Category Archives: work from home

Monday Morning Musings: Millennial Writers, Quit Hitting Refresh!

Not for the first time, it’s been dawning on me lately that my status as a millennial writer may be putting me at something of a competitive disadvantage.

I’m not referring to my relative (though rapidly disappearing thanks to student loans and the looming inevitable death of all we hold dear) youth, or the metric ton’s worth of crappy expectations and stereotypes previous generations have dumped upon mine. I’m simply pointing out that my patience level is, shall we say, not high. In this business, that’s not exactly an asset.

A twenty-first century writer’s true nemesis, you understand, is not crass commercialism or an uneducated public or even a literary archrival. No, it’s that danged refresh button.

“Come on, come on, it’s been like half a day already. Has she seen my e-mail? Surely she’s seen my e-mail. Read the query, read the query, READ THE QUERY, READTHEQUERYREADTHEQUERYREADTHEQUERY!”

It’s just so freaking easy nowadays for millennial writers like me to click back and forth between windows, hitting “refresh” on blog stat trackers and e-mail inboxes every 30 seconds.

“What do you mean there’s only been 10 pageviews so far? That was a brilliant post! How do all those spam marketing sites with people who can’t write in English get so much flipping traffic, anyway?”

We may be getting a tad obsessive. Also, that little nervous habit is cutting way too much into our writing time.

There is no way I would have survived trying to make a career of writing back in the good old days when everything always got lost in the mail both ways. If I make a change to the blog settings, my brain does know that it’s unrealistic to expect such minute tweaking to instantly boost my readership. Does that ever stop me from frantically doing CPR compressions on my refresh button? Heck no.

Nor does my complete lack of control over when other humans send e-mails even slightly make a dent in the number of times I’ve checked my messages since lunch (approximately 347, in my not-so-scientific estimation). There’s an old Calvin and Hobbes cartoon that opines, “The longer you wait for the mail, the less there is in it,” and right now I really feel like reaching through my screen and giving my inbox a good bopping.

Sure, the usual advice given to millennial writers in my situation is to write something else, or query someone else,  or do something else. And I’ll totally do that, right after I refill my coff–REFRESHREFRESHREFRESH! Whoops.

How do you avoid mashing the refresh button?


Freelance Fridays: Writing in Coffee Shops


Don’t make a coffee shop nuisance of yourself. Photo via Visualhunt


From time to time, so-called coffee shop loitering pops up as a sore point in the business world. In short, it’s a culture clash between shop owners who want fast turnover and consumers, typically writers, freelancers, and homebased workers, who want a little change of pace during their work day.

The problem? Everybody is trying to work. The store wants us to buy things and leave, and we just want to be left alone to get something done in a stimulating environment. Also, we want caffeine. We’re not going anywhere. The shops need to work this one out, but that’s a topic for another Friday.

While the debate is far from resolved, there are a few things we guests can do to encourage our local cafes to embrace and encourage our presence, instead of viewing us as pests to be evicted as quickly as possible.

Freelance Fridays: Coffee
Drink up freelancers, it’s Friday!

Plan ahead. If I’m wanting to use the WiFi for an important item, say, uploading photos, I try to have my things as organized as possible before I get there. Have the start of a blog post in a file, a few images edited, a video ready to go. If I end up leaving earlier than planned, then hopefully I’ve accomplished something in the interim.

Don’t abuse the privilege. So there’s a line out the door, the staff are running their tails off, and you’re just sitting there? You haven’t ordered anything for three hours. And you do this every day? Not cool. Take a social cue: If you can see that it’s unusually busy, think twice about staying so long.

I don’t hit the same place every single day, and I don’t stay late every time. Only one shop in your area? The rule especially applies. Limit your laptop outings. Because I can go as long as two weeks between work sessions, frequently bring guests for meals, and make a point of ordering food or drinks to go at other times, nobody begrudges my presence on the days when I do come in with a computer in tow.

Don’t take things that aren’t yours.
When I bring my laptop along, I bring it charged. I don’t plug it in to someone else’s wall and run up their power bill. If the battery runs out, tough.  Time’s up. Go home.

Engage the staff. A variation of Wheaton’s Law (otherwise known as “Don’t be a dick”), this one involves taking a moment each visit to get to know the people serving you day in and day out. Small talk doesn’t come naturally to us introverts, so think of it as an experiment in human behavior or an opportunity for information gathering. Ask a question about local news or events. Make a point of smiling and reassuring a staffer who is clearly having a rough day. Drop a friendly hint to tourists. Compliment someone’s cooking skills. Take a sample if it’s offered and give feedback. Whatever you do, do not hide in a corner and grunt.

Tip. This one is non-negotiable. If you’re going to take advantage of people’s hospitality, then let me kindly refer you back to Wheaton’s Law. I tip the baristas and servers every visit. And I live in a state where restaurant workers are required to be paid the standard minimum wage, not the much-lower federal restaurant minimum. There is no excuse for not tipping. Zero, zilch, nada. Put it in your budget.
Mix it up. The baristas at my regular spot remember what I usually drink, but they also know I will occasionally throw a curveball at them. Some days I buy coffee and leave. Some mornings I stay and grab a pastry; other times I’ll order a full breakfast or take lunch to go. Keep it interesting and keep them guessing.

If all you ever do is sit there four hours a day hogging a table and an outlet after buying a drip coffee–or nabbing a complimentary one–while refusing to acknowledge anyone, you’re gonna have a bad time. A little coffee shop etiquette goes a long way, freelancers.


Freelance Fridays: Everybody’s Hustling


Every writer makes mistakes sometimes. Here is how to stay afloat.

I had been working on a grant application for weeks.

I attended meetings, assembled maps and photos, spent hours going over figures.  I asked a gazillion questions and made tons of notes and suggestions. I went through the solicitation line by line, again and again. Finally, I submitted a lengthy, beautifully formatted document at the beginning of deadline day.

Freelance Fridays: Coffee
Drink up freelancers, it’s Friday!

And then I got an e-mail. The match proposal was unacceptable. All of the objections were based on criteria that had not been clearly stated in writing (two other, far more experienced grant-writing experts had read the same solicitation with me and come to the same conclusions about the rules that I had), but the powers-that-had-moolah were not budging. I had about six hours to work it out and resubmit the entire thing or we were dead in the water.

I called the top grant reviewer and the back-and-forth went nowhere. I called my consultants. I called everybody.
After about three hours of calling, e-mailing, and texting, I finally reached my client, who, rather understandably, wanted to know why the money people suddenly wanted him to come up with twice his planned cash match. And although I had come back to him with a strong suggestion for minimizing out-of-pocket costs, he objected to the principle of the whole thing. The government was annoying and unreasonable. Why did we need them involved again?  Hell if I knew, except for the “not enough money in bank for this project” part.

The phrase “unmitigated disaster” was never more apropos.

Exhausted from an afternoon spent bouncing from call to call, frantically trying to resolve the crisis, and emotionally hovering somewhere between fury and resignation, I let my other half know it was high time for a drink or twelve.

“I lost $50,000 today,” I told him.

I’m married to a contractor. I get only so much sympathy.

“That’s really bad, if you look at it that way,” he said.

Losing sucks. It’s also part and parcel of the freelancing deal. Instead of dwelling on the loss, I needed to focus on landing—and completing—the next job.

There’s an attractive mythos surrounding freelancing, in which we lucky few get to sleep in, eschew real pants, eat junk food all day, and avoid the general hassles associated with bosses and routines and day jobs, all while charging top dollar to crank out works of creative brilliance. The truth is that it’s just a slightly glamorized form of contracting—that thing where you pay both halves of Social Security, answer to dozens of different people with competing agendas, wait months to get paid, and are constantly on the hunt for your next gig because you presumably like food. The trick to staying afloat? Keep moving.


Freelance Fridays: Social (Media) Barriers


Is social media killing your productivity? Photo via VisualHunt


It starts out innocently enough. You’re on the hunt for your next meal. You want to keep tabs on the grandkids. You wish you were more up to speed on the news. You need The Google for researching your assignment. You work all the time and you don’t get out much.

Is the Internet filling that void?

Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Snapchat. You’ve Stumbled Upon the greatest thing since sliced bread: videos of cats accessorizing themselves with sliced bread. You’re YouTubing the vast right-wing (or is it left-wing) conspiracies aimed at thrusting us all into a Brave New World. You’re chasing your rock star dreams, living vicariously through the musicians topping the hottest playlists on Spotify.

What you aren’t doing is writing, creating, designing. You know, that pesky work stuff. And if your Internet addiction has gotten bad enough, you may also be strapping up for carpal tunnel while skipping the showers and sleep. If you’ve progressed to the point of filling adult diapers in order to maintain your butt-shaped print on the sofa and chomping down stray Cheetos like a psychotic bird, professional help is probably called for.

The rest of us have other options. If your days are flying by and you have next to nothing to show for all those hours you spend on the phone or at the computer, it’s time to do something about that little social media problem.

Freelance Fridays: Coffee
Drink up freelancers, it’s Friday!

Get out of the house. Are you cooped up in a home office, virtually alone for days on end? Get out. Walk your pets. Take a bike ride. Hit a local coffee shop, buy a drink, and spend an hour or two in a public space. Go to the library.

Join a charity, join a gym, join a club, find a writers’ group. Find something offline to do that keeps you physically or mentally active, at least a few hours each week. The more active you become in your local community, the less heavily you’ll depend on online socialization.

Go for broke. Are you sick of election news and misspelled memes? Sit there and read that stuff. Over and over. Read a few comment forums. Pick nice, irritating ones. Watch previews for trash TV and grieve the decline of modern literary culture. Immerse yourself so deeply in a social media cesspool for a few days that you come up begging for air.

Set a timer. I participate in a ladies’ housekeeping forum on social media (yes, I feel you, irony), and the subject of timers comes up fairly regularly. Set a timer that allows you five minutes of Internet for every half-hour of work time, every 500 words, whatever works for you. Or set a timer for your Internet activity. You’re done for the next hour when it goes off.

If all else fails, you might have to limit your online time. There’s no shortage of news stories and essays in recent years about writers who chose to pull the plug. Whether that means designating a work computer with no Internet access or forgoing Web connectivity entirely,  disconnecting and disengaging from the online world can be one of a writer’s most productive decisions.

How do you control online distractions?

Freelance Fridays: Spring Cleaning the Home Office, Part 1

Now that the tax season rush is mostly over, Project Locate My Office Floor is commencing. Neatnik, I am not, but at some point, I am going to have to get to my chair. Employees like to get paid, as it turns out, so  I really must unbury my checkbook before they show up with pitchforks and moldy tomatoes.

Maintaining a functional workspace is one of those annoying but necessary chores that for easily bored people like me requires gearing up every so often, preferably armed with loud music and a boost of sugary caffeine. Spring cleaning the home office enables me to get a fresh start on the new tax year as I finally put last year’s sky-high stacks of receipts and forms to bed.

As highly as I recommend regularly dosing your keyboard with compressed air and de-germing every visible surface with those little alcohol wipes, today’s post is for the rest of us, the busy, creative clutterbugs currently plopped in the center of about a square foot of bare floor space, wishing we could be doing anything else. Seriously, I’d even reconsider my stance on skydiving right now, and I hate plummeting to my doom and crunching all my bones up into human soup. But, no, we’ve got to do this organizational crap, and I know it sucks, but bear with me for a little while.

Step 1: Load the dishwasher
Quit looking at me like that! Get your dishes off the counter, throw a load of laundry in the machine, or feed the dog. The goal is to hide at least some of the other clutter in your house and get at least one quick, simple chore that mostly does itself out of the way. Also, hungry dogs are hugely distracting. You won’t be able to use your messy kitchen or your laundry stacks as an excuse to get out of cleaning the office if you’ve already started tackling those things, and seeing one newly clean surface helps get you into the proper cleaning mode.

Step 2: Make coffee
You can have tea, if that is your thing. Cocoa is also acceptable. Basically, any sort of drink that you routinely enjoy that gets you energized and excited about your day is what you want here.  Sip slowly and happily for at least five to 10 minutes. No chugging. This isn’t a frat house, although it might look like one.

Step 3: Pick your soundtrack
No sitting for hours creating playlists. I’m on to you. Turn on the radio, find your favorite channel. Stay off YouTube and quit pretending you’re searching for music videos; watching adorable kittens isn’t going to get your office any cleaner.

What will? Find out next Friday when we continue with Part 2. Happy scrubbing!


I’m blogging my way through my first novel in 2016. Subscribe to the RSS feed on the home page or find me on Facebook for new updates!