Freelance Writer: Know Thyself

Month Four on the murky seas of Words for Money.

I have drifted for days. The skies are gray, but hold no rain, barrels running low. If I have to eat another moldy cracker I may assassinate a seagull.

Yes, the money is getting better. Yes, the jobs are rolling in. But by all that is black and white, I must have a challenge.

I’m learning that, as a freelancer, it isn’t enough to set your standards high and work hard. You have to know yourself:  your strengths, your peeves, your failings. That way you can choose the projects and clients that keep you working happy, and working well.

These are a few things I’ve learned in my short career:

My interest has a limit. And when my interest is spent, writing becomes work, in the most menial sense of the word. You do not want my writing to sound like work, so I will hack and claw and thump at it until it sounds the way it should. But that level of quality comes at a severe cost to my time and sanity. On the other hand…

Challenging projects are interesting projects. When a job requires a ridiculous level of creativity and spunk and precision, I am THERE. You cannot stop me from breaking my head happily against that project until you and I are both thrilled with the results. Once it becomes formulaic and predictable, I am faithfully filling the blanks until the project ends, and then I’m gone.

My favorite part of freelancing is the ever-evolving project list. It takes all kinds to keep me going. I need the steady, big industry neutrals to prepare me for the super nimble startups and their wide array of colors and goals and choices. I need the freedom to flirt with irreverent ad copy when I’m a little too done with those by-the-book web articles. And I need room to course correct, to realize maybe this type of piece is not the best for me, but that one makes me completely school girl giddy.

As a freelance writer, I can move on to the next step with a little more wisdom about what I can handle, and a little more confidence in saying, “Yes, I can write that for you. I would love it.”


The last day is the shortest.

So, Nano happened.

I took a break from the novel (and the blog, apparently).

I wrote whatever the heck I wanted.

That was good.

There was this essay, which I can’t post, because for once I actually submitted it to something, which led to an audition, which could lead to reading for the Listen to Your Mother show in May. (I hope so!)

And there were a few short stories, and a hundred poems, and some letters.

It’s been good.

But I’ve noticed that motivational posters and Ted talks seem especially loud lately. Little sophistries like, “Done is better than perfect.”  They all seem to pertain to that fat stack of novel on my shelf.  Guess break time is just about over.


taking a break






NaNoWriMo Win!



NaNo is finished.

And I am FINISHED with NaNo.

It felt really, super, crazy good to finish something.

I wish that meant I finished my novel, but it doesn’t.

At the end count, I had 51,196 words, but only about 39,000 of those will probably make it into the actual novel, and I’ll still need about 30,000 more to finish. But to be honest, I’m relieved to be done with the rush. It feels good now to savor the process of writing each chapter.

Careful and slow is my new motto.

For now.

I’m starting to understand that there are a million ways to write a novel, and you’ll probably end up using half of them at one point or another.

That’s okay, too.

In the meantime, there’s a new short up in the Unrelated Shorts tab. It’s a three-minute fairy tale. (Apparently that three minute bar suits my short attention span as a writer. It is what it is.)

Thanks for cheering me on!

Now I will mount my virtual trophy on the sidebar.





Chapatah 10


ALMOST done. I’m expecting to knock it out during the write-in today, along with Chapter 11.

Yeah, Nine happened last week, quickly and stealthily. Like a ninja.

This process might be getting easier.


The next obstacle will be




ANXIETY! (The words ‘separation’ and ‘anxiety’ will forever be linked. Motherhood.)

And all that drama that I just don’t do, not in real life anyway.

But I’m going to suck it up and conquer my fears and be


Without the all caps. I swear.


Not the kind of drama I meant, but it’s true, nonetheless.


I Am NaNo. Hear me roar.

Boom. Chapter 8.

Never underestimate the power of peer pressure and bad coffee.

Today I locked myself into a library boardroom with twenty would-be novelists. We spent three frenzied hours in silence, tried to type just a little faster than the two people at our elbows.

On another note, writers are anti-social weirdos with ego problems.

I am one of those weirdos.

Feelin’ the love.


The monster is DEAD.

Chapter 7 is WRIT.

Wassup? Take that, stupid trepidations!

Also, I signed up for my first NaNoWriMo, which means I’m committed to at least 1667 words a day. Yesterday I did 3500.

This marks the beginning of a new modus operandi:

Write November; edit December.

I’m trying to make peace with the rough draftiness of it all. The peacemaking needs to wrap up in the next hour, because I’ll be at my first NaNo write-in, typing frantically with a bunch of other NaNo heroes at the library around the corner. Onward.

Let’s bag us a Chapter 8.

A Very Deep Hole

So I hit a roadblock.

It should have been a teeny-weeny, easily-surmountable road block, but I made a big deal out of it and turned into a skulking coward baby and let it hold me back much longer than I should have.

The situation: a medical question needed answering– one that would have a huge impact on the plot. I couldn’t google this one, but I had the contact info of a lovely OB who wanted to help me. Instead of emailing her right away with my questions, I sat around being an introvert afraid to make the first move.

A few weeks later, my 10-year-old child found out what a pansy I was and offered to write the email for me. So I bucked up and sent the darn thing. That weekend, the OB replied with the information I needed, and I sat on it a few days longer.

I’m done sitting on it now. The itch to finish this thing is back in force. Tomorrow night I plan to be up as many hours as I can stand after the kids are in bed, writing the heck out of chapter 7.

Here’s the good news from this little trip: Looks like writing is a habit now, even while I’m hiding from it like a bunny shaking in his burrow. During the weeks underground, I wrote a short story for NPR’s Three Minute Fiction competition, as well as a poem or two a day. (Poems are here, if you’re into that.) No stopping it now. It’s ingrained. I wondered if that would ever happen.

I also gathered a few bits of advice from the other writers on NPR’s 3MF page. This was the best bit. I’m going to put it into practice as soon as possible. It’s simple, really…


Work on one while you put off the other.


The Daily Post Challenge: Imitation


The cursor blinked, and Judah said my thing my thing, ran the back hallway fast to the door and bang the door and back again, and I sat. The cursor blinked. And there were words in the book and words in my head and words on the pages before and behind but here on this page no words, on the tips of my fingers, wordless, because my thing my thing, and the feet in the hallway ran back, bang, to the door, and I typed nothing into nothing, because the head words were lost to the finger words in the one more cookie and do I have to finish and give that back and I’m done.

Water ran flushed down the red hallway and Ella said my sock and I left the black cursor blinking, blinking white and blank and pulled the cold sock drip drip from the white pot filthy, and this is my thing, and these are my things, and the words in my head are bang and feet run and dripping socks, but not the right words for the cursor, blinking.

So the cold still dark came first, before the white and the blank and the black cursor blinking, words to fingers through more nursing please and a rattle of bunk beds and six ways to goodnight, and silence, but only a little, and this is my thing as well. The quiet and black cursor blinking and moving to the tap of fingers and their words on a keyboard.



A Week of Sundays

Losing momentum sucks. Big time.

I had to spend most of the last week flat on my back, not writing, not moving forward in any way.


Probably because of the past six weeks, when I stayed up until three a.m. typing and typing. With atrocious posture. And caffeine. And a stunning lack of leafy greens in my diet.

Finally my back said to heck with this and went berserkers on me.

Sneaky jerk.

So, what to do when you’ve got a wasted week with no way to type or scribble or even dictate?

Well, read some good fiction. Pick it apart and chew it up and let it sink deep in your chest.

Read your own story. Pick it apart and chew it up and let it sink deep in your chest.

Visualize the next step, and the one after that, and the one after that.

Dream up dialogues and conflicts and disasters and heroic saves.

Store it all away in that rusty locker at the back of your brain, so that one day, weeks from now, when you’re writing a big scene, all those preconceived inflections and tics and nuances will resurface naturally in the flow of your narration. You won’t even remember where they came from, but your voice will be better for it, and so will your characterization.

That’s what I’m telling myself, anyway.

We’ll see.

In any case, it’s Sunday again, but I’m done with rest for a good, long while.

I ate my greens, drank my water.

I’m working on my posture.

Now to crank out some story.

And stretch my back, now and then.