Cornered Office

with Mir Kamin

I'm a freelance writer and mother of two working from home, which theoretically means I can set my own schedule so as to best accommodate my family. In reality, "flexible hours" often equals "working too much." Yes, I'm my own boss; no, that doesn't mean life is easy. It's hard to leave the office when you live there. But I love what I do and feel very lucky. And not just because I get paid to work in my pajamas.

To learn more about Mir, check out her profile on Work It, Mom! or visit her blog at http://www.wouldashoulda.com/

There’s no excuse for poor presentations

Categories: Like talking but with more typing, Now I'm free(lancing), Things you should be reading

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The standard joke is that writers do what they do because it allows them to work 1) alone and/or 2) silently, and no one should be surprised when writers are awkward or boring in person. There was certainly a time when one could fit that stereotype and still make a decent living, but nowadays it’s nearly impossible to be a career writer and not have to do a certain amount of public speaking as part and parcel of that existence. Write books? Go on tour to promote them. Blog for a living? Sit on some panels at conferences. Otherwise freelance in the realm of getting paid for your words? Rest assured, somewhere, at some point, you are going to be expected to speak publicly in support of the work you do.

Nothing will make people question your professionalism more than a terrible public speaking engagement. Listen, some people just get nervous and handle themselves poorly in public; it doesn’t mean they’re dumb or incompetent by default. But a good public showing showcases your ability to conduct yourself like a professional, while a poor one suggests you don’t do well under pressure.

The good news is that presentation skills can be learned. If you don’t yet handle yourself well in this arena, don’t panic! You can cultivate the skills you need.
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Finding my road routine

Categories: A mother's work is never done, My boss is an idiot

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Last summer my family didn’t manage to get away at all, so we were hoping to schedule some R&R this summer to make up for it. We’re not a grand-vacation type of family—neither by design nor by wealth, ha—so our approach has always been a brief jaunt here, a day at the museum there, a camping weekend over there, etc. We seem to still be off our routine, though, and it took us until now (mid-July) to schedule a camping trip, and then our go-to campground was booked, so we decided to try someplace new.

Yesterday we pulled up and started setting up camp. We have a travel trailer, so it’s hardly “roughing it” in the conventional sense, but we do have to do some setup when we get here. The kids have their jobs—one of them wrangles the dog, the other one cranks down the stabilizers on the trailer—and my husband does the water and electric hookups while I pop out the tent top over our bed and get things arranged inside. Despite the long break since we last did all of this, it all went pretty quickly and soon camp was set.
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Putting on a professional… face?

Categories: My boss is an idiot, Now I'm free(lancing)

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I used to go to conferences fairly regularly—one or two a year, at least—but as I noted in my recent post about BlogHer, this will be my first conference in around two years. It seems impossible that it’s been that long, and yet… here I am. No big deal, because it’s not as if the passage of time somehow renders me incapable of behaving in public, or anything. I just pull out the pretty shoes I haven’t had a chance to wear in a while, dust off my business cards, and go do my thing. Right?

Some of you may remember that a while back I started thinking about letting my hair go gray, and then about a month later, I went for it. I’ve embraced the gray, and I’ve been growing my hair back out ever since, and as I prep for conference-going, my attention has turned to my face.

And now it’s time to embark on the makeup angst. I totally forgot about this part, plus it’s different, now, than it used to be.
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Pros and cons of the home office

Categories: A mother's work is never done, My boss is an idiot, Now I'm free(lancing)

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The common wisdom that any decision can be assessed via a simple pro/con list has always appealed to me. For one thing, it involves writing, and heaven knows I’m always up for writing down things pertaining to my tender, delicate feeeeelings. For another, it just seems… tidy. Concrete. No matter the situation, being able to lay out the pros and cons in black and white can help just about anyone gain new perspective, I’ve found.

When people ask me how I like working from home, I’m effusive in my praise for the convenience of it. Truly, I worked in a variety of places for many, many years before turning to freelancing, and I do love having a home office and the freedoms that come along with it. But in thinking over all of the realities, lately, I realize that my standard disclaimer of “it’s not for everyone” is a kind of warning. If I lay it out logically, I’m not sure it makes sense.

Let’s take a look. Surely ye olde pro/con list will help me out, here. Quick and dirty, off the top of my head… no editing.
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Freelancer, manage thyself

Categories: A mother's work is never done, Now I'm free(lancing)

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My least favorite part of freelancing is that it feels—more than any office job I ever had—like a moving target. I’m not even referring to the goals of the job; there’s always new gigs to pursue, changes in existing work, progress of the field as a whole, etc. I’m referring to the balance between work and home, the school year and the summer, and my family’s changing needs.

Nearly a decade into this, I’m still dealing with the jarring shift in my days every single summer when the school year ends. I feel ridiculous, saying that. It’s not as though I’m unaware that school will let out and my kids will be around. It’s not as though it’s different every year. It’s just that, somehow, it is different every year, as the kids grow and their needs change. What worked the year before is never quite right for the current year, and so every year we have to rethink, readjust, find what works all over again.

When I started homeschooling my youngest, that was a huge shift (and our most difficult one yet). I was sure I couldn’t do it. Surely I would end up short-changing both him and my career. And yet… somehow, we’re making it work. We made changes after the first year. Now we’re making more changes, after the second year. But I feel/felt good about our progress.

I was unprepared for this year’s wrench in the works.
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Heading back into the conference pool

Categories: My boss is an idiot, Now I'm free(lancing)

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I used to write here quite a bit about the value of attending conferences—I traveled regularly and spoke at conference events a few times a year, and I think it can be an invaluable way to sort of improve your freelancing career on all fronts. Just by attending an event where you’re likely to meet potential clients and/or have time to brainstorm with colleagues, you’re increasing your own knowledge base and network of potential jobs. And if you speak at one of these events, you’re honing your presentation skills, adding to your resume, and hopefully becoming more comfortable as a leader in your field. And all of this is aside from the fact that a lot of us freelancers lead fairly solitary work existences, and it’s just a good idea to get out and spend some time with other people in a work environment now and then.

In short, there’s tons of good reasons to go to conferences, present at conferences, and just generally place value on getting dressed up every so often to face the world.

I had a good rhythm going there, for a while, and then I had to take some time away from work and tend to other things, and somehow it’s now been years since I went to a conference. It wasn’t entirely intentional. I just got away from it and then it felt hard to get back to planning for and carrying out the travel and such. But I’m finally getting back on that particular horse, next month.
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Summertime: Flextime, scheduled time

Categories: A mother's work is never done, Like talking but with more typing, Now I'm free(lancing)

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When my kids were little—when they truly needed near-constant supervision—the only summer option that allowed me to continue working was some sort of care arrangement that covered school hours. They could go to camp, or I could hire a sitter, but there had to be something. As they’ve grown, summer has changed; we’ve gone from constant, full-day care to fewer scheduled activities, and now that they’re both teens, I don’t have to schedule them for anything at all. Let’s face it, they can feed themselves and keep themselves alive without much help. They’ve even reached that magical age where I never hear “I’m booooooooored!”

So the good news is that I can work as much as I need to and I don’t have to worry that my children are going to wander off or set the house on fire or anything. We sat down as a family and discussed the summer, a few months back, and this was the first year where I was really able to say to both kids, “Tell me what you think will work best for you.” My son was really looking forward to doing a whole lot of not much, and maybe spending more time with friends than we generally manage during the school year. My daughter, on the other hand, wanted to take a class and some lessons. They had different desires but we wanted to make it work, and so far it seems like it is.

The interesting thing, for me, is how keeping the kids on a workable schedule is actually helping me make my summer schedule more productive.
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Writing a resume when you’ve got a “mom gap”

Categories: A mother's work is never done, Like talking but with more typing

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I’ve now been freelancing for so long, for the most part, I don’t even have to produce a resume when applying for a new gig—I can direct potential clients to my LinkedIn account and/or my website to check out my credentials. But it didn’t start that way, of course.

A decade ago, I started looking for work again when I’d been home with my kids for years. To make matters worse, I was looking for writing work when I had an employment history as an engineer. This was before LinkedIn, before I’d started blogging, before Facebook and Twitter and all the ways we make networking connections as a matter of course nowadays.

Every time I had to submit a resume I agonized over how to best “beef up” my actual qualifications, while somehow minimizing the gap in my work experience. Usually I would give up on the resume and try my best to write a cover letter that charmed potential employers into overlooking the fact that I’d spent the last three years at home, changing diapers. And I hadn’t thought about this for years until a friend of mine—a stay-at-home, homeschooling mom—asked me for help in writing a resume. “I don’t have any qualifications,” she fretted. But that’s not true; resumes are one part truth and one part flair, and that’s particularly true for folks in creative fields like writing.
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Planning, shmlanning

Categories: A mother's work is never done, Maybe I can pencil in a nap, Now I'm free(lancing)

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(Pictured here: Not me. You can tell it’s not me because she’s actually asleep.)

For all of my big talk about staying organized and learning to adapt to the ebb and flow of a flexible schedule, reality remains… messy. Sometimes I feel organized and capable and on top of things. Sometimes I feel like I am holding on by my teeth. And this week, I feel like one of those “If You Give A Mouse A Cookie” books.

I’m a day late writing this post, even. Because this week somehow started off okay but quickly went off the rails, and I don’t even know how it happened. On Monday, things were under control. I was getting stuff done. Today—Friday—I foolishly tried to take a nap to maybe catch up and it didn’t go well. I would like to blame this on the school year ending, but it seems to me that a week like this one happens every so often no matter what I do. You’d think I could figure it out, by now. You would be wrong, though.
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When homeschooling in the home office hits a deadline

Categories: A mother's work is never done, Maybe I can pencil in a nap, Now I'm free(lancing)

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I love to tell people that we homeschool my son. Love it. Even with homeschooling becoming more commonplace, it always causes folks to do a double-take. I don’t look like a homeschooler. I am neither a religious fundamentalist nor an overly-crunchy earth-mama hippie type. (Neither are a lot of other homeschoolers. But you know, stereotypes abound.) My daughter attends public school. And so folks always seem surprised.

The best part, of course, is that people who would never dream of homeschooling (spoiler: I used to be one of those people who would never in a million years dream of homeschooling) have a lot of questions. And mostly those questions pertain to my son—is he keeping up? Does he ever see other kids? Doesn’t he miss regular school? The answers are yes, yes, and not really. (When someone outright asks me if my kid is socialized—like maybe I keep him in a box under my desk—I cannot be held responsible for any snarky response I might blurt out, though.)

We’ve eased into it; our first year, he went to a homeschooling collab nearly full-time. This year, he’s gone half-time. And the coming year? I think we’re going to do a full curriculum at home, finally. We’ve found our groove. But even when people know I work full-time from my home office, it’s rare that they’ll ask how I manage it.
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