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/

Silly Mommy, conferences are for… mommies?

Categories: A mother's work is never done, Like talking but with more typing, Things you should be reading

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I feel like I should preface this by admitting that back in 2006, I was part of a BlogHer panel called “Mommyblogging is a Radical Act.” As much as I’ve never been a fan of this particular term, way back then—seven years ago, which is like, what, maybe 49 years ago in Blogging Years, right?—I thought it was important that the blogging community have an honest discussion about what it means to share about our experiences as parents. I have no regrets about being part of that. At the time, that sort of blogging was still sort of new and different and we were all figuring out what it meant.

But that was seven years ago, and a lot of things have changed since then… including that many of us who were simply sharing our day-to-day for the sake of finding an outlet and community are now paid to write. Many of us are freelance writers running our own small businesses, working full-time (or more), and the fact that we write about our children from time to time is either incidental or just a fraction of the work we get paid to do.

And yet, good lord, the world is just so reluctant to let go of that term “mommyblogger.” Most of the time I don’t care; what’s in a name? I’m just doing my thing, getting my work done, living my life, whatever. But then there always comes someone wanting to take that dismissive term and use it as the cornerstone of painting every woman with a blog as a silly little moron.
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Persona vs. personality

Categories: Like talking but with more typing

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I have this coffee mug that says “I’m famous on the Internet.” My daughter gave it to me for Christmas, as a joke. I love it because it’s really big (all the better to hold lots of coffee…) and also because I think it’s hilarious.

Because I am not famous, on the Internet or otherwise. I have no desire to be famous.

A lot of people look at personal blogging as a way to “build a brand” and “become a celebrity” and I think those people are delusional. First of all, the number of people who are successful at becoming some sort of celeb through blogging compared to the number of people who wish they were is… not encouraging. And second of all, I cannot imagine wanting to be scrutinized the way so-called famous people are.

The joke in blogging is that you know you’ve arrived once you get a hateful, trollish comment on a post. Once someone cares enough to tell you how very wrong you are, that’s it! You’ve made it. Can you imagine the amount of vitriol famous bloggers are subjected to on a regular basis? No thanks. But more importantly, I think once a writer attains some level of attention for their personality, it becomes hard to avoid becoming a caricature of oneself.
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Reflections on an unexpected viral post

Categories: Like talking but with more typing, Now I'm free(lancing)

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So this week has been interesting for me, to say the least. I started a new gig, and I wrote my first post, hoping that things would go well. You never really know, when you start at a new venue. But I was (am) excited about it. I shared it with my readers on my personal blog and hoped I’d get at least a few comments.

The post in question is here, and at the time of this writing, it has over 20,000 Facebook likes, about a hundred “shares” (which I’m able to see; who knows how many I can’t), 80 comments, a whole mess of tweets, etc., etc., yeeha, woohoo, and all of that. I even had a local friend call me this morning to say that she’d seen my piece “all over” her Facebook feed this morning and was delighted to be able to say, “Hey! I know her!”

I don’t know; maybe this sounds like a regular day, to you. But to me, even as someone who’s been writing online for nine years—making a living for most of that time, mind you—this is more attention than any single piece of my writing has ever gotten before.

It’s completely wild. And weird.
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Read your writing contract

Categories: Like talking but with more typing, Now I'm free(lancing)

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One of the most important lessons to learn when working for yourself, I think, is that there’s no shame in outsourcing. I am a writer because I’m good at writing; some of the business-minutiae that comes along with being a freelancer I’m not so good at, and so I am deliberate about what I handle myself and what I don’t. To wit: I have an accountant. I love my accountant. Could I handle my taxes myself? Probably. But it would take me a lot longer than it takes him and it would make me nutty and if—God forbid—I ever end up getting audited, it’s peace of mind for me to know that I have someone who can essentially handle it for me. I consider my accountant money well spent.

On the other hand, I don’t have an administrative assistant or virtual assistant, and I know a lot of freelancers who do. For me, dealing with mail and paperwork isn’t a big deal—it doesn’t bother me, it doesn’t take all that much time—so I do it myself. These sorts of decisions are really all about what makes you feel most comfortable.

New freelancers often ask me if they need to have a lawyer around to review their contracts. This question is not so very different from considering your taxes and your mail. Do you feel comfortable handling it yourself? If the answer is “absolutely not,” it may be worth having a lawyer look things over for you. But the average freelancer is going to be signing a lot of contracts, and most of them won’t be terribly complex, and so most can learn to handle this process themselves with a bit of coaching and experience.
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Things to do to be a better freelancer

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

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Theoretically I’m supposed to use this space to help other freelancer writers figure out how to do what I do, or at least what I aspire to do. Surely there’s some magic formula or fool-proof set of directions which will allow the aspiring freelance writer to land gigs, find fulfillment, make tons of money (haaaaaa!), and still balance home/family life while doing it. Right? Wrong! There’s no one way to do it because people are different, and that’s part of what’s so great about freelancing—you can call a lot of your own shots, which increases the odds of your work life actually being, you know, a good fit for your particular life.

This is a good thing. The only drawback is that it can make it kind of hard to say, “Here! Here’s a thing that will help everyone make this life more successful for themselves!” The best I can manage, most times, is a “this is what works for me” or maybe a “most freelancers I know find that….” No magic formulas, here.

But today I got to thinking that surely there are some pieces of advice which are universal in this field. I think there are. The only question, really, is whether these will make you a better freelancer or just a better human in general.
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Keeping focus when the lines are blurry

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

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The best thing about the home office is how you can easily move from work to other activities, and between them at will.

The worst thing about the home office is how you can easily move from work to other activities, and between them at will.

(Both of the previous statements are true, by the way.)

I’ve been grappling with the advantages and pitfalls of working from home for years, now. Some parts of it I’ve totally figured out—at least for me—and I can say without reservation, for example, that I’ve pretty much got the whole science of getting dinner into the crock pot in the morning down to a science. I’m also pretty good at fitting a couple of loads of laundry into my day, and it not only gets the laundry done, it means I have to get up from my computer and stretch and walk around a bit. Win-win.

What I think I didn’t start really considering until recently was how it’s not just having the physical office here at home that makes things kind of blurry. I mean, yes, I’m working here and not somewhere else, but I’m also writing about my life, my family, my kids… it feels like everything that matters to me is kind of all knotted up together. That’s nice, sometimes, but it can also be confusing. And a little scary.
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There’s a hole in my bucket

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

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I used to love that song as a kid, you know… the one about how there’s a hole in the bucket, dear Eliza, dear Eliza. Nothing seemed funnier than the notion that a string of relatively small misfortunes could lead to an endless loop of inability to do anything.

Now that I’m an adult, I know that that song is a pretty good metaphor for life, if you’re not careful. Heh.

So here’s my current bucket: I’ve decided to paint my office. This causes me plenty of anxiety already, because my office is currently just the way I want it, and there’s a lot of stuff that has to be moved and taped in order to paint, and I won’t be able to use this space for a few days, and when would be a good time to not have access to my office, exactly? Never? But it’s okay, because I have my laptop, and really, I can work anywhere, so I need to just chill out and settle down.

The first issue I ran into was the color. I’ve been living with a dreary brown (not of my choosing) for nearly six years. I thought choosing something better would be easy. That was before I started looking at paint colors, though. I described this on my personal blog as “falling down the rabbit hole” because that’s exactly what it felt like to me: as someone who tends not to be overly visual/observant, to start surveying an entire palette of color possibilities and trying to imagine how it would feel to be surrounded by any of them was overwhelming, to say the least.

But it turns out that the color-choosing is the least of my issues.
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Are freelancers really more depressed?

Categories: Now I'm free(lancing), Things you should be reading

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Every now and then I come across an article that I think is probably important because it makes me mad.

That’s what happened with this article from Fast Company by Anya Kamenetz titled “Why Freelancers Are So Depressed.” The blurb at the top rather ominously proclaims, “It’s not just February. The work-home blur, social isolation, money woes, and heightened personal risk all mean being a freelancer can be dangerous for your mental health.”

But I saw a lot of fellow freelancers linking to this article, so I figured it must be worth a read, even though I kind of hated it before I even read it. In my personal experience—and yes, I know, the plural of anecdote is not data—most freelancers I know are far less depressed than those working in conventional office jobs. In fact, the most common reason people cite for entering freelancing is that they were unhappy with the lack of control inherent in working for someone else.

So let’s talk about this supposed depression.
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Freelancing rates and administrivia

Categories: Now I'm free(lancing)

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Hands down, the question I am asked most often is, “How much do you charge per hour?” The second runner-up is, “How do you decide how much to charge per hour?” The answers to both of these questions aren’t nearly as straightforward as you might think; for one thing, projects differ, and while I keep a certain ballpark figure in my head, sometimes I charge by the hour, and sometimes I charge per piece or even per entire project. It varies depending on the situation. For another thing, how I set my rate works for me but may not work for someone else. It’s a pretty individual thing, and so when I’m asked these questions I tend to try generalize and then I worry that folks think I’m being evasive (when really I’m just trying to explain what I see as all the factors in deciding).

[Sidebar: For whatever it's worth, I do always try to point folks at a good resource in terms of finding an appropriate range of fees. For my fellow writers, maybe look at this table of editorial rates to get a general idea.]

This brings us to the question Karen asked a couple of weeks ago, and I promise, this is all related. She said:

I am relatively new to freelance, although I’ve been reading this blog (via wantnot) for several years. I don’t remember seeing you talk about how you handle the administrivia. I feel like I spend a frustratingly vast amount of work time doing things that can’t be billed for — invoices, finding a better way to do xyz, relevant webinars, that kind of thing. (Perhaps you don’t work hourly but instead flat rate per project — I know there are a million and six ways to do freelance, but at the moment I’m almost entirely billing by time.)

This is relevant to rate-setting and the thing that I think trips up most newbie freelancers.
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My reality with a standing desk

Categories: Like talking but with more typing, My boss is an idiot

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When I asked for reader questions a couple of weeks ago, a loyal lurker emailed a query rather than leaving it as a comment on the post, but that’s okay, because she’s one of my favorites. In fact, she apparently remembers a post from a couple of years ago when I triumphantly announced my acquisition of a standing desk, because here’s the question:

I am curious to know about your experience with your stand-up desk. Still using it? What percentage of your day do you suppose you use it? Is it a block of time or interspersed? Some activities but not others? Do you feel better? Do you have to force yourself to use it because it’s good for you?

This is where I’m supposed to assure everyone that I use it all the time and I’ve lost weight, lowered my cholesterol, and my hair is inexplicably shinier. Right? I mean, I suppose that would be a better answer than what I’m about to say.

And really the short version of the truth is, “Hi, my name is Mir, and I am a terrible, unhealthy person.”
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