My Creative Hobby Taught Me Patience

Clive Autumn.JPG

Until somewhat recently, photography infuriated me. When the situation allowed, I would grab my Pentax DSLR and shoot the lakes of Minnesota, the snow-capped peaks of the Sierras and the Northern Rockies. And nearly every photo I captured turned out lopsided and overexposed, while the places I took the photos were so stunning.

I’m really bad at this, I thought. So I tucked my camera in its case and shoved it into my closet. 

It turns out I wasn’t “bad” at taking pictures — I just had a lot to learn. I still do, but now I have the patience to deal with the curve. My camera didn’t belong in the closet. It wasn’t my camera’s fault that I took mediocre pictures; it was mine, and it was my job to learn to improve.

Fast-forward to a snowstorm in early 2016, when my boyfriend and I adopted a Labrador puppy from our local animal shelter. I dusted off my camera and gave my failed hobby another shot. There was less at stake this time because rather than creating breathtaking pictures, all I wanted was to document my dog’s toothy grin.

And as the saying goes, Practice makes perfect. I brought my camera with me on walks, and before long, my photographs got better. My compositions grew more solid; I learned to manipulate my settings on Manual rather than rely on Automatic. Most importantly, I accepted that not every image would turn out. Both amateurs and pros take more photos than they intend on keeping because most shots are underwhelming. That’s just the way it is.

In short, you can’t get everything right on your first try. Photography, my creative hobby, taught me this. And unsurprisingly, my findings have carried over into my freelance writing business. (Namely, in terms of the patience involved in building a client base and seeing projects through to completion.)

Here are the takeaways:

Immediate follow-ups aren’t the norm — and that’s okay.

As a freelance writer, patience is a critical part of my job. I’ve worked with clients who booked me for the following week, disappeared, and reached out nine months later with their project. This is the nature of the business. It happens, and yet the former reporter in me would follow up with clients much too soon, usually a few too many times, and wonder what could have possibly happened to cause the delay.

Since then, I’ve learned that while we can’t control other people, we can manage our expectations. These clients didn’t “wrong” me in any way, and they didn’t owe me anything. Maybe something disruptive took place in their lives, or maybe the message I sent got lost in their inbox. After college, I was invited to interview for a legal clerk position; unfortunately, I had no idea until I came across the email in my “Junk” folder nine months later. I’m sure the firm was irritated with me about my unresponsiveness, and rightfully so. 

Good work requires hard work.

In the past, I figured that while I was a fine editor, clients would never book me as a writer. The content I put together from scratch sounded forced and awkward; in my opinion, it wasn’t tight enough. Fortunately, I learned to accept that first drafts are supposed to be rough. (Who would have thought?) Few freelance writers — especially those starting out in the business — submit their first drafts to clients and call it a day; they work on the copy until it’s polished. It takes a great deal of practice and patience to restructure a fine project until it’s great, but it’s certainly worth it.

Similarly, when I go out with my camera, I usually take a handful of shots from the same angle before I capture one I like.

Not everything works out.

Not every client is going to love your work, your rates, or your process. Several weeks ago, I got an email from a client who hired me to write a bio for her coaching business. My partner does the same thing for a living, and he says he could have done a better job, she wrote. Naturally, I felt devastated, and focused on her input rather than the thousands upon thousands of positive interactions I’ve had as a freelancer.

And that’s okay.

In turn, there are days when every picture I take is horrendous. And that’s okay too. Because the out-of-focus portrait, and the lush landscape that turned out blue, have taught me a great deal about adversity and perseverance — in business and in life.