Throughout my career, I’ve been lucky enough to work with some really incredible people. Intense, talented, fucking extra terrestrial people, but most of them ebb and flow in and out of my life. That’s how freelancing works, that’s the life.
But a rare few stick around a bit and you start to really like working together, you know? They go from just people you see here and there to someone you consider an actual colleague and friend. When that chemistry works, it turns everything into rocket fuel. They give you the idea that maybe you can be more.
And, hey, I don’t know you, maybe you can be.
Ten Gallon Hats and Mercy Killings
Sometimes, though, you’re going to find yourself on sinking ships that you can’t find a way off of. You may really like that project at first, even, but over time it becomes glaringly obvious that the client or the client of the client doesn’t give two damns about you.
Maybe you even find out that they would actually replace you or your team with someone who would work for less than the almost nothing you’d agreed to years ago because this project was supposed to grow both in scope and dollars as time went by. (Let that demoralizing little apple bob around a bit….)
When those people who set you on fire as a creative still have your back despite it all, you can’t just walk away from them, you know? Those are YOUR people. You’ve chosen each other, for better or worse. And in this industry, worse is almost guaranteed to be a thing that happens often.
Those are the same people who give you the strength and words to pull the plug on that project that’s been eating you up for years. You can’t please everyone, they remind you. You have to live for today because tomorrow isn’t promised. But the loyalty of a few good friends and contemporaries, well, that’s a big deal.
Loyalty. That’s just… everything.
Moving From Lone Wolf to Freelancing Team Spirit
I work with a team that I adore. I also work on a few projects with a few lovely and wonderful people that I respect deeply. When I started in this business, though, I started out on my own. I didn’t really know anyone and I was like, “I don’t need nobody.” Which, let’s face it, isn’t true. Or it is if you work out the double negative there.
Anyway, the point here is that being a Lone Wolf can be ok for a while, but if you really want to make it in the changing climate that is freelance writing, someone needs to be watching your back and you need to be doing the same for them. Just because it’s highly competitive doesn’t mean that you have to turn other writers into the enemy or be an asshole. Not to other writers, anyway.
The truth is that I have found much more success thinking of myself as part of a team or a partnership than I ever did alone. That being said, I’m going to tell you how to find that same sort A-Team of writing as I have.
Remember: There’s nothing as important as loyalty when the odds are stacked against you as hard as they are in this writing life.
Finding Your Creative Posse
We’ve discussed the power of networking at least once, I know. Maybe a few times. But we never really discussed the longer-term implications of that, so that’s where we’re going right now. How do you find and form a creative posse? Like this.
1 Hang out with other writers online. Check Facebook, LinkedIn, fucking Reddit if that’s your thing, there are bound to be professional writing groups. A lot of them are shit, so keep that in mind as you plunge in. Many are supposed to be for the writing industry and turn out to just be a lot of people who want to “wait on their muse” to do their fucking job and beg everyone for work. If you see that, just block all those fuckers. Or leave. You could just leave.
2. Cultivate relationships with your clients. Believe it or not, your clients are people, too. Sure, they’re kind of the boss, but also they’re kind of a creative collaborator. If you consistently meet or exceed their expectations, then after several months maybe you can do something nice for them. Like, maybe it’s Boss’ Day (that’s still a thing, right?) and you start out delicate by sending an eCard. Or maybe Facebook tells you it’s their birthday, snag a $10 Starbucks gift card for them. Who doesn’t like Starbucks? Shoosh.
3. Meet creatives in your own town. I understand there are still Meetups and other sorts of, you know… social things out there. I don’t participate because I’m essentially just a head in a jar. But I hear things. Go grab a cup of coffee and hang out with some people in your city that do what you do.
4. Attend a writing conference. I mean, I haven’t yet, but it’s on my list. After all, those guys paid to be there, so they’re at least a little serious. They’re not going to show up on a first date with their unpublished manuscript asking you for notes. Instead, they’ll try to impress you with their most recent article in Tiger Beat or something.
5. Help others. Your next door neighbor’s kid just graduated from college with a technical writing degree and is having a hard time getting work? Hey, this is where you offer to take said kid under your umbrella and help them get started. Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn’t, but when it does, that’s a friend who absolutely knows you inside and out.
I can hear you now: Sure, it’s all well and good to make friends and be a social butterfly, but I’m in this for the money. Oh, you special little unicorn, I hear you. I smell your precious farts.
I haven’t been in this business for 23 years for the kicks. Well, I like the kicks, but I also really like the fat stacks of cash. Like totally in my top three.
When you make friends in this world, you expand your network, you rub up against new possibilities, you learn things you’d never think to learn and, you selfish asshole, you get to experience that thing about rising tides and boats. It’s a beautiful thing. And one that will ensure you’re stocked up on Ramen and beans and rice for life.
You don’t get ahead as a creative by stepping on others or using them to make a buck. You get ahead in this writing life by sharing, networking and writing until your fingers bleed.
This message is for all of you: choose your friends wisely and your best creative team will follow. This job isn’t a fucking contest. It’s not a fucking sideshow. It’s not a goddamn charity. But it is hard, you will work long hours, and sometimes things will go to shit completely.
And in those moments, if you’re very lucky, your team will be there to help you reset your compass and guide you back to sanity.