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My Top Five Freelance (and Life) Lessons from 2018

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2018 was a whirlwind of a year for me. I wrapped up my development work on the Legend of the Five Rings Roleplaying Game Core Rulebook before leaving my full-time position at Fantasy Flight Games to work at a textbook publisher. I was glad to continue to freelance for FFG, editing all of the L5R web fictions that were published last year plus Across the Burning Sands, writing the “Wedding at Kyotei Castle” adventure that was run at GenCon, and more. I attended AcadeCon as a special guest and put a face to a name for a ton of awesome podcasters I know and catch up with dear friends. I read seventeen books (including audiobooks). I put in over 275 project hours of creative work, including four articles at Geek & Sundry. I started using dictation software to write. I helped my husband do a near-complete remodel of our first-floor bathroom, avoided gaining weight since 2017, and purchased my first new laptop in seven years. You might begin to see why I only wrote seven articles for TripleCrit!

Although I’m not quite ready to tackle what my goals are for 2019, I’ve had a chance to review what went well this past year, what didn’t, and what I can still work on. The following are the five lessons I’ve had to learn—sometimes the hard way—about freelancing (and also life)!

Track Your Time

I’m really thankful to Melissa Sisk and Andy Christensen for introducing me to Toggl, a free time-tracking cloud app that can be accessed from your web browser or mobile device. I use it to track how much time I spend on a given project and each portion of that project, such as outlining or drafting or finding new clients. It’s been super useful to be able to look back and see how much time different assignments actually take me, and then be to able to forecast approximately how much time I’ll need. It’s also helped me gauge “how much is too much” in terms of work, freelance, social, and relationship commitments (not to mention house chores). The hope is for Toggl to help me avoid burnout and overcommitting myself, and also help me chart a course to financial stability if I ever choose to work for myself.

Schedule the Things that Are Important

The other (and potentially more vital) half of tracking your time is carving out the time to work on those projects. Knowing that something takes ten hours to complete won’t help if you don’t have ten hours to spare that day/week/month. I’ve had a lot more success putting my freelance work on the calendar and sticking to that schedule than I have “just winging it” and working when the mood strikes me (spoilers: it isn’t often enough). It took me way too long to realize that freelance work isn’t the only thing important enough to need to be scheduled in around everything else. Relationships, too, need time, and when both partners are working and have their own hobbies and social life to enjoy, scheduling dates or game time can be helpful to both manage expectations and also ensure you get to spend quality time together.

Ask for Help or Ask Questions

When I was preparing for the interview for my new job, one of the questions that frequently appeared on lists of questions they ask is, “what is your greatest weakness?” I couldn’t tell them it was being afraid to ask for help or ask questions for fear of looking incompetent or worse, stupid—and so I would risk being incompetent and stupid by forging ahead anyway and making mistakes that could have been prevented. My reluctance to admit to that flaw was yet another indicator of my fear of looking less-than-perfect. Not being willing to show weakness or imperfection is still something I struggle with, but I’ve begun to make myself more vulnerable at work by raising my hand when I don’t know something or how to do something. I reached out to a tax accountant when I still couldn’t wrap my head around all the advice I’d read online to wrangle my freelance income, expenses, and taxes. I’ve gotten better about asking for an extension on an assignment or what my editor thinks would be a better solution to a problem, even if I still worry that I look dumb for doing so.

Say No Sometimes

One of the best pieces of advice I heard this year was (if I recall correctly) from the Write Now podcast episode with Sarah Rhea Werner and Joanna Penn, in which Penn explains that if something isn’t a “hell yeah” for her, she is wary of agreeing to do it on top of everything else because it could turn into a dreaded obligation. Taking on too many things definitely contributes to our overall sense of “busyness,” and this year was the first time I started really being conscious of my true desires versus what I feel pressured into doing. I only have so much time, so I really only want to spend it doing the things I love. That might mean not appearing on every podcast that invites you on as a guest, covering every Kickstarter project that looks cool, or accepting every freelance job that comes your way. But it does free you up to do the things that are most meaningful to you.

Appreciate What You Have

I think it was after reading Braving the Wilderness by Brene Brown (or maybe rereading The Gifts of Imperfection) that I really started being mindful of the things that others do for me and all the things I have. I’ve never said “thank you” or “I really appreciated that” so much in my life as I did in 2018, and I’ve also been less depressed than ever. I think that creatives in particular are more likely to struggle with this, and whether you have personal ambitions or freelance goals (perhaps even New Year’s Resolutions), it can be easy to get stuck in the scarcity mindset of “never enough”:

  • “My blog/podcast/social media page doesn’t have enough followers yet.”
  • “The projects I’m working on aren’t high-profile or lucrative enough.”
  • “I need this computer/software/reference book in order to be creative.”

These concerns aren’t insignificant, but they tend to crowd out and overwhelm all the good that you have. I’ve found that it was especially easy to forget to slow down and enjoy the fruits of my freelance labor—you know, to actually play the games, read the books, and take the trips I earned through my efforts.

Happy New Year

So here’s to putting some of these freelance and life lessons into practice in 2019. What about you—what did you learn from 2018? What are you hoping to learn in 2019?

Image Credit: Canva

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