A few years ago, I found myself in command of a workshop on how to make a living from freelancing. Fortunately, my co-pilot, one of my lovely A friends (I’ve realised since I began writing this blog that nearly all my friends’ names begin with the letter A – clearly I need to work my way up the alphabet a bit more thoroughly), had done this kind of thing before and so did most of the talking. I think I was just there for colour and movement. And perhaps a little interpretive dance when required.
All was going well until a very nice lady in the middle of the fourth row put up her hand and asked if one – and she was a ‘one’ kind of lady – had to speak to people to be a freelance writer. I paused mid-whirl in my interpretive dance. “Well,” I said, “a lot of contact is done via email these days…” I paused.
“Yes,” she said, somewhat impatiently. “But can you do interviews like that as well? It’s just that I’m a bit shy.”
“Ummm,” I said, breaking the first rule of public speaking – they’ll never let me into Toastmasters now. “One does actually have to talk to write professionally.” Her face collapsed into disappointment.
I was thinking of this little exchange on Friday as I made the train journey to The Big Smoke for what The Builder calls Coffee. With a capital C.
Writers tend to be people who like their own company. I’m quite open about the fact that I’m much better in writing than I am in person (which is probably why I love Twitter). But that doesn’t mean I can get away with not trying.
So I try to do Coffee at least two or three times a year. It involves meeting up with the editors with whom I work regularly, those with whom I’d like to work more regularly and, even, those who’ve never heard of me before I ring them out of the blue to say hello. It serves to remind them who I am (or introduce them to my charms), allows me to find out if there are any direction changes for the publication or website, and gives me the opportunity to pitch a few stories in their direction to see if anything flies. Even when I lived in the inner city I tried to get as many as possible done in one day – now that I’m in Fibrotown, that’s essential.
It doesn’t always result in work. Not straight away anyway. But it does result in a connection. And like everything else in the world, freelancing is about relationships.
When you freelancing, it’s very easy to disappear into your own parallel universe. You forget what it’s like to have colleagues and bosses and people who simply don’t like the shoes you’re wearing on any given day. You sit in your vacuum and come up with ideas and wonder why none of them are finding the mark. So sometimes you have to leave the bubble.
I really enjoy Coffee. In some ways, it’s exhausting, dragging your sociable self kicking and screaming into the light (or maybe that’s just me). But mostly, it’s exhilarating. I always come home with lots of new ideas and inspiration, along with a healthy dose of motivation. Of course, the five or six cups of coffee that I take in over the course of the day may have something to do with that…
Ahhh, and here I thought maybe I could just avoid people by writing. I guess it really is all about connecting.
Yes – all the good people are at the top of the alphabet indeed.
This is where I’m going wrong I think. I write in a vacuum. I rarely speak to people. I can go whole days without speaking to anyone much during the day at least – apart from my 2 year old. The last time I went to a social type thing, I came away with two commissions. I need to meet people for “Coffee”. Instead of just drinking a lot of it.
A nod in agreement from me, one of your “C” List friends. Freelancing, consulting, whatever you call it, is ALL about relationships. Get out there and Coffee and Drink with the best of them or perish….
Great post Al. How good did it feel to still be able to flap your wings in the big smoke? The train ride home must have been hysterical. Definite fodder for another day!
Hmmmnn…great post as usual. Can actually imagine you doing an interpretive dance…seems like it would be right up your alley…perhaps combining coffee and interpretive dance would be a winning pitch!!!
I’m sure as soon as you open your mouth your value proposition is obvious to the editor types…you are witty and wise!
Gotta say I love the talking thing as a novelist. When you have a number of books under your belt, people actually listen to you. It’s quite refreshing compared to home life where you have to scream 15 times to get anyone to do anything!
P.S. what do you want to move down the alphabet for? All the good people are up the top 😉
LOL. I love that it’s ‘Coffee’ and now I’m also convinced that I would never have made a freelancer / journo. Having to, you know, interact would kill me.
I have my next series of coffee catch-ups scheduled for next month. I’ve tried to switch it up and alternate the coffee with chai – otherwise I’m too wired for the drive home – not to mention the poor last person on my list. I too loathe showing my face and speaking, but it’s got to happen…
Okay, you’ve inspired me to actually set the date.
Lightbulb moment, that’s why I love Twitter too!!
Great post. 🙂
Great post. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately – building up other skills as well as my writing. Like, talking to people!
Ah yes. Not coffee, but ‘Coffee”. Would you believe, doing work placement as a social worker, I was told “Don’t give up smoking. All your connections, all your networking, all your-end-to-the-ground stuff- most of it is done out the back in the smokers area”. True.