Tag Archives: freelance writing

Dressing For The School Run: Are Pajamas OK?

Thursday is World Book Day. In honor of this event, the head teacher at my daughter’s school has invited all of the children to come to school with their favorite bedtime reading, dressed in their favorite pajamas.

She’s also invited all of the staff – and even the parents – to do the same. That’s right. The parents can come to drop off in their pajamas.

My first thought upon learning this was:  And this is different…how?

As a freelance writer working from home, I often show up to school in some version of my PJ’s. And happily so. Wearing whatever you please is one of the many perks of the freelance life.

But apparently, it’s not for everyone. A head teacher in Belfast recently imposed a ban on parents showing up to school in their pajamas, which he described as “rude and slovenly.” As he pointed out, ‘People don’t go to see a solicitor, bank manager or doctor dressed in pyjamas, so why do they think it’s okay to drop their children off at school dressed like that?’ This was shortly after a supermarket in Wales imposed a similar ban in its store after too many women (it’s always women, isn’t it?) showed up to shop for food in their PJ’s. (Yikes! I just did that this morning!)

While my initial reaction was to get the government out of my closet, I did end up giving this matter a bit of thought. Clearly, the head teacher in question  thinks that those of us who come to school half asleep are evincing some sort of disrespect towards the school, its teachers and the rest. But I’m not sure it’s quite that simple.

A lot of it is just laziness, convenience and the fact that – for many of us – just getting out the door most mornings in a semi-timely fashion is a major triumph, let alone properly dressed.

But there are other things going on as well.

One reason one doesn’t “overdress” for the school run – OK, one reason *I* don’t do it, except when it’s a new school – is that in not dressing up, I’m also trying to signal to other parents that, some days, I’m really not ready for prime time. Translated: “No, I don’t want a coffee. I don’t want to chat. I just want to go home.” (I’m reminded of a friend who once confessed that there were some mornings when she’d just like to show up at school in a Burqa. Amen, sister. I mean, praise Allah.)

But, of course, there are lots of mums who show up for the school run in their perfectly orchestrated sweater sets ready to take on the world. And their put-togetherness is also often a social cue designed to convey something to their peers.

I’m also aware that by not dressing up for the school run, I’m sending precisely the wrong message to my six-year-old tomboy daughter. She insists on wearing sweat pants, a hoodie (with zip!) and some sort of clashing, striped non-turtlenecked shirt Every. Single. Day. But how can I possibly harangue her for looking like a slob when I look like something that the cat dragged in? (“But Mommy, you haven’t combed your hair yet either…“)

All of which is to say is that even the seemingly trivial choices we make every single day are loaded.

And so I think it is an interesting question to ask:  When we dress to take our children to school, whom are we dressing for (assuming we aren’t on our way to a proper job): Ourselves? Our peers? The kids? The teachers?

And should there be a minimum dress standard in place?

What do you think?

Image: Pink Pajamas by DCVision 2006 via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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Five Ways To Feel More Legitimate As A Writer

I got a check for $100 in the mail the other day. It was for an article that I wrote more than a year ago and which was published in a women’s magazine in the States. I’ve been chasing that check since last February (which was the deadline for payment according to the contract I signed) and I’ve probably (conservatively) exchanged about 25 or 30 emails on this matter since then.

So what’s the big deal about 100 bucks, you ask? Are things really that tight over here in London?

Well yes…and no. I don’t make a lot of money as a freelance writer, so every payment really does count. But not enough to relentlessly chase down 100 dollars over a nine month period. Of course, that’s not *really* why I “followed the money” (to coin a phrase.) I did it because of what the payment represented to me symbolically.

For me, you see, that check was all about legitimacy.

Feeling legitimate can be a tricky thing in the work world, especially for writers, freelancers, and – in many professions – women. (Yikes! I’m all three!) I remember when I was a kid I once went shopping with a friend and her mother and the owner of a local clothing store denied my friend’s mother a credit card on the grounds that she (a writer) was only self-employed. “I’m afraid you’ll need to bring your husband in,” the owner said. My friend’s mother burst into tears. I was eight years old and had no idea why she was crying.

Now I do.

Because writers and other self-employed people frequently lack the formal trappings of an office – e.g., business cards…a regular paycheck…a door (!), it’s often hard to feel “legitimate” in your chosen profession. Under such circumstances, we self-employeds tend to grasp at anything that offers a soupçon of legitimacy…anything…such as, say, a check for $100!

In that spirit, here are five methods I’ve devised for boosting my sense of legitimacy:

1. Call Your Writing Work. As memoirist Louise De Salvo wrote recently in a memorable post about how to find time to write when you have kids, it’s essential that you always call your writing “work” regardless of how much you’re paid for it (if anything): No one I knows cares if you’re writing.  That’s why you have to call it work.  Because that’s what it is.  Your work.  Your life’s work.” Amen, sister.

2. Call Yourself A Writer. This is a corollary of #1 but surprisingly hard to enact when you’re feeling a legitimacy deficit. I frequently find myself alternating between “journalist,” “blogger” and just plain “writer” but find the latter the hardest to actually utter because I think it sounds…[drumroll please]…illegitimate. But the more I do it, the better I feel. Like the alcoholic who must first admit the problem, I sometimes just force myself to march around the house chanting “My name is Delia and I am a writer….My name is Delia and I am a writer…”

3. Titles Help. I posted a few weeks ago on how to manage your title. Right after I did that, one of the editors at PoliticsDaily.com (where I do work…for money!…she added hastily) referred to me as their “London correspondent” when linking to an article of mine. My usual title is “contributor.” It only happened once but, boy, for the next three hours, I was walking on air. (Sadly, I’ve since then reverted to “contributor.” Oh, how the mighty have fallen.)

4. Diversify Your Portfolio. Another thing I find that really helps is to take on additional jobs or activities in spheres outside of writing – to diversify your portfolio, so to speak. Freelancers often need to do this anyway for economic reasons, but slash careers can confer legitimacy advantages as well. I spent all of yesterday afternoon selling raffle tickets at a Christmas fair to raise money for my daughter’s school. Turns out I’m pretty good at it. But in addition to the positive feelings that ensue from raising money for a good cause, it’s always a huge boost to my self-esteem to know that I’m actually good at something else (even something for which I’m not paid.)

5. Find Your Inner Compass. At the end of the day, of course, it’s all about what one therapist I know calls “finding your inner compass.” How legitimate you feel as a writer or actor or any other inherently freelance profession is really about not giving a hoot what others think (or what you imagine – or project – onto their thinking.) It’s about finding legitimacy…(yes, you guessed it)…from within.

That’s hard to do, though. And speaking of which…I’ve gotta run. I have to chase down that other $100 check from last September that they still haven’t paid me. I’ve got some emails to write…

Image: Vieja Maquina de Escribir by Gonzalo Barrientos via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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Managing Your Workload: Take a Self-Imposed Vacation

I’m taking a vacation this week.

Well, actually I’ll be right here in my home. But I’m going to pretend that I’m on vacation…with respect to this blog, at least.

You see, among the many different slashes I wear in my current life as a freelance writer, one of them is novelist. OK, that’s not quite right. Why don’t we say “aspiring novelist”? (I’ll feel better.)

You see, I have the novel written. I just that haven’t sold it. And in order to do that, I need to clear a couple of days in my schedule to send out the draft to the appropriate people. I know who those people are (some call them agents), and I know which ones I want to send it to. I even have all the materials ready. So I just need to sit down, go through the list, figure out who needs what, and then do some photocopying and stapling and standing in line at the post office. (If it isn’t on strike…).

In short: I need to put the rubber to the road and just do it, in the immortal words of Nike.

Which takes…time. And that’s something I don’t have a lot of because I’m, well, blogging. (She said, fully aware that she was blogging about not blogging. What can I say? Old habits die hard…)

It’s really hard for me to take time off from this blog, mostly because I love it, and partly because – as someone with a super-ego that even Freud would find daunting – I feel that I *should* be blogging (unless I’m on vacation).

So I decided to tell myself that I am on vacation. One of the many things I’ve learned from my beloved life coach is that in order to change your behavior, you need to change your expectations. She always gives me the example of the “sick day.” When you’re sick, you don’t expect yourself to get as much done. You go easy on yourself. Similarly, when you’re on vacation, you don’t bring work along with you (hopefully). You understand that the point of the holiday is precisely to stop working for awhile.

So I’m going to put myself on a self-imposed vacation, during which time I am going to do my very best to send my novel out to ten more agents. Because we all know that the secret of being a writer is persistence. Sometimes, that’s about forcing yourself to sit down at the computer and bang out those 1000 words. Sometimes, it’s just about sitting down, period. That’s not my problem right now. My problem is committing myself to selling the book that I wrote. And making the time to let that happen.

So good-bye. And wish me well. Feel free to imagine me wherever you’d like…Tahiti? Iceland? The Galapagos?

See you next week.


Image: My Feet in a Paradisiac Beach by Princess Cy via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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You Can Teach An Old Dog New Tricks: Ghostwriting

I just got back from yet another trip to the United States and as I trolled through my ever-burgeoning pile of unread RSS feeds, I came across the following post about ghostwriting on the blog Lisa Romeo Writes.

I regularly subscribe to a bunch of different blogs about freelance writing and I’ve probably seen at least twenty if not hundreds of job listings for ghost writers over the past twelve months alone. But until today, I never thought much about ghost writing as a possible supplemental source of income for myself.

The main reason – as Romeo notes in her introduction to the post with respect to her own experience – is that I’ve always been so preoccupied with finding and expanding my own voice that I never wanted to deviate any of that energy into someone else’s work. Perhaps because I’m feeling just a tiny bit more confident about my own voice lately or maybe it’s just the pinch of these credit-crunched times, but when I read this post I suddenly thought: Hey! I can do that! (Sorry, but you must indulge my less-than-closeted love of Broadway musicals while I quickly link to famous A Chorus Line number of same title…ah, to spend the afternoon singing lyrics from A Chorus Line…but I digress.)

Why do I mention this here?

Because when I read this writer’s account of how she got started ghost writing and why she enjoys it – i.e. finding a way to tell someone else’s story in a way that respects their unique voice- I realized that I’d not only be very good at this kind of thing, I’d actually enjoy it. I strongly believe that the two keys to a successful career are a. finding things that you like and b. finding things you are good at and then identifying where these two intersect (much harder than it sounds). And so, it suddenly occurred to me that I ought to give ghost writing a second chance.

Which I’ve been doing…all day long.

And it’s something we all should be doing – i.e., thinking about our talents and interests and where these intersect. It seems like every day now, I get another email from a friend whose company has just folded or who’s been let go or who’s just had a baby and is going to try and make it on her own, and a lot of them ask me for advice about how to get started on a new career path. And while I have loads to say on this topic, the main thing I always tell people is: figure out what you like and what you’re good at and that’s where you need to begin.

Because if this economy is going to continue on its current trajectory, we’re all going to need to be a heckuva lot more creative in thinking about our skill sets and the many possible directions in which we can take them while still being true to who we are. Myself included.

So if you’ve got that burning life story you’re just itching to tell and don’t trust yourself to tell it, drop me a line…I’m listening.

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