A Few More Thoughts on Surviving as a Freelancer

I’ve been overwhelmed — happily so — by the massive response to the Tips for Freelancers, Artists, and Creative Types post I wrote last week. Thousands of people were reading the post and passing it around. I watched as it got retweeted on Twitter over a hundred times. Then it made the rounds on Tumblr and Facebook. Then it got a nice mention on The Awl. Then The New York Times linked to it on their City Room blog. Soon, my inbox was overflowing with emails from writers and artists from all over the world.

A few snarky Internet trolls — there are always a few — surmised that I somehow must be loaded because I have some money in a savings account, and I go to Berlin every six months. This made me chuckle. When I lived in Berlin, my rent was $250 a month, and my day-to-day expenses were considerably lower than they were in the United States. If I sublet out my apartment, and I get a good deal on an airplane ticket, it’s a no-brainer to go to Berlin for a month. If you play your cards right, you can actually save money by moving to Europe for a while. And maybe I should write a post sometime on how to get good deals on airplane tickets; I have all kinds of crazy skills on that front.

Anyway, it seemed natural to write a Part II with more tips on how to survive as a freelance writer or artist. In the meantime, though, I wanted to add some more specifics to a few of the points I mentioned in the original post.

Exercise: Some people have asked me about free yoga videos to download. I recommend the free video practice podcasts at Yoga Journal. They’re sensible, thoughtfully sequenced, and good for a beginning student. They don’t go too fast, but they’re not easy either. If you’re a beginner, resist the urge to go too fast. You can easily injure yourself that way. A lot of people treat yoga as if it’s a high-powered aerobics class. Yoga is great exercise, but don’t rush through sequences. There’s no point. If you want a hard cardio workout, go running or ride a bike. There’s no use in racing through sloppy sun salutations ten times fast. It’s better to do things once, but do them properly. There’s a sensibility — a very American one, I think — that exercising harder and faster will yield better, faster results. If you’re straining too much, or putting in too much effort, stop. It’s not worth potentially pulling a muscle, or tearing a ligament, or injuring your back. Also, try to rest a day in between yoga workouts. It gives your body a chance to recover. More is not always more.

Okay, back to the free podcasts. Each one is about 20 minutes long. They’re all good, but I particularly recommend the ones led by Jason Crandell, an instructor in San Francisco. Here are links to three that I like a lot: Morning Wake-Up Routine, Energizing Sequence, and Evening Relaxation Sequence.

Setting up a savings account: Some people have asked me about setting up a Roth IRA. Here’s a good introductory guide on how to set one up. I set mine up with Vanguard, which was pretty straightforward — I did the whole thing online — and all of my experiences with them thus far have been good.

In between reading books about experimental music, cybernetics, visual art, and so on, I occasionally pick up a boring book about finance. One solid, easy-to-read book, which I recommend, is The Bogleheads’ Guide to Investing. (You can read about 25 pages of it free on Google Books, here.) I don’t have enough money to invest in the stock market, and I’ve seen some friends lose big. Basically, the book advocates sensible, long-term thinking — not livin’-on-the-edge day trading, or anything like that.

The most eye-popping thing I read in this book was an anecdote in the second chapter. The authors talk about a guy who never made more than $25,000 a year, but he had been slowly putting money away for about 30 years, and now he had a portfolio worth 1.25 million dollars. He wasn’t a stock market wizard or anything. “Anyone can do it,” the authors write, “but few choose to do it. It turns out that an investment of $601 at the beginning of each month in stock index funds, coupled with an average annual return of 10%, grows into the sum of $1,249,655 in 30 years.”

Now, most of us don’t have 600 bucks a month to invest. But I wanted to dispel the notion that it takes buckets of money to even start thinking about this stuff. Reading these finance books is about as much fun as listening to your dad lecture you on how to be more fiscally responsible. But empower yourself with information. If you’re a freelance journalist, chances are that you’re used to thinking on your feet, and teaching yourself a new subject every week. If I’m writing about a band I’m not familiar with, I have to go back and listen to their entire discography. If I’m writing a technology article, I might have to teach myself all about the ins and outs of network security protocols over the span of a week. I had to teach myself about all kinds of arcane stuff — cybernetics, Cornelius Cardew, the history of British art school pedagogy, and so on — to write my Eno book. Sometimes all that research was was fun; at other times, it was grueling. So reading the occasional dull missive about money, if you’re used to reading and learning about new things all day long anyway, isn’t all that hard.

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