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5 Q's with Michelle Goodman

For those who haven’t already read The Anti 9-to-5 Guide: Practical Career Advice for Women Who Think Outside the Cube , I highly recommend it. Author Michelle Goodman offers advice on everything from negotiating with bosses to building a support system and marketing yourself. (And there’s plenty of useful tips for those of us who haven’t quite fled the cube and want to balance creative and corporate work.) This week Michelle shares her wisdom on life outside the cubicle.
Urban Muse: What inspired The Anti 9-to-5 Guide? When did you sense that this kind of information was needed?

Michelle: I started working for myself 15 years ago and since that time there’s been a steady stream of questions on my voice mail or in my inbox from people—some friends, many strangers—on how to manage the self-employed and alternatively employed life. They want to know how to find clients, temp, and flex jobs. They’re wondering what it’s like to pay for your own benefits and what pitfalls they should watch out for. They’re curious about how I make the money last when the paychecks are sporadic, how I pay my taxes, if I have an accountant, what my mother thinks of my nontraditional career, and on and on and on.

I knew I was really onto something though when the friends and family who once asked when I was going to get a “real job” started asking me for some of the aforementioned advice. So during the late 90s dotcom boom, I wrote a bunch of articles offering tips on self-employment, freelancing, and consulting. When all those companies went belly up, I started writing about alternative career paths for indie pubs like Bust and Bitch, as well as a women’s mag that the Seattle Times puts out quarterly (called Gender F).

The actual proposal for The Anti 9-to-5 Guide stemmed from an article I wrote for Bust while I was doing an onerous temp gig and lamenting the loss of creative writing time. (I took the gig to save up a down payment for my house.) The article was called Wage Slave: A Day Job Survival Guide for Arty Girls. My publisher, Seal Press , wanted me to expand the topic to include all forms of alt (i.e., non-corporate) employment: freelancing, flextime, telecommuting, temping, small business ownership, travel work, nonprofit work, working in the trades, and so on. So that’s what Anti is all about.
UM: Your book includes some good tips on handling financial ups and downs. Could you share a few here?

M: If you’re thinking about making a career change or starting your own business, the first thing you need to do is get real with your financial situation—as in, figure out how much you’re spending each month and see if and where you can cut back. All those cab rides, $10 lunches, and impulse buys do add up, and you have to be willing to take a step back and say, “Is buying a new dress each month really necessary, and is it really more important than my goal of heading down a new career path?”

Don’t strike out on your own as a freelancer or small business owner without paying down your credit cards and saving up some money first, both startup expenses and as many months of living expenses as you can cobble together. Many women I interviewed for the book worked overtime or took freelance work or a second job to save the cash they needed to launch their businesses. Some moved to less expensive cities or learned to love the bus rather than driving everywhere. One even moved her entire family (husband, kids, pets) in with her parents to seriously save money while getting her real estate staging business off the ground. (She also had a day job.)

If none of this is feasible for you (I’m certainly not suggesting we all move in with our parents!—the ultimate sacrifice, usually for our parents), make sure you have a steady source of income during your startup months. This can be a part-time job, temp work, or a fallback skill—something you do well and can get paid well to do, even if it isn’t your first choice of work. One woman I interviewed for the book calculated that she’d be able to flee the cube a year earlier to start her dogwalking business if she also offered overnight petsitting as a service. It wasn’t first choice because it meant several nights away from her sweetie and own dogs each week, but it allowed her to get her business off the ground faster. After a year, she was able to drop that service from her repertoire.

And here’s the writing-oriented example: I used to proofread legal documents during my early years as a freelancer while I built up my “more creative/fun” project base. The work was mind-numbing, but it kept me from having to get a day job. Hell, I still work the technical writing/editing thing on the side from time to time so I don’t have to worry about how I’m going to pay the bills. (In fact, see my answer to question 5!)
UM: Tell us about Single State of the Union and how you got involved with that project.
Single State is a new Seal Press anthology (edited by my friend Diane Mapes ) of about three dozen essays by women writers on how being a single woman is so much more than being the hard-up, horny, frigid, picky, desperate, shoe-crazy, marriage-obsessed stereotypes you see on the newsstands and on reality TV. To me, the subtitle of the book , Single Women Speak Out on Life, Love, and the Pursuit of Happiness, says it all. Basically it’s a celebration of women’s solo achievements, from buying our own homes and traveling the globe to raising kids alone and lining our own retirement accounts. There’s also a bit of banter on getting some without getting hitched, lest you worry that this is a purely chaste affair.

Oh, and this book is funny. As in, snort your milk out your nose. Some of the kickass writers in it: Margaret Cho, Laurie Notaro, Lynn Harris, Susan Jane Gilman, Rachel Kramer Bussel, Judy McGuire, Susan Shapiro, Chelsea Handler… I could go on and on.

I guess you could say I got involved in the project by way of nepotism. When Diane was putting the proposal together, I told Diane about a weird phenomenon I’d experienced when buying a house on my own a couple years ago: Everyone—family, friends, mortgage broker, strangers—wanted to know why on earth, if I had a boyfriend I loved and considered myself deeply committed to, wasn’t on living with him? And why the heck was I buying solo? It was hard for people to wrap their brain around the concept of two people in love but not shacked up and not sure they’re even looking to get there. Diane wanted me to write about it for the book, so I wrote the essay “House Without a Spouse.”
UM: Any tips for other writers on dealing with rejection?

M: Submit more than one piece or pitch more than one article at a time. That way you’re not so focused on whether any one article gets the thumbs up from a publication or editor you’ve approached.

Savor any personalized rejection letters you get: If an editor takes the time to include a hand-written note, some constructive criticism, or an invitation to submit again, it’s a good thing. Sure, it’s not as good as getting an acceptance notice, but believe me, they wouldn’t go out of their way to groom you or invite you back to the party if they thought your work was without merit.

Get inspired by reading about the humble beginnings—and unwavering perseverance—of your writing heroes. All of them have reams of rejections in their closets, too. No one is an overnight sensation.
And finally, keep some sort of digital or physical scrapbook or cigar box of all your successes: your favorite published clips, letters of praise from editors, letters of praise from readers, notices of awards or grants, and the like. If you feel that dreaded self-doubt start to creep in, pay a visit to your scrapbook or keepsake box to remind yourself that you’re good enough, you’re smart enough, and doggone it, people like you. (!)
UM: And on a happier note, what are your next projects?

M: I have a couple of book proposals in the works. Hopefully I’ll have more to say about them in the coming weeks. One is a career book; the other is something completely different. (How’s that for vague?) I’m writing some web and print articles on career change and self-employment to keep the anti 9-to-5 love alive. I just wrote a piece for a newish site called and one for salary site, which I’ll link to on my blog when they’re live. I also regularly write for the Seattle Times and teach classes on freelancing. (For class info, see my site’s Events page .)

In addition, I’m working on stockpiling my bank account this summer and fall: Recently a part-time, temporary, ultra-flex job that was too good to refuse landed in my lap, and I started yesterday (gulp!). It’s partly from the client’s office, partly from home. Once I get settled into that routine, I’m planning to pitch some new articles and work on a couple of humor essays. I’m also fixing to build a fence along the length of my backyard later this month (with the help of a friend who actually has a clue about building fences). And I’m hoping to clean my bathtub this summer and paint at least one room of my house. And maybe get a good night’s sleep.
UM: Thanks so much, Michelle!
Thank you. It’s been a blast!

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5 Q's with Michelle Goodman + writers on writing