A freelance writer's occupational hazard

I've mentioned on my blog before that I have the occasional problem with repetitive strain injury in my wrists.  I haven't had it happen since around Christmas 2008, when I caused myself some major wrist pain by spray painting a kiddie table as a Christmas gift for my nephews.  Occasionally I'll feel the initial twinges of a problem, but I'm usually able to prevent any significant problems by reminding myself to move around, stretch, and change my position a little more often.

Perhaps a week ago, I started noticing some major twinges in my left wrist.  I thought it was due to the abrupt change in our weather — I was also feeling some soreness in the knee I injured falling off my horse a little over a year ago, and I assumed all the rain was making past injuries achy again.

The ache in my knee went away, though, and the pain in my wrist only spread up into my elbow.  Oops.

It's my left elbow, which has been giving me problems off and on for years.  It started bothering me in college, when I would rest my left elbow on the desk while I browsed the Internet, sometimes for hours.  It actually started messing with my nerves or something, because I would get pain and numbness radiating down into my hand sometimes.

I had to stop myself from resting my elbow on the desk, but lately I've been doing it again.  I've also been frequently propping my chin on my left hand or playing with my hair (a bad habit of mine) while I read, which means that my elbow is frequently bent.  I think that may have something to do with the current pain I am experiencing in my left wrist and elbow — I must be pinching the nerves.

When I first started freelancing full-time, I developed my worst case of repetitive strain injury from a day of using the mouse for hours and hours, looking for markets and editing some photos for an article I was writing.  The pain afterward lasted for days, if not weeks, and radiated from my wrists all the way up into my shoulders.  It took a lot of ibuprofen and heating pads to get through that — I found that using a heating pad on my wrists while I typed during the day, and keeping one on my shoulder or upper arm in the evening, helped keep me from making anything worse, and helped me be better rested when I began work the next morning.

So that's the approach I'm taking now.  Yesterday I had to take ibuprofen several times, so today I broke out the heating pad.  I've spent the day working on the couch, with my laptop on my lap (a more comfortable angle for my arm), a pillow under my forearm, and the heating pad wrapped around my elbow.

What about you?  Do you have any funny little aches and pains that plague you sometimes, or do you remind yourself to get up and move around regularly to avoid them?  We all have our favorite remedies for recurring injuries or aches — what are yours?

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By Katharine Swan On Wednesday, May 25, 2011 At 4:33 PM 2 comments

Is a freelance writer an entrepreneur?

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iconRecently I reviewed a book on Livre du Jour called The Entrepreneur Equation.  As a freelance writer, I often like to read books on business and entrepreneurship, but I found this one a little disappointing.  Early on in the book, she says that one-person businesses are just job-businesses, and aren't really worth pursuing, because you spend all that time (marketing, administration, etc.) to build a business that doesn't have any value and cannot be sold, since it revolves around you.  She says you'd be better off just getting a regular job doing what you want to do.

The point of the book is to help you decide whether you really should start your own business, and for the most part I like the message.  For instance, she points out the fallacies that are behind most people's motivations to start their own business (and why they don't work out): they want to earn their living doing what they love (running a business involves spending a lot of time on marketing and other tasks), they want more free time (you usually have to work even more in order to build a successful business), and they want to be their own boss (as a business owner, your customers or clients are your bosses, and can be far more demanding than any "real" boss you've ever had).  I agree with all this stuff.  Going into business for yourself is hard work, and takes a certain kind of person to succeed at it.

However, I just don't agree with what she says about one-person businesses.  First of all, she is overlooking the fact that there may not be a job available as an alternative.  For instance, I don't believe there are a lot of companies hiring novel writers.  As another example, I knew an artist who used to work at a tile company, painting tiles, but that wasn't really a long-term career choice for her, so she went solo.  There wasn't really any other option if she wanted to pursue a career as an artist, except going into business for herself.  Even for copywriters and content writers like myself, there are very few jobs, yet there is plenty of opportunity to pursue a career if you work as a freelancer or a contractor.

So then we move on to the claim that it's not worth spending the time on marketing etc. if you're not creating a business with value to it, which you can sell further on down the road.  First of all, it should be pretty obvious, but still bears mentioning that most freelancers have no intention of selling their business — they are creating a career for themselves, not for someone else.  Yet it has been done, as you might know if you've been around for several years.  Remember Carson and Content Done Better?

More importantly, though, how do you define value?  Monetary value?  Well then yes, she may have a point (although, as I already mentioned, selling a one-person freelance business has been done before).  But for most of us, I would say that the value we get out of freelancing is being able to earn our living doing something for which there aren't many career options in the traditional job market.  I definitely see that as being valuable.  You're carving out a career for yourself where there aren't many options.  Sure, maybe you have to work hard at it to succeed, but isn't that better than not being able to do it at all?

I don't like to criticize the book, because it does have some really great points about who should or shouldn't be running a business.  But I also think that saying there is no point in one-person businesses is a little short-sighted.  What do you think?

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By Katharine Swan On Wednesday, May 11, 2011 At 12:21 PM 1 comments

More pricing wisdom from The Office

I love how often The Office finds humor in real-life lessons.  I've blogged about it before: the classic whoever/whomever debate, and Michael Scott's lessons in the importance of pricing.

We're on season 7 now.  A few nights ago we watched "The Search," where Michael Scott is lost in the city without his wallet.  He gets hungry and tries to con a hot dog stand owner into giving him a free hot dog.  First he offers his watch as collateral, saying that he'll come back later and pay the guy in order to get his watch back.  The stand's owner basically says that he can't do anything with a watch, and that he needs money.

Of course, this makes me think of website owners who try to get freelancers to write content for their site for free, often promising "exposure" or that they'll pay them when the site starts making money.  Regarding "exposure," what has value for the client may not have value for the vendor, so how does it benefit you to get exposure on a site no one has ever heard of?

In other words, what do you need with a men's watch?

And, seriously, who comes back later to pay?  Michael claims his watch is worth $45, but maybe it's a $10 watch and he doesn't care if he goes back to settle the bill.  Promises of future payment are the same as being paid nothing at all.

When that doesn't work, Michael tries another tact.  He asks, "What do you do with the hot dogs you don't sell at the end of the day?" and of course, the vendor says, "I throw them away."  Michael suggests that he "throw one away now, in my mouth."

Ah, another approach used by websites trying to get free content: "You're new/blogging/a stay at home mom, so you'll be writing for free either way.  Instead of spending that time writing for free for yourself, why don't you write for free for me?"

What a winner of an argument.  Unbelievably, some "clients" seem to think the logic here is sound.  Sorry, but if I'm writing for free, why would I want to do it for any other reason than my own pleasure?  Besides, if I write for myself, I keep the rights to the work and could possibly benefit from it later on.

Of course, the vendor still refuses, so Michael says, "You've lost my business!" and storms off.  It's funny on the show, because obviously his "business" was of no value to the hot dog vendor, yet website owners make that kind of threat all the time: "If you don't write for us for free now, we won't pay you when the website becomes profitable," or, "you'll lose out on this GREAT opportunity to showcase your work."

Lesson learned: Beware of wallet-less Michael Scotts trying to con you out of free hot dogs.

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By Katharine Swan On Monday, May 09, 2011 At 1:04 PM 0 comments

My birthday week

Tuesday of last week was my birthday.  Since my workload has been a bit on the slow side lately, I decided to take advantage of it and celebrate my birthday all week.  I still worked — in fact, I even worked on my birthday — but not as much, and I made sure that I did something for me every single day.  I went to the barn every day that week, read a lot, took hot baths, and just in general pampered myself.  With the exception of a fall from my horse on Friday, it was a great week.

As I've gotten older, I've gotten into the habit of not doing much to recognize my birthdays.  Sometimes I'll try to take the day off, but that can be hard to manage.  I found the week-long method much easier — I didn't feel guilty about working on my birthday that way, because I knew that I would go to the barn later, or read a book in the middle of the afternoon, or something else like that.  I think I may have to make this a yearly tradition!

What do you do to celebrate your birthday?

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By Katharine Swan On Friday, May 06, 2011 At 12:15 PM 0 comments

Katharine Swan is a full-time freelance writer with more than 5 years of professional writing experience. In addition to maintaining several personal blogs, she writes a variety of online marketing materials for clients, including company blogs, articles, and press releases. In her free time, she spends time with her horse, reads, and writes fiction.

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