The Freelance Writing Dance

Speedwriting

At a low point in my Clark Kent career, I decided to try my hand at freelance writing.  Starry-eyed, I imagined creating my land of milk and honey with writing, my life blood.  There would be gratifying assignments, like crafting crisp business proposals; or fun ones, like assisting a grade-school child with his or her English paper.  I’d collect my fee, go on my merry way and await the next awesome project.

Oh, how ignorant I was about The Freelance Writing Dance!  Sometimes you get dipped without warning.  People suddenly want you to pirouette with no preparation.  And sometimes you’re dancing with someone who has two left feet.

You may be well-aware of the potential chaos within the choreography.  But if you were like me and did not, here are some tips before you put on your Freelance Writing Dance shoes:

Establish rules on the dance floor beforehand.  You write for a client, they pay you and that’s the end of the story, right?  That’s the way it should be but it sometimes isn’t.  I had clients avoid me like a bad date once I did the writing and it was time to pay.  Infuriating.  Others said they had no problem paying but could they meet me in a business parking lot at midnight and bring the funds?  Inconvenient and creepy.   These experiences taught me a valuable lesson: let people know what they can expect from you before you start writing for them.  And in turn, what you expect from them.  Just like maids stated that they “didn’t do windows” back in the day before they were hired, we, unfortunately must do the same.  I drew up a short and sweet document letting clients know upfront when payment is expected, payment options, etc.  If the client doesn’t agree to my policies, that’s fine.  At least it saved me from heartache down the road.  If they do agree but deviate from the terms later, I’m somewhat protected.

Dance like you really mean it.  This tip piggybacks on the first one.  When I first decided to freelance full-time, I didn’t count on the possibility of having projects overlapping on occasion. I was going crazy. I knew I had to do something when my passion for writing began to wane.  Fortunately, the solution was simple: get organized.  I overhauled my study, eradicating clutter and got an updated computer.  I also make great use of my dry erase calendar.  It’s comforting to have deadlines sprawled out for an entire month right at my fingertips.  I know different organizational systems work for different writers but you need one nonetheless.  Nothing is more dismaying to a writer than missing a deadline.  My experience has been there is no half-stepping in freelancing; you must mind your business like a business. 

Play nice in the ballroom.  This may seem like the most logical tip but it’s a shame how rarely it’s practiced.  True story:  About 3 years ago, I exchanged business cards with a woman I met at a creative career mixer.  I included her on my email distribution list for informative emails about events and other things I thought were helpful.  Imagine my surprise when she replied to my email one day, telling me to “stop spamming” her!    I apologized and removed her from my email address book.  Well, imagine my surprise again when she emailed me months later with some of the same “spam,” an event she was promoting.  Fortunately, I took the high road.  I replied, politely reminding her about the inflammatory email she sent me months earlier.  And oh, would she please remove me from her distribution list, too?  My point with this cautionary tale is that people in the creative industry, such as writers, run in tight circles.  I describe what that woman had as The Cinderella Syndrome.  She was unfriendly to someone who she felt had no value to her at the time but found that the person did later.  I’ve found it really pays off to cultivate positive relationships whenever possible.  Playing nice has effortlessly led me to some fabulous referrals. 

The Freelance Writing Dance sometimes threw me for a loop but I am figuring it out and learning the complicated steps.  When you make writing and business tango partners, it’s not always easy but the challenge is exhilarating.  I am recovering from the sudden dips and pirouettes with much more grace.

    

Sean C. Wright is the author of 5 books. For more information about her writing skills and how she can assist you with yours–business or consumer–visit https://seanarchy.wordpress.com.

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Honey Friend/Sodales

I submitted the following true story, Honey Friend, to Glamour Magazine’s Reel Moments contest in 2006. It’s about being separated from my best friend as a girl then reuniting with her 23 years later. They called me in 2010 to tell me that actress Jessica Biel picked my story as her directorial debut. It was made into the short online film, Sodales, which you can view at the end of this essay. My friend and I make a cameo appearance at the end of the film. I hope you like my fifteen minutes of fame. . .

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Me and Shannon; Christmas 1978

Honey never spoils.  Really good friendships are the same – sweet and eternally preserved. My honey friend is Shannon. I can’t remember how I met Shannon, but she became a part of me like a vital organ when her family moved in next door to mine in 1977.  We were both five and living in a small suburb of Dallas, Texas.

Shannon and I were an incongruous pair: I’m African-American with cinnamon-hued skin.  And Shannon had the complexion of a lily petal with an adorable spray of freckles across the bridge of her nose.  I had two ebony pony tails that grazed my shoulders, and Shannon had nearly waist-length, brown hair.  I was christened Baptist, and she was Mormon.

As different as Shannon and I were, we did what made sense to six-year-old girls:  play.  We spent many days, drunk with carefree bliss, dressing up in tube tops and shorts and trying to feather our hair.  We used gel toothpaste for lip gloss; Aim worked best!  Shannon and I played Charlie’s Angels, and we took turns being Farrah Fawcett.  And she taught me how to ride the God-awful red and yellow banana-seat bike my parents gave me for my seventh birthday.

One of my fondest memories is exploring the field next to my house.  As we held hands and ran, our sun dresses billowing behind us, we paid no mind to the sadistic Texas heat.  We marveled at the maize-colored sunflowers in the field and pointed at the droning airplanes that flew in the endless blue above it.

Shannon loved spending time at my house because it was soulful and exotic with funky animal prints and feathers everywhere, R&B and disco music cranking out of a reel-to-reel.  I, in turn, enjoyed the domesticity of her house. Shannon’s mother gave us peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on her very own homemade bread.  And I was tickled pink when we shucked corn out in her backyard.

I can truly say that even though I had only been on the planet seven years at that time, Shannon’s family moving away was one of the most traumatic things that had ever happened to me.  Today, some 30 years later, I can say it still is.  I remember the last time we walked to school together.  I noticed that Shannon did not have her lunch box.

“I’m having lunch on the plane,” she said.

And that was the last time I saw my childhood friend.

Memory is strange:  Sometimes you can’t remember the name of a person you met ten minutes beforehand, but you can remember something, with uncanny clarity, that happened years ago.  I walked home from school by myself that day with my mind replaying our friendship:

  Shannon was going to marry Sergeant Pepper.

   She said “onety-one,” instead of eleven.

   I comforted Shannon when her cat, Flowers, got run over by a car. 

  The outdoorsy smell we worked up after playing outside in the brutal Texas sun.

  In the winter, we slid down my walkway in a little red sleigh over and over again, shrieking and loving it.

I made other friends, and Shannon and I wrote to each other for a while.  It helped ease the pain of her absence, but after about two years, my letters to her bounced back.

Life went on; the years turned over and over.  And even so, the most innocuous images reminded me of her:  Freckle-faced girls, sunflowers, heck – even Tootie and Natalie’s friendship on the show The Facts of Life made me think of us.  The real memories took the sting out of rainy days, bad Mondays and low test scores.

For years, I embarked on fruitless missions to find Shannon.  One phone number I called, a woman informed me that Shannon was not there; he had not made it in from work yet.  I considered contacting the show Unsolved Mysteries for help, but got sidetracked with working on my bachelor’s degree and other things.

I was on the edge of thirty, had been laid off from my job and had broken up with my fiancé.  I was caught up in the whirlwind of finding a job and mending my broken heart when my mother called me one evening about a curious package that had been delivered to my parents’ house.

“Do you know who this package is from?” she said and called the name on the return address.

“No.  Go ahead and open it, though.”

She did and called me back in twenty minutes, squealing.

“Sean, you are not going to believe this.”

“What?”

“The package is from Shannon, your childhood friend.”

“Oh!” I screamed, “Are you sure?”

“Yes, she is married now.  I guess you didn’t recognize her last name.”

My mother read the letter to me over the phone.  Shannon wrote that she was a homemaker, a mother of three at the time, and a writer and had written a book dedicated to our friendship.  She had included an autographed copy of the book.  But in all the excitement, Shannon had forgotten to include her phone number!  My mother gave me her address, and luckily, I was able to get her phone number from information.  Pin balls of excitement ricocheted in me as I dialed Shannon’s number.

Shannon answered. My palms got moist but my mouth got dry. But the awkwardness was short-lived.  Soon, it was like we were six or seven again.    We talked for three hours that evening.  I learned the reason her family left Texas was her father’s business partner had embezzled money and left him holding the bag.  They moved around frequently and had money troubles.  During those rough times, memories of our friendship and all those sun-filled days in Texas had stayed with her as well. Shannon told me she also vividly recalled the day we were separated.  She said her family got her out of school and did not ask if we had said good-bye until they were at the airport.

“I couldn’t,” she had said, woefully, “You took me before I could.”

Shannon said that in an effort to stay tied to me, she often babysat for African-American families when she was a teenager.  Her girls had some black dolls, and they display African-American angels at Christmas time.  Shannon said when she got married and left her parents’ house, she took the Christmas present my family gave hers from the 70’s — a sketch my father did of a butterfly perched on a tree stump.  She said it was the only tangible piece connecting her to me from 1978.  It hangs in her youngest daughter’s room to this day.

Our similarities were eerie.  Red is our favorite color, we are both writers, and health nuts; both of us have brothers but no sisters.

Shannon and I traded pictures and letters back and forth for about a month.  The next thing we did was agree on a time for me to visit her in Utah.  On Labor Day weekend in 2001, a week or so before 9/11, I jumped on a plane to see my best girlhood friend for the first time in twenty-three years.  I bonded with her children, and we toured breath-taking mountains.  She threw me a party and invited all her neighbors.  During the visit, Shannon told me something that made me chuckle.

“You know, Sean, when we were little, I didn’t know you were black.”

“You didn’t?” I laughed, “Then why did you think I was darker than you?”

“I don’t know,” Shannon said easily, “I didn’t think about it.”

I returned home with great pictures of my trip and a tranquility that I had not known in years.

In the summer of 2002, Shannon’s fourth child was stillborn.  To fill the hole in their lives, Shannon and her husband discussed adoption.  They put their words into action a year later, and the angel who came into their lives was an African-American baby boy.  Coincidentally, he has nearly the same birthday as their stillborn son.  I was one of the references Shannon submitted to the adoption agency, along with pictures of us as little girls.  She told me that was the main reason the birth mother selected her family: she was very impressed with Shannon’s exposure to African-American culture.  My God son, Kaleb Ezekiel, is almost ten now and the beautiful African-American girl that Shannon and her husband adopted, Ruby Shay, is five.  One of my greatest joys is being Aunt Sean to all six of her children.

I analyze our friendship from time to time.  Sometimes it is complex:  Minus the poison of ignorance and intolerance, two girls of different races and religions lived Martin Luther King’s dream, maybe foreshadowing that a black man would become president 30 years later.  Sometimes it’s simple:  The sheer beauty of two little girls having fun in a small, sunny town; friendship in its purest form.  I like the latter analysis best.

Here is actress Jessica Biel’s directorial debut based on my story, Sodales (2010) Approximately 18 minutes: http://youtu.be/ThKx0IYb3gU

Here’s me with Jessica on the red carpet. I got to keep the dress and the shoes!

SeanandJessicaBiel

Sean C. Wright is the author of the short stories Hazel Hogan and Devil Does Dallas. She is also an editor. For more information about her writing skills and how she can assist you with yours–business or consumer–visit http://www.iwrightaway.com/.

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The Aloof Goofs

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We all know people like this: they always – very enthusiastically – eat food we bring to the office to share but never reciprocate.  They RSVP yes to an event but may not show up and don’t bother to call and give explanation.  You may not get thank-you cards for the wedding/baby/housewarming gift you gave them because they “just don’t get around” to sending them.

People who behave like this have become so commonplace these days that they have earned a name in my book: the Aloof Goofs – AG for short.  We all look out for Number One; AGs do to the point of sheer self-absorption.

Why the recent AG boom?  I say technology is partially to blame.  We live in a world today where we don’t really need to communicate with other humans as much as we use to.  For example, we’re much more likely to shoot an e-mail or a text message to someone, instead of picking up the phone or walking down the hall to someone’s office.  If we need to make inquiries on our accounts, we can do it by a computerized menu when we call in.  The telephony menu actually gives us options as to whether or not we want to speak to a live person.  And some people are literally tethered to their cell phones in public and are simply less available to interact.  Technology is making robots out of us instead of us making robots; thus the warmth that makes us human can be at best lukewarm these days.

Another reason for the AG epidemic in this country is that America is out of practice with using good manners towards one another.  For instance, my grandmother was a child in The Great Depression.  She and many other octogenarians tend to be generous and thoughtful souls.  Because monetary or tangible gifts and pleasures were such a rarity in The Depression, good deeds were pretty much all they had to give.  That value is ingrained in that generation.  The Baby Boomers, which are their children, were taught the same values.  Things started to go south with my generation, a.k.a. Generation X, or the Me Generation.  By then, playing with big, shiny toys and video games and watching cable TV replaced relationship-building activities, like helping a friend with laundry or shoveling a neighbor’s snowy driveway.  America was once known for its generosity and empathy for the human plight and it is a shame we are losing sight of that.

What’s the big deal, you may ask?  When it comes to Aloof Goofs, why can’t we live and let live?  AG behavior has consequences.  A friend of mine told me about how floored she was when someone in her life, who is a practicing AG, called her in the wee hours of the morning.  He needed a ride because his car had broken down.  She did not think twice about telling him no. A relative of mine works in Human Resources and told me someone else in our family who never calls her “finally found her phone number” and was in dire need of employment.  My relative decided to help but not with the best efforts.  In short, these two examples demonstrate that when we withdraw from the generosity bank too often but do not make deposits, we will eventually have an overdraft – and emotional overdrafts are much harder to resolve than financial ones.

The most alarming damage in practicing Aloof Goof behavior can currently be seen in our children.  Higher numbers of children are being expelled from kindergarten or even nursery school for displaying some of these behaviors.  We are teaching them that selfishness and plain disregard for courtesy is the norm.

As we all know, bad habits can be reformed.  The most important practice to eradicate Aloof Goof behavior is making a concerted effort to connect with others whenever possible.  Give the e-mail and text messaging a rest and send an “un-birthday” card via snail mail to someone; this is a greeting card sent for no reason, no special occasion other than you appreciate the person.  Adopting our grandparents’ attitude is another surefire winner: look for ways to bring pleasure to other people.  Doing some spring cleaning?  Give people you know first choice on that file cabinet you were planning to put in a yard sale or the clothes and appliances you were going to give to charity.  Leave communal places and things we use in better condition than we found them.  Having this mind-set will lead to AG standing for All Good.

Are you an Aloof Goof?

  •  Do you habitually contact people only when you need a favor?
  • Can you remember the last time you did a good deed for someone without being asked?
  • Do you take in more thoughtful gestures and material things from people than you give?
  • Can you “never find time” to send thank-you notes in situations when it is proper etiquette to do so?

Sean C. Wright is the author of the short stories Hazel Hogan and Devil Does Dallas. She is also an editor. For more information about her writing skills and how she can assist you with yours–business or consumer–visit https://seanarchy.wordpress.com.

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