Living the Freelance Life: Even Lone Wolves Need a Pack

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Fri, Jan 30 - 6:30 am EDT | 5 years ago by
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When I first started freelancing full time, it was just me, my 14-year-old cat, the ticking clock, and the occasional phone interview during the day. In other words, very little human interaction and some very welcome silence.

And for a while, that was just fine with me. I’ve always been a bit of a lone wolf. And having grown up as an only child, I’ve never minded my alone time. In fact, sometimes my family and my closest friends argue that I seem to enjoy my alone time a little too much. So for the first few months of freelancing, I loved the fact that there were none of the distractions that so often accompany traditional office life. I could finally hear myself think. And the only interruptions I had were the ones that I chose to create during my workday.

And then somewhere along the way, I had the opportunity to write a couple of stories for mediabistro.com. It was a chance to interview some more experienced freelancers who had the credentials I wanted on my résumé—people I really admired. I am still so grateful for the opportunity to interview those more experienced freelancers. I’m now friends with a couple of them, and we regularly keep in touch via e-mail and phone.

In addition to all the great freelance and business advice I received from these more experienced freelancers, I also started noticing a common thread. The ones who were most successful seemed to have a strong network of other freelancers around them. They had a community. And more than a couple of those freelancers suggested that I consider finding one or two online writing communities of my own.

So I did. And I cannot tell you what a difference that has made for me—to have a community of other like-minded people who do the same thing I do for a living, just an e-mail or online post away. I belong to about five online writing communities, but am only really active in a couple.

If you’re a lone wolf like I am, you might not realize you need a pack until you find yourself running with one. Here are some reasons why you might want to consider finding a pack of your own:

1) Support. When I found out a few months ago that one of my clients was essentially cutting my work (and pay) in half, I panicked. But I did not pick up the phone and call family or friends near by. I jumped immediately online, logged into one of the freelance forums I belong to, and told some fellow freelancers about what happened. I was overwhelmed with responses and support. And suddenly, I was reminded that I wasn’t alone, that others had gone through similar situations, and that they had not only survived—they thrived as a result of losing work from a client. My friends and fellow freelancers helped me find the silver lining and see the opportunity in the change. Similarly, when I was having problems with aging parent issues, I turned again to the group and was flooded with support. And when one of our group members was diagnosed with a serious illness and was on the verge of losing her home, this same group banded together and raised thousands of dollars on her behalf. Sadly, our friend passed away in November, but her memory lives on and so does the power of community that I belong to—I consider myself so fortunate to know so many wonderful people.

2) Advice. When I needed advice about how to handle some elderly parent issues a few months ago, guess where I turned? You guessed it—to one of my online writer’s groups. When I needed advice on how to write more effective queries, I also turned to members of that group. And last summer when I couldn’t get rid of fruit flies in my kitchen, it was the informal chat online about possible solutions that led me to the right fix: setting out a bowl of cider vinegar with some dish detergent mixed in. Who knew? So in belonging to these online writing communities, I’ve learned to trust the advice and counsel of others more experienced than myself. And now that I’m further along down the freelance road, I’m now able to turn around and help others.

3) Camaraderie. When I first started freelancing full time, I was so relieved to be on my own, in my own space, and setting my own hours, that I did not miss having daily dialogues with coworkers (sorry friends and former colleagues—I still love you, though). It truly was a relief to not have any silly office politics to deal with or any unnecessary interruptions. But once I was part of an online community, it suddenly dawned on me how much I really did miss have coworkers and people to talk to every day. Suddenly, I could take a break from work and go visit with some fellow freelancers about topics ranging from female issues and fruit fly infestations to writing and relationships. The online forum provided me with a virtual water cooler. And now, I have no idea what I did without these communities. Who else understands more than a fellow freelance writer the frustration of sending queries into editorial black holes, and the irritation that comes along with this profession when people—even best friends and spouses—assume that because you work at home, you’re free all day to accept personal phone calls?

And other than a fellow freelancer, who else is going to understand that overwhelming need to be alone, but the paradoxical loneliness that can so often accompany this profession?

So what about you? Do you belong to an online writing community or two? How do your online writing communities help you out? Drop me a line—I’d love to hear about it!

-Jenny

Photo credit: Gastev (Flickr)

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  • http://juicedonwriting.com Michelle

    I found I used online communities a lot for that type of conversation and support when entering a very supportive crafting hobby years ago. I still have both online and real-life friends from those forums now. But I moved on from the forums, as interests moved on…

    …And into writing as a newbie. Now that I’m just starting off, and considering my own needs to find a writing community offering that kind of atmosphere, I’m completely flummoxed. There are just so many forums out there for writers, and I don’t know which ones to try.

    Some I’ve joined haven’t made me feel both involved or even welcomed. Some are so genre-specific, others for strictly freelancers, others hold onto popular cliques of long-standing members, others are very localised, but I have a more international viewpoint. All of that isn’t unique to any particular group – my crafting hobby I spoke of suffered the same problems. But it makes finding one that you feel you fit with always that more difficult.

    I miss those online friendships, especially as I try to move into a new career and field for myself, and welcome any advice I can get. But I haven’t, as yet, found that ‘virtual water cooler’ of my own.

  • http://www.thegoldenpencil.com Jenny Cromie

    Hi Michelle! Thanks for stopping by. It took me awhile to find a freelance water cooler that I felt comfortable standing around too.

    There are a couple that I belong to that were started by individuals who couldn’t seem to find the right niche or group of people. If you can’t seem to find one that suits your needs, I would strongly recommend creating your own community.

    With the proliferation of Twitter and other social media sites, it’s easy enough to connect directly with other writers and then create your own Google or Yahoo group. That way, you can tailor the group into what you want it to be and invite others to join. A couple I belong to are offshoots of the sites that I originally joined because the primary site wasn’t fulfilling all our needs.

  • http://www.ritashouse.com Rita

    Hi Jenny,

    I have found much the same results as Michelle. As we find our “voice” online and our interests become more defined, we leave the forums and focus inward for a time.

    I like your response regarding creating our own community. Twitter certainly opens the door wide enough to see inside! Just a matter of “focus” I guess, for us newbies.

    Thanks for a great post!

  • http://www.thegoldenpencil.com Jenny Cromie

    Thanks Rita! And thank you for stopping by. As far as searching for other writers on Twitter, there are several ways to do that.

    I will plan on writing a follow-up post next week about how to find the right community for you, or how to go about building your own …

  • http://www.thevirtualindependentcontractor.com Kathy Zengolewicz

    Hi Jenny,

    I am a Virtual Assistant, have been for about 7 years now, making the change to become a freelancer. Support, Advice and Camaraderie, these are excellent reasons to network with others in your same trade. You can still be a lone wolf of sorts, but you always have friends/colleagues to socialize with online. I don’t think that offline friends or family really understand some of the problem we face working virtually. My grandson (5) asked me a couple of weeks ago if I had a real job.

    Thanks for the very informative post.

  • http://www.onthewriteroad.com Adrienne Tange

    Hi Jenny,

    I guess I am a bit of a lone wolf as well and enjoy the solitude. However, after spending so much time at the computer and at home, I need to get out of the house at least a couple times a week. Because I have worked in the area so long, I have built a network of writers that I meet for lunch.

    The idea of starting an online community is a great idea. That might be my next project!Thanks for the excellent post.

  • http://www.singlemomfreelancewriting.com Jennifer

    I actually joined a couple of online writing communities early in my career. I asked a lot of questions about how to better my freelance writing career. I read the success stories of others and felt inspired to do more.

    I have always been a social person so I think that I was naturally drawn to these groups. Now I help to give advice to newer writers and still ask many questions of my own.

  • Pingback: .Freelancedom* » Blog Archive » Link Love: January 30

  • http://www.midwestguest.com Dominique

    I can really relate to some of your comments–especially your observations about being an only child!
    I don’t think you can overestimate the value of online networks. Stumbling on a vibrant travelblogging community just as I started my Midwest Guest travel blog turned out to be one of the most helpful things for me in the whole process. I had lots of great advice and encouragement as I started my blog and as I continue trying to build it into a viable tool to advance my writing career.

  • http://www.jorgekafkazar.wordpress.com jorgekafkazar

    I’m a believer in f2f workshops and I still am in touch with friends from workshops I attended in the 70′s. I think across-the-table nods and smiles communicate in a way that on-line can’t…yet.
    But I also feel there are times to work alone, keep WIP close in order to maintain tension–not letting the story-telling energy leak out before it’s all on paper.

  • http://www.thegoldenpencil.com Jenny Cromie

    Thanks everyone for all your thoughtful comments and for dropping by.

    Jorge, I like your idea of workshops. And Adrienne, I also like your idea of lunch with other writer friends—if you have the luxury of knowing others in your area like that.

  • http://russellcavanagh.com On the Money

    I enjoyed reading this post – thanks. I quit a well paid job in a law office last June in order to go back to full-time writing again. Although I make sure I see pals at least once a week, I realise that the days can go by and the only people I speak to – apart from a client or two – sell me either food, wine or chocolate peanuts (delicious with freshly-ground black coffee). I like working alone and ordering my day exactly as I wish but your positive experience of supportive networks (not many on Facebook understand quite what I do) has given me something to think about and act on. Thanks again 8-)

  • http://www.shermatsen.com Sher Matsen

    What an excellent post and so true for many of us I think. Rather than stopping by the office lunch room for some advice, we pop into the virtual eqivelent and resolve many of the day to day ponderings.
    Sher

  • http://www.writingkimberly.com Kimberly Alderman

    I am also a freelancer, and totally thrilled with my job, but don’t have much of a freelancer pack. I would love to know more freelance writers though! I am on Twitter, right now as @nomadtoes, but might be switching it up soon. Freelancers are welcome to look me up!

  • http://atravelerslibrary.com Vera Marie Badertscher

    Jenny: This blog really strikes a chord. In Tucson we have a large community of writers, but I was frustrated not having people who were facing the same freelance struggles as I–different than people writing romance novels, for example. So I started a small group of women writers on line. Funny thing about on line groups. Although there is the concern that people are getting away from face to face, I notice that the longest threads sometimes evolve when someone suggests a meetup. Our local group looks forward to a f-2-f about every other month. Meantime, we keep in touch, give advice, and cheer each other on.

  • http://www.thegoldenpencil.com Jenny Cromie

    Thank you so much for dropping by everyone, and for sharing your experience with this.

    Vera, thank you for dropping in too (and for being part of my online pack). Boy, I sure wish I lived closer to some of the other MI writers that we both know so that I could meet up face to face. I know of one other freelance writer who lives near me, but so far we have not gotten together. She teaches part-time, but you’ve reminded me that I should give her a call.

  • http://Lesleymodallas.blogspot.com Lesley

    I’ll look forward to your follow-up post! I have been freelancing for nearly 10 years now. It’s wonderful to have lots of flexibility and to work at home – my friends often tell me I have their dream job – but the walls do tend to close in after a while. An online support group would be wonderful.