Creative Work is Hard and Worth Every Penny

Photo by Ryan McGuire

Creative work is hard work. It is not always valued work and this is true no matter what medium you happen to work in. Be it writing, paint, or textiles there’s a serious lack of value placed on it and we as creatives may be fueling that issue by devaluing our own work when we tell people that it is easy. We should stop saying that and instead let people know that it’s only easy after you get the hang of it and getting the hang of it can take a lot of time.

We don’t want to discourage people, we don’t want young artists to give up simply because it doesn’t come to them right away. So we tell them that it’s easy, that anyone can do it. But this isn’t true. Because art, no matter what you do, is hard. Anyone cannot do it.

Not because they lack the ability to string words into a sentence or perform the basic stitches needed to make a scarf but because not everyone has the talent for making a sentence compelling or the patience to repeat the same set of stitches a hundred times to make a scarf. Not everyone has the time or desire.

So as artists, regardless of what your medium is, we have to find a way to balance encouragement and honesty. Yes, you can learn to paint, knit, or write but your first projects will likely not be masterworks. It will take years of practice to learn all of the tricks of whatever trade you’re entering into.

Creative work is hard work. We’ve devoted years of our lives to learning something and that is why handmade goods and custom work is expensive. Sure everyone can do it but not everyone can do it well because not everyone has put in the time in order to do it well.

That is what you are paying for when you hire a writer, a graphic designer, or a photographer. That is what you are paying for when you order a custom baby blanket, a one of a kind necklace, or a piece of art for your wall.

You are not paying for the time they necessarily took to do the job; you are paying for the time they took to learn how to do the job so they could do it well.

So anyone CAN do creative work but not everyone can do it well because it takes time and it is hard and it is worth every. Single. Penny.

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Write Even When You Don’t Feel Like It

Hustle

One of the hardest things to do when you decide to become a Real Life Writer is writing when you don’t really feel like it. More than anything, that is what separates working writers from hobbyists. Hobbyists write when they feel like it. Working writers write even when they don’t.

That’s a hard shift to make. When your job depends on your creativity, not feeling like it can turn a piece into complete trash if you let it. You don’t have to let it but you can’t just skip it either. This job means writing even when you feel like your muse is taking a smoke break.

There are going to be some days when you don’t feel like it. That’s OK. Everyone needs a day off now and then but you can’t wait until you feel like it to start again. You have to show up even if putting the words on the page are like pulling teeth. Take a day off, that’s fine, but don’t take off for an undetermined amount of time that’s controlled by your mood.

Every piece you write isn’t going to be a masterpiece. Sometimes it’s going to just be passable. If you’re not running up against a deadline (side note, be better about not procrastinating) then just call it a draft and look at it again tomorrow when you do feel like it. You might find some hidden gems in the prose that you missed when you just didn’t feel like it.

See, the trick is, you can always fix a bad page. If you don’t write anything at all though, there’s nothing to start with and even if you have to scrap the whole thing, at least you know what not to do next time.

Write even when you don’t feel like it. Show up, put the words down. Edit them when you feel better. The more you do this, the easier it will become.

Novels Aren’t The Only Fruit: A Friday Pep Talk For Writers

You're ok.

You’re ok.

Not every writer is a novelist, although many of us who get into the profession hope to be one. This doesn’t change the fact that there are a lot of people out there making money with the written word who do not have books out. Even if you dream of writing a book someday, you’re not failing at this whole writing thing if all you have are articles published on the internet.

When I tell people that I’m a writer and then respond to their question as to where they can find my books, they often lose interest when I tell them I write articles. Even though people consume a great deal of writing in today’s content heavy atmosphere, there’s a sort of disconnect between the articles that we read and share on social media and the novels we read for pleasure. In many minds, a novel makes you a writer. Anything “less”, well, not so much.

I don’t know what people consider the media they read online or in magazines to be but the people who write those things are no less successful or noteworthy than people whose fiction adorn the virtual shelves of Amazon.

In fact, there’s a greater chance that the person whose work appeared on some online journal or even in a throwaway article created to pick up Google spiders made more money doing what they loved than the person with a book on Amazon. This isn’t a jab at self-publishers, it’s hard in that market, this is a statement that some people’s purpose for writing is to be paid rather than to share a story.

Even if you’re writing to turn a buck, you’re still a writer. Maybe not a sexy one, but you’re still doing the job. And that is commendable because it doesn’t matter if you write for magazines, craft novels, churn out content articles, or blog like it’s going out of style, this is a hard gig to be in. Keep at it. You’re doing great.

No More Unpaid Test Articles

Found on Facebook from Tumblr

Found on Facebook from Tumblr

This is the year I stop writing unpaid test articles.

I generally do not put word to page unless there have been agreed upon payment terms. This is just good business sense. But somehow, while in negotiation for gigs when the email comes asking for a free test article comes, I sometimes think maybe? And even worse, sometimes I say yes.

The articles are usually very small, only a few moments of my time. That’s the problem though, it’s my time and my time isn’t free.

In the course of my career as a writer (one that started as moonlighting, moved to part time, and slid into a full time thing) I’ve had quite a few requests for unpaid test articles. I have not done them all, there are a few that I have written but I can only remember ever getting one job from an unpaid test article.

One.

Paid test articles? I’ve landed all those gigs. Unpaid, not so much.

This could be because with the paid ones, they’re invested in me. Unpaid, I’m squeezing them in between paying work. I’m not giving it my all with unpaid articles because they haven’t given me anything at all.

So instead of wasting my time, this year I’m done with doing them and really everyone should be. Sure, some people do land those jobs but really, what are we saying about what our time is worth as writers, as creatives?

I’ve had plenty of jobs in my life and this one is the only one where I am ever asked to do a trial unpaid test run to see if I’m a fit. I wouldn’t have stood for it with any other job. If a manager asked me to come in and work a shift unpaid, I would laugh. If someone wanted me to do an hour in their call center “just to see if I was a good fit” I wouldn’t even respond.

From now on, I’m treating unpaid test articles the same way. No matter how small they are, they still take time and my time is worth more than free.

Bidding with Focus

Love Struck

Finding work can be a daunting task and also, quite a shot in the dark. I’ve been doing this off and on for the past 7 years and it’s still very much the same landscape. It would be great if all job boards delivered only jobs that legitimate but the fact of the matter is, mostly every shot is in the dark but that’s not even the worst part. The worst part is when they try to sell you something.

Like I said, I’ve been at this for a little while and I’ve had my share of BS posts. After a bit you start to see the signs. There are the obvious ones, where the post has a link right there to some affiliate site (don’t click that! It probably won’t give you a virus but it will trap you in pop up window purgatory for a while) or it promises extreme amounts of money for very simple work. If it was that easy to earn, everyone would be doing it. They’re not. Don’t fall for the scheme.

I actually use Craigslist which is notorious for that sort of thing. Which is why many people try to stay away from it but there’s nothing to be afraid of. Sure there’s no gate keeper there (actually, the users are the gate keepers. Keep flagging bad jobs people) but I’ve gotten some pretty lucrative gigs from there and if a person pays attention, they can do the same. Scams usually don’t work very hard at hiding themselves.

But then there are the trickier ones where everything looks legitimate, they have a website, a promising email address, all the parts that equal a possible job so you apply. A few days later you get an email saying you weren’t selected but here, why don’t you sign up for some of our services or even post to your site’s message board.

Alright, stop right there.

This is a cheap tactic. Never respond to these. If your writing was good enough to gain exposure through a message board, then it was good enough to be paid for. Don’t fall for this. Don’t buy whatever they’re selling. Push the trash icon and move on the next.

The worst part of those gigs is the time that they waste. You spend your time putting together a well-crafted and thoughtful bid, only to have that sent back to you.

In order to save myself wasted time when bidding on jobs, I employ a triage system. The jobs that seem most likely go first and I spend time crafting my proposals and selecting my samples. The jobs that are in this pile are ones that are perfect for my type of writing experience and have no red flags.

Red flags are phrases such as “must be a native English speaker”, “no experience necessary”, “looking for top quality work” but has really low pay listed, etc. Red flags also include things like, low pay, poorly edited postings (meaning, not just a few typos but you’re concerned that English isn’t their first language), and links to anything other than their website or a submittable page.

If there is something in this adds that make me think that the job could be a real one, it goes in the second pile and they are bid on after the first rung jobs.  These bids are much more generic with a basic portfolio submission.

Then there is the third pile. The third pile is made up entirely of jobs that I think may be not worth my time and or frauds but they seem interesting. Most of the gigs in pile three get deleted after a second look. If they happen to still grab my interest, I send a generic bid with basic information and a single sample. I do not waste any time with these.

I have had some come back as real opportunities but mostly this pile is where you find your scams etc. Those replies get deleted and not a second thought paid to them. Once a bid system is employed, the process is more or less automatic.

Some freelancers enjoy a constant pool of work and never have to find clients. And good for them. That’s what we all want. But getting there takes time and effort. Recognizing when to bid and when not to goes a long way to saving time looking for work. Also learning to spot red flags so that you can avoid bad jobs all together helps a lot too. There are people waiting to hire you, you just have to wade through the muck to get them.

The Best Plan

Image

I am supposed to be finishing up something else right now. It’s very late, almost midnight and this has become the norm for me. The very late night not the subtle, not so subtle procrastination. I need nine hours of sleep to function well and be happy but I’m sacrificing that for now and finding myself up until midnight or later to rise at 7 AM to go to my day job.

And what am I doing? Right now (if I was working right now, this very minute) I would be working on the draft of a short story. On some other night this week I may be writing about video games or random content. I could be writing romance or horror movie notes. Some nights I’m shooting off emails with writing samples attached. I could also be writing HTML and CSS code. Creating web pages. Putting together media kits. It depends on the night.

What. Am. I. Doing?

I am almost 30 years old. I was married last Sunday to the love of my life. I have two children and I work full time in what could very possibly be described as a good job. If not a great job for me. I have a very full life. A life that many people would envy and want.

In these hours, close to midnight, I am working very hard to change that life. I am working so hard so that I can quit this life and have one that is more suited to me.

I am almost 30 with a husband and two children and I decided that I wanted to grow up to be a writer. Starting now. Well, starting about 4 months ago. When I began to stay up well past my bedtime writing about video games, romance novels, and random content.

I’m working on becoming a full time freelancer. I’m transitioning. I have a plan.

Why am I doing this? Why? And isn’t it scary?

Well of course it’s scary! It’s the most fighting thing I’ve ever done. But, staying where I was, how I was feeling, that was even more frightening. That forever crush of a perfectly ordered world when all I wanted to do was tell stories and paint pictures. You can’t do that in the 9-5. Not really.

Besides, I’ve always been one to go all in. So right now, I’m available nights and weekends and I’m sacrificing sleeping so that I can sleep in whenever I want later. This is my journey and it’s terrifying but it’s exciting too.

Free nights and weekends like a ’00 cell phone plan. But I’m working on becoming unlimited, baby.