At the moment, I have no deadlines. A brief reprieve from the rat race. So this morning, I mowed the yard, ran some errands, watched Charlie Rose on PBS for an hour, and had a long conversation with the dogs about the meaning of life. They, of course, looked at me like I’m a total idiot, because they have it made.
Is this anyway to spend a day off, a 3 day break from my desk? Obviously not, because here I sit, writing Sunday’s blog post on Friday afternoon.
As a freelancer, I’m always worried about the next job. I guess it’s kind of like being an actor—once the movie is in the can they have to go back to real life and wonder what’s next.
In my working life, my contracts only last for the length of the project I’m working on. When the project is done, I hit send, and wonder if I’ll ever work again, too. Even though over the last 10 years I have worked on over 500 published titles, either indexing, editing, or writing, I still worry. My track record says not to. My long-time clients seem to be happy with my work, and my client list is full. There is no reason to question that the jobs won’t come…but still, I can’t help myself. I wonder what I would do if they didn’t.
And I have no clue. I’m doing what I want to do with my life. It’s hectic, challenging, and I have a decent roof over my head. The freelance work allows me the freedom to work from home, create my own schedule, come and go as I please—and most importantly, write when writing is best for me; first thing in the morning.
Before I began freelancing full-time, I worked 7 to 4 in an office building. I’d come home, eat dinner, then plant my butt at the desk for a couple of hours every evening and write. It was tough, but I wanted to be a writer so I figured I had to write whenever I could. Thankfully, I have a wife who understands my drive, believes in the dream, and knows the hard work it takes to turn said dream into a reality. I probably don’t say thank you enough to her.
Today I ran the dishwasher. Does that count?
Anyway, my point is, whether you’re a freelancer, an actor, or a writer working on the last book in your contract, you always worry about what’s next. And I think that’s a good thing. I’d hate to think that I take my clients or my publishers for granted. I have to deliver my 500th index as if it were my first. Same with a short story or novel.
Buddhists call this Shoshin. It means Beginner's Mind, and refers to having an attitude of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions when studying a subject, even when studying at an advanced level, just as a beginner in that subject would. Or better put, "In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert's there are few," so says Shunryu Suzuki.
Losing Beginner’s Mind can be a dangerous thing. I have learned about plot and character development over the years (and indexing, too), but I don’t consider myself an expert in any way. I consider myself armed with tools. And tools always need maintenance, sharpening, or replaced.
Those same tools will serve me well if the contracts stop coming in Monday. But I still worry. And I still tackle each new project like it was the first…with the practice of Shoshin firmly in place.
Think about it, and see if it works for you…