Are you a medieval mercenary?

freelance (n.):

  1. A person who sells services to employers without a long-term commitment to any of them.
  2. An uncommitted independent, as in politics or social life.
  3. A medieval mercenary.


A freelance is a medieval mercenary? As in, a soldier who fights in a foreign army, motivated solely by a desire for money? So THAT explains the email I got last week from the Hessians …

When it comes to freelance writing, I do not consider myself a “medieval mercenary.” Sure, I am a soldier in the army of good copy, fighting the evils of the dangling participle and run-on sentence. Protecting the world from unnecessary capitals and misplaced semicolons.

But I’m not motivated solely by a desire for money. Of course, money is important, and SmithWriting aims to make a lot of it. However, I would never take a job that I am ethically opposed to (sorry, National Crack Dealers Association), no matter how high the pay. Nor would I take any money that I did not earn fairly and honestly.

What motivates me is the sense of pride and accomplishment that comes with writing clear and informative copy for clients I respect. Whether I’m working on an ad, a marketing brochure, or a Web site, I’m inspired to write it well to satisfy my clients and keep them coming back for more.

What about you freelances out there? What motivates you? What army do you fight for?

Chainsaws and callers and crows, oh my!

So there I was, making great progress with a large Web site I’m writing for a client, when all of a sudden …


Well, there goes my train of thought.

Thanks to a murder of crows (yup, a group of crows is called a murder) apparently engaging in battle outside my office windows, now I’m completely distracted from my writing task.

Those of us who work from home realize that as a trade-off for the wonderful flexibility (and occasional PJ wearing) we enjoy, we face our fair share of disturbances. Here are some of the many distractions I’ve encountered while working at home:


Seriously, does the Do Not Call Registry mean nothing?

lawnmowers, weed wackers, hedge trimmers, chainsaws, etc.

My neighbors really love their yards.

crows and blue jays
These birds are pervasive, aggressive, and LOUD.

thunderstorms and my dog

Like many dogs, Riley gets really scared during thunderstorms. She usually paces and pants uncontrollably around—and under—my desk. (And occasionally we find her in the bathtub. Poor thing.)

police training exercises
This is random: One day I looked out into my quiet suburban yard and saw two policemen dressed in head-to-toe black with a police dog running around a large bush on our property. At first I thought there was an escaped convict hiding in the shrub, but the kind officers assured me that they were merely conducting a drill. At noon. In my yard. With very large guns.

It’s a wonder I get anything done at all.

What about you? What distracts you from working at home?

So you want to work from home …

Be warned: Working from home requires a significant amount of self-discipline. If you’re easily tempted by The Young and the Restless or the early-bird sales at your local department store, then maybe you’re better suited to office life.

For those of you brave enough to work from home, here are some helpful tips I’ve learned along the way:

Have a designated home office with a door.
I find that shutting myself in (and my distractions out) helps me to concentrate on my writing. In my mind, my office is associated with work: When I’m in my office, I work. When I’m not, I don’t.

Set a schedule for yourself.
Whether you’re an early bird or a night owl, make a work schedule and stick to it. Thanks to my set schedule, it’s easy to plan phone calls, meetings, and coffee breaks. Plus, my clients always know when they can reach me—and my friends and family know when they can’t.

Set guidelines with your spouse, partner, or roommate.

If you share your home with anyone else, it’s important that you talk with them about your requirements for working from home. For example, you may not want your roommate running on her treadmill and blasting OK Go during your weekly conference call.

Hire a savvy accountant.
A smart financial adviser will save you lots of money and hassle as you manage your home business. Case in point: Did you know that you can deduct a portion of your utility bills when you work from home?

Plan regular social get-togethers.
Because let’s be honest: If you spend all day, every day alone, you’ll be pretty miserable. For instance, I meet a writer friend for lunch at a local diner once a month. It’s therapeutic to talk about writing, work, and life in general—and the omelets are great, too!

Home Work

There’s a great episode of The Simpsons in which Homer deliberately gains weight in order to work from home.

Classic Homer: In his mind, he pictures himself manning his workstation outdoors while drinking lemonade (and Duff beer, of course) served up by his stay-at-home wife, Marge.

In “real” life, however, Homer finds working from home painfully tedious. He’s easily distracted and spends his time watching soap operas and going to the movies—and Marge is too busy running errands to fix him drinks. (Not to mention the fact that his at-home antics nearly cause a nuclear meltdown …)

Like Homer, I once imagined working from home as a glamorous way of life. But I soon learned that—like anything else—it has its ups and its downs.

Sure, I can work in my PJs and fuzzy slippers. I don’t have to shovel out my car and brave the roads on snowy days. There are no office politics to get mixed up in. I can occasionally fit in a nap when I need to. I do my grocery shopping in the middle of the day and miss the after-work crowds. And on beautiful days, when I have a free hour or so, I get to tend my garden or bring my dog to the park.

On the flip side, I rarely have a conference call that is not interrupted by the garbage truck, the neighbor’s power tools, or a telemarketer. At times, I don’t have much company other than my dog (and she’s not much for conversation). To my surprise, I find that I eat at my desk much more often than when I was working in an office, and since I never really leave the office at the end of the day, I end up working much later than those folks who leave their work at work.

But even with all its disadvantages, working from home is definitely the life for me.

Too bad Homer couldn’t stick it out.