Monday, January 7, 2013

The freelance jobs we seek vs. the jobs that find us: Lessons learned.

In a recent post, I mentioned that the list of things we did in a writing year is worth studying.  For me, three such items on my 2012 *I Did It List*, for example, had something to tell me. These involved two opportunities which came my way without my going in search of them, and one which didn't

The two which sort of fell at my feet are the exception, not the norm. Normally we freelancers pursue existing opportunities, or try to create ones where none seem available; we follow-up on leads and tips and referrals, respond to job postings, send queries and pitches and letters of introduction. But sometimes we get lucky - if that's the right word.

Last week, I was telling a friend about the two new jobs that seemed to come from thin air – one for a website (where I now work the editor's desk one day a week), and the other for a writing center (where I am now teach creative nonfiction). The website editor and the writing center director both contacted me, and within a few days, each asked me to join them, and I said yes.

"You mean people just call you up and offer you jobs you didn't apply for?" she asked, part disbelieving, part joking.

Well, yes – and of course, no. 

About four years I met the website founder at an event hosted by a local writers and editors organization. Over the next few years, we ran into one another at book launch parties, and chatted about our writing lives. Then, a bit stuck between novels, she signed up for my Boot Camp, and when it was over invited me to breakfast. Months later I reciprocated, and over lunch asked if she know of any part time, permanent freelance jobs. She did not, and her own site had no editor openings either. Fast forward six months; the site owner took a major new media job, two editors were moving on; her editor-in-chief emailed to say she needed to fill editing slots. We talked, I said yes and started a week or so later. So, did someone offer me work I hadn't specifically asked for? Yes. Sort of.

The teaching job came about similarly. About three years ago at a regional book festival, I met two local novelists who were sharing a table (and would eventually become co-directors of a writing center). A few months later, I invited one of them to contribute a guest post here. Over the next two years, our names kept coming up in intersecting circles. We all knew a lot of the same local writers, became Facebook friends, commented on one another's blogs.

I noticed, and admired, what they were doing in establishing a physical location for writing education in northern New Jersey; I was keeping my eye on developments and wondered idly about contacting them about teaching. Meanwhile, it turned out they were noticing the teaching I was doing at Rutgers, and privately online. When the email arrived inviting me to talk about teaching creative nonfiction, we scheduled coffee a few days later, and struck the deal. So, did someone just offer me work I hadn't applied for? Yes. Again, sort of.

I say "sort of" in both cases because while I didn't apply for a specific job, it's good to notice in retrospect how these things happened:  an initial contact (both in person, as it happens), followed by continued interactions (online and/or in person); noticing what each other was up to professionally. In these instances, the way I went about simply doing what I do-- teaching, editing, writing, talking to mutual acquaintances, interacting online, helping other writers, being open and receptive to ideas, was if you will, part resume, business card, cover letter.


Usually it goes more like the story of how I got the third new freelance editing gig on my 2012 *I Did It List*. I noticed, sadly, that a magazine I admire was shutting down, and then a few months later, that a new owner was reviving it. I found her website and read her background, discovered we shared some common literary ground, and I liked her vision. New owner, working hard to revive a beloved literary magazine? Maybe she could use some editing help?

I wrote her a friendly introductory email, wishing her luck, and asking if I could send along my CV, so that if, in the future, she had editing needs. We connected on various social media channels, exchanged more emails; she looked over my blog and my published work, set up a phone interview, which went well. More emails -- defining the editing job, setting rates, getting to know one another's work styles. She sent me two essays to edit for one issue. Then, weeks later, four more for another issue.

Did she contact me first and offer me work?  Absolutely not. But then again, did I apply for a job opening? No, not really. From what I understand, the "job" didn't really exist when I sent my first email. It was just a hunch on my part that such a job would materialize, and need filling.

All of this is why, once again, I place so much emphasis on the idea of a writer's *I Did It List* exercise. Once we list our accomplishments – and after some much-deserved pats on our own backs – that list can be a trove of information about how we can do more, do the next thing, do the things that will go on the next year's *Want To Do* list. Anything that helps us understand how we did something can only help us figure out how to do the next thing.


Barbara McDowell Whitt said...

Lisa, thank you for sharing how you obtained three new writing positions. I appreciate knowing the steps you took to do so. Congratulations. Enjoy your new responsibilities.

Amy Morgan said...

Love the connection to the "I Did It List" as well as the networking threads. Congratulations!

Kizzy said...

This was very interesting. Thank you for sharing this information. It is very helpful.

Anjali said...

Great post, great title. Serendipity? coincidence? Or due diligence? Writers tend to think of themselves as denizens of ivory towers, not realizing how confining such a definition can be.

And serendipity? This is from Wikipedia: "One aspect of Walpole's original definition of serendipity, often missed in modern discussions of the word, is the need for an individual to be "sagacious" enough to link together apparently innocuous facts in order to come to a valuable conclusion. "

Very rarely is an opportunity of the "Wow I found a dollar bill lying on the ground;" variety.

Maya Job said...

Great point of view with the jobs that find us. It's usually that the greatest jobs are given to you...