Finding Focus; Slowing Down

Laura Laing

I’m tired. Plumb tuckered out. Ready to take a two-month vacation. This is confusing to me, because especially through the pandemic, I’ve been so fortunate. My family stayed healthy and so did I. I kept working, even with stress and anxiety. Sure, I’ve gained a few pounds and my sleep cycle is wildly different, but as an introvert, I pretty much enjoyed hunkering down, reaching out to other humans only when I felt like it. I was in my groove. But over the last two months, I’ve felt like a wrung-out washcloth. My writing has stalled, and I have to force myself to look at my email every day. Small requests feel like enormous burdens, and even the hint of criticism can make my confidence crumble.

When I consider what this last year has been like, though, it’s no wonder I’m exhausted. I spent the last year in high-gear, working through revisions of my latest manuscript (sometimes into the wee-hours of the night) and working with ASJA as we take big strides in virtual programming and a new website. In early August, I began to feel the stress of this schedule, these internal expectations. Thankfully, this isn’t the first time I’ve been through something similar, so I know what to do: pump the brakes. It’s time for me—and ASJA—to slow down a bit, assess, and simplify the to-do lists. For me, this means limiting my priorities, and this is what I’m encouraging ASJA to do, too. If we keep at this pace, we’ll burn out and lose our momentum.

Programs like VCC, VPS, and CC will continue full steam ahead. We’re also gearing up for our first in-person conference in two years, as well as new issues of the magazine, Confidential and The Weekly. We’ll keep you posted on the Pro Act and our lawsuit in California. And our Facebook page will continue to be the place for members to discuss the freelance writing life and look for sources for stories. But in terms of overall priorities, it feels good to narrow our focus to three priorities.

Website Launch and Continued Development

Perhaps you’re tired of hearing about the new website, especially because you haven’t seen it yet. Many of us behind the scenes are also feeling a little worse for wear when it comes to this topic. We’re getting closer to launch, but that doesn’t mean that the work will stop. The nice thing about a website is that we can continue to build it after it goes live. Even after that point, committee chairs and the board—as well as Think33 and Kellen—will continue working on features. You probably won’t notice most of those details, but I wanted to let you know about two of them: a technical solution for Client Connections (in particular the process for matching clients with members) and an online version of the magazine. (Don’t worry, you’ll still get your printed copy in the mail.)

This is a good time to thank Darcy Lewis again for leading our team of volunteers who have made the website possible. It is impossible to calculate the amount of work each of them has done to make this dream a reality.

We also need to plan for regular updates to the website, including adding new content and managing any technical snafus that naturally occur. Over the next few months, the board will be discussing those options and implementing the steps needed to ensure that our new site remains vibrant and useful.

Diversity, Equity, Access and Inclusion

By itself, this initiative would be enough of a row to hoe. ASJA membership is largely white, cis, straight, over 40-year-old women writers, and so we need to tread carefully in this arena. Organizations that have taken these initiatives lightly have created additional harm, rather than building a welcoming and inclusive space. In this situation, good intention just isn’t enough. You can read more about my thoughts on ASJA’s coming DEAI initiative here. We’re still looking for members interested in joining the DEI taskforce, so please email the office, if you would like to join or want more information. We hope to have a taskforce in place by the end of September.

Membership Growth

With a more inviting and useful website and DEI efforts, we should be able to see an increase in membership growth, but we’ll have to work for it. You already know that membership chair Carolyn Crist has launched a new Membership Engagement Committee. The idea is to attract potential members, get them to apply, and then help them get plugged into ASJA benefits quickly so that they can see the benefits. We also want to retain members with greater community-building initiatives, including a strong and sustainable mentoring program.

But you might wonder why we would focus on membership growth. First off, ASJA is a great place for professional freelance writers to get support, ongoing education, and client leads. At the same time, vital programming requires a critical mass. Within any organization, there’s a small percentage of folks who are able and willing to volunteer for programs that support members. When membership is low, our volunteer numbers are naturally lower, too. Likewise, the largest revenue line in our budget is membership dues. To afford things like Client Connections, in-person conferences, virtual programming, coordination of anti-Pro Act activism, and a new website, we need steady and reliable revenue from members. Even though we depend on volunteers for each of these programs, they also require staff and infrastructure costs. For example, the technology required for a fair matching in Client Connections is expensive, and we pay for Zoom when we host virtual programming. In order to provide these benefits, we need revenue from membership dues. The more revenue we have, the lower the costs of these benefits to members and the more benefits we can offer.

And that’s it! Simple, right? The difficulty comes with that shiny object that appears from time to time—the one that whispers, “This is important too! And it won’t take much to make it happen!” Yes, we know that there are so many other priorities in ASJA—from regional chapters to building community on Facebook. It’s not that we’re uninterested in these programs. We are, however, needing to set clear priorities so that we do good and sustainable work. Once we get the website and DEI initiative launched, and once we see our membership numbers begin to grow, we’ll be able to address some of the other benefits that ASJA members love so much.

You might have one last question: Why are we planning through the end of 2022, instead of through June 2022 as usual? As a special surprise, the IRS moved our fiscal year from July through June to the calendar year. We knew this was going to happen, but we didn’t realize that, in January 2021, it was a done deal. (We’ve been assured that this is something that the IRS does without adequate notice.) This means that our board terms, elections, and budgeting have all suddenly changed. We’ve worked out the budget, and I’m happy to report that all of our current board members are willing to stay on an extra six months. We’ll rework our elections cycle next spring, and our next board will be nominated and voted on in the fall of 2022.

So, keep these priorities in mind as you read through our organization news. Look for announcements about our new website in the coming months, and if you’re interested in being a part of the DEI taskforce, drop us a line. Lastly, if you know of other freelancer writers who would benefit from ASJA membership, please talk us up! Share the love, so that we can share our experience and support.

Photo by Nick Abrams on Unsplash