it was 1992). No other reporter at this daily newspaper had ever worked from home. Not see each other in person? Check in with editors each day by phone? How could they be sure I would get the job done?

The proof would be in my productivity, I said. They would know I was doing my job by the stories I produced — or didn’t. Couldn’t we just give it a shot?

A year later, at my employee review, the editor-in-chief sat back on his desk chair and smiled. “This has worked out far better than we ever anticipated,” he said.

And I knew it would. Why? Because I wanted it to work badly enough to make the sacrifices involved. When my baby slept (and thankfully he took naps like clockwork), I got on the phone, conducted interviews and wrote. At night, when my husband walked through the door, I often played pass-the-baby on my way out to a meeting I needed to cover.

The rest of the time, my son and I read books, took long walks, played music and went to play groups. I was the mom I’d always wanted to be, and felt I had the best of both worlds.

I still do, only now I work full-time-plus and have four kids. And fortunately, this attempt at work-life balance is not at all unusual anymore. I am one of millions of WAHMs, many of us writers, who never set foot in a corporate office and barely ever need to see the editors we work with. I now laugh at the thought of the blinking, screechy modem attached to my PC — my virtual umbilical cord before the rise of the Internet and email.

But the virtues that made a successful WAHM then are the same ones needed to succeed now: self-discipline, flexibility, determination and the optimism that convinces us we can indeed juggle all of this. I no longer need to convince my editors that I’ll somehow be able to do my job without constant oversight.

Then, as now, the proof is on the page.


What snow days, spring break and summer have in common for WAHMs

Gray. That’s the color of the sky today, yesterday, and supposedly tomorrow. It was pretty much the color all last week, too, when my kids were off from school for spring break. And the week before that, when they had a late-March snow day.

But all this gray is proving useful for one thing — making me think ahead to summer, when the skies had better be blue. That’s because snow days, spring break and summer all have one thing in common for WAHMs: our kids are around way more than usual.

I’ve developed a rock-solid routine of working nearly non-stop each day while my kids are at school. That means I don’t spend those six hours grocery shopping (relegated to a week night), lunching with friends (well, almost never) or  running errands (something I can do with kids in tow). But because I’ve gotten used to focusing so intensely during that time, the avalanche of snow days we endured this winter really knocked my work days off balance.

Ditto for spring break last week. Not that it was unexpected, mind you — it had been on the calendar for months — but as luck would have it, my husband also happened to be away on a business trip all week. So all kid- and house-related duties were mine. As were about 45 or 50 hours of freelancing.

By the end of the week, I’d gotten pretty used to having the kids around while I was working. I took interview calls upstairs, where an errant quarrel between siblings couldn’t be heard, and I learned to put up with regular interruptions when I was writing. It wasn’t so bad, except that it brought a quiet dread about the summer to come.

With me going full-throttle with my freelancing — and happily so — it got me wondering exactly how I will adjust to the constant household hub-bub four kids on summer vacation will bring. Granted, the two oldest boys will have jobs, and my daughter is enrolled in six weeks of day camp and a week of sleep-away. And Son #3 will be gone for two weeks straight with his dad on a grand Boy Scout adventure.

Still . . . there will be more dishes, and more food needed. More commotion. More friends ringing the doorbell. More nights holding dinner waiting for the last kid to trickle in. More . . . everything.

Is this a brand-new challenge? Certainly not. But it changes every year, as my kids and business grow side by side. This summer will require a fresh approach to running such a busy household and a profitable business simultaneously.

How do you plan to cope?


How persistence pays off in freelancing

I spend a fair amount of time every week prospecting for new writing work. Despite the lucky fact that I’m often on the brink of having too many assignments these days, past experience has taught me I can’t stop looking for more. And as I pick up additional clients, somehow I’ve managed to keep all of them in a rotating system of deadlines everyone’s happy with. For now.

My golden tool and most successful so far is the LOI — letter of introduction. As I scout out leads for potential new gigs, I zip off an LOI to each of them — a tactic that has netted me quite a few quick assignments and even a number of rejections I appreciate, the kind where editors praise my clips and tell me they wish they had the budget to hire me but can’t.

But sending LOIs isn’t as simple as it seems. It would be all too easy to email them to the publication’s HR rep and hope they’re passed along to the right editor, but often that just lands them in a nebulous vat of slush. And finding the right editor’s email address can turn into a time-sucking detective game since many company websites won’t list staff names under the guise of protection.

So I’ve had to get craftier to hit the bullseye. Often I call the publisher’s main number, explain who I am and what I want, and get what I need — the contact info for someone who may be looking for freelance talent and actually in a position to pull the trigger. But sometimes I end up talking to a reticent receptionist refusing to tell me anything but the HR rep’s email address (thanks lady, I could have gotten that off the website).

Lately I’ve found myself playing around with different iterations of email addresses to see if I can circumvent the gatekeepers. Firstname.Lastname@company.com, FirstInitialLastname@company.com, LastnameFirstInitial@company.com — these are commonly used variations of email formats, and I have no qualms trying all of them in an effort to reach the right editor. After all, what’s the worst that can happen? They come back undeliverable, and I have to try again.

I realized last week that two of my most recent gigs — including one with a huge, prestigious medical center — came from editors whose email addresses I’d wrangled with before sending my LOI. I could have sent them into the virtual slush pile, or I could have given up when the receptionist wouldn’t tell me what I needed. That extra step meant the difference between victory and obsolescence.

It’s a satisfying reminder how much persistence pays off in freelancing. How has it paid off for you?


The not-so-invisible line between work and home

On most days, I have six uninterrupted hours to work while my kids are in school. Blessedly quiet hours. Usually the only sound in the house is the humming of the clothes dryer, and I try to get my toughest tasks out of the way before my daughter gets off the bus each afternoon, quickly followed by her older brothers.

My kids are all old enough now to be relatively self-sufficient. I have no toddlers to chase, diapers to change or preschoolers to entertain. But I used to delude myself that kids past a certain age (say, 10) would pretty much take care of themselves. Nice theory, isn’t it?

I forgot to factor in the incessant bickering two siblings can produce, or the constant clanging of plates in the kitchen by sprouting boys who never stop eating. Forget the blaring TV, which mysteriously hits its peak just as you get a source on the phone, or the neighbor kids who repeatedly ring the doorbell looking for yours.

With a snow day and a national holiday, I was reminded twice this past week just how thin the line between work and home can become. And I wondered yet again how I would manage to maintain a professional image in the midst of all the noise.

Surely I couldn’t let that researcher from Harvard know that my daughter was boring her eyes into me, waiting for me to see the next cool app on her iPod Touch, while I interviewed him on the phone. Surely I wouldn’t miss my 3 p.m. deadline while my son and daughter squabbled five feet away from me, begging me to intervene.

Surely I wouldn’t want it any differently, would I? This is why I work from home — so I don’t miss a thing. But, oh — I DON’T MISS A THING.

Except a soundproof office with a door.


Interpreting the “free” in freelancing

The juggling act that is Christmas usually finds me hunched over the stove as I simultaneously attempt to actually interact with some of the 20 guests spilling through my house. (No wonder I couldn’t wait to get back to work this week.)

One of those guests this year was someone I’d never met before, a tag-along with my eccentric uncle who often brings delightful people that for one reason or another have nowhere else to be for the holiday. This lovely, refined woman quizzed me a bit about my life as I tried (and failed) not to burn myself tending to trays of hot hors d’oeuvres, expressing surprise when I told her I write many articles each week.

“Oh, I thought freelancers just write one article at a time, then wait to get a new assignment, then write another,” she said. I filled her in on my 8-5 daily schedule and the rolling bundles of assignments I regularly tackle from various websites and magazines, and she seemed impressed. This is a business, I thought, not a hobby.

I’m quite sure there are freelancers out there that do work from assignment to assignment with no idea if and when the next one will come. But I will venture to say that these freelancers are probably part-time at best and don’t earn a significant income from their writing.

Practically all of the “successful” freelance writers I know (and I’m aware this word means different things for different people) toil more than full-time hours and have a stable of publications that expect work from them on a regular basis. We surely don’t work for free, and we have little free time. So what exactly does “free” mean in the context of our business?

For me, it means I can stop working to get a hair cut later this morning and pick my daughter up from voice lessons this afternoon. It means I can say no to an assignment when I don’t have time for it or don’t feel it meshes with my skills and goals.

But it often means I’m free to keep working until 9 or 10 at night just to catch up from the freedom of doing those other things. It means I’ll probably spend next Sunday afternoon finishing a bundle of articles due on Monday. It means that I alone have final say over the hours I work and the clients I accept, but also the more pressing responsibility of maximizing my bottom line under these circumstances.

What it doesn’t mean is being free to get up each day and decide if I’m going to write. It doesn’t mean being free of worries over how to grow my business. And it certainly doesn’t mean being free of the complications of running my business and my home at the same time.

I was glad to be able to educate one more person about the reality of freelance writing — at least, what it means for me. What does the “free” in freelancing mean to you?


The best Christmas gift for a writer?

My 10-year-old daughter has asked me the same question every day for the past two weeks: “How many days until Christmas?”

(Whereupon I remind her that she’s in fifth grade and should be able to add and subtract by now. But that’s another story.)

Funny thing is, I thought I was way past the point of counting these days myself.  But clearly I’m wrong, because I’ve been doing the same thing since Sunday. Why?

Not because I’m looking forward to presents (though I am), egg nog (ditto) or even the hordes of people I’ll be cooking for on the Big Day (bah humbug, but I’ll deal with it).

It’s just dawned on me that I’m counting the days because it’s really a countdown to some much-needed time off. I love writing and never seem to tire of it, but God do I need a break.

It’s a gift all by itself — too much work. I’ve been swamped in recent weeks, barely holding on for the weekends when I can get some decent sleep, and I’m thrilled at the momentum I’ve gained and the likelihood that this will hold through the coming year.

In the past week I’ve gained another client, a smaller website that wants me to write about a dozen articles on a certain health theme, and have promised to deliver all of them by Jan. 10. It’s a “one-off” client — something that, strangely enough, I’ve never had. I’ll have to write a separate post about it, as it’s an interesting situation I’ve had to handle in an entirely new way.

But truthfully, I’m too zonked to even go there. I just need the rest that’s going to come before all that.

Many of you may be feeling the same way, hopefully also flush with ongoing gigs for the year ahead. It’s my dual Christmas gift: enough work, and enough time off to recover from it. Didn’t know Santa could carry all of that!


Q&A on the ghosting life with Kelly James-Enger

Any freelance writers out there who haven’t heard of Kelly James-Enger?

Nah, I didn’t think so.

Kelly is a rock star among freelancers, working part-time hours while earning full-time pay and taking care of her two small kids. A former lawyer, she successfully switched to the writing life 14 years ago, specializing in health, fitness and nutrition topics as well as working as a licensed personal trainer and public speaker.

I was first inspired by Kelly’s writing a few years back when I devoured her book, “Six-Figure Freelancing,” a great guide to not only surviving, but thriving, as a writer-for-hire. Her newest book, “Goodbye Byline, Hello Big Bucks: The Writer‘s Guide to Making Money Ghostwriting and Co-Authoring Books,” offers solid advice on enhancing your freelance career with ghostwriting in friendly, let’s-chat language that walks newbies step-by-step through the process of setting up their first ghosting gigs.

Because I hope to add ghostwriting to my resume in the near future — and because I feel Kelly’s experience is so valuable — I asked her to do a Q&A for Write Around It All, and she graciously agreed. Thanks, Kelly!

Q: Even to many experienced writers, the concept of ghostwriting sounds mysterious and somewhat glamorous. What’s the reality?

Well, I wouldn’t call it glamorous. But I’ve found it’s an excellent way to write books and make good money in less time. Most celeb- and politician-authored books are ghostwritten, but those books are only a fraction of the ghostwriting work available. Experts of all stripes (doctors, lawyers, accountants, financial experts, you name it) hire ghostwriters to get their books in print, whether they’re working with traditional publishers or using POD, or print-on-demand, publishers. Publishers, book packagers, corporations, and non-profits hire ghostwriters. And ordinary people (I call them “Everyday Joes”) use ghostwriters to author their memoirs, family histories, self-help books, etc. I’ve never ghostwritten for a big-name client, but I’m plenty busy ghosting for experts and everyday people who want to become book authors but lack the time, writing ability, or both, to do so.

Q: It’s always easier to snag a gig when you’ve done a project like it before. But there needs to be that first time — especially with a book. How do you make it happen when you don’t have a track record in book writing?

Yes, it helps to have authored a book, even if it was your own book. But if you aren’t an author yet, you can ghost other things — articles, blog posts, speeches, etc. — to gain experience in writing in someone else’s voice.

Q: What are the best qualities to have if you’re considering becoming a ghostwriter?

Great question. First off, you have to be able to write like someone else — and that’s a challenge! You also have to have project management skills, especially if you’re writing a book or other lengthy project. Part of ghosting is keeping your client on deadline as well (say, returning chapters to you in a timely fashion), and that means you have to have some “client management” talents as well. A collaborative spirit is essential — you have to enjoy working as a team! And you have to not take things personally. I’ll state my opinion about how to approach a chapter, for example, but my client has the final say — and I’m fine with that.

Q: Do you need to accept ridiculously low pay for your first ghostwritten book just to get your foot in the door? What is reasonable?

I hope not! I’ve had offers as low as $2,500 for an 80,000-word book — I turned it down. I think it depends on how much work you’re doing (i.e., is the client providing you with background material, for example?), the complexity of the subject matter, the length, and the deadline, but even starting out, I don’t think a writer should take less than $5,000 for a short, relatively-easy-to-write book. At this point in my career, I typically charge $5,000 to $10,000 for a book proposal and $15,000 to $35,000 for a book, depending on those factors. (And I try to get a share of the royalties when the book is traditionally published.)

Q: If a client stipulates that you can’t take credit for the book in any way, or even tell others you’ve helped write it, how do you use the experience to your professional advantage?

That’s a tricky one. I’ve always asked clients if I can use their book on my resume/CV, and so far everyone has been fine with that. If that wasn’t the case, you could still say you’d ghosted a best-selling nutrition book (or whatever it is).

Q: Is there ever a point when you burn out from the ghosting process — dealing with clients, editors, and possibly-changing demands?

So far, no — at least not as far as ghosting goes. Each client is different and I will say that some are higher-maintenance than others. What I do to try to avoid burnout is to make sure I haven’t overloaded myself with work. I’ve found I can work on two ghosting projects at a time, but three would make me insane. (In addition to ghosting, I write my own books and promote them, write articles, do speaking gigs, and teach classes. Plus I have two little kids at home, so I only work a part-time schedule — but strive to make a full-time income during that time. When I ghost, I don’t have to promote the book as well, just write it. And that makes me far more productive than if I was only writing my “own” books.)

To purchase Kelly’s book on Amazon:  http://www.amazon.com/Goodbye-Byline-Hello-Big-Bucks/dp/145372480X/ref=sr_1

For Kindle: http://www.amazon.com/Goodbye-Byline-Hello-Bucks-ebook/dp/B0046ZRKNK/ref=sr_1_3