FREELANCE WRITING FROM HOME

By Megan Flaherty

My best friend suggested I treat myself to a lavish office holiday party this year. Even though I'm a one-woman business, I should still celebrate, she said.

I agreed, but decided to keep the bash small. For a change of scenery, the event will be held outside my office (which doubles as my dining room), but somewhere nearby (probably my living room). Employees (me) are encouraged to invite their significant others, and discouraged from talking shop at the event. Dress will be casual, but everyday attire (sweat pants) is frowned upon.

As a freelance writer working for and by myself, I get to plan my own office parties - one of many unanticipated responsibilities that are part of my new career. After three months on my own, I've found that I'm much more than a writer specializing in health care. I'm also a salesperson responsible for the dreaded tasks of self-promoting and convincing editors to assign stories to me; an accountant learning about tax write-offs and capital investments; and a human resources specialist charged with securing an individual health insurance policy and a retirement plan. (Thankfully, my beleaguered fiancé has taken over managing my business's information systems, as well boosting my morale when the going gets tough.)

Perhaps most scarily, I'm my own boss. That's what inspired me to test the waters as a freelancer in the first place after five years working full-time in corporate and publishing jobs. In my most recent position, as an assistant editor at a magazine for nurses, I realized I coveted the lifestyle of the freelance writers I assigned stories to and wanted to be on their side of the equation. So when I moved from San Francisco to Oakland and could no longer commute to the magazine, I figured it would be the perfect time to go it alone. So far, so good. I left my former employer on good terms, so now they give me a steady flow of work. In addition, I've been referred to repeat clients through freelancers I used to work with as an editor. I'm only making two-thirds the money I used to, a tough psychological adjustment. But it's enough to pay the bills, and every month gets better.

Most days there is no better feeling than being my own boss, and I wake up when most people have already begun their commutes with a smile on my face. After all, no one is accountable for my success but me! If I work hard enough, I think, I can get published in any magazine, even a glossy mainstream publication my friends and family would read. Other days I wake up panic- stricken. After all, no one is to blame for my failure but me! If I don't work hard enough, I will lose my three steady clients and end up penniless and humiliated. I won't even be able to afford a subscription to a magazine, and my husband-to-be will have to support both of us on his student loans.

These mood swings are a difficult adjustment for an otherwise steady, predictable person. But it's bound to come with the territory in the beginning, when freelancers realize that the best parts of their jobs have corresponding negatives.

For example, the joys of placing an article or seeing your clip in a new magazine are magnified when you work for yourself, but so are the terrors of misquoting someone or missing a deadline. You don't have to pretend to listen to a chatterbox cubicle-mate, but you don't have anyone to bounce ideas around with or give you input on a draft, either. You don't have to battle traffic five days a week, but it's harder to leave your work behind on weekends when you face it on your walk from the kitchen to the living room. You don't have a boss to please. But in order to succeed, you'll probably be tougher on yourself than any boss you've ever had.

The freedom to take a Friday off on the spur of the moment and the flexibility to pound away on the keyboard until 1 a.m. and sleep late the next day can't be beat. But taking advantage of your independence may not come easily. My freelancer friend Sarah and I decided to cancel a date to meet for lunch on a Wednesday recently, and considered rescheduling on a weekend instead. She e-mailed: "I'd like to do it on a weekday, to feel that tingle of freedom that is supposed to pay off for all this hard work and financial uncertainly."

That "tingle of freedom" is what motivated Sarah and me to launch our freelance careers. Now that we have it, we should appreciate it, even celebrate it - no matter what type of holiday party we throw.

Megan has a lot more clients and business now than she did a year ago.



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