Thursday, September 8, 2011

Book review: The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin

Synopsis: Gretchen Rubin had an epiphany one rainy afternoon in the unlikeliest of places: a city bus. “The days are long, but the years are short,” she realized. “The years are passing, and I’m not focusing enough on the things that really matter.” In that moment, she decided to dedicate a year to her happiness project. Rubin chronicles her adventures during the twelve months she spent test-driving the wisdom of the ages, current scientific research, and lessons from popular culture about how to be happier. Among other things, she found that novelty and challenge are powerful sources of happiness; that money can help buy happiness, when spent wisely; that outer order contributes to inner calm, and that the very smallest of changes can make the biggest difference.

Review/Thoughts: One of my biggest goals for this period of transition in my life is to get back to my authentic self…but even better, so really, I couldn’t have picked a better time to read this book. Rubin picks twelve broad areas of her life and focuses on one per month, setting resolutions that she tracks on a chart. Any resolutions she doesn’t keep in their respective months gets moved to the next month, and so on.

This book drives home the fact that really, it is the little things in life that can make a big difference. Although I enjoyed this whole book immensely, the part that really struck a chord with me was when she talked about True Rules, which she calls “an idiosyncratic collection of principles…for making decisions and setting priorities.” It turns out that I have my own list of True Rules, although I’ve never heard them called by that name before, and I’m sure if you thought about it, you could come up with your own list. So, in the spirit of reading the book and wanting to make small but significant changes in my life, here’s my list:

· Make the effort
· Keep moving forward
· It’s not usually about you (me)
· Books are my salvation
· Be here now
· Trust the process
· Details matter
· Don’t judge—you don’t know the whole story
· Speak up
· Don’t commit if you won’t follow through

For more information on the author and The Happiness Project (or to find tools to start your own), visit

What about you? What small areas of your life could you change in order to be happier? What “True Rules” set the tone for your life?

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

What FT Freelancing Has Taught Me

I can hardly believe that Labor Day has come and gone, so yes, friends, this means we can officially wish summer a fond farewell. Temps are in the 60’s here today, too, which drives the point home even more.

September 2 marked three months since I bid my job farewell, too, and decided to pursue freelancing for awhile, just to see if I could make a go of it. I realize that it’s an incredibly crummy time to give up the security of a regular job, but as I’ve said here before, I felt it was time to go for a long list of reasons. But still—the reality of making the leap and trying to make a go of it was a little too much for me. However, since writing was my only income over the summer, I didn’t have much choice but to work at it. Work really, really hard at it.

And I’ve learned a lot. I’ve learned a lot about myself, and also about the worlds of freelance writing and self-employment. But what have I learned? Glad you asked:

· You simply won’t like every project. I’m not thrilled about covering local school board meetings, but I realize I’m paying my dues and it’s all money in my pocket. (But I’ll be covering some shows at our local concert venue, which I do enjoy, so it’s a bit of a trade off). I also wrote an article about stinkbugs for my local business journal and an article on pet stain and odor removers for a trade magazine. Are they subjects I would normally embrace? Probably not. But these pieces showed that I can write about virtually any topic. And anyway, I don’t have to find the finished piece compelling—as long as the editor and reader likes it, I’m happy.

· Follow up, follow up, follow up. Most of the work I received this summer came about through follow up emails to editors and potential clients (or to ask about invoices). I’ve always been pretty persistent when it comes to following up, but I’ve gotten even more strict about it since my bank account depends on it.

· I have more ideas than I thought... I’ve never had that much success with queries, but I’ve been trying to develop my ideas a bit more and take more time with them than perhaps I’ve done in the past. I’ve been sending out more queries in general, but I like to think they’re better crafted ideas, too.

· …but not every editor will like them as much as I do. But I realize many of them will never see the light of day, and I have to be OK with that and hopefully find a new angle on the story or a new market for it altogether.

· Writing is hard work. I can’t afford to not sit at the keyboard for a good portion of the day. I realize that a major perk to the freelancing life is the ability to set your own hours, so I do give myself a break now and then, but from 9-4 (and sometimes during the evening hours), I’m here in the chair, working on assigned pieces or trying to land new work. There are some days when I quite frankly don’t feel like writing, and they are obviously not my best writing days, so I’ll focus on other business instead—updating my query spreadsheet, emailing sources, following up with editors, or working on materials for the class I’m teaching.

· Details matter. It’s important to get sources’ names and job titles correct, as well as spellings, dates, and finer points of each story. Those little details may not mean much to the writer, but readers and editors will certainly notice. I’m particularly sensitive to getting people’s names right since so many folks spell mine incorrectly (if you can even imagine), but all of those little seemingly insignificant points matter.

What about you? What has the freelancing life brought to your life?