When I said goodbye at the end of the annual conference of the American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA), held in New York City last week, there were hugs all around.
Over the previous three days, I had renewed contact with former friends and colleagues as well as met new ones. I had networked like crazy and gathered stacks of business cards. I had learned the latest on e-books, print books, feature writing, videography on the iPhone, custom publishing and ghostwriting. Although I couldn’t be at three sessions at once, I can now buy the audio tapes and learn even more: about social media, government contracts for writers, teaching journalism, health writing, public speaking and preventing lawsuits, to name just a few of the more than 50 different panels and sessions.
But, most important, I had connected with my tribe.
Freelancing is all about freedom, but sometimes I don’t feel very free. When work is slow, I can feel desperate. When work is booming, I can get ground down by all the deadlines, sacrificing large chunks of personal time (and sometimes sleep) to meet my obligations to editors. Regardless of the amount of work, sometimes I’m not as daring as I’d like to be, afraid to push the envelope and try to do something I haven’t done before.
I started attending the ASJA conference three years ago as a way to make professional connections, learn new skills and get new business. But for me the value of this meeting is much more than that. Writing is a solitary profession. Freelancing is even more isolating. It’s easy to feel that your problems are unique and unsolvable. Even the victories are hard. Unless your family and friends are writers, they can’t truly share the triumph of breaking into a new magazine or winning recognition for a particularly well-done article.
It’s the camaraderie of hanging out with other writers for three days that keeps me coming back each year. Schmoozing with other journalists and authors. Helping them or being helped by them. Discussing the ups and downs of the past year. Brainstorming ways to survive the dramatic changes in journalism and publishing. The most valuable thing I get from all this is not necessarily solutions to my problems, but validation that I’m indeed in the right profession for me and a rejuvenation of enthusiasm, inspiration and creativity that freshens up my attitude and my career.
In his lunch keynote, A.J. Jacobs, journalist and author of The Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible, encouraged us to “be bold.” At several sessions, speakers declared that this publishing revolution we’re living through, as frightening as it can be, makes today the most exciting time ever to be a writer, with more opportunities constantly opening up for those who produce quality work and have an entrepreneurial spirit.
In other words, the conference reminded me that I have more freedom to make my living as a writer in more ways than ever before. And with ASJA, I’ve found many resources to help me do that. Most important, though, are my comrades in this revolution. We rally each other on when we are weary. We pull each other up when we fall. We give each other the energy and the sheer chutzpah to jump into this messy fray and see what happens. I don’t know of any other professional organization that does that for freelancers. ASJA has heart, and that keeps me coming back. See you all next year.