Posted in Advice For Writers, The Journey

A Few Words On Incentives – But Not The Kind You Think

If you’ve thought about freelancing you have probably sat back and reveled in the idea of working for yourself.  This is a misnomer.  As a freelancer you are working for others, but unlike in traditional work, you have a huge say over which clients you have.  That’s an incentive in itself.

For the past few years I’ve heard the term “love language” tossed around quite a bit.  Parents kick around ideas of what their children’s love languages are, or new couples try to come up with their partners’.  I’m neither a parent nor am I in a new relationship (we actually had our first date a little over ten years ago, whoah) and I’m also not really into many of the crunchy things my friends (at least according to Facebook) post about like affirmations and meditation.  But after seeing it a bunch of times I realized that this “love language” is, even if I have never used the term, a core part of who and what we are and, I realized, can translate into how we work.  And anything that can help us understand what we need in work can help us to work better, smarter and happier.

The idea is simple: people have something that they equate with love.  And while all five of the languages communicate appreciation, love, and respect, this is the thing the person most needs or attributes to a healthy, happy relationship.  The person making money off of this has them broken down into five:

  • Words of Affirmation
  • Acts of Service
  • Receiving Gifts
  • Quality Time
  • Physical Touch

Like most personality type indicators (because this is kind of like that), we all recognize all of these things as valuable but there are some that speak to us on a deeper level.  For me, it’s Quality Time.  That is Nancy’s love language.  Sure a gift is nice, and words of affirmation is probably in second place but quality time wins by a landslide.  In two ways.

First, I need time by myself.  And quite a bit of it.  And people who love me show me that when they understand that sometimes I just want to hang out by myself.  Walking in the woods, going for a drive, sitting around reading, etc.  Second, I need the time I do spend with others to have value.  It doesn’t have to be often, it doesn’t have to last long, but it needs to be quality time.  For me that can look like many things, but at its core it looks like someone who both wants to spend time with me and who respects my time that I have put aside to spend with them.  There is nothing worse (for me) than hanging out with someone who is texting or talking to other people… go hang out with them!  Or who is distracted by a game or the television.  I would much rather spend an hour tuned into a friend then three hours of them being distracted.

What does this have to do with freelance writing?  More than I realized until I started thinking about it.  As a freelancer I have clients.  I do not generate content for myself (except for this blog).  Even if I were writing fiction full time I’d still have to please an agent/editor/publisher/fans.  I am not writing full time in notebooks for my own joy.  I’m developing content for a variety of websites.  And the reason my clients keep me on the payroll, and have extended the amount they assign to me, is because I meet their expectations.  Just like in a “real”* job.

When I left my position at MEA a few people joked that I wanted to be retired and others, too many others, quipped about my not having “a real job”.  I’ll save that rant for another point.  I do have a “real job”.  But it looks very different.  And in my exploration of this new job I have seen, very quickly, that my attraction and willingness to work with clients is driven by, no joke, a love language of its own.  And I strongly recommend that all new freelancers find theirs and become comfortable with it quickly.

That said, let’s be clear: you have no say, at the beginning of your freelancing career, who you’re going to write for.  And chances are you’re going to have some horrific gigs.  Actually, your very first gig may be writing for content mills, a special kind of hell.  But eventually you’ll start writing for clients on a regular basis and you’ll pretty much take anything that comes your way.  Then, after more time, you’ll land a few great gigs that will open up a new experience: being able to say “no” to certain clients.  I started freelancing while also working full time so I wasn’t doing much.  And I was picky since this was not any source of income (content mills strike again).  I didn’t pay much attention to what I liked and disliked in clients – I was making money by writing and that was exciting.  But now that I’m full time I’ve noticed several things that can be tied to love languages and the importance of finding yours as quickly as possible.

  • My working love language is NOT my personal love language.  It would, in fact, be weird if it were.  I don’t hang out with clients.  In fact, I’ve never met my clients.  I did have a conference call with my newest recently but that was a first.  That said, my love language is a part of why I freelance and I keep it in mind: I have quality time outside of my car, I am home for dinner every night, I control my schedule.  Things I couldn’t really say when I was working at MEA.
  • My working love language in my freelancing life is Words of Affirmation:  My love language for work is Words of Affirmation.  I don’t need praise regularly or for no reason, but I do appreciate, and am not afraid to admit that I appreciate, when a client recognizes something exceptional.  Extra effort, learning something new, pitching an idea they’d not thought of.

These two facets of my personality are hugely important to a happy, productive writing life.  I loved my job at MEA but it came at a huge cost: 8 years of rarely seeing friends and family back home, many broken plans here because of things that came up, a huge amount of time in the car, a general decline in health and wellness.  Freelancing has given me back many of these things – but it could easily take them away were I not to listen to what I need.  There are three experiences that have compounded my belief in the importance of finding, and listening to, my love language when it comes to work.

  1. The Less Than Communicative Client:  My first regular freelancing job was a pretty sweet deal for my post-content mill life.  The pay, however, was very low.  But it was new and I was breaking in.  I had a by-line (huge in this work), enjoyed the topic.  The articles were long and allowed me creative freedom.  The style guidelines were insane and required several extra hours a week of reformatting and checking three or four times.  Articles were due once a week and once a week I handed in perfectly polished pieces.  I wasn’t late.  My articles were published quickly.  But not once, not ONCE, was there any acknowledgement.  Even when I went way above and beyond.  Not a “that was cool,” or “could you do that again?”.  Weekly there were blanket, BCC’ed emails about contributors needing to be timely, spelling and grammar mistakes being unacceptable, massive issues with formatting that was taking up too much time for the editors.  I understand that I didn’t have these issues but even one note saying, “We appreciate the care you put into your work,” would have been nice.  Needless to say, that was the first job to go when others rolled in.
  2. The Postings To Avoid: I get jobs from a variety of online sources and have learned how to read postings.  I like to think of them as online dating profiles.  The longer ones can give you a good sense of the type of client you’re looking at.  And when there is a ton of demanding language or language that is “bossy”, I usually steer away from it.  I’m a competent writer.  I can follow instructions.  I don’t need a mommy.  I also communicate with clients about postings and if I notice these types of indicators I usually say, “Thanks but no thanks.”  It’s not arrogance.  It’s recognizing that neither of us is going to be happy.
  3. Do Unto Others:  I am polite from the start.  And I’m also clear about my expectations and don’t take on jobs I feel won’t be a good fit.  This is why I have four clients I absolutely adore.  Would I like to have more?  Yes.  Will I find them?  Also, yes.  But I have to worry about myself and my personal level of satisfaction.  And my needs… not my wants.  But my basic needs that fuel me as a creative person.

So while I don’t need an incentive to sit down and write (although I maybe need to rethink that when it comes to the fiction I’ve been ignoring for the last month or so) I do find that there are incentives that come along with freelancing.  And you’ll find them by exploring your love language, like I did with mine.  I don’t need a cookie every day, or even every week.  But if I do something exceptional, recognition – even just a quick note within an assignment email that says, “Hey, that was cool!” goes a long way.  And of course, the major freelancing incentive for me is time.  I have time now.  I haven’t had time in 8 years.

What’s your love language?  How can you use it in your own freelancing life?

*Don’t even get me started.


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