Fields of flowers at sunset can be so relaxing 

I’ve been a ‘creative freelancer’ for a while now: in fact, ever since we moved to Amsterdam eighteen months ago. And it’s going alright. Pretty well, even.

I’ve learned a few things along the way, which seems like really the minimum one can do when embarking on a new venture. So I’ve made a list of some of these things that I think might be helpful for others.

They apply specifically to me and what I’ve been doing – which is writing websites and corporate film scripts, performing and teaching improv comedy, producing and hosting storytelling and comedy events, and a smattering of acting and voiceover work. But they are – well, if not universal, at least extrapolatable. Which is only theoretically a word, but most certainly a concept.

Hopefully they’ll be useful for you.

Also of note: these are things that I’m putting down, not because I figured them out and do them all the time, but because it’s helpful for me to remember to work on them. Of course, some of these I’m good at, or come more or less naturally to me. Others are a constant pain in my ass.

1. Be on time: It’s not cool to be late. I do struggle with this, as I’m frequently late for meetings with friends and the like, but I try and keep it less than ten minutes. At least. The Dutch particularly don’t have patience for tardiness, but in general, showing up late or otherwise showing you don’t value the other person’s time says more about you (“I’m a dick!”) than it does about the other person. See #2.

2. Be a nice person: And if you’re not a nice person, then fake it. Nobody likes working with dicks, and though I don’t see it too often, sometimes I’ll have a meeting with – or hear about – someone who (like me) is a creative freelancing type, and (unlike me), is an absolute prick. Makes me wonder how long they can keep it up. I certainly prefer working with people I enjoy working with. And I don’t think I’m alone.

Coffee is your friend 

3. Follow through on your word: If you say you’re going to do something, do it. If you can’t do it, or somehow fuck up, be accountable. Own up to it, and then say how you’re going to clean up your mess. And then definitely do that. No exceptions.

4. Say thank you: If someone does something nice for you, say thanks. Simple!

Also, it’s annoying, self-indulgent and patronizing to have an artist start explaining why they’re not happy with a work immediately after receiving a compliment on it. False modesty isn’t as cool as you might think. When someone tells you that they like your work (a show, a painting, whatever) JUST SAY THANK YOU! Even if you’re not happy with it, that person is. Hold those negative thoughts. Write about your disappointment in your tear-stained journal later that night (and make sure your next work is better).

5. Be politely driven and focused: Know what it is you want to do. And do that. Tell people that’s what you’re doing, and then just damn do it. Stick with it. Try hard. Make mistakes and learn from them. Plow through the doubt. Hold yourself to a higher standard than is probably necessary. Never stop. And remember: ambition is important, but keep it in check – that’s why I say be “politely driven”.

6. Proofread everything: Some of my work is writing and editing, so this is extra important for me. But even if you’re a lighting designer, sculptor or harpischord player, make sure your writing isn’t garbage and littered with typos and stuff. It doesn’t say much for the quality of your work if it’s clear you didn’t proofread your email before you sent it. And if it’s really important, get someone else to proofread it. It takes a little extra time sure, but can make a big difference.

7. Don’t overpromote: Of course you need to tell people about events and things you’re working on, but try not to dominate conversations (online and real-life) with news of things you’re working on. This is a tricky one. Use your best judgement.

Suck it up, you baby 

8. Look after yourself: In my first year as a freelancer I did not one single athletic feat. Well, I might’ve accidentally done a push-up when getting out of bed once, but that’s it. I’m trying to remedy that this year, with some swimming and yoga. Occasionally a fruit smoothie. You know what they say: if it’s good for you, it’s probably good for you.

9. Say please: This follows on from #2 above. You’re not entitled to anything. Nobody owes you shit, so if you want something, ask nicely.

10. Take feedback graciously: If you don’t want any feedback, stop the person before they give it to you. If you don’t manage to do that: just take it. If it’s just some idiot and they tell you something stupid and pointless… who cares? They’re an idiot. Let it go.

But if it’s someone who tells you something insightful or interesting, use it. If you shut yourself off from criticism, you’ll never improve.

Ants work hard, and look how good they’re doing! 

11. Don’t undervalue yourself: If you just give your time or your work away, or work too cheaply, people (including yourself) lose perspective on what your work is worth. And how the hell are you supposed to make a living at that thing you do if neither you, nor the people you do it for, value it properly? Not easily.

12. Do favours, and expect nothing in return: The complement to #11 above; you should also work for free. Help people out, try stuff, get involved in projects that excite you (or excite someone you like) and expect nothing in return. Doing stuff generally trumps doing nothing, so get involved

Random projects and favours can lead to work down the line – but this is not why you should do them; you should do them because it’s good for you to stop being such a career-focused, self-absorbed dick once in a while and help someone else take a step towards their dream.