freelance life – writing and editing – with a built-in safety net, my husband.
We were a silly, mid-life pairing. When we married, he was 46; I was 36. He was
tall and thin; I was short and thin. I was trapped in a well-paying
but-oh-so-boring technical writing job and worked many hours “on the side,”
cramming words into novels and short stories. The tech writing money was so
delicious, though, I felt I could never leave it behind.
as much as he loved me. He was the best beta reader I’ve ever had. On our
honeymoon, he began to whisper those magic words to me. “You can be your own
boss. Write your novel. You can do it! You know your characters need you more
it. Didn’t I need the structure that going to an office provided? Didn’t I need
that instant feedback when my computer documentation was approved with no
changes? Didn’t I need that fabulous paycheck?
waffling, I caved, but my sense of impending failure was great. My plan was to
take a few technical writing jobs and work on my fiction as much as I could. I
was in my late-30s, an experienced writer and editor. Unfortunately, I was
was to work with Sandra, an engineer who had scored a contract with a major
computer company to provide documentation. We agreed on a written contract, and
we were off. But Sandra, although much respected by her client, was not respectful
of her subs. She would tell me she couldn’t afford to pay me because she hadn’t
been paid. She would tell me her electricity had been cut off because she
couldn’t afford to pay both her electricity and me, and that she had chosen to
pay me. She would tell me that her children were eating peanut butter
sandwiches because she had chosen to pay me. She would tell me her furniture
had been repossessed because she had chosen to pay me. It was endless. I swear
she spent most of her days coming up with new reasons to make me feel guilty.
forgotten that we were living in a small university town.
volunteer in my husband’s department. Beth also happened to be Sandra’s
neighbor, although the two women didn’t know each other. Beth saw lights on in Sandra’s
house at night. Beth saw Domino’s make deliveries. Beth saw the new leather furniture
being delivered. Beth saw two late-model BMWs in the driveway at the end of
every work day.
contract, but people might still try to take advantage of you.
to get paid work without this level of hassle. The most reliable, stress-free
work came when I would work directly with the client, not subbing. Being located
where there were so many universities was also a help.
hand, went pitifully. My characters struggled on the page. My plots flopped.
Nothing seemed to be working right. I was disgusted with the way things were
going. My husband would ask: “Why are the novels not pouring out of those
fingers? You can do it!” I meditated. I prayed. I decided that maybe it was the
fact that I was spending so much time in the technical writing world that all
my creative juices had been killed or, at the very least, mortally wounded.
editor) needs time to be creative as well as time to be regimented.
to finish my current jobs and then devote myself full-time to my fiction. I
filled journal after journal. No fiction, mind you. Just thousands of words
about this ongoing inner struggle I had. Why were these characters so stuck
inside my head? Why were these plots not bouncing along? Nothing seemed to be
working. I couldn’t get to the root, but I always had the comfort of my safety
ever in my ear, encouraging me. “It’s just because you have all this time now;
you drove yourself so hard for so long.” Well, that was true. And he always
added, “You can do it.”
dropped into my life, he dropped out of it. In fact, he just dropped dead –
right in front of me. We were doing a minor home repair. He turned around, took
three steps to me, and asked, “Did you say 7 3/4?” And that was it. He dropped
down like his bones had been lifted straight out of his clothes. His first
heart attack at 54 was his last. We had just celebrated our 8th
wedding anniversary five days earlier. My sweet-talking safety net was gone.
began to stay in bed most of the day. After the first three weeks, our
weimaraner stopped standing sentry at the front door, waiting for her preferred
owner to come home. I cried so much I lost my voice. I lost 15 pounds. I
thought to myself: “Can I go on? Can I?”
when the safety net gives out.
months before I could smile again. I was in a perpetual state of feeling like I
was holding my breath. One midnight, as I lay on the bed, staring at the
ceiling, it occurred to me that I was going to get bed sores if I didn’t stop
spending so much time in the “horizontal hold” position, as my husband used to
drawer and pulled out a journal. I hadn’t written anything since Ed’s death because
now all my words were stuck in the
ether, not just the fiction-related ones. I started making a list — a list of
five things I would make myself do every day. Number 1 on that list was “Get
out of bed.”
count big when you’re low.
myself endlessly. Did I want to take that 20-hour a week communications job?
Did I want to get back into the world of office politics? The answer to both was
“No.” But I did it. Sometimes, just getting out into the world is better than
spinning endlessly in your own, alone.
to return to freelancing. It was slow going, at first. I would get a migraine or
a nervous stomach before I met with clients. I found, though, that one client happily
recommended me to another. Word-of-mouth referrals became gold in the bank. I
took writing classes and workshops and kept expanding my repertoire of skills. I
became flexible and daring. I would actually cold call people and ask if they
needed a brochure put together or a proofreader for their newsletter.
Ed died. I’m still freelancing. When the economy went belly-up a few years back,
several clients tightened their belts so much I was squeezed right out, and I
had to work at one of the content mills for a while. My self-esteem took a
nosedive. I didn’t know if I could take it – the humiliation of working so many
hours for so little money. I never stopped trying to find new clients, even
when I was at the content mill. I was working 12-hour days, but I was still
trying to make a new job contact every single day. But I did it. I had a
mortgage to feed. The economy began to improve and so did my list of clients
who were willing to pay what a professional writer and editor should be making. One day, I was feeling
particularly morose about working so hard and earning so little. I went to the
bookshelf and absent-mindedly picked up a novel that I had been reading when my
husband died. My bookmarker? A little sticky note with only four words on it,
written by my husband. “You can DO IT!” I took it out and taped it to the wall
near my computer monitor. I doubled up my daily efforts and had my first client
post-content mill in about four weeks.
needs a little boost to get off the ground.
in North Carolina where she spends a lot of time in Wi-Fi cafes. When she’s not
asking complete strangers if they’ve considered working to improve the SEO
content of their LinkedIn profiles, she’s renovating her family home place.