Rebooting the Freelancer

I have been a freelancer for many decades now. I have made illustrations, I’ve done a bit of writing plus editing and game design. My clients have primarily been in the tabletop game industry but I’ve also done work for some of the regular New York book publishers and California computer game companies.

The very nature of my freelancing is a process, not an end. Being successful is a moving target. I’ve been lucky to be reasonably successful most of those years. Truthfully, I’ve had fat years and lean ones, years I have more work than I can handle and years I scraped for every assignment. I’ve never stopped, although I have a confession to make: sometimes I have given up. Cried “uncle.” Laid down my arms and succumbed to despair.

Fred Saberhagen once said something along the line of “Luck. Talent. Persistence. You must have at least two of those three to succeed in creative endeavors.” Persistence is the one element most under one’s control.

Arguably, I have never actually given up, not really. I have always come back around and continued to do things I love, whether artistic or lexical.

When my old clients changed or disappeared, when I wasn’t inking interior illustrations or making paintings for card art, I made sculptures and mosaics and ceramics. I worked craft fairs and vendored my work at dog shows. I talked to fine art galleries. I’ve written millions of words for blogs, carried out endless correspondence, and even cobbled together a few completely unpublishable fanfic tales for my own amusement and to explore furthering my storytelling skills. I toyed with graphic novel work to combine my enjoyment of both art and writing.

I call it “being a Maker.” I cannot not be making stuff. However, I gave up feeling I could make a living freelancing. For at least two decades, that was never in question. It has been unnerving to realize hard work and talent might not be enough, that no matter how much fanmail I got applauding my decades of work, art directors would still say “Who are you again?” or “What have you done for me lately?”

Furthermore, grave real life issues got very tangled for me about ten years ago, and I couldn’t even begin unraveling those knots for quite some time. I was stopped cold for several years.

When I finally came up for air, I decided that it was time to grow up and get a real job. I applied to get my master’s degree in library work. After all, I’d been a part time paraprofessional in libraries for 16 years at that point, all the while my freelancing was roaring along like sixty. It seemed like a good idea at the time, going after my MLS. I believed I was walking away from freelancing, but also that it was the right thing to do.

I got my degree and worked several years full time, fitting in my creative efforts around the edges. The problem was, I was making myself ill, stressing out and trying to get up early enough to write regularly. My weekends became a competition with myself over how much ordinary life-infrastructure I could put off or ignore in order to do something artistically creative. Eventually I dropped back to working half-time at the library, much as I had done all those previous years. I became a much happier person.

Don’t get me wrong.
I love library work in countless ways. I chose the profession because I believe fiercely in the value and importance of libraries, and I have seen firsthand just how much of a difference we can make in the lives of so many people.

Many library users have no other recourse to information, to technology, to knowledge and services that make their lives richer. I have seen people bootstrap and better themselves by coming to us. Right now, I’m particularly enjoying the rare delight of being a specialist in the right place and the right time with knowledge and experience that’s desirable and useful. Libraries are embracing gaming, and I am happy to help two of my best friends get to know each other better.

My problems involve the time I’m not at the library. My old methods of freelancing mostly do not work the same way they did before. Externally, the publishing industry (of which gaming has traditionally been a part) has shifted strongly to downloadable content and print on demand, and it is still in flux. Everyone has answers but no one has The Answer to what’s going to happen next. (At least, I don’t believe any of those who say they do. Time will tell.) Electronic gaming has come of age and I’m behind the curve.

Internally, my personal workflow and business management methods simply refused to come back online for me. I have been spinning my wheels, burning the candle at both ends, doing my utmost but going nowhere. Can you be a freelancer when you’re not actually doing much freelancing?

This post could be a whiny litany of complaints and self-justifications, but it’s not. I am frustrated but determined to get things back under control, throwing away old solutions to old problems because, as Seth Godin points out, “our normal approach is useless here.” If it’s a lingering old problem, it certainly needs a new solution.

I’m trying out some new things. Not so much new art styles as new approaches to how I do the business of being a freelancer. Also, to how I approach my life overall. I thought I’d share with you here some of those things as I explore them.

I have one helluva lot of things to do, including improving this website. If my efforts fail, I fail in public. Professionally, I’ve always been a pretty open person, and I see a potential payoff to be won by not wanting to fail in public! If I succeed, perhaps I will have shared something that might prove useful to you. At the least, I hope you will find this an interesting ride.

In that regard, too: time will tell.

8 Replies to “Rebooting the Freelancer”

  1. Hullo, glad to see you’re rebooting. I’ve been a fan of your work since I first got my hands on T&T back in 1980. I hope things go well and look forward to more posts.

    1. Thanks for the vote of confidence! This is kinda like soliciting friends to help with an exercise or stop-smoking program, and it’s nice to know I’m not talking to a empty venue. Hope I’ll keep you coming back… that’s the plan, after all.

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