Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Freelance Life: Month Three

If I feels like this blog is becoming all freelance, all the time, I apologize. I promise to write about other things soon, but creating a new career for myself has been taking up a lot of my time and energy. Things seem to finally be settling into a comfortable routine, so hopefully I'll be able to write about something else soon. In the meantime, month three is in the books. Here's how it went. 

July was a slow month, which caused a few fits of panic and shook my confidence more than I'd like to admit. (Spoiler alert: August has already been much better!) I soldiered on and tried to use my free time wisely. I sent out more pitches, worked on novel revisions and my query letter, and tried to do the best job possible at the start up so they'll keep me around. Nathan and I were also dealing with the bulk of our move during late July/early August, so I'm actually lucky that I didn't have as much work to do. I've read that freelance writing, like most industries, is slower in the summer and tried not to worry too much. 

Everyone at the start up put in extra hours last month as we prepare for the release of the app (!!!). My ghost writing gig picked up again at the very end of the month, which was nice. And even though the xoJane article paid the least, it got the most attention from friends and family. Turns out everyone likes a good love story! Even though July was light, it did offer a lot of variety and flexibility, which are the best perks of freelancing. 

Best Articles Written in July & Published Under My Name: 

Income in July: 
Tech Start Up: 1160
Ghost Writing Gig: 220
Online Women's Magazine: 150
xoJane: 50

Total: 1580 
(I didn't do a good job of saving money in July, due to making less + moving. Most of this was spent as soon as I received it.) 

Goals for August: 
Stay on top of my assignments. Create a schedule and stick to it. Finish revising my novel and send it out to agents. Get excited about the semester and the class I'm teaching. SAVE MONEY OR ELSE. 

For more, check out previous installments of The Freelance Life: 

Thursday, August 14, 2014

This is 32

I turned 32 this past Saturday. I love my birthday and I truly enjoy getting older - so far, my 30s have been my most interesting and fulfilling decade yet. I sincerely hope that trend continues.

And speaking of trends, I finally got around to writing my yearly time capsule to commemorate this occasion. Here's what 32 looks like, right now, as I live it. 

Thirty-two is standing at the precipice of a new phase, while saying goodbye to the last one. 

Thirty-two is putting down roots in Wilmington, renting a new house, and making local friends who don't necessarily know or care what an MFA is. 

Thirty-two is figuring out how to make a life that revolves around writing, even when it isn't easy or convenient or rewarded in any tangible way. Thirty-two is still working on the same book that I was writing at thirty-one, which is sort of crazy to think about. Thirty-two is making final edits and polishing a query letter, wondering if an agent will take me on and help me get published. 

Thirty-two is taking risks with my career, striking out along the path of self-employment, hoping it leads to self-fulfillment. Thirty-two is trusting that my income will increase as I get better at this whole writing-for-hire thing. Thirty-two is referring to my work as a "freelance empire" because above all else, thirty-two is optimistic. 

Thirty-two is debt, soul-crushing, seemingly insurmountable, regularly depressing debt. But it's also paying bills on time and the world's tiniest savings account, and that almost feels like a triumph. 

Thirty-two is blogging less, even though I still love it. Thirty-two is having less time to say what I want, or maybe just less to say. Maybe so much has been said already, and I'm content with waiting until I have something new to add. 

Thirty-two is supporting my husband as he starts a new career as a paramedic, learning to be selfless and give space when it's needed, to listen and console, to understand that sickness and death are a part of life, even though I haven't yet accepted it. 

Thirty-two is two dogs and seven chickens, best friends and broken hearts, good intentions and canceled plans. Thirty-two is feeling smaller and bigger at the same time, staying focused on my goals , my family, my friends. Thirty-two is a whole summer lost to transitions. Thirty-two is a fried egg every single day.

Thirty-two is looking forward more often than looking back. Thirty-two is watching as things begin to fall into place. Thirty-two is here, and it's going to be great. 

(PS - A similar snapshot of life at 31.) 

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Published at xoJane!

Friends! I'm popping in to let you know that I have a short and sappy essay up at xoJane today. In true xoJane fashion, it's called "I Dated My Husband for 10 Years Before I Was Ready to Marry Him." In case you can't tell from the title, it's about love, marriage, and patience. It also features this photo, which was taken by our friend Terry shortly after we started dating, when we were barely 21 years old and I still had dreadlocks. Oh, youth.

N and me, ten years ago.

And in case you like background on my published pieces: this one was part of an experiment in which I am pitching ideas to magazines and websites that actually pay. While the process is a bit time consuming and can be very hit-or-miss (you have to actually read the magazine or website so you know their style, and there's no guarantee they'll take your idea) it's essential to building a proper Freelance Empire. Luckily, the worst someone can say is no thanks, which, as a writer, I'm quite used to. The best that can happen is they say yes, and you get to see your words in print and watch your bank account grow a tiny bit! 

As always, thanks for reading my words and for being supportive of my work. I appreciate it more than you could ever know. <3

Sunday, August 03, 2014

The Lost Summer

Summer has always been my favorite season. I love the heat, the sun, the beach. I love backyard cookouts and porch drinking. I love yard games and late sunsets and fresh pesto and strawberry picking. I love my birthday in early August (let the countdown begin!). I feel more alive in the summer than I do during any other time, and I look forward to it all year. 

Which is why this particular summer has been a tiny tragedy. I've spent most of it indoors, at a desk, or stressing about our move. I know what you're thinking: most people spend the summer indoors. It's called work and the majority of people must go to it. And I get that, I do. But I've spent the last 14 years, give or take, in academia. Even when I had to go to work, the pace was slower, the vibe more relaxed. I measure my life in semesters, and it's a method that has always just sort of worked.

Until now.

The problem is that I graduated in May and hit the ground running. I was desperate to build my freelance empire so I didn't take any time off or allow myself even a moment of rest. I live on the coast of North Carolina, but I haven't been to the beach in over a month. TRAGEDY, I TELL YOU.

I'm writing this post not to complain, but to make a public promise to myself. This summer will be salvaged. There are three weeks until the semester starts (and I'm teaching one class, so I can still measure my life in semesters at least a little bit) and thanks to our tropical climate, summer actually stretches to October in these parts. There are plenty of beach trips in my future, plenty of backyard bashes to have - especially now that we're semi-settled in our new house and the backyard is awesome. Yesterday was Saturday, and even though it was thunderstorming and we're still dealing with lingering stress from the worst move ever, we randomly stopped by a friend's house and drank afternoon beers. While it wasn't the beach, it was relaxing, spontaneous, and very much needed, and it renewed my resolve to save this summer before it's too late.

Summer Goals for August 
Host a birthday/housewarming party
Kayak to Masonboro Island
Go to the beach at least once a week
Go the Riverfront Farmer's Market
Check out Airlie Gardens Summer Concert Series
Get the garden ready for fall plants
Explore running routes in our new neighborhood

Not a bad list, and not at all hard to accomplish. The trick will be actually getting up from my desk and leaving my laptop behind. One thing at a time... 

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Booze News from Me to You

Well, the move from hell is almost over. Nearly everything is at our new home and the old place is spotless (for the first time ever, I'm pretty sure). I'll write more about this moving experience later, because it was AN EXPERIENCE, but for now I wanted to share the project that's been taking up all my time and keeping me away from my blog. 

I'm mentioned that startup I'm writing for a few times. It's called Next Glass, and it's an app that's pretty much going to change the way we drink wine and beer. Next Glass is developing a recommendation system based completely on science, which bills itself as "the Pandora of beer and wine." We have actual chemists on staff, so you know it's legit. The app doesn't launch until the fall but in the meantime, the marketing team is working on generating some buzz. That's where I come in. 

I'm one of two writers for Next Glass News, which is sort of a Buzzfeed-style blog for booze. The project itself has gone through a million transformations and daily changes in direction, but our not-so-humble goal remains the same: write posts that go viral. Obviously this is no easy feat, and since starting in May I have studied more headlines and read more listicles than in my whole life combined. (I'd rather not think about what effect this might be having on my actual writing.) We just started promoting the blog a few weeks ago - if you follow me on Twitter or we're friends on Facebook, you've probably noticed me sharing some posts. At any rate, if you're interested in alcohol, you should check out the blog. Below are some of my favorite posts from the last few weeks, collected in a handy listicle for your browsing pleasure. 

7 Posts That Will Change Your Life and Everything You Ever Thought About Alcohol and Maybe Even Your Future Especially If You Can Time Travel and If You Can't Oh Well (that Buzzfeed boot camp is really paying off!) 

Thanks for checking out my posts! And in case you were worried that I've devoted my life completely to writing for the Internet, I do have an actual short story coming out this summer, in an actual literary journal, so stay tuned for that. In the meantime, I need to get back to work!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Almost There

As it turns out, I don't really like moving.

Yes, I like having a brand new space to play with - especially when that new space is a house that is easily a million times nicer and more comfortable than our old place. But good lord this whole moving thing is taking forever. Part of the reason is because we're doing it as cheaply as possible, and thus stretching it out. We borrowed a friend's motorcycle trailer and have been moving small loads of furniture and boxes every day since last week. Nathan insists this method is better, as it allows us to put things away as we bring them over and keeps boxes from piling up at the new place. I mostly agree, except for when I just want the whole process to be over. As of today, we're close. We have a few things from the attic to bring over, as well Nathan's shed, our outside stuff, and the chicken coop. Wish us luck. 

In the meantime, I really do love the new place. We've had a few challenges as far as where to put things and how to best use the smaller space, but overall it's been fun, like a puzzle. On the other hand, the experience of being confronted with all our STUFF is definitely sobering. Even though we've been downsizing and minimizing for what seems like forever, I still find my Goodwill pile growing bigger each time we make another trip. Which is good, I guess, expect where does it all come from? I would love to be one of those people who can fit everything they own into their car, and I'm getting closer, but there's still a long way to go. 

This post feels a little all over the place, probably because my life is literally all over the place right now. I just wanted to pop in, say hello, and share my existential angst in my favorite space for sharing existential angst. I seem to have accomplished that, so I guess I should get back to work. 

Thanks for listening. More soon. 

Friday, July 18, 2014

The Freelance Life: Month Two

I can't believe it's already time for the next monthly update! Despite the lack of posts on The New Me (or maybe because of it...) freelancing is still going relatively well, though that first flush of good luck I had seems to have waned just slightly. This hasn't affected my optimism, though. Just my wallet. 

Life's a Pitch

In my first month of freelancing, I was lucky enough to score two regular gigs, which have kept me afloat during my transition from student to (somewhat) functioning member of society. Then my ghost-writing gig went on hiatus for a month. While losing half my income for 30 days wasn't exactly ideal, it did give me time to focus on finding supplemental work. I used the extra hours to read a million articles about how to write a pitch, researched magazines that paid contributors, and started sending out article ideas. 

The nice thing about a pitch is that, while you have to come up with ideas, you don't have to write them until the pitch is accepted. And, if the magazine or website you pitched to rejects your idea, you can send it somewhere else. Right now, I'm waiting to hear about three pitches. One of my ideas was accepted (huzzah!) and I will be sure to post the link when it's out. My fingers are crossed for the others. My goal was to send out one pitch a week, and I've mostly stuck to that. (I'll get back on schedule once this move is over - it's hard to focus when your life is spread between two houses.) While I don't expect every pitch I submit to get accepted, the more I have out there, the better my odds will be. 

Letters of Introduction 

Another method I just started using to find new work is sending letters of introduction. This is basically the email equivalent of cold calling a business, and it's fairly terrifying. Again, I googled the hell out of what an LOI is and what it should include. (This article and this article were both helpful in learning the ins and outs.) Once I had a decent LOI, I researched local businesses for which I felt I could reasonably write, edited the letter so it specifically addressed that business and what I could offer them, and sent it out. 

I started with a local winery, a Wilmington-based coffee shop chain, and a new yoga studio (hitting my ares of expertise, obviously). The winery wasn't in the market for writers, but the coffee shop and the yoga studio both wrote back and asked for more information about my services and rates. I sent them info (I'll write more about that process later, because setting rates is really strange and confusing and way harder than hustling. How do you know what you're worth? How can you keep from underselling your services? Why am I suddenly questioning my self-worth as a human being?) Now I'm playing the waiting game, but I'm pretty excited that I've already gotten to second base with two businesses. 

Income in June  

It seems a bit disingenuous to write a series about how I'm making a living as a freelance writer without being open about my actual income. So, for the sake of transparency, here's a breakdown of what I made in the month of June, with actual numbers. 

Tech startup: $1000
Ghost writing gig: $400
Online women's magazine: $300

Total gross income: $1700
Minus 30% for taxes: $510
Minus 10% for savings: $170
Take home: $1020

Considering I made $1400 a month as a TA (after taxes) this... could be better. In my defense, this is only my second month trying to make a go of this line of work, and I already feel like I've learned so much in the last few weeks. Also, I've heard that summer is notoriously slow for freelancers (editors and publishers go on vacation, too) so I hope I'll find more work in the fall - especially since that's when my student loan payments kick in. Oy. 

(I think it's also important to note here that I am married to someone who has a job he loves, with a decent salary, through whom we both receive health insurance. I'm very grateful to Nathan for holding down the fort financially while I find my footing in this strange new career. Thanks, darling!)

Month Three Goals 

Keep sending out pitches, keep sending out LOIs, and break the $2000 mark. Wish me luck! 

Find more of The Freelance Life here: 
Month One

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Moving Day(s)

Surprise! Thanks to a sweet friend, a flexible landlady, and the wonder that is the universe, we've started moving in to our new place two weeks early. Cue frenzied packing, cleaning, and painting! Oh, and gratuitous before photos. Can't forget those. 

(Our new living room! There's a mini-wall [not the technical term] that sort of indicates a dining room-esque area, which is where we'll put our kitchen table. The fireplace doesn't work, but it sure looks pretty. And the red accent wall isn't really our style, which is why we're painting this room before we start moving in furniture.) 

Our dear friend Jen has lived in this house for the last three years, and we've always thought it was adorable. When she got a job in Seattle after graduation, we jumped at the chance to move in right behind her. She ended up signing a lease earlier than she planned and left mid-July instead of the end of the month, handing us the keys before she fled West. Then our new landlady said we might as well start moving in now, as there was no reason to wait. It was an offer she did not have to make twice. 

(New kitchen! Small, galley style space. Plenty of cabinets and a dishwasher! I'm not crazy about having the washer and dryer next to the refrigerator, but the dryer does provide some extra counter space, so I'm not complaining.) 

Even though we have the go-ahead to move in immediately, we still have to do some things - like paint and, I don't know, PACK. While we don't have a ton of stuff (we've done a good job of culling our possessions for the most part - minimalism FTW) there are a few items that will be a headache to move across town. Such as the garden beds and the chicken coop. I'm not looking forward to that project. 

(Teeny tiny bathroom! The yellow room will be my office, and the blue room will be Nathan's laboratory and the guest room. We're planning to get a futon, as our guest bed would pretty much fill the space. I'm really excited to have an office with a door!) 

Monday night, we sat in the empty house with the dogs and drank a bottle of wine while daydreaming about where we would put things. Yesterday, we got our paint choice approved, purchased two gallons, and got to work. Even though taping took a million hours, we managed to get the first coat of paint on. I was worried about that red wall, but even with just one coat it looked really good. We're going to do a second, but that will have to wait until tomorrow. (We chose Valspar Green Tea Leaves, which I described as "mossy green" and Nathan said, "Mossy?! Are you crazy? It looks way more like lichen." Whatever.)  

(Master bedroom. Or, as they say on HGTV, MASTER SUITE. It is gray. It is rectangular. It will be a good place to sleep. Is it just me, or are bedrooms the least interesting room of the house?) 

Goals for the week: pack, pack, pack. Get another coat of paint on the walls. Start moving furniture over. My dearest hope is that we'll be completely moved in by Saturday night, but between our work schedules and that damn chicken coop, I may be pushing it. Wish us luck!

Friday, July 11, 2014

Friday High Five

Every other now and then on Friday, I post a short list of five things currently making me smile. This is the latest installment. For past High Fives, click here.

1. Round Up of Damn Good Writing 
Thanks to my MFA, I know a lot of really wonderful writers. I've been bookmarking these pieces and I'm finally sharing them with y'all, so grab a cup of coffee, settle in, and prepare to have your heart broken and your world changed.

"Cold Planet," by Joe Worthen (I first heard this story at an MFA reading, and it's just as sad and weird and beautiful as I remember) 
"My Mother, My Writing Student," by Robert Anthony Siegel (I studied with this professor more than any other while at UNCW - he's a brilliant teacher, as this NYT piece shows!) 
"Our Love In Space," by Kathleen Jones (THIS POEM THIS POEM THIS POEM) 
"The Limits Our Culture Puts On Love," an interview with Sally J. Johnson (Wise words from a dear friend - this should be required reading for all humans) 
"Waiting for Supermoon," by Eric Tran (Voted Most Likely to Break Your Heart) 
This Interview with Ben Hoffman (He's winning everything lately, and I couldn't be happier for him. One of my favorite writers to come out of the program, and a great person, too!) 

2. Draft #7: Done.
Earlier this week I finished my seventh and final (for now) draft of my novel. WHEW. I gave a copy to Erica for a read through, just to make sure I didn't do anything obviously stupid, and then I'm going to start querying agents in a few weeks. I'm working on my letter right now! It's very exciting and I'm feeling good, though I'm sure this optimism will ebb and flow. Luckily I've got #binders full of encouragement from friends, family, and fellow writers. ;) Having a community - especially at this stage - is so important, and I'm grateful for the one I've got. 

3. Orange is the New Black 
Nathan and I watch this show with Erica, but she was in France for five weeks, starting right around when season two aired. And so we waited... and waited... and waited... and finally spent the last week and a half binge watching. And it was so good! I'm glad that this season spent more time with the other inmates and less time with Piper. Also, Piper Kerman is coming to UNCW this March. I'm trying to decide if I should read the book before then, but it's a tough call. This might be the first time in my life that I don't want the book to spoil the television show! 

4. New Kitchen Chairs 
A year ago, we got this giant kitchen table for a steal from an MFA grad who was moving to Colorado. I love it because both sides fold down, so it can also be a tiny table. This is especially great since our new place (THREE WEEKS TO GO) doesn't have a dining room, so we'll be keeping the table tiny until we have dinner guests. The table came with wicker chairs that had been painted different colors which was cute, but not our style. I've been on the hunt for new chairs, but we had pretty specific desires. Something classy and sort of mid-century, if possible. Dark brown wood, to match the rest of our house. Foldable, since we'd only use two of them on a regular basis. And as inexpensive as possible, because we are eternally broke. When I came across these folding chairs from World Market, I knew we had a winner. We scored six of them for $11 each and they're perfect. 

5. Thunderstorms 
It's July in Wilmington, and that means we've been getting daily thunderstorms. They're brief and intense and loud, and once they leave it's soaking wet and just slightly cooler than before. Yesterday it rained all morning while I was writing, and then stormed at night while I was lying in bed, drifting off to sleep. Any day bookended by thunderstorms is a good one.

I hope you had a good week as well, and are looking forward to fun, relaxing, productive weekend. See you on the other side! 

Saturday, July 05, 2014

Life Lately: Travel, Summer, Sports

Hello! Sorry for disappearing like that. I had every intention of blogging on a schedule, but it remained just that - an intention. So here's a quick catch up on what's new in my world. 

Spencer, North Carolina 

Last summer one of my best friends from high school and her boyfriend moved to the tiny yet charming town of Spencer, NC. Even though they were only four hours from Wilmington, we didn't get a chance to visit them until last week. It was worth the wait - we visited the North Carolina Transportation Museum, split a bottle of wine at a vineyard, toured their new house, and watched the dogs play in the backyard - including their new puppy, Speck, a brindle pit bull who was all legs and stole my heart. A short and sweet trip, and now that we've done it once, we'll probably do it again soon. Now if only the rest of my loved ones would move to North Carolina. 

Summer Loving

There are two reasons I haven't been blogging much lately. The first is the fact that it's summer, and it's hard to do anything productive when it's 96 degrees out and the beach is just a few miles away. I realized we weren't taking advantage of our beach town status, so last Tuesday I finished up my work early, then took a mid-day break to sit on the sand and swim in the waves. It was glorious, and very much needed. And last night, even though I've been sick this week with a stupid summer cold, we walked downtown and climbed a parking garage for a great view of fireworks over the Cape Fear River. I also bought my first watermelon of the season last week and have been living on it for days now. It finally feels like summer. 

Watching Sports! 

I'm not a huge sports fan, but I recently had three great sports-watching experiences. The first is that I've been going to the weekly volleyball games that Nathan plays to cheer my friends on, and I am actually watching the game (instead of simply drinking the beer). The second is that K, D, and I caught a local roller derby bout at the last minute. The Cape Fear Roller Girls are awesome, and for a solid three days I was seriously considered going to try outs. And the last is the World Cup. I watched the USA vs. Belgium game at a local bar that was packed to capacity, and the energy of the crowd + the beauty of the USA team was amazing. Also: TIM HOWARD CAN SAVE ME ANYTIME. 

Coming Soon

Things I want to write about very soon: book reviews for Flight Behavior, Ready Player One, and An Invisible Sign of My Own. A very sad beekeeping update. The Freelance Life: Month Two. Adventures in Debt Part 3928473032. And whatever other things I feel moved to ramble about on a more regular basis. I always miss this space when I neglect it for too long. It's good to be back.