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!
Photo credit: Gastev (Flickr)