Thursday, January 27, 2005

Working in a vacuum

One of the hardest things about freelancing for me has always been working in a vacuum: totally on my own, no one looking over my shoulder or providing feedback.

At first, the feedback thing bogged me down. My first project was a work for hire job (which never got published) where I had to submit three drafts. I worked on that project for months before I sent in my first draft. Feedback came back and was minimal: I needed to address two particular sets of data. That was it.

Later on, I got used to it. Figured as long as I was getting published, that was good, and I didn't need overt praise. Anyway, the more I got published, the more "fanmail" I got from readers who appreciated my work. Thankfully, fanmail outweighs hate mail - er, I mean, constructive criticism. Right.

Of late my problem has been the aloneness. Mind you, I got out of the workforce because I hate office environments. The politics, backbiting, and sheer lack of praise (neutrality toward my performance just didn't cut it) was completely oppressive, and my creativity was sapped. Generally I thrive on working at home, alone.

There are just some times I wish I had a mentor. A long time ago, when I was a high-school police cadet, I rode with a cop who was the best mentor - not just for what he was able to teach me, but for the simple fact that he cared. I miss that. I miss the rapport, talking and joking about a job you both know intimately, a bonding no one else - not even your spouse - can really get unless they're in the same position.

Paradoxically, however, I've found myself in the position of mentor a number of times over the last few years. People email me asking for advice on how to start freelancing; I've astonished myself, answering their questions, with how much I know. It's clear to me that I've managed to learn a lot all by myself. But that doesn't make my work any easier.

Maybe someday I'll find the right mentor. (Probably at a point where I no longer need him or her as acutely.) In the meantime, I have work to do.


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