My turn to introduce myself at the pro chapter meeting of Society of Professional Journalists in Eatonton May 10, where the faces of proven journalists, columnists for major market newspapers and freelance entrepreneurs look to me to hear what I have to say. I stutter and look down, thinking I’m so much better at introducing myself on paper.
Hitting only the highlights of my recent accomplishments takes time: intern with a community newspaper, editor-in-chief of a college feature magazine, mother of two and a wife. Where do I start in describing who I am in the context of what I do professionally? My life is my work.
Many times friends, family and passersby marvel that they don’t know how I do it all or when I find the time to sleep. Balancing a freelance writing career, a family, a magazine, marketing company and college classes reminds me of old-fashioned plate spinners. Only no one trained me in the art of spinning plates. These comments about my seemingly unending laundry list of activities and responsibilities often cause me to stop and think. That’s the point where I realize, I just don’t know how I do it all either.
I sit surrounded by the squeaking sound of my 1-year-old son bouncing in his jumpy horse. On the television that my son watches with his 3-year-old sister, Garfield snatches a spider out of the air as a classical background track melts into the sound of the fan buzzing in the living room. Enjoying the rare moment of relative quiet, I appreciate my husband’s sleeping body on the couch. He’s resting, while on call for the toddlers so I can write, after being out until 3 a.m. playing guitar in a side gig at a local venue. It’s 9 a.m. on Mother’s Day, and I’m hunched over my MacBook Pro, the way I spend the majority of my waking time.
What I do know is what I don’t do. I don’t socialize anymore, and I relish the opportunity to let the ideas and inspirations incubate as my husband and I snuggle on the sofa for a sitcom or two. When I go out, I’m on assignment. Though I generally get to see the concerts I care for, sometimes getting paid to cover them with images and words, I don’t see many shows anymore.
I balance by carefully choosing what I most want to do, and I no longer let money dictate the best opportunity. Fortunately, I’ve found the one thing that money cannot buy: a happy and stable marriage. The support offered to me from my partner means that I have freedom to invest in myself.
The freelancing professionals reading this know the jokes. Scenes of what work-from-home means are created in friends’ minds. Whiskey-swilling writers manically typing the articles and cover stories they read in their favorite magazines and newspapers. But, the reality is that many of us are juggling spinning plates of day jobs and family. After winding up the plate with the kids’ breakfast, we catch the slowing plate of a journalism career.
I’ve paused the writing of this article about four times over the last two weeks. This morning I stopped mid-sentence to wipe a juice-spill and reconstruct a paragraph.
The trick the successful freelancers understand is simply that one cannot keep all the plates spinning. Some must fall to the floor, where a husband or friend must agree to pick up the broken pieces. Mop the floor and move on.
Freelancing takes dedication and the resolution to preserve, constantly proving that what you want to do, you do well. How does one become a writer and how does a writer become good enough to freelance? She writes. When the kids are napping or the boss hasn’t assigned a new task, she picks up her pen or pounds out ideas on her MacBook Pro. And after she writes, she rewrites.
Then she seeks rejection in the form of trying to get published. The life of a freelance writer is a numbers game. The more you fail, the more you succeed. Keep spinning the plates until the music stops because if you want to be something, the only way is to do it.
Ellen Eldridge is the president of the Kennesaw State University chapter of SPJ (Region 3) and a candidate for SPJ campus representative for 2014-15. A freelance music journalist for Atlanta Music Guide and Performer Magazine, who is also raising two toddlers with her husband of five years. She founded a marketing magazine, Target Audience Magazine, in 2007, and she manages a staff of contributing writers and photographers looking to build their portfolios. Her website is www.elleneldridge.com. Follow her on Twitter @EllenEldridge27.