Freelancing in the sticks

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Today’s guest blogger is Bruce Farr, a writer in my freelance stable during my staff editing days, a client during his corporate days, and a wise friend for the duration. (He’s a holdout on blogging, but here’s a quick article about his background, which includes writing and recording commentaries for NPR’s All Things Considered.) Here’s his response to a question the Doc received about freelancing in the sticks.

Dr. Freelance: I worked in editorial for about 25 years. About 18 months ago, I was laid off. I freaked out for a suitable period and went into freelancing pretty much by accident. Managed to get myself on my feet in four months.

I live alone in a rural area. I have completed a hell of a lot of work in the past year. But I have been alone so much, toiling at my computer, that I am having trouble finding the right word when I speak, and have trouble keeping my morale up to write. The speed has also gone way down.

Worse, I find the blade is generally getting duller and duller in my writing, too. The only feedback I get is the next assignment and a paid invoice (but not mocking those!). I just miss real feedback.

How can a person stay sharp when you work alone? I miss the give-and-take, and tossing ideas around, learning something new just by being in the office, commiserating and encouraging others. I’ve always been introverted, but this seems like solitary. — Flying Solo

Flying Solo: I had five years of freelancing/contracting under my belt before we made the move to rural Vermont. Still, it was an unnerving experience on so many levels, not the least of which was the social and professional isolation you describe. For a long time, I had this nagging fear that I’d be sitting up here twiddling my thumbs without any work.

I admit that I’m always telling myself I should tap into online and other “networks” (e.g., writing tutorials, the blogosphere, writers’ groups, etc.) to help recharge my batteries, but aside from a book club that I recently joined and the small group of writing professionals I’ve met and collaborated with, it’s been a rather solitary existence.

Basically, the rural freelancer requires an extra measure of resourcefulness and patience. If I may be allowed a Vermont metaphor, I’ve always sought to turn maple sap into Grade A syrup. Consciously making local connections with potential clients (or people in their sphere) has been a very successful modus operandi for me thus far.

So, with tips in mind, here are a handful of this writer/consultant’s recommendations for writing/editing professionals living “in the sticks”:

  • Create a network of individuals whose professional work complements your own. Meet them regularly for coffee or lunch, and recommend or use them as often as possible. It’s bound to be reciprocal.
  • Tap the power of the Web. Identify and engage in online tutorials, and subscribe to a variety of blogs to stay tuned into what’s happening in your profession.
  • Become active in and/or serve as a board member for local arts or cultural organizations. Particularly in rural areas, this can elevate your profile and reputation.
  • Lastly, remember the “big fish, small pond” theory; your professional expertise is an advantage, since it’s likely very few other people do what you do in your local residential area or region.

Any fellow freelancers out there who prefer the rural freelance life to the urban/suburban variety? Any further thoughts and suggestions for Flying Solo?

Photo courtesy of olkaprill.

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  1. says

    Great article! I really enjoyed it, and it resonates so well with my particular situation. I am working on setting up a writer’s critique group in my area, even though it will probably have less than 5 people. Thanks again for the encouraging article!

  2. Dr. Freelance says

    Hi Brenda — thanks for commenting, and glad to hear that Bruce’s thoughts helped out. Keep us posted on the writer’s critique group — would be interested to hear how it goes.

  3. Betty Dotson-Lewis says

    Hi, I understand where you’re coming from when you say “sticks” I’m from the top of mountain in West Virginia. I’ve come across a blog (keep it rural) which focuses on rural life – a life I love. Bill Bishop is co-editor and if you like to write about rural life you might contact him to see about pay.
    I’m interested in getting linked up with a literary agent/publisher for my novel Harlan Confessions – great story set in the Appalachian Coalfields. Can anyone help me there?
    Thanks & take care,
    Betty Dotson-Lewis