Separation, Integration and Working as a Freelance Writer: My Peas are Touching My Meat (and it’s Good)

In Search of Separation…

Being a freelancer guarantees weirdness.  Unpredictability is the only constant and the bizarre twists and turns of everyday life constantly squash efforts to create that ideal professional/personal balance.

How in the hell are you supposed to balance your work with the rest of your life?

Sure, writing copy so beautiful it brings tears to your eyes is mega-fun/rewarding, but so is making homemade spaghetti sauce, catching an afternoon ballgame on getaway day, dancing to the Godfather of Soul with your kid, making out with your spouse and, to a lesser extent, keeping your house somewhat tidy.

What’s the big secret to separating the wild yet wonderful world of freelancing for a living from the rest of your life?

If you want suggestions, they’re easy to find.  Drawing the work/life line is constantly buzzing topic.  You can find freelancers who’ll suggest setting regular hours, dressing as if you’re actually heading off to a day at the office, putting up signs to keep your family away while you work and a million other things.

You’ll hear lectures about time management, recommendations about working smarter instead of working harder and pleas to turn off your phone, computer and everything else even remotely related to your profession during the weekend.

My Failure to Divide…

Some of that stuff probably works for some people.  It hasn’t worked for me.  Not even close.  This is my experience:

The need to run to Price Chopper for diapers can shred a well-planned schedule.  A weekend free of work sounds ideal until you chop off the tip of your index finger with your favorite Wusthoff on Wednesday (just try writing anything other than “ewoek/lifer supaeratioij u s so dalmn haard” at three a.m. with a bandage on your hand).

The idea of dressing for traditional success makes me a wee bit queasy and all of the smart work in the world can’t solve for an overflowing toilet plugged with a small stuffed giraffe and three plastic Strawberry Shortcake figurines.

If you can tidily separate your work from the rest of your life and that’s what you want to do, congratulations.

I’ve given up.  Completely and intentionally.

Integration vs. Separation…

I realized that I don’t really want a separation between the professional and the personal.  I don’t want regular hours, a regimented schedule or a sign on the door of my basement office.

Screw separation.  I want integration.

I love working for myself for a number of reasons, but the biggest weight on the scale is freedom.  I spent a long time being a damn good employee who secretly hated being on the payroll because I didn’t have that freedom to do what I wanted to do how and when I wanted to do it.

The joy of freelancing isn’t just the money or the satisfaction of those occasional moments of copy perfection.  For me, it’s the fact that I can do things on my terms.

After wrestling with time and experiencing a never-ending series of scheduling snafus, I realized something.  I don’t wear suits for a reason.

Weddings, Russians and Realization…

Let me explain that last part about suits.  A few weeks ago, we were up in Iowa for a wedding.  I decided to dress appropriately.  I was standing in front of the mirror, wearing a suit and marveling at just how freaking weird I looked.  My wife says I look snazzy in a suit.  Maybe she means it.  Maybe she’s just being nice.  All I know is that I think I look like someone else.  I hate the damn things.  I have broad enough shoulders without the jacket’s enhancement.  Neckties are too silly (and phallic) for my tastes.  I generally dislike shoes and hold particular animosity toward dress shoes.  I dislike them on an almost visceral level.  They conjure up feelings of conformity, caste and rigidity.

Unless I’m at a wedding, a funeral or taking the stand in my own defense, I really don’t want to wear a suit.  I don’t like them.

Then a question occurred to me.

Why would someone who hates suits make an effort to run his business as if he’s wearing one?

In what turned out to be a happy coincidence, my websites and email accounts were serving as a playground for a few Russian hackers while I was standing in front of the mirror.  When I returned home and surveyed the damage, I decided to burn things to the ground instead of repairing them and to start anew.

Authenticity and a Liberating Integration Casserole…

On a superficial level, this switch freed me to blog about things like the death of Jose Lima, my status as a victim of Exploding Head Syndrome and Kalae All Day–things I usually would’ve avoided because they didn’t match “The Brand”.  It allowed me to tweet about the lapse in sanity exhibited by Royals third base coach Eddie Rodriguez last weekend and to dial back the formality of my client communication.

We talk the authenticity talk more than we walk the walk, I think.  At least I did.  Not any more.  I’m retiring from thinking about being authentic.  I’m just doing it.

That has included embracing my inability to maintain traditional, set hours and all of the other stuff that usually goes along with separating work from the rest of one’s life.

I’m not separating anything anymore.  It’s all just one big crazy, gorgeous, wacky, depraved, enlightened, messy, tasty casserole.  Yum.

It’s been a liberating experience.  I’m bobbing between work and parenting.  I’m weaving between being a husband and making a living.  I’m cool with a two-hour client call on a Sunday and I’m just as happy to tell someone that I’m too busy buying diapers and freezer pops to take a call on a Wednesday afternoon.

Interestingly, this new outlook isn’t creating waves with clients.  It’s allowing us to float closer to one another.  It’s breaking down barriers and encouraging more human connections.  It’s as if we’re all actually having fun for a change.

I’m sure someone will find this kind of authenticity worrisome.  Discovering a blog post that includes a piece of Haiku about a baby kicking my ass may very well dissuade someone from doing business with me.  There are traditionalists who want appreciate that sort of thing.  I can accept that.

It’s a small price to pay, really.  Besides, who knows how many ultra-cool people might actually like it?

An Alternative to the War of Separation…

If you’re fighting and losing a bloody war of attrition in the effort to defend or establish a dividing line between work and home, consider waving the white flag and walking away from it.  It may not be the right fight.  Consider integration instead of separation.

It’s okay if your peas touch your meat, folks.  That’s true whether you hate shoes like me or if the idea of dressing like a corporate bigwig gives you a thrill.

At least that’s my experience.

What’s yours?  Are you having a great time keeping your freelancing career and your personal life separate or do you feel like a struggle?  If it is tough, do you think it’s a fight worth having?  Can you imagine surrendering to overlap and to integration?

I’d love to know.  I see many people writing about keeping things clearly delineated and very few, if any, advocating wholesale integration.  It probably won’t change my perspective, but I’d like to know if I’m a nut-case.


10 responses
  1. dava Avatar

    I’m not sure I have anything constructive to contribute other than to say, “Great post!” My desk is literally 6 inches from a couch where 2 dogs and a teenager are napping. I have to stop typing every hour or so to switch laundry or let a dog in or out. There can be no separation here; the peas are thoroughly mixed with the mashed taters and sitting on top of the meat – and I like it, too.
    .-= dava´s last blog ..Time & Money =-.

  2. Laura Spencer Avatar

    It’s an interesting perspective.

    I really think this is a personality issue more than anything.

    To be productive, I desperately need uninterrupted quiet. When we moved and I finally got a door that I could shut my productivity (and income) went up.

    On the other hand, I definitely don’t want to be locked into a regular eight hour (or ten hour or twelve hour) daily schedule.

    I’ve found that I also need my downtime where I can completely get away from work and not even think about it.

    Ideally, each freelance writer would know what works best for them.
    .-= Laura Spencer´s last blog ..Is Blogging Journalism? =-.

  3. Carson Brackney Avatar

    @Dava– You have the mashed potatoes in the mix, too? That’s what I call integrated!

    @Laura— Of course, you’re right. There’s a reason why “different strokes for different folks” got play pre-Gary Coleman. I just wonder if there are people who don’t think about the possibility of letting everything blend and what it might do. Most of the conversation out there is about drawing lines.

  4. Sarah E. White Avatar

    Oh yeah, I’m integrated. I have an almost 9-month-old who stays at home with me, so there’s no such thing as any sort of dividing line. I know that will get easier as she’s older, but I pretty much only work during naps these days, and that’s fine by me.
    .-= Sarah E. White´s last blog ..Should You Quit Your Day Job? =-.

  5. jaimes Avatar

    This post hit the spot. I worked as a full-time writer in the corporate world, and while I didn’t mind the work itself, the cubicle environment nearly killed me.

    I now run a parenting blog and do freelance writing with two kids at home. I’m interrupted a lot and it’s definitley noisier than an office, but that’s fine by me.

    I break my work day up into little shifts. A few hours in the morning, then later in the afternoon, then after dinner if necessary. I take breaks to play music, draw with my kids, make snacks, or take them to the park.

    I too work on the weekends, but not in an all-consuming kind of way. It’s a lifestyle that wouldn’t work for everyone, but it definitely works for me.

  6. Carson Brackney Avatar

    @Sarah & @Jaimes– It’s nice to know I’m not the only one who is actually OK with mixing it all up!
    .-= Carson Brackney´s last blog ..Writer’s Success Resource Center Unveiled =-.

  7. Patti Stafford Avatar

    Thank you for finally saying this out loud! Kudos to you Carson.

    For years I struggled with the fact that writers and clients seemed too stuffy to me. I decided to just be me—if the clients run the other way, it’s their loss. I’m pretty cool and funny and I’m not always wearing my professional hat.

    I have discovered something pretty nice and cool too. I may not have clients falling all over me, but the ones I have are very laid back. It makes for a nice, refreshing working relationship.

    Thanks again for sharing this and having the balls to say it out loud. 🙂 Can I say balls here? LOL
    .-= Patti Stafford´s last blog ..Where Has Language as We Knew It, Gone? =-.

  8. Janed Avatar

    What a wonderful post! I’m surprised it hasn’t had more comments – does that mean that people have embraced this idea and thrown themselves so much into mixing their plates up (so to speak) that they haven’t had time to congratulate you for the inspiration, or are they all sitting, horrified, in front of their screens with their suits on, shoes polished and hair tidily combed?

    It certainly hit a chord for me – I regularly have to break off from work to play with the cat, film deer and hares crossing the garden, or chainsaw yet another huge immovable built-in cupboard out of the house. Renovation in particular is a messy cook, and absolutely no respecter of clothing conventions. I dress like a navvy, and my hours are extremely irregular, but my work comes out much better than if I was wearing a suit.

  9. allena Avatar

    wow, this so deviates from the “work during work, play during play.” I personally don’t like to deviate, but Summer tends to force me to a little.
    .-= allena´s last blog ..How I Know You Are All Slacking, Freelance Writers =-.

    1. Deb Ng Avatar

      I’m not a deviator (deviant? ) I’m too ADD and find I work best when I sit down and work until done. With that said, summer is different because The Boy is home. It’s easier now that he’s older, though. Often times it’s enough to work from the back deck while he and his friends are in the pool, etc. I have to stop what I’m doing to drive him to activities and friends’ houses, though and once I’m distracted it’s really hard to get me back into it.

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