The Trouble With Memoir

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This past November, I was fully planning on writing a memoir for NaNoWriMo. I changed my mind at the last minute because the perfect idea for my next novel dawned on me on the last evening of October. Well, that’s the lie I told myself anyway.

The truth is that yes, I did get a great idea for my next novel and I did spend November writing that story. But that isn’t really why I didn’t write a memoir. I didn’t write a memoir because I simply wasn’t ready to write it. And my discomfort had nothing to do with being open about things that are personal; my reservations were firmly grounded in how my audience would see some of the other characters in my story.

In my search about how to write about sensitive topics that could depict loved ones in a negative light, I listened to a TED talk given by world renowned author Anne Lamott. She said, “You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.” And while I do believe that we own our individual stories, I also believe that those stories are closely intertwined with the stories of those who share our lives, and we cannot always detangle our story from theirs.

So taking into consideration that entanglement, do we really have the right to tell only our side of the story? The fact of the matter is, we all make mistakes. We all say or do things at some point in our lives that we end up regretting. So if you write about the injustice that I did to you regardless of whether or not I have made amends, is that fair? Is that fair to my story? Is it fair to your story? Keep in mind that your reader will not love your loved ones as much as you, no matter how true-to-life you draw them. So while you may have accepted their apology and forgiven them, your readers won’t feel the same way. It is very possible that, for them, the poignant moment in the memoir will be the moment of betrayal not the moment of repentance. So forever in your readers’ minds, that father will be abusive, that child a druggie, or that wife a cheater. Is that how you want the world to see those people who mean(t) so much to you?

In Behind Picket Fences, one of my characters poses the question, “Don’t those we love… or loved… or those who have shared our lives, don’t they deserve to be forgiven for their mistakes?” And really, that is the main question I think a writer has to consider before writing about the bad behavior of people who are or were precious to her.

I tend to think that the answer to that question is, generally, yes. And I can’t very well claim to have forgiven someone if I’m still hashing out how they wronged me, no matter how true the story is. And if it’s not about a wrong done to me personally but a societally accepted wrong, what do I hope to gain by outing them? Perhaps that’s the main question.

A memoir can be about a great deal of things. It can be about sharing life experiences that teach valuable lessons. Or just about healing. Often, to do these things, we need to re-live those negative moments in our lives, re-live the process which brought about the hurt. And to do that, we need to be honest to the story.

Being honest, though, doesn’t mean the story needs to be published. The healing memoir can take the form of a personal journal, reserved for the eyes of only the author. Because I can’t very well claim to publish a memoir to heal if in doing so I will hurt others, especially if those others have been important to me.

I don’t know. I’m still torn. I know that one day I’ll write a memoir, but I also know that it won’t be the one I thought I would write. It will be about hurt and strength and compassion and forgiveness, and I hope to write in such a way that you, my readers, will love my loved ones as much as I do.

But I know I can’t count on that.

 

What do you think? Do you have the right to tell your story no matter how it affects others? Is it always your story to tell? Is there ever a time when it isn’t? Would love to hear your thoughts…

 

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A Peek Behind the Pen

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A couple of days ago, I posted on Facebook about my eldest turning 15. It was—by far—my most successful, most engaging post. The truth is, people don’t scroll through social media to learn new recipes or about happenings in the world; they can search for recipes on Google and they probably have news delivered right to their email. But people do scroll through social media in hopes of having some sort of connection, learning more about you, sharing in your life.

So, despite being a private person, this post is about me…in the hope of connecting with some of you. The questions were posed as an interview during my book blog tour for Behind Picket Fences earlier this year. (Oh, and that’s me in the picture above…nearly 18 years ago.)

 Where did you grow up? Siblings? Locale? Were you considered a “bookworm” or a jock? Married, single? Children?
I was born and raised in Attleboro, Massachusetts. I grew up the middle child between two brothers. I enjoyed swimming (still do) but after the first season of swim in high school, I began to wear hijab, so I opted out of the swim team in subsequent years. (The burkini had not yet found its fame. I was never fast enough to compete anyway, although I had ‘good form.’) I enjoyed being on the tennis team, but didn’t pursue it after high school. I attended Smith College, hated it my first couple of years then loved it. I graduated in 2000 with a degree in biology and a minor in religion (because a minor in chem was simply too much lab time!). I was enrolled in optometry school in Boston when my plans changed due to a sudden death in the family. I dropped out during the first week, then worked for a year as a chemist (go figure!) in a pharmaceutical lab on the outskirts of Boston. I worked for about a year, then I moved to Egypt (against my parent’s better judgment) to be with my now husband. We’ve been married for just shy of 16 years, and we have four kids ranging in age from 7 to 15. I’m the kind of person who acclimates easily to her environment, so moving here wasn’t too difficult, especially since the culture is the same that my parents raised us in. Nevertheless, there are some things I simply can’t adjust to (the crazy traffic is the first thing that comes to mind, followed closely by the atrocious educational system, just to name a couple).

Who are your favorite authors and favorite genres?
My favorite author is Khaled Hosseini. And while I enjoy many different genres (from paranormal to crime fiction to the classics), my favorite is probably contemporary fiction. I relate easily to the issues contemporary fiction explores as well as the emotions it challenges us with.

Do you have a favorite quote that sums up how you feel about life?
I don’t have a favorite quote, but I used to. It was ‘A baby’s being born,’ meaning that despite all the hurt or ugliness going on, right at this moment, a beautiful, innocent, pure soul is being brought into the world. That used to ease my heart, even temporarily. But now, that exact same quote increases my anxiety; the world is getting uglier by the day, and the children will be the ones who will (are already??) suffer the most. Unfortunately, I have become a bit of a cynic.

Where do you prefer to write? Do you need quiet, music, solitude? PC or laptop?
I definitely need quiet to write. Usually I sit at the dining room table in the morning, while the kids are at school. I prefer to handwrite into my notebook; yes, it takes much longer (because eventually everything must be transcribed onto the laptop), but I like the feel of the pen in my hand, I like not being tied down to the computer.

Are you a plotter or a panzer?
I am a pantser, but I have sticky notes all over my notebook and comments all over my documents that guide me. I find outlines stifle the creative process. I am planning on writing a memoir in the near future, and for that, I will probably prefer the organization of an outline.

Do you use real events or persons in your stories or as an inspiration for stories?
My characters are never replicas of real people, but they almost always have adopted characteristics from real people that I’ve met. For example, Morgan, one of the men in Behind Picket Fences, was modeled after someone I know and don’t particularly care for. With his inferiority complex and depreciating tendencies, you’ll find that readers won’t like him too much. Hassan, on the other hand, also adopted characteristics from real people. Despite his faults, readers will probably have increased compassion for him.

Do you set daily writing goals? Word count? Number of chapters? Do you get a chance to write every day?

My writing goal is to write for about two hours per day. Somedays that means quite a few pages, other days, it means staring at a blank page for an hour and a half and writing only one page.

What do you hope your writing brings to readers?

I hope that my books teach people a bit about forgiveness and love. I hope that my characters—the ones who seem at first glance to be irredeemable—will, thorough their humanity, arouse a sense of compassion from my readers. I also hope that my books will teach people that, despite our different colors and religions, we all yearn for the same things: love and compassion. I hope that my readers will learn a bit about what it means to be Arab American, and begin to feel that reading about Muslim characters is just as normal as reading about characters who are Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, agnostic, atheist, or anything else.

What long-term plans do you have for your career?

I’ve finished my third novel and hoping to find an agent for it. During November, I wrote the bulk of novel number four, and am currently finishing up the first draft. I hope to continue writing fiction, maybe with a memoir thrown in there somewhere along the way.
What advice would you give to unpublished authors?
OWN it! I don’t mean the pieces of writing that you produce, but your craft. Once you start calling yourself a writer, you start taking your writing career seriously; until you take it seriously, no one else will.

Share a fun fact readers wouldn’t know about you.

I hate my handwriting. Weird, right? I mean, you’d think a writer, and one who tends to write with pen and paper rather than on a computer, would have developed handwriting that she’s proud of. But no. I hate it.

Share something about you that would surprise or shock readers.

I tend to be a quiet person, preferring to listen than to talk. I’m not really a trouble maker, never was. But…when I was a senior at Smith, one of my friends and I TP-ed our hallway! My friend was even quieter, more soft-spoken, and even less likely to start trouble than myself! As you can see from the picture, we zigzagged the toilet paper, using tape to secure it all through the hallway. Our other housemates were surprised by the masterpiece that awaited them the following morning when they got up. We cleaned it all up, of course, but it was such fun creating it.

(Thank you for liking this blog post. If you’d like to keep up-to-date with my books and read the first chapter of Behind Picket Fences for free, please click here.)

Recognizing is not Ridiculing

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We live in a beautifully diverse world. Our brothers and sisters in humanity come in all colors and shapes and sizes. There are skin tones of black and brown and white and yellow. Some of us are thin, some are fat, some are tall, some are short. Some of us have straight hair, some have big-curl hair, and some have tight-kink hair. And every description, every variation is a testament to God’s Power and Grace and His Mercy on us—that we are so blessed to be given the opportunity to experience these differences, so that we can learn from them.

So why is there a sensitivity to some of the terms I used above? Why did you wince when I said fat, but not when I said thin? Why are some of you reading on, waiting to see how I plan to use black and if I might use it in a demeaning manner?

If I go for a walk with a child, I expect her to point out the differences in the tree trunks we come across. I’ll encourage her to notice that some trunks are so thick we could only encircle them by forming a human chain around the tree, and others are so thin that one person could succeed in wrapping her arms around them. One is thin, the other is thick. Some leaves are green, some are yellow, some are red, orange, purple. I, like you, will encourage that child to see the variety, because to see the world clearly, you have to notice the variety.  We notice. Our children notice. They notice when someone is tall or short, thin or fat. They notice people of different colors and the different ways people dress. And that is a good thing. We have to celebrate diversity and we can’t do that if we pretend not to see it.

But there are certain traits that we tend to tell our children not to point out, because doing so is considered rude. Particularly, I’m referring to the term fat. Thin and fat, like tall and short, are relative. We can’t know one without knowing the other. The problem with fat is that it has often been used to demean and dehumanize. Society continues to sell the idea that larger bodies are not as desirable as thinner ones. I am not saying that is okay. I am not saying it is acceptable to laugh and point at someone and say they are ‘as large as a house’ or ‘as fat as a pig’ or any other derogatory phrase. What I am saying is that not every observation of fat is dehumanizing.

In one of my books, I had a brief exchange between the protagonist and her sons where they were brainstorming gift ideas for the boys’ grandmother. One of the kids says something like, “Grandma LOVES food.” The mom, trying to get what their gift idea would be according to that comment, says, “So we should make her a lot of food?” The kids laugh at their mom’s ridiculous suggestion and say, “No, mama, Grandma is fat enough.” It was meant to be a chuckle for readers, the way little kids say exactly what’s on their minds. It was meant to be a family moment, where the reader sees how much thought this family is putting in to finding the right gift for their beloved Grandma. It was not meant to be dehumanizing or derogatory in any way. And I still maintain that it was neither of these.

But my editor was upset by the scene and strongly recommended that I cut it. I was about to blow off her suggesting as being too PC when I asked my best friend what she thought. She, too, thought it was best to cut it. She implied that kids might not make such comments anyway.

But my kids make those comments to me all the time. It is never said in a mean fashion, they never do it to ridicule. But they often notice my fat thighs. They’ll bump my chair and tell their siblings, “Look, look how her bum jiggles!” And that is simply the truth. And I think that other kids make the same types of comments, because they come naturally from their perceptions of the world around them.

I did cut that scene from my book. Against my own desire to have that realistic, funny family moment. I didn’t want to insult anyone, so I erred on the side of caution.

I wish there was a way to remove the observations from the mocking. I wish they could be separate, because being truthful in our observations is part of the beauty of life. But there will always be that sensitivity, someone finding offense even if your intention was anything but. And so much goes into that. It isn’t just about your remark, it’s about how people have been dealing with those types of comments throughout their life. I get that. It comes from our own personal insecurities, ones we’ve lived with for years. And I believe that these insecurities are fragile and we must deal with them delicately.

I just wish there was a way to normalize these adjectives, to take away all positive and negative connotations and have them be neutral, the way we talk about the thickness or thinness of a tree trunk, or the color of a car. No one gets upset with those descriptions. I want skin tones of black, white, brown and yellow to all sound the same. I want fat and thin to sound the same, just like short and tall do.

Is it possible that we will ever come to a place where these descriptive terms do not carry negative connotations? I don’t think so. I think our personal experiences along with  historical accounts regarding skin color and body image will continue to affect how we respond to these terms.

I just wish this wasn’t so. These negative overtones do the world and all the beauty it contains a great disservice.

What do you think? I’d love to hear your thoughts…

Honing Your Craft

 

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There comes a time in every artisan’s life when she wonders: How can I move further? Some get stuck at this junction at the start of their journey and others even after years of experience, but it is inevitable for anyone who is sincerely interested in continuing to improve. While there are plenty of beneficial online courses, workshops and webinars, these may not be easily accessible to everyone due to cost or timing. I’ve put together six strategies that, if you continue to implement them in your work, you are sure to continue to develop. If you’ve ever wondered, Am I good enough? Will people find my work helpful? Will they like it? What if I fail?, then read on to quench these doubts and help hone your craft. Please note that while I address writers and writing specifically, these techniques can be used over a variety of disciplines.

  1. Use the negative. You know that saying ‘you can’t please everyone’? Well this is also true in writing. You will find a few people who love your writing. You will also find some who think your work is just ok. But there will be others who completely hate your work. Get used to this. Negative reviews are part of a writer’s life and you can not allow them to hold you back from your work. When you get negative feedback, step back and take your time to digest it. When the feelings of hurt subside a bit, consider: is this opinion just spiteful, or is there any truth to it? Be honest with yourself because the negative opinions often hold the most important lessons we need to learn. Take in whatever constructive criticism comes your way and use it to progress. This does not mean that there will be no hateful remarks; there will be. With those, you must learn to brush them off and continue with your work. But never make the mistake of overlooking criticism that could make you a better writer simply because it was not tied up in a pretty bow.

 

  1. Play up. When I first joined the tennis team in high school, I was still learning the basics and was not very good. But the coach taught us an important lesson that can be applied to so many aspects of life: In order to improve, you must play against those who are better, more skilled than yourself. When you play against a stronger opponent, you up your game…you have to. I improved in tennis with this technique. And I continue to improve in writing using it as well: Play up by reading works that are at a higher level than your own. And when you write, use a dictionary and thesaurus to help expand your vocabulary while maintaining your voice. Always play up.

 

  1. Live and take notes. You should keep a notebook with you at all times to jot down ideas that come to you or interesting characters that you meet while running errands. Note their mannerisms, speech, clothes. When you take your walk in the woods, keep that notebook close by to capture the crinkling of the dry autumn leaves beneath your boots, and how the sound differs from those leaves that your dog treads upon. Note the smell of the forest and the sounds of the birds chirping, hiding high in the trees, their colors often left to your imagination. Write it down anyway. When you go on vacation and you’re relaxing at the beach or bungie jumping down the canyon, or whatever…take notes. Well, maybe not while you’re bungie jumping, but you get the picture. Inspiration can hit you at any time, in any place; always be prepared to indulge it.

 

  1. Own your craft. You need not be published to be a writer. You need no degree, no permission from anyone. You need only to write and to call yourself a writer. Once you make that commitment to yourself, you’ll take your writing more seriously, and you’ll be on the road to a successful writing career. Own it. Call yourself a writer. When someone asks what you do, say, “I’m a writer.” The proclamation will give you the confidence you need to keep moving forward.

 

  1. Commit to your writing time. Like with everything in life, practice is needed for improvement. With the craft of writing, our practice is both writing and reading, but as we’ve already touched on the reading part, let me stress the writing part. I’m not going to tell you that I write every day. But I do plan on writing every day, it is always my intention. It should be your plan as well. Some people journal, others don’t; it doesn’t really matter the form that your writing takes—all that matters is that you do it. Some write their best in the morning, others late at night. Experiment with different times of the day to determine when you are the most productive at writing, then schedule your writing for that time every day.

 

  1. Be the boss of your work. Sometimes editors (or others you meet along your publishing journey) will suggest changes to your manuscript. Often, you will immediately recognize the benefit of the changes and will even feel gratitude to the editor. But sometimes, you won’t agree with the suggestions. Similar to when you receive negative feedback, step back from the piece for a bit and give yourself time to consider the suggestions. Is the editor saying that something in your piece needs clarifying? Is she saying some portion of your piece should be removed completely to make it more succinct? Would that improve it? Consider her suggestions thoroughly. Many times you will be able to use the suggestions, in your own way, to enhance your work. But sometimes, you won’t agree with the editor. That’s perfectly fine. Your work is YOURS. You owe it to your work to carefully consider all suggestions for its improvement, but you also owe it to your work to deny changes that discount your voice, style or message. You’re the boss; never forget that.

 

Thank you for reading and liking this post. And if you have other suggestions for honing your craft, I’d love to hear them. Please share them in the comments.

 

The Importance of Encouragement

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Back when I was in high school, anyone who wanted to be on the tennis team was allowed. No one was cut, but the only players who actually competed were the top eight. All fifteen or twenty of us practiced together every weekday afternoon, and we all attended the matches held against teams from other schools. Our top eight played against their counterparts, and the rest of us played exhibition matches or cheered on the members of our team. And although I took it for granted then—and probably most of us did—the truth is that that cheering we did from the sidelines, those screams of “Nice point,” “Keep it up,” and “This set is yours,” were an essential element in how our team performed. They played to it. Our cheers drove them on, gave them confidence and determination. And if they happened to lose a point, the “Shake it off! You can do this!” helped them to keep moving forward.

Part of the reason why I won NaNoWriMo this year was because of the tremendous support I received from both my writer and non-writer friends. When I was starting to doubt that I would actually be able to write fifty thousand words in one month, my friend commented, “You’ve got this!” And that made me want to “get this.” It gave me the push I needed to keep writing, to keep working toward my goal.

That’s how people function; we do better when we have a support system. It’s true in sports and any organized activity. What we sometimes lose sight of, however, is that this concept is not only for those short term goals of winning a game or finishing a project. This concept of cheering others on to help them persist or improve is also true in everyday life. We do it with our children all the time. “Great job on that math test! Keep it up!” Or “Your book report was so well written. I’ll bet you could write a story of your own.” Although our children get this support from us often, we sometimes neglect to cheer on the adults in our lives. Whether it be colleagues at work, or other mom’s in our real or online communities, or even our spouses, these important people in our lives will truly prosper from our consistent encouragement.

Helping others elevates you. It exudes kindness and generosity—two traits that are important to the betterment of this world. So I try to do my little part. I try to support the artists I’m connected with not just by clicking ‘like’ on their posts and telling them I appreciate their work, but by reviewing their books/products and collaborating with them on projects and giveaways. I support entrepreneurs that I know by spreading the word about their ventures and recommending their services or products. I support the mothers I know by holding their hands when the road is bumpy, dragging them up when they need it, and celebrating with them in their victories. Even though I may disagree with another mother on her parenting techniques, I still tell her, “You’re doing a great job.” I support my husband by telling him how much I appreciate his hard work and that I know he is one of the best in his field despite how tiring and stressful it is for him.

And even though I’m just one person in their sea of friends and acquaintances, I know that my support matters. I know that my cheers make a difference, because each and every word of encouragement that has been sent my way has helped me to keep moving forward and to improve.

No matter where you are in life, you will always have a chance to pull someone up; take it. You’ll never regret sending kindness and generosity into the world.

Supermarket Comedy

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Scrolling through my older blog posts, I came across this one from three years ago. As I read it and relived the experience in my mind, I found myself laughing out loud. I’m postponing the post I had originally planned for today so you can read this one and have a laugh. Enjoy!

SUPERMARKET ADVENTURES

Over the summer I went back home, to the USA, to visit my family. I hadn’t been back in five years, and we all enjoyed ourselves so much, Alhamdulillah (Praise God). Before I share some of our adventures, let me just tell you about two things that I noticed during our visit, which I think are kind of significant.

First, no one seems to believe in cash anymore. Everyone pays with a credit card…for EVERYTHING. I even saw a woman at The Dollar Store put two dollars on her credit card to buy balloons. TWO DOLLARS!! I find it kind of weird, to be honest. I don’t understand anything about economy, but the fact that no one actually has any cold, hard cash can’t be good, right? And what about just logistically…I mean, what if you see the Girl Scouts and want to donate? There was a too-cute-for-words little girl whose curly black hair was tied up into two pom-poms on either side of her head standing outside of Dunkin’ Donuts collecting donations for her cheerleading squad. I think her little red tin can must have remained empty…forevever!

The second most significant difference was the increase in the Muslim population in and around my hometown. Whereas back in the day, it was just us and one other family in the area, now there are so many, that I never went out without spotting one or two families. Alhamdulillah. Praise God. Alhamdulillah that the new Muslim generations growing up there now won’t feel quite so isolated.

It was kind of funny to see how my kids reacted to that, actually. To them, normal is everyone around being Muslim. So when we were in the USA, although I was finding it ‘strange’ that there were so many women covered up, to them it was completely normal. But for some reason–and to this day I don’t really understand why–I felt like I stood out more this visit than I ever did before. There is no logical explanation for why I felt this way: I was born and raised in the USA, and I went through all of high school and college covered up. But for some reason, despite the increase in the Muslim population, I felt like I stood out, like I didn’t fit quite the way I had before. One trip to the supermarket just intensified this feeling….

We just needed a few items, so once we had grabbed them, I surveyed the cashier lanes. Although the lines weren’t super crowded, I decided to go through the self-check out. How hard could it be?

So I swiped the first couple of items,then decided I should just bag as I scan…that would save some time.

“No, mom. Don’t put it in the bag,” my eleven year old said to me.

“Why, not?”

“I don’t know. Just wait till you’re all done.”

“Why? I’ve already scanned it. I’m just gonna bag as I go.”

“It’s not a good idea, mom,” he gave me one final warning.

But, unfortunately, I didn’t listen. As soon as I put that first item into the bag, a loud electronic voice screamed out, “Unexpected item in bagging area.” And it was just down hill from there.

I followed the directions of the electric voice, and managed to clear up whatever mistake I’d made, but the problem was that it kept happening with EVERY SINGLE ITEM! And after the first few, it stopped letting me clear it…so the voice just kept screaming out, relentlessly, “Unexpected item in bagging area. Unexpected item in bagging area! UNEXPECTED ITEM IN BAGGING AREA!!” It might as well have been screaming, “Foreigners need help in lane 10! Someone please help out the foreigners in lane 10!” My son suggested we just take the things over to another self-check out, but I was fairly certain that would just make matters worse. I fully expected someone to come over and relieve me of the embarrassment, but they never did.

Now, this was the same supermarket that i worked at while I was in high school. And back then (ok, so a long time ago, but still!) the manager was always out front, waiting to head off issues, checking IDs for customers purchasing cigarettes, all that stuff. But that day this summer, there was no manager around.

So I went over to the nearest cashier and told her (as if she didn’t know!) that I was having some trouble at the self-check out and needed some help. She came over right away and cleared the issue so that I could continue where I had left off. And as soon as I thanked her and she walked back to her lane, off that voice rang again, “Unexpected item in bagging area! UNEXPECTED ITEM IN BAGGING AREA!”

I just wanted to leave everything and book it out of there as fast as I could. I looked up to see the light above the cash register, which had been flashing green at the start of our issues, was now flashing red. So now the “Unexpected item in bagging area” was code for “Foreigners trying to steal stuff in lane 10! Alert! Thief-Foreigners in lane 10! Alert! Alert!”

A different cashier came over and helped me out till we finished. I didn’t use the self-checkout for the rest of my stay, and I have no intention of doing so EVER!!!

What had my head spinning (besides the embarrassment, which sent me into a laughing fit, of course) was the fact that my son knew.

“How did you know? What made you tell me not to bag?”

“I saw aunt K use the self-check out and she bags at the end to avoid those issues.”

Okay, so two lessons here:

1. NEVER use the self-check out at the supermarket, especially if you look like you may be someone visiting from another country. (Which is a huge percentage of the American population, so people…just don’t do it!) The alerts you get will end up sounding like, “Someone come save this foreigner from the predicament she’s put herself into!” Not fun. (Definitely funny, now…but…not fun when it’s happening.)

and 2. When your kids give you advice, listen to it, even if you’re not quite sure why.

 

(Thank you for reading and clicking ‘like’ on this post. Click here to read the first chapter of my novel Behind Picket Fences and to stay updated with deals and giveaways. For those of you in the USA or UK, click here for details on how to enter my latest giveaway.)

A Little Life Lesson

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One of the greatest innovations of our generation is freelancing. This type of out-of-office, small business work not only caters to stay at home parents (such as myself) but also to individuals looking to monetize on their hobby or talent. I have been a freelance editor for nearly four years now. It’s a job I excel at and which I enjoy. One of the negative aspects of any business dealings, however, is you are bound to come across some dubious clients.

Recently I had a prospective client offer to pay me half of what I usually charge. He said he would sign me to edit the entire manuscript (not just the one chapter we had previously discussed) if I could do it for half my rate. My first reaction was, “Are you high?” My second reaction was relief that our communication was via email. I find that I can be much more direct in writing. If it had been a phone conversation, I may have said something stupendously annoying and girly like, “I’m sorry, but that doesn’t work for me.” I hate the passivity we women use in our business language, but it seems ingrained in me. Only, I can totally escape that in writing. I wrote, “Stop being an ass.” Ok, so I didn’t say it exactly like that, but it was darn close!

How dare he make such an insulting offer? If he thought my rate was too high, he should have simply declined to work with me, plain and simple. When you go into a store and find a product you like that you can’t afford, you don’t say to the salesman, “I’ll pay you half the ticket price!” You don’t do that. Yes, of course freelancing provides some leeway for negotiating… but half?!? No. Just, no. Making that offer, assuming there was a chance that I would accept, meant that I myself did not believe my time and effort are worth my asking rate. How dare he?!

Yes, I am a freelancer who works from home. Yes, I get to set my own schedule and work when I see fit. But this does not mean my work is not top caliber. This does not mean my time is cheap. I know my worth, so do not insult me by offering to utilize my services for half my rate!

And that’s exactly what you should say to anyone who tries to pull this with you, in work or in your personal life. Know your worth! And don’t settle for less. You’ll hate yourself for it if you do. The more you value yourself and your abilities, the more others will value you. And don’t worry about the work you didn’t get from that client; he’s not the right kind of client for you anyway.