Today we are continuing with the F.I.T.S. (Freelancer In The Spotlight) Series on Wording Well, and the “Freelancer In The Spotlight” today is Crystal Nay.
Now please welcome Crystal Nay to center stage.
Take it away, Crystal!
There’s a perk to introducing yourself as a writer: people automatically think you’re smart. They also think you’re whimsical, an idealist, and uncommitted. But, then they think you’re an alcoholic, a pessimist, a paper-hoarder who unleashes nonsensical thoughts on Twitter because, well, no one can stop you from speaking your piece.
Well, joke’s on them. We’re not all alcoholics.
Hell, I’m not even on Twitter… yet.
If you haven’t figured it out already, the life of a freelance writer is an interesting one. But, it’s not necessarily because it is so, but because we make it so. Writers have a keen eye and a tuned ear that not only notices things others might not, but can also take seemingly mundane things and turn them into things worth noting.
Such is the power of words. Or a constant and desperate need to be entertained. Your choice.
And, let’s be real: sometimes we sound super awesome. We can’t even believe we wrote such amazing copy or prose. Sometimes we sound super idiotic. It’s all par for the writing course.
(Sometimes we even use lame clichés that, for some reason, we don’t bother removing even though we know we should.)
I don’t remember the first time I heard the word “freelancer.” I can’t recall when I first decided to pursue freelance writing as my work, let alone actually do it or introduce myself as such.
To be honest, I can’t recall exactly when I first began writing. I don’t want to be that person—the one who starts off with saying she’s been writing since she could first scribble sentences. But, guess what? I am that person.
I wrote a poem during class in the third grade. My teacher loved it; my mother loved it. Somehow, it ended up typed up and on the walls of all my teachers’ classrooms. (Thanks, Mom.) Without my pencil and a sheet of paper, I felt like I wasn’t me.
I was that kid who carried a backpack that was much too heavy because it was filled with binders of my latest masterpieces, each page handwritten on lined paper and inserted into a separate plastic sleeve. “Crystal, how many pages so far?” 42. “How about now?” 96. “How many now?” 217. My friends begged to be added as characters. They didn’t care if the story was about a princess who was now an orphan and running the streets. They didn’t mind that another was about a girl who gets lost in the woods while camping with her family and must learn to survive on her own.
They certainly didn’t notice I apparently had a thing for girls being badass and being able to fend for themselves.
Turns out, I would be able to relate to that more as an adult than I ever thought I would have to. But one thing remained my constant, and that was writing.
In keeping this—my love, my craft, the thing that occasionally causes me to forget to feed my sassy and independent young daughter—my constant, there were a few lessons I learned and feel would be handy pearls of wisdom for other writers.
4 Valuable Freelancing Lessons Learned
1: Be a Writer. No, seriously. BE a Writer.
If you’re going to walk around touting that you are a writer, you had better be a writer. Some fancy spoken words, and cute/handsome purple plaid scarf paired with and adorable/handsome gray pea coat and smart-looking glasses does not a writer make. Neither does someone who walks around whining all the time about how they just want to be a writer, but aren’t doing it. If you’re going to be a writer, BE a writer.
Writers are neurotic. They are crazy people who have strange observations and even more entertaining opinions. (Don’t deny it!) We scribble ideas on envelopes and napkins, on parking tickets and on our children’s foreheads.
For the longest time, I knew in my gut that I was a writer, but I always pushed it off. I always tried to ignore it, but it was the one thing that NEVER went away. I could never stop writing, could never stop thinking about writing. Even still, I sometimes try to push it away. It doesn’t go away.
Why? Because I’m a writer.
Just own it already!
2: Tell People You’re a Writer, and then Explain What That Means
Yes, it seems rather self-explanatory. If you’re a dog groomer, you must groom dogs. If you’re an office assistant, you must assist in the office. If you’re an IRS agent, you must… Anyway, if you’re a writer, you’d think people would put it together that you must write. Truth is, they often don’t. When you throw in a fancy word like “freelance” people get a little confused. So, without sounding condescending, explain it.
There’s good reason for this. I’ve had many referrals come from people who didn’t know what I—a freelance writer—did. But, once I explained it to them, these people would pass on my name and business card to their contacts on my behalf.
If you’re working another job, tell people you write. If you’re at a mixer, tell people you write. If you’re stuck house-sitting your best friend’s four dogs, tell the dogs you’re not a dog-sitter, you’re a writer. (That last example is purely cathartic.)
3: Your Least Favorite Clips Just Might Be Your Best-Showing Pieces
One of the first travel pieces I wrote was for the local newspaper of a small, coastal town in Oregon. I was introduced to the owner of the local—and only—used bookstore. It was a great spot with a lot of local, Oregon hippy history, and the shop owner also happened to be the guy who ran the paper. There was a whole lot of “localness” happening. I knew I wanted to write something for him, and I knew what I wanted it to be.
Before I mentioned anything to him, he said to me, “You know, I’d love to have you write something for the paper. I think it would be neat if you wrote something that juxtaposed our coast with your coast.”
I instantly liked this man; he had read my mind exactly. And, he used the word “juxtaposed” in casual conversation, which can make any word enthusiast swoon.
The bookseller featured my piece for quite some time. It garnered favorable reviews, but also criticism simply because it was written by a Californian. But, I always use it as a clip. It’s different from the clips I usually include, and while I always think editors won’t much care for it, they often come back to me saying that was the piece they most enjoyed.
4: Carve Your Own Path, for You
This, I think, has been one of the hardest things I’ve learned—and probably you, too—simply because there is only one way to learn it: the hard way. Two writers might end up at the same magazine or newspaper or TV show, but no two writers arrived there the same way. There is SO much information out there for writers, from how to get started to how to get clients to how to retire off writing the best skywriting copy. Well, maybe not that last one, but I think I may be onto something…
My point is, there is a lot to filter through, and you’ll quickly realize that a lot of it is contradictory. Write what you know; don’t write what you know. Tech is the place to be; healthcare is the place to be. White papers are awesome; white papers suck.
No one else is living your life, and no one else is navigating your career. Both belong to you. So you scramble for a bit trying to figure out where your niche is. So what? So you can’t pay all your bills on time right now. Neither can most people, and A LOT of successful writers went through the very same thing. Your path won’t look like mine, nor mine like yours. Or any other writer’s for that matter. And, honestly, we’re all probably better for it.
So, tell people you’re a writer and let them think you’re smart. Be whimsical and idealistic and uncommitted. Be a pessimist, a paper hoarder, and drink responsibly. Unleash your nonsensical thoughts on Twitter. Come read mine. We can share our writer neuroses.
Hmm… guess I should join Twitter…
Do you think you have to follow someone else’s writing path to obtain one of your own?
What does your writing journey look like?
Do you have clips you hate – but others simply love?
Share your thoughts, feelings, and experiences in the comment section!
Check out the other freelancers in this series:
If you want to raise your freelancing rates, read How to Ask for a Raise (and Get One!) from your #Freelancing Client.
If you want to know why you should be gathering testimonials you can use on your website, read about The Power of Client Testimonials.
Crystal Nay is a freelance writer, tree-cloning enthusiast, and mother to a hilarious and sassy miniature version of herself. She loves to learn about people by asking them things she probably shouldn’t. She has never dyed her hair. Ever. You can visit her website at http://www.crystalnay.com/ and check to see if she’s finally joined Twitter. 😉