“No” is one of the most important words in a freelancer’s lexicon. It’s how you to turn down jobs that don’t work, don’t pay enough, and preserve your time and space for yourself against a confluence of influences.
If you say yes to everything, you’ll take crap jobs for little money, and you’ll also give away too much of your time, and yourself.
Here’s a few things I said “no” to since my last newsletter.
- A low paying assignment. This was the hardest “no” I had to learn when I was a new freelancer. My business was less uneven then, but when I started, I bought into the idea that the only way forward was to take every single opportunity offered me. But all that did was leave me doing too much work for little pay, and burned out. By turning down work that doesn’t pay what I was looking for, I can dedicate my time to finding clients that are a better fit for me. Case in point: a few years ago, I finally stopped writing for what had been an anchor client. The editor was outright mean to me, and required so many revisions that my per/hour rate dropped to almost nothing. I was terrified to let that work go, because it still payed, but once I did, my income jumped the next year. All the brain space that ding dong took up was now free to find better paying work that also didn’t give me headaches. It can be scary! But it’s how you grow.
- An extra assignment. As much as I love this client, and have done rush jobs for them in the past, this particular one would have meant working on an upcoming trip. I used to work while away in the past, but it means I don’t really take time off, and I have previously come back from vacation less than revived. My book is business is strong, so I was comfortable saying “I can’t this time,” and they were totally fine with that.
- A pitch. I get a lot of pitches from public relations professionals. I file away ones I might be able to use in the future, and delete the rest. An acquaintance sent me one last week, and while it was a good idea, I told her it wasn’t for me because I didn’t cover that field, and despite maybe being a good profile for the person’s alumni magazine, I don’t often pitch those publications (they assign to me), and I hadn’t had much luck breaking into that particular university’s publication. Does this mean I’ll never write the story? Not necessarily. Who knows what it might match down the line for me — or another writer who I think might be interested, as I’m always happy to pass good ideas along. But I can’t chase every story idea tossed my way, just like every assignment is not for me.
- Meeting a friend in the middle of the day. I really wanted to meet a friend for a walk, but I had deadlines and calls and work to do. Flexibility is one of the best things about being a freelancer, but it’s my time to be flexible with. If I want to sneak out to the movies on an afternoon where I don’t have any calls, that’s my prerogative. But that doesn’t mean I’m also up to babysit or drive someone to the airport or, even if I really really want to ditch work and meet a friend, meet a friend. She totally understood of course, but other’s haven’t (fortunately the airport requests have stopped, but not after some very hard boundary settings).
- Give out an editorial contact. Editors are much more open about who they are and how to reach them these days, often posting that information on their social media profiles, but I still have strangers reach out to me wanting to know who I write for, and their email addresses. I can’t blame someone from shooting their shot, but I unless I know the person, I always politely decline. This isn’t me not wanting to give up the goods, but I often don’t know the person writing me, have no idea if they’re any good or not, and some of my editors don’t want me throwing their contact information around. I’ve also had strangers (strangers!) contact my editors and tell them “Jen Miller said that…” which almost got me fired from a recurring column once (the editor thank goodness emailed me directly and I told her I had no idea who the person was or why she was saying that).
- Give out free freelance consults. One of the reasons I started Notes from a Hired Pen was because I got so many requests from people wanting to pick my brain. As flattered as I am, I can’t possibly do this for everyone who asks. But I didn’t want to look like I was gatekeeping that information, so I put my brain pickings out on the internet instead by writing this free newsletter, and then ebooks that I sell for $10 each, which I priced that way to keep them affordable. So whenever I get this kind of request, I point them in the direction of what I and other freelancers can offer in terms of instruction. Does everyone like it when I do this? No. I’ve gotten some nastygrams in response (which is bizarre! I don’t know you and you want something for free!?) but it’s the best way to help people and still protect my time.
If saying “no” is hard at first, that’s completely normal. Remember, I’ve been freelancing full time for 19 years (and started freelancing in general since I was in college). But over time, it gets easier, and your career — and your time — will be better for it.
“Cost of employer-sponsored health insurance is flattening worker wages, contributing to income inequality” for Tufts Now “Hybrid work in construction offices here to stay” for Construction Dive
What I’m Reading
- The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty. Once again, this was mostly great, but it falls apart near the end because Moriarty gives mediocre to terrible men better conclusions than they deserve. I had the same issue with Apples Never Fall (which is coming out as a TV series on Peacock. The tone seems way darker than Moriatry writes).
- The Midnight Library by Matt Haig. A lovely bit of multiverse/magical realism. I appreciated it, too, a someone who is prone to depression.
What I’m Watching
- Echo. I have mixed feelings on this. I like the character of Echo and the actress who plays her, but I don’t think five half hour episodes is enough (even if that was because of behind the scenes stuff). It’s also pretty violent, which doesn’t mean it’s bad, but it did surprise me. I also finished this while working through Killers of the Flower Moon. Please put Tantoo Cardinal, who is in both, in everything. I also recommend the Pop Culture Happy Hour episode on this show.
- Reacher (season 2). Speaking of violent but not being surprised – Reacher! Big man go smash! I know the joke is that this is a show for Dads. If that’s the case, I am also a Dad. Enjoyable.
- American Nightmare. I’ve watched a lot of true crime documentaries, and this three parter goes is that but also what happens when law enforcement gets tunnel vision. Highly recommend this one.
- Queenpins. I watched this movie, which is based on the real life $31 million counterfeit coupon ring, while on the treadmill. It was just okay — or not that great considering the cast includes Kristen Bell (in VERY bad wigs), Kirby Howell-Baptiste, Vince Vaughn and Paul Walter Hauser. I think if they’d gone less slapstick-y and more the tone of something like the show Good Girls, it would have been a better movie. But it was perfectly fine to watch while running to nowhere.
- Anatomy of a Fall. A very good movie about a death, but also about a toxic marriage. Personally, it showed me my French is both better and worse than I thought (it’s in English and French – the subtitles helped me out quite a bit there).
Nail Polish of the Week
Black Cherry Chutney by OPI. A very dark maroon with a bit of shimmer. Perfect if you want dark nails but don’t feel like doing black (I learned how to do my nails at the start of the pandemic [which is still ongoing BTW] and used to include what nail polish I wore in the Book a Week with Jen blog, and since I’m not doing that this year, I moved it over here. Luck you!)
Until next time!
Jen A. Miller
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