Freelancer Diaries: Week 1

[This may or may not become a recurring segment on the blog, but hey, it could be fun, right? Meanwhile, the #FridayFive will return next week!]

 

I’m So Excited, I’m So Excited, I’m So–Scared!

I’ve never been very entrepreneurial. I’ve always been the dedicated worker bee, doing the “smart” thing, the “safe” thing.

However, I’m on the verge of starting a side-hustle (to supplement my income, not replace it), doing work as a freelance writer/editor/proofreader. I feel both a growing eagerness to get after it and a nagging worry as I realize how much I don’t know about all this. I want to dive right in, but I don’t want to be a buffoon and do damage to someone’s else’s work.

All this nervous energy has me a bit scattered. I signed up for Lynda’s online education resources, and immediately bookmarked 37 courses to check out before the 30-day free trail expires. I’ve checked out 10-12 books from the library on side hustle basics, resume writing, grant writing, freelance writing, editing technique, and plot structure and development for fiction writers. I want to watch and read all of it NOW, RIGHT NOW, so I can work right now.

This is not counting the usual “boring” stuff, like my day job. And my family. And sleep.

It feels like I’m caught in a riptide of my own making, dragging me further to sea, into deeper and deeper waters. If I don’t recognize the tide’s pull, I’ll very soon be in over my head. No one wants that.

Not Even For A Klondike Bar

A few nights ago, I suddenly stopped negotiations with a potential client, turning down a project that I had been pursuing for a couple of days. Why? Because I found out that the proposed manuscript would be full of pseudo-Christian theology, and it just didn’t feel right to say yes to that.

Don’t get me wrong–saying “no” was hard, too. This would have been my first paying gig! Nevertheless, I would have been miserable working on it. Even if only 10 people ever read it (a definite possibility), I would have felt partly responsible for confusing or even leading astray those 10 souls.

Maybe I’m over-reacting a bit. But I don’t think I am.

I believe every freelancer has to answer this question for themselves: What are my limits–not just morally, but professionally? What kinds of projects am I willing to turn down?

I can name a few things right off the bat that get a hard-pass from me:

  • Other people’s homework. It became immediately clear that several people seeking work are looking for “substantial editing” on their unfinished school assignments. Uh, no. I don’t do that.
  • False religion or lousy theology. I just don’t feel comfortable working on things that contradict my core values. That’s not to say I would limit my work to the precise theological/worldview positions I hold. But when something is blatantly outside the bounds of what I believe to be true, it’s hard for me to work on that. For example, yesterday at my day job, I had to edit instructions for a meditative yoga program, chanting, namaste, the whole nine–and it felt…gross. If I have the ability to choose my clients (and I do), I want to avoid things like that.
  • Sexual content. Exactly zero shades of grey for me, on this question. Just…no.
  • Ghostwriting. There is a market for it, to be sure. But helping someone take credit for my words as if they were alone responsible is lying, plain and simple. If I haven’t been able to write a book for myself, I certainly won’t write a book for someone else.

My goal is to help people sharpen their ideas and express their perspectives, even ones I disagree with, as clearly and effectively as possible. But I have to feel good about the work I’m doing, or it’s not worth it to me. I’d rather deliver pizzas with a clear conscience than bank huge fees and feel ashamed of the results.

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Question of the Week: Do you have any advice for me as a rookie freelancer? Do you know of any pitfalls I should avoid? Please let me know in the comments below!

 

 

#FridayFive: 07/20/2018

You know the deal–let’s do it:

Teens are Flocking to Youtube to…Study?: If you’re a computer-based office worker like me, one of the most important elements of your workday is background music to drown out the sound of your coworkers loudly calling out to each other. Especially your boss, who has no sense of–oh, that’s just me? Sorry. So yeah, background music is essential. I sometimes listen to podcasts, but when I need to focus just a bit more on the less-data-entry-like aspects of my work, it’s distracting. That’s why this article turned me on to what is becoming a lifesaver in my particularly slammed workdays: lo-fi streams on Youtube.

The Trophy: An Essay on Fatherhood: As the daddy of an…almost-one-year-old [*choking back tears*], essays about fatherhood hit me hard. Goins’ posts are always a good read, including this one.

5 Weak Words that Make Your Writing Less Effective: Another Goins post, this time on the weak/filler words that creep into our writing and water it down.

Why You Don’t Need to Read Those Productivity Guides: Although the author drifts dangerously close to “not having an act is your act” territory, he makes some good points here about “enough,” a word that is almost anathema in productivity discussions.

A Choose-Your-Path Twitter Fairy Tale: This is SO GOOD that I furious with myself for not thinking of it. Every so often, there’s a moment–one shining moment–where we all stop and realize, “hey, social media is actually a pretty cool invention that can bring people together in an interesting way.” I think this is one of those moments.

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Your Turn: Any cool stories or blog posts you want to recommend? Throw ’em in the com-box below!

#FridayFive: Five Podcasts I Really Like That You Probably Don’t Listen To (Yet)

Happy Friday, gang!

So, I’m a bit of a podcast junkie and have a tendency to download way more than I could possibly listen to (especially since my daily commute dropped from 3+ hours to 50 minutes round-trip in recent years). But whenever I’m doing housework, or even some of the less-cerebral tasks at my day job (don’t tell the boss, okay?), I’m listening to podcasts.

So, today I’d like to tell you about 5 podcasts I really enjoy that you may not have heard of–in other words, no Radiolab or This American Life on this list.

And, to save myself from repeating it, you should be able to find all of these on iTunes, Stitcher, Castbox, etc. Go check ’em out.

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The “Goliverse” Podcasts: Okay, this first one is a bit of a cheat, because it’s not just one podcast. One of my favorite podcasters is Steve Glosson, who has created a network of podcasts over the last decade. While some of the Goliverse shows have come and gone over the years, Geek Out Loud and Big Honkin Show (my favorites, honestly) have stuck around consistently. Despite losing his entire backlog of episodes due to server crashes (twice), Steve has persevered, and his programs provide a safe place to geek out, an audio cup o’ coffee, and a whole lot of joy and laughter. He’s in the process of re-uploading past BHS episodes, and it’s been a blast to re-experience that show.  He also broadcasts live on Mixlr.

Gut Check Podcast: You know that old college buddy of yours who loved the same 3-4 movies that you do, still quotes them constantly, and grew up to be a pretty chill, cool guy with just the right amount of self-awareness, self-deprecation, and bravado? The guy who you see once in a really long while, but every time you hang out, you come away thinking, “Man, I really like that guy, we should hang out more”? That guy is this podcast. Every episode with authors / podcasters / coffee-moguls Ted Kluck and Zach Bartels sounds like one of those “once in a long while” hangouts. There’s a little bit of awkwardness from time to time, but mostly you feel like you’re being let into the cool-kids circle and get to share the inside jokes. I dig this one.

The Way I Heard It: Okay, fine, this one is pretty well-known, with perhaps a million subscribers, but I never hear anyone talking about it in my corner of the internet, so I wanted to show some love. Basically, TWIHI is a show by Mike Rowe (of Dirty Jobs fame) who uses that iconic voicebox of his to tell 5-10 minute stories from pop culture history that keep the famous figure behind the story a mystery until the reveal at the end of the episode. This show is often called a spiritual successor to Paul Harvey’s classic The Rest of the Story. I love it. You should love it too.

When We Understand the Text (WWUTT): Pastor Gabe Hughes gives listeners a 25-ish minute Bible study 5 days a week, and it’s always edifying. He works verse-by-verse through a New Testament book on Mon-Wed, gives a chapter-by-chapter overview of an Old Testament book on Thursdays, and then records a “mailbag” segment on Fridays (often with his wife). Hughes is a faithful Biblical expositor with a steadfast devotion to understanding the Scriptures rightly and an approachable teaching style. You should also check out WWUTT videos on Youtube, where you’ll find 90-second videos answering common Biblical questions.

Reading Writers: This podcast about reading and readers is one that I lost track of for a while and recently came back to. I appreciate the easy-going approach and the fact that their focus isn’t on just new books coming out or any of the “industry” updates, but on what reading means to us and how it affects people differently, particularly from a Christian perspective. Sometimes, the hosts interview people in the Christian publishing world (where they both work) and other times, it’s just the two of them talking through a topic. Aaron Armstrong also blogs at Blogging Theologically (a site that feels like a more bookish Challies.com–and that’s a complement).

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There you go–five suggestions to add to your podcast list. Hope you’ve found one of your new favorites in the list above!

Have a great weekend, and I’ll see you here next week!

YOUR TURN: Any less-well-known podcast recommendations you want to share? Post them in the comments below!

The4thDave Reads: “Real Artists Don’t Starve” by Jeff Goins

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I need to begin with an apology. Jeff Goins’ team graciously sent me a hardcover copy of Real Artists Don’t Starve to review…around a year ago. It was right around the time we were working on Season 1 of Presto! Fairy Tales (now available on Youtube!) and I started the book but quickly put it down. It wasn’t because it was boring; on the contrary, I was really enjoying it. Rather, I think I stopped reading it at that point because it was making me…uncomfortable.

The premise of the provocatively-titled Real Artists Don’t Starve (hereafter called RADS) is that the myth of the “Starving Artist” is just that–a romanticized myth that does not need to be the reality of anyone pursuing creative work. Goins’ passion is helping creative people to step out and discover how they can bring their passion to life, and throughout RADS, he does this by contrasting the Starving Artist with what he calls the “Thriving Artist.” In the twelve main chapters of RADS, Goins examines these two visions of the artistic life, as a series of contrasting statements. For example:

  • The Starving Artist strives to be original. The Thriving Artist steals from his influences.
  • The Starving Artist waits to be noticed. The Thriving Artist cultivates patrons.
  • The Starving Artist always works alone. The Thriving Artist collaborates with others.

Goins uses these contrasts to examine the assumptions that creatives make about how the creative life “should” function. In doing so, he presents a series of “rules” of the Thriving Artist, such as the Rule of Creative Theft (scandalous!) or the Rule of the Patron. By proposing these basic principles of what Goins calls “the New Renaissance,” he encourages the reader to rethink how he or she approaches creative work. RADS is organized into three sections, addressing the creative person’s mind-set, market, and money–the creation, connection, and commerce that are all part of producing and promoting your art.

So why was I uncomfortable when I started reading RADS? Because I’m in a season of life where some of my creative goals seem to be on hold. I say seem to be because Goins’ writing (and his podcast, The Portfolio Life) consistently challenge me to get going and stop making excuses.

If you’re a new reader, you may not be aware that I’ve always wanted to be a novelist. I’ve got several false-starts and unexplored story ideas that I’ve been kicking around for years. Every so often, I’ll pull one out, play with it a bit, and then decide to put it back because it’s “not the right time” to (re)start writing. Beyond that, the typical discussion of “platform” and “self-marketing” always grosses me out a little bit. But as Goins addresses these issues in RADS, he challenges some of the stigmas around the business of art that I have been holding onto and forces me to admit that the reason I don’t try harder to make it happen is that I’m scared to fail.

What’s crazy is that despite my fear, these stories won’t let me go. These characters creep into my idle thoughts and want to be seen and heard. In some small measure, my attempts are regular blog posting are warm-up exercises for the transition to re-engage with the writing life. Or they may be a filler or replacement to give my itching fingers the illusion of motion.

(…Where was I? Oh, right, book review.)

Real Artists Don’t Starve is another excellent work by Jeff Goins that challenges the reader to get real about why they may not be pursing the creative life of their daydreams. His advice is practical and encouraging. The book itself is fast-moving and readable, but the reader should resist the temptation to speed through it. Instead, it may be beneficial to take each chapter at a time, and give the ideas some breathing room to germinate in your mind. Such contemplation will be well worth it. I would definitely recommend this book.

[And Jeff, I’m sorry I didn’t read it sooner. But if you think about it, it’s really your fault for writing something that got under my skin, ya know?]

#FridayFive: More Medium Madness!

It’s Friday, which means it’s time for five more interesting Medium articles I’ve read in recent months. Here we go!

The Film the NFL Doesn’t Want You To See — I find myself really conflicted about this. As much as I have enjoyed NFL football (and cheering on my Texans), it’s hard to watch this and not consider how the game I love to watch seems to be devouring the men who choose to play it. I think that reality has implications on me as a fan, but I’m not sure (or not comfortable with) what that might mean.

Steve Jobs’ Secret for Eliciting Questions… — One of the hardest things for me when it comes to teaching Sunday School (or leading any kind of discussion) is creating a space where questions can be asked freely. My tendency is just to deliver content (or preach!) for 45 minutes and then ask for questions with about 30 seconds left in class. I’m looking forward to trying the approach described in this article.

How Jack Reacher and I Grew Apart — Proof that being a best-selling novelist doesn’t mean you’re that skillful of a writer. Even the most widely-acclaimed writers fall into bad habits and tropes. (Actually, I don’t know if that’s comforting or disheartening.)

The Video Game That Shows Us What the E-Book Could Have Been — I’m intrigued by books that challenge the conventions of what a book is. (You’ll see that in an upcoming “The4thDave Reads” review.) This book…game…thing sounds REALLY fascinating.

Show, Don’t Tell: Character Development through Action… — As I’m working through how to restart a novel I began writing, this article about storytelling through action was eye-opening, as it dissects the opening sequence in my favorite Bond film.

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That’s it, folks. Have a great weekend!

Your Turn: Did you find any of these links helpful? Let me know, so that I can keep an eye out for more useful content to pass along! Have you read any interesting blog posts lately? Share them below!

 

 

 

 

“Guess who’s back…back again…”

“Good grief, Dave, the first post in 2 months, and you lead with a 20-year-old Eminem reference?”

Shaking the rust off, dude.

“What about all those promises to post reviews of books you read this year, remember that? Regular content, you said. I assume you *have* been reading books. So where are the reviews?”

Yeah, about that…

“You have talked frequently about spending less time on social media and more time ‘creating.’ You even wrote a Medium post about that. And that was it–just talk. Are you still on Twitter and Facebook?”

I deleted the apps off my phone.

“What about the browser? Are you logged in to them on your phone’s browser?”

“Look, man, I don’t mean to come at you so hard, right out of the gate. But you keep telling me that you want to write consistently. You have interesting ideas to explore. You wanted to do a whole series of posts about The Federalist Papers, remember? You wrote 4 or 5 posts before stopping. That was 16 months ago. And it was an interesting idea. You should follow up on that at some point.”

Yeah, I keep thinking about that.

“There are book reviews to write, sermon manuscripts to share, maybe even some short stories or poetry. Remember? You used to write poetry, too.”

That’s true. My wife really enjoys when I write poetry.

“See? All I’m saying is, it may be time to start delivering on the promises and good intentions you’ve been carrying around for all these years. How old are you now, 38?”

I’m 37. Birthday’s in October.

“Okay, then, 37. How about this? We start now with some regular content. Start flexing the ol’ creative muscles. And then we start working on the manuscript to your NaNoWriMo novel, Good Shepherd, and get that baby done before 40 comes around.”

That’s…not a bad idea. I still really like that story.

“You’re right, it’s not a bad idea–it’s a great idea. That story should be told. But we gotta baby-step this one. It starts with writing consistently.”

Okay, I’ll do it. Starting today, I’m gonna–

“STOP. Stop making promises. No more resolutions. Just do it. Don’t tell me about it. Just do it.”

Okay. Today, then.

“Today.”

Done.

#FridayFive: Another 5 Interesting Medium Posts

Hey folks! Back this week with another group of Medium posts that I found informative and/or challenging, and that I think you may appreciate:

Confessions of A Failed Female Coder – Caroline McCarthy tackles the topic of women in STEM (specifically in Computer Science) and provides some perspective on the infamous “Google memo” by James Damore. McCarthy’s insights on how education and learning style influence the way girls interact with STEM subjects gave my wife and I some good things to discuss regarding how we will raise and educate our daughter.

Las Vegas, Murder, and Gun Control – Rick Thomas wrestles with some of the political/cultural conversation around the latest mass shooting in the US. Most helpful for me was his breakdown of the 3 arguments used by cultural evangelists, in regards to guns.

You Weren’t Very Persuasive Today – Cody Libolt provides some good ideas on how to have productive and persuasive discussions with people with whom you disagree. In an age of people screaming past each other into the digital abyss, this post is worth some consideration.

Killing Television – Michael Marinaccio cites a few Pew Research results about the demographics of news consumption and media trust, as he considers the possible effect of a generational shift from visual news back to print news as a more trusted resource.

Why You Should Quit Reading Paper Books – I disagree with Andy Sparks’ premise entirely*, as do apparently ALL of the commenters (the answer to your problem, Andy, is a combination of marginalia, pocket notebooks, and highlighters), but I’ll admit he has some useful tips for how to capture and review ideas and quotes from your digital reading. So take that for what it’s worth, and leave the rest, I guess.

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There you go, gang. Some fun reading for the weekend.

If you’re on Medium, let me know! I’d love to check out your work. I’m on Medium, too, if you want to follow me there–though I haven’t produced much of anything in that forum. Yet.

Have you read any useful or challenging articles online lately? Post the link in the comments below!

 

 

*Much to the possible dismay of Mr. Sparks, I’m actually playing around with the idea of reading EXCLUSIVELY print books in 2018, and limiting myself to books I actually own as of January 1. I figure it’s a good way to battle my tsundoku tendencies.

#FridayFive: 5* Interesting Stories I’ve read recently on Medium.

So I have a confession to make: I use the “bookmark” function on Medium entirely too much.

If you aren’t familiar with it, Medium is a free public blogging platform in which anyone can submit articles. (And I mean anyone.) If you subscribe to certain people’s feeds or click that you are interested in certain topics, you can get a daily (or weekly, I imagine) digest email from the site with links to articles that might interest you. And you can even “bookmark” things you want to read later.

What happens when you bookmark a whole lot and don’t actually read that much? You get a backlog of articles that may number into the several hundred. Or so I’m told.

So I figured, at least for a few weeks, I was going to go through this backlog and pull stories to tell you about that I found interesting, informative, funny, and/or generally worth reading.

Disclaimer: I will try to warn you in advance, but in these posts I will link to articles with bad language from time to time. I’m going to trust that you and your conscience will make good choices, based on your convictions. If I link to the article, it’s because I think the content is worth reading, despite objectionable verbiage.

So here you go–5* stories I’ve read recently that I thought were worth sharing:

I Envy Your Fake Life — Stephen Altrogge talks about the confluence of social media and comparison. I appreciated his honesty, and the reminder of how God’s sovereignty speaks to our contentment.

The Only 3 Types of Writing People Actually Want to Read — Okay, so a lot of the stuff I read on Medium has to do with content creation, writing, publishing, etc. This piece by Ayodeji Awosika was a very useful and direct reminder about what people want to get out of online content (or really, any written content).

Read Like You’re on a Diet — Okay, this one hit a little close to home, as Cody Musser describes the glut of reading material online, the temptation to try to catch it all, and how overwhelming it can be. He’s also frank about how writers’ motives can cloud how good or useful content is. And he emphasizes the need for creating, not just consuming. Worth considering. (NB: language)

23 Ways to Immediately Get more Traffic to Your Blog — Okay, this post is SEO’d to the max. Unsurprising, since it’s Jeff Goins, who’s a pro at platforming. BUT it’s also got some good and useful ideas for boosting the number of eyes that land on your writing, so if you’re into such things, this is a good one to read.

Reading to Learn: Why You Shouldn’t Read Beginning-to-End and What You Should Do Instead — Michael Motta discusses what looks like a very effective method for reading non-fiction (especially textbooks) with an eye to better retention and comprehension. If you’re in school, this may especially be worth a look.

BONUS:

Jesus Took Away My Freedom of Speech… — Couldn’t wait until next time to include this one. Billy Schiel reminds us in this great article about the implications of being servants of Jesus Christ, including how it affects the way we speak (or blog or tweet). Don’t miss this one.

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There you go: the first “Medium” edition of the #FridayFive. If you are already on Medium and are so inclined, you can follow me there. No, I don’t have much content up at this point, but I will be rectifying that in the next few weeks–both with cross-posts from this blog and some Medium-exclusive content as well. Looking forward to that!

Have a great weekend, do something fun, be with the Lord’s people on the Lord’s Day if you’re a believer, and I’ll be back next week (hopefully).

#300aDay: The waiting is the hardest part.

That’s another thing about taking on a 30-day writing challenge: usually, there’s not room built in for grace, if you miss a day here or there. The most important thing is that you don’t break the all-important “chain,” and if you do, you’re a failure. But you know what? If while seeking to engage in a new habit or challenge you are successful 25 out of 30 times, that’s not a failure. What a crazy thought. It’s 25 more days of writing or practicing music or exercise or whatever else than you would have done otherwise. Madness.

So yeah, the idea of taking on a 30-day writing challenge is fraught with perils. I’m still unsure if doing so would be wise at the moment. More consideration is needed.

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My wife is more than 41 weeks pregnant. For you kids keeping score at home, that’s over a week “past due.” What that means practically is that we are in a kind of holding pattern. In the last 2 weeks of work, I’ve been trying to clear my inbox and close most of the “open loops” on my projects and responsibilities. At home, my wife has done the usual nesting-type preparations, and the nursery is ready to go. Super cute–white, grey, and pale-yellow with little baby stuffed animals.

We thought our little girl would come a bit early, so we were getting ready around the beginning of last week. Then the due date approached and we thought, okay, she’s “due” around Thursday. Then the due date passed and we thought, okay, fine, it must be during the weekend. Now at “Due Date Plus Eight” (the worst reality show ever), we’re tapping fingers and watching the clock. Neither the kiddo nor my wife’s body are giving indications that this party’s ready to start. Meanwhile, the clock is ticking, and we’re creeping toward the point when intervention is required.

This past week (really, the past month, but especially the past week), we have been struggling with anxiety about the birth process, the health of mother and baby, and what comes next. And as the days drag on, that anxiety threatens to grow. I have taken to repeating the following phrase, as a comfort to my wife and reminder to myself: “God’s will, God’s way, God’s time. Because He is good.”

When the waiting is the hardest part, the best thing we can do is trust the One who sees the end from the beginning, and hang on for the ride.

#300aDay: The most important part of comedy.

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Timing.

That’s another reason why 300 words a day is a crazy task to undertake: who knows what may come up that needs attending to? Lots of things happen unexpectedly that can throw off your mojo. Readers expect consistency, and if you post at all times of the day or night, you start to alienate your audience. That’s what I’ve been told, anyway.

Subject change: Today, we had a minor vehicle issue come up–well, it turned out to be minor, anyway. Our 12-year-old minivan was having trouble shifting gears, and if you’ve ever had to deal with the cost of transmission repair, you can imagine how nerve-racking this was at first. Thankfully, the issue seems to have been resolved with some basic maintenance that I had been putting off. I find that to be a tendency of mine: putting off the daily maintenance of things until they become a crisis. I wonder if there’s a lesson in there somewhere.

When the van began falling out of gear repeatedly, I was on my way to work, with my wife in the passenger seat. (#SharedVehicleLife) After I took her back home and got ready to go to the auto repair shop, my wife grabbed my hands and said, “Let’s pray about this.” This is one of the things I am so grateful for, regarding my wife: she’s a woman of faith and a woman of prayer. I confess that, in times of crisis, my attitude is more pragmatic, more focused on what’s right in front of me. It occurs to me later to pray about things. My wife, on the other hand, is faithful to stop me and remind me that, oh yeah, God is sovereign over all things. Maybe we should pray for wisdom and provision.

My hope is that, as I grow in spiritual maturity, I’ll be quicker to say “Let’s pray” than to say, “I’ll figure something out.” Thankfully, God has given me a wise and faithful wife to help me in that process.