March 31st, 2007

Time Management and the Workings of the Universe

Once upon a time, when I was still a new-ish freelancer struggling to break into markets that paid more than 40 bucks a story, living in my parents’ house, I got a big break: one of my editors moved up north.


I had started writing for her for free, just to break into a new publication and make some more contacts. We got along well enough that, when she landed other publication jobs (she handled everything from layout to ad sales), she included me as part of the package, and would price the project so that she could afford to pay me to write for it.


When she moved, her clients didn’t know where else to turn. I nabbed several of her gigs by default.


For the first time (ever), I was making actual money. I had a steady paycheck, even, which—what with mall jobs, substitute teaching, and freelancing—was a pleasure I had never before enjoyed. And I was learning a lot, all the time: the finer points of layout, how to fool around with Photoshop, that I can’t sell ads to save my life, that clients—a combination of hothouse flower and feral cat—can be difficult to manage.


And it was kind of fun. I enjoy layout. I’m not good at it—I’m way too much of a word person to properly balance text and image on the page, and my publications always look like I dipped my fingers in ink and flicked it at the paper. But noodling around with alignment and getting rid of red-eye was a pleasant enough way to pass a few hours. Or more than a few. In fact, time sped by while I was doing layout, leaving me with dual satisfactions: not only had I spend a good chunk of time working, but so much time had passed that there was none left for doing things I didn’t want to do (like write query letters).


And then.


One small corporate publication just sort of drifted into a coma when the head of the company couldn’t afford to publish it anymore; the executive director of a local organization decided to switch over so someone who maybe could sell an ad or two over the course of a year (the new editor lasted just a year. I feel compelled to point that out, because I may forgive, but I never, ever forget. And actually, in this case, I haven’t forgiven either. [I'll have to save the evil of that position and its fallout for another blog entry.] Funny how you can not want something—and yet manage to be incredibly resentful when it’s taken away from you. Or am I the only one who can successfully be so obnoxious?).


And that was a good thing for my freelance career. I Freaked Out. I sent out more queries than ever before. And thus I landed more assignments than ever before—in bigger and better markets than ever before. And because I am the kind of person who likes to try to find logic in the workings of the universe, I decided that this was a lesson for me: I had had a year of decent paying non-freelance work that wasn’t as much fun as freelancing; and now that I had been shoved back into freelancing full time, I could be wildly enthusiastic and productive because it was clear to me that that was what I wanted to do.


Flash forward a few years. A few years of freelancing, with pretty wildly varying income levels and also fluctuating enthusiasm levels. Now it was clear to me that I had to have reliable income. And I also had to make a change. So I started looking for a writing job. (Insert hysterical laughter here.) They’re not so easy to find, you know?


Then I mentioned to one of my freelance clients that I was looking for more consistent work. Coincidentally, the client was also looking for an editor for an online newsletter. The position has grown and evolved, and it’s ideal: I work at home more than half the time, so I have the fun of office insanity, but the security of knowing that all alone at my home computer I can accomplish whatever I need to. Freelancing is also going well, and the fiction—more of a focus now than ever before—is motoring along too.


It all seemed kinda ideal. Which is probably why things had to change. (Like that saying: If you want to make God laugh, just make plans.)


At another publication, my editor left—recommending me highly as his replacement. I’ve been filling in the last couple of months, and it’s been fairly smooth.  


I wasn’t sure how the client would decide—but then this week I was offered the position permanently. And of course I took it. (I’m a freelancer. My genetic code mandates that I cannot turn down work.)


Which leaves me to wonder, as I have wondered countless times before: what the heck am I doing? I’m lucky enough to be able to earn a living as a writer (and okay, an editor—close enough); but nowadays much of the work I do isn’t the work I most want to do—fiction and freelancing. It’s other stuff, bread-and-butter stuff. It’s a more ideal situation than many other freelancers and fiction writers, whose day jobs are lawyering or secretarying or teaching—but we all face the same challenge: arranging our lives so that the work we most want to do isn’t shoved into the back corner, never to emerge—continuing to move one step at a time down the road to whatever our writing goal is.


Here’s to the journey.

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Pagination! Or: Just (Let Elisabeth) Do It

At the mighty National Fibromyalgia Association, we have a pagination process that generally happens a little deeper in the magazine process than it ought to (it’s a very busy office!).


The pagination process for vol. 14 was no different in this sense, although we had made a valiant effort to paginate months ago. (It’s a very busy office!)


A couple of weeks ago, the executive director, the entire art department, the ad rep, the marketing director, and I all sat down to paginate. Only I’d forgotten the executive director and I hadn’t had our preliminary meeting first, where we shuffle the stories around, come up with new ideas, brainstorm writers, and so on. So the pagination meeting turned into that preliminary meeting, and probably most everyone but the ED and I were utterly bored.


Then! There was finishing up the magazine! There were newsletter issues! There was out-of-town travel! There were National Fibromyalgia Awareness Day (May 12! Save the date!) plans to make! (I told you it was a busy office.)


So at last, on Thursday, we paginated. It was very team-y, which—as a freelancer—is a comfortable feeling to which I am unaccustomed.


We discussed the story topics. We discussed word lengths. We discussed potential art for the stories. It was going swimmingly. And then the executive director had to go to a meeting, and we still hadn’t put the cards on the board. (I love low-tech processes. I understand them! Like this one: each page of the magazine gets an index card, labeled with a story title or the word “Ad.” Those cards get taped to a styrofoam board the size of a door. As the art department finishes layout of each page, they tape up tiny printouts on the board.)

The Board

Not only had we not put the cards up on the board, the ED hadn’t had time to decide which stories should go in the first third, which in the second, and which in the last third.


And then she said those magic words.


“Just let Elisabeth do it.”


Certain phrases you know you’re waiting to hear: “Aren’t those winning numbers on your lottery ticket?” “Let’s elope to Trinidad.” “You would be perfect to star in this Bollywood film.”


And now, a new addition to the list: “Just let Elisabeth do it.”


I asked for input, but was babbling way too much to hear what any of the others said. So I shuffled cards around for first, second, and third thirds of the magazine. The art guys taped them up. They did not yell at me when I discovered I had not handed them all the cards for a couple of the stories, and they had to untape and retape. 


Even I could see that I was Way Too Excited about this. And yes, my enthusiasm was thoroughly mocked. But it just doesn’t matter. Pagination for vol. 14 is done, and I have a taste for the process now. I will probably go around town trying to paginate other things: menus, price lists, the train schedule.


Sometimes life is just good. (Especially when well paginated.)

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