Mark Terry

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

5 Years

October 21, 2009
Today is the 5th anniversary of me writing full-time. I'd actually gone part-time on my job at Henry Ford Hospital a few months earlier, in June of 2004, but I was done for good on October 21, 2004.

Although I know some of my readers have been freelancing longer, some of you haven't, or at all. So, what are some of the things I have I learned in 5 years?

1. I still like it. I still like going into my office to work. I don't drag my heels about it, I have a routine, and every morning I look forward to going to work. That's a blessing.

2. A freelance writing career is rather like a shark. If it doesn't keep moving it dies. It might otherwise be referred to as "hustle," but either way, you can't get complacent about things. You have to constantly look for work, tend to clients, stay alert.

3. Shit happens. Publishers close. Editors leave their jobs and their replacements may not like you or be interested in working with you. Checks get lost. Clients stiff you. You forget to pay taxes. Your computer crashes. An important interview subject blows you off. The economy sours and you can't pick up a new client with a fork lift. You might go a month or two without checks. Work can dry up at exactly the wrong time.

4. Great things happen. Interview subjects want you to help them write a book. An editor or fellow writer mentions you to someone who turns into a new client. Someone reads your work and thanks you or compliments you. Something you write actually helps someone or improves their life. Movie studios nibble. Checks come in and clear. New clients come out of nowhere.

5. Things change. Sometimes for the better, sometimes not. I started out writing about biotech, genetics, and clinical diagnostics. Over the course of 5 years I've written about authors, architecture, plumbing, electrical contractors, computer security, business, and numerous other things. Now I'm back mostly writing about the business end of healthcare, in particular clinical diagnostics. I've been writing market research reports for a couple years, something I would never have thought possible.

6. I'm a better businessman than I have any right to be. I've never had a business class. Never took economics, marketing, accounting, etc. Yet, in the context of my writing business, I'm really pretty good at this. I can be terribly hard-nosed about the bottom line. (Marketing is not my strong suit, but I know how to get work).

7. Flexible schedules are great, but I don't take advantage of it as much as most people think. And I certainly don't take advantage of it the way I thought I would before I went full-time. In five years I've gone to see a movie by myself in the afternoon exactly once. And it was this summer. I had a Friday when both kids were gone, work was moderately slow and I said, "What the hell," and went to see "Star Trek" again. And a former client called me on the phone while I was there. I told her I'd call her back later. That said, I do go to the gym, out to lunch, and pick up my kids at school in the afternoon.

8. In general, the widely employed don't have a clue where the money comes from. When I worked for Henry Ford Hospital, I never much cared, either. Just as long as my paychecks came every two weeks and I had paid time-off and health insurance benefits. But now I know exactly where the money comes from and where it goes. It's an education.

9. I have even less tolerance for office politics now than I did when I worked in an office. Really, you're getting in a pissing match over that?

10. I can be more persistent than I thought I could be. This really has to do with my fiction.

11. I think there's a breaking point on the persistence thing where fiction is concerned. I didn't used to think so. But now I do. I really do think that one more big snafu with a fiction publisher, one more big screw-up, and I would probably throw my hands in the air and say, "Fuck it. I'm done." Really, sometimes the rewards just aren't enough for the costs.

12. I've been lucky.

13. Ownership of your career and your life (even if illusory) is a major factor in job satisfaction and part of what makes being a freelance writer such a great gig.

14. One of the worst things about freelance writing (and probably self-employment in general) isn't the shifting income or the lack of security, it's how difficult it is to get away from work. Most of the time that doesn't bother me. The trade-offs are usually worth it. But I'll tell you what, when I went to Disney World in April with the marching band, I didn't take a computer with me. I just had my iPhone and when business folk contacted me, I e-mailed them quickly to say, "I'm out of town, I'll get back with you on Tuesday." End of contact. And that was bliss. I don't always get (or am forced) to do that, but I should more often, because being constantly attached to work can burn you out.

Mark Terry


Blogger LurkerMonkey said...

"Flexible schedules are great, but I don't take advantage of it as much as most people think. And I certainly don't take advantage of it the way I thought I would before I went full-time."

Amen to this.

6:10 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

Yeah, I used to think that I would spend one day a month just hanging in the library or the bookstore just doing "research." What a fantasy.

6:14 AM  
Blogger Allie said...

Happy Anniversary! :)

6:41 AM  
Blogger Natasha Fondren said...

Happy Anniversary, Mark!

When I read #11, I laughed. (I'm sorry.) I totally believe that you would throw your hands up and say, "Fuck it, I'm done." But I also believe you'll keep writing. At least, that's what you always seem to do. :-)

I find it funny that people think it's a dream to work from home without a commute, and I technically work from home, and choose to commute nearly every day so I can just to get out of the house. (Funny how when you choose to drive an hour away, you don't complain about the "commute.") I'm so spoiled now, I don't think I could stand the idea of working in one location day after day.

(I am, however, about to find out.)

1:12 PM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

Natasha, I hope you're right about #11. I also hope I never have to find out. I've had enough of the disasters when it comes to fiction publishers.

1:17 PM  
Blogger Erica Orloff said...

Hi mark:
I was just telling Lurker Monkey that I am slammed again work-wise (FINALLY) after a couple of horrific freelance months precipitated by a major client going through yet another reorganization. The lesson? Even if it KILLS you, keep angling for freelance work or you will hit spots when you are dead in the water.

1:28 PM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

I'm in exactly the same place, & thank God for it. I went from what seemed like almost a dead stall to swamped. And I owe it to some regular clients coming through with big and/or regular projects plus at least one new client.

1:33 PM  

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