As I write this, current clients owe me almost $2,000. This represents work spanning over the entire month of December and most of January.
The unpaid balances on my client accounts are not for want of proper documentation or billing. I know to the penny who owes me what and have records of all my Paypal invoices. The problem comes back to two simple facts of freelancing:
- Clients don’t always finish projects when they say they will, and
- Their correspondence sometimes leaves a lot to be desired.
The first issue isn’t always the client’s fault. I sometimes work with people who are hiring me on behalf of others in a company. When they need approval from superiors, who themselves might be waiting on someone else, things get bogged down really fast.
I make it a point to send follow up emails to my clients, but even so, people have a tendency to push writers off to the side if they get busy with other things in their life. This reflects a larger problem: The general consensus is that, apparently, writers don’t need to make a schedule, nor do they need to get paid on time and, you know, maybe eat or pay rent.
The best thing a person can do to combat both of these issues is to establish clear communication policies with a client in writing, putting them in project contracts. For example, the contract might specify that the first mode of contact is email, then phone, then written letter and, lastly, an attorney contact. The policies also can indicate how much time may elapse between communications, such as 24 hours. Another good policy is to require at least one correspondence per week, even if it’s just sending a quick email that says, “Just checking in!”
This strategy doesn’t guarantee you’ll be able to foresee the exact pay date for every project (clearly, it isn’t in my case), but it does give you the ability to know what is happening with each project and to make some assessments about how to adjust your budget or calendar appropriately.
1. You have at least one type of notepad or word processing application on your smartphone and use it to jot down ideas on the go.
2. Paper and pencil are on your nightstand, just in case your dreams are novel-worthy or you get inspired at 3:00 a.m.
3. The amount you spend on office supplies is dangerously close to your income.
4. There is always some kind of pen mark on at least one of your hands.
5. Your computer is always on, and you leave Microsoft Word running no matter what else you are doing on the machine.
6. Coffee and breakfast are fairly synonymous.
7. You wonder what people mean when they say they “clock out” for the day.
8. People always give you gift cards to stores like Barnes & Noble for your birthday or the holidays.
9. You run through possible lead lines in your head while in the shower, wondering if they’re good enough.
10. You actually care what weight a pencil lead is and what type of ink a pen has.
As I write this, it’s about midnight. I have to be up in roughly five hours. When I do emerge from my comfy boudoir, I’ll stumble sleepily out to my kitchen, grab a bite of whatever-fruit-I-bought-this-week and a soda (horrible morning habit, I know, but I don’t drink coffee and need the caffeine), and sit at my computer again. Most mornings, I am writing within fifteen minutes of the alarm going off.
What, you thought writers got to lounge around in their pajamas clicking away at the keyboard all day?
(Ok. I’ll admit, my morning work does happen in my pjs.)
I know each morning that I would love some extra sleep. But I also know that I have bills to pay and that my keyboard clicking handles that. I know most people can clock out in the early evening, but I stay late (in my living room or home office) so that I can be my own boss. When I am writing about something drier than months-old rice cakes, I make it a point to listen to music that revs me up.
The point is, to be a writer, you need to fight for balance. Our craft is a passionate one, and you need opportunities to be…not creative. To just be. Remember, the best writing rule is to write what you know. If all you ever do is write, you leave yourself no room to experience and learn, to give yourself the foundation on which to hang your plots and ideas. As a result, the range of believable, authoritative content you’ll put out will be ultra small.
In a perfect world, a writer’s brain would be like the notebooks (or laptop) he uses, capturing every brilliant idea for future sorting and elaboration. But alas, the brain doesn’t come with a “Save As” feature. It captures only what a person, for whatever reason, subconsciously or consciously deems important enough to remember.
In the moment, a writer might think that he’ll recollect a concept or phrasing, but depending on how the brain links the new concept or phrase with the writer’s existing ideas, experiences and emotions, this doesn’t always happen. The result is that when he comes back to a project later, he has a major “oh, crud” moment and realizes that his star of brilliance is destined to fade into the dark abyss of the forgotten.
Hence the importance of taking notes.
If you’re old school, you can jot down your ideas with your favorite pen and a notebook that fits in your pocket. If you prefer a technique that’s a little more contemporary, using a digital voice recorder or even a smartphone app works. There’s no right or wrong method. Just find what works for you and use your technique consistently. You might not use everything you save, but at least there’ll be something there for you to sort through when you want or need something to work on. That matters in the craft of writing, because creativity and options are inextricably linked.