I looked at the calendar yesterday and realized it's been just over six months since I left the security of full-time employment for the uncertainty of freelancing. And, let's be honest, for the ability to work on my book and pursue my MFA with a degree of focus that wouldn't otherwise be possible.
As I've told a couple of friends recently, I am pushing as hard as I can to get the rough draft of the manuscript done and through a first revision before graduation in May 2017 because that's about how long I can justify being somewhat broke-ish, with freelance work sustaining me, but not necessarily making forward progress. Once I have diploma in hand (and, with luck, book contract in hand, too), the priority will have to shift back to earning money to pay off my grad school loans and fund my future. That's not quite the pattern most new freelancers have in mind!
I'm lucky to be learning a lot about myself through this process, and about the ways in which I want to do things differently as time goes on:
- I had become an adrenaline junky in the deadline-driven marketing office environment of my last many years, so I still function most efficiently when I have multiple streams of work sharing space in my head and on my to-do list. That's a challenge when projects drop off and I'm left with what seems like an excess of "free" time that actually needs to be treated as "reallocated" time. The next few months show some promising opportunities to reboot, so that those multiple streams exist and I can work with the patterns in them.
- My relationship to the world around me as an only child and hardcore introvert means that I am prone to spending way, way too much time alone without noticing it until I am stir-crazy (or just crazy). Sitting and working at a local coffee shop requires spending money I'd rather keep. I haven't found the right kind of writers' group for me, yet. And committing to a scheduled "thing" seems like one too many "have-tos" right now, triggering my fear of ties that bind. (Interesting side note: I have no problem with loyalty to people. However, I am commitment-phobic about desktop computers, long-term leases, and membership in organizations that require ongoing participation.) Over the summer, I'm looking for a routine something involving other humans, though, in the hope of keeping it up next fall.
- Inertia is my enemy, and the force is strong with that one. (Shout out to my physics geeks.) Really, the power to do anything I want is in my own hands, yet I still sometimes operate as if it will be taken back at any moment. If I want to be someone who gets up early, gets work and writing done, has time in the day for healthful pursuits, and goes to bed at a reasonable hour, there's nothing stopping me. Yet I'm still fighting the force of habit to create the day-to-day routine that I know will ultimately make me happiest.
- I have yet to find my niche, and so far, I'm okay with that. Self-determination is a great and wonderful and terrifying thing. The abundance of choices is paralyzing. Should I write more chapters? Should I set up more interviews? What about registering for conferences? About the topic or about craft? Should I write literary pieces for submission? Should I connect with editors who might assign bylined pieces? What pubs do I want to write for? What businesses need writers? What's the right mix of writing and strategy, or writing and editing? Can I make money from landscape photography? Can my next book be about modern-day cowboys? What do I want to be when I grow up? Where do I want to live? Can I afford to live there? How do I meet interesting people? What exercise plan will work best? Am I eating properly? What should I have done already that I can still do?
- Getting me back into an office job on a full-time basis would take something really special. For all that I'm finding my way in the dark right now, and will be for a while, I think, the idea of being under fluorescent lights again, all day, five days a week, does not appeal at all. Sure, there's a monetary trade-off, at least right now. But as someone who has always operated efficiently and delivered solid work, I really like having the freedom to go do something else when my task is finished, and I enjoy seeing my contributions and my work style appreciated in a way that isn't always possible as a full-timer.
Six months is a long time, and at the same time, not very long at all. I have plenty to learn, plenty to do, and plenty to change. My assessment right now, though? So far, so good.