My name is Michael Baginski. This will be my second year as a contract freelancer. I am a writer, journalist, and I do a little video editing on the side here or there. I am also autistic. I was originally diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome when I was born, and then later changed to being on the spectrum after therapy, doctor’s appointments, etc. I also have ADHD, which makes for a great concoction.
Everyone’s experience in media is different. And that is especially the case for media workers with neurological disabilities. They can have difficulty communicating with editors, fellow media workers, and just about anyone in a job-oriented field. It can be extremely difficult, speaking as someone who is autistic and diagnosed with ADHD who had trouble with many tasks at first. I can only speak for myself about my experiences, but I want to share my guidance for those who are in the media and have similar difficulties communicating their thoughts and feelings. This can be especially helpful for individuals who do not have disabilities, but have trouble speaking up for themselves in general.
One of the things I learned right away about pitching and having said pitch accepted for publication is that I needed to have a lot of patience. I truly believe patience is one of the most difficult skills I had to learn while working and in my personal life too. There are no set rules for publications to follow with regards to freelancers. You want there to be, as they can help you. But there aren’t. There are still small things you can do to manage that time well without getting yourself or another person upset. Being kind and courteous to an editor who treats you the same way back helps tenfold. The editor you work with might not have any control over how long a piece is sitting on the wayside. But if you take your time, follow up when appropriate, and stay in communication with your editor, the experience can be less frustrating overall.
Last year, I pitched a piece for months and finally got it accepted. But due to budget constraints, I could not see my work finalized until four months later, in September. Yes, I was frustrated and relieved at the same time. Being told to be patient is something that can annoy a lot of struggling freelancers out there. Especially now during a pandemic. But as someone who is impatient and working on being less impatient, being patient has helped me overcome one of the obstacles I’ve stumbled getting past when I’m communicating with others.
Standing up for yourself is also important. Frustrations can get to you and you may start to withdraw because when you are distraught with sad emotions, you implode emotionally, and you have trouble concentrating on responding, rather than reacting. In addition to my autism, I have social anxiety and depression. I can respond very strongly with my emotions in a scenario that does not have a favorable outcome for me.
Being upfront, being confident, standing up for yourself, and not losing your professionalism during an exchange can help you clearly communicate your needs and what you need help with when working with an editor. Nothing is ever set in stone. The world of freelancing and contract work adds new factors into play every day. And sometimes, that can mean a date for a deadline you cannot meet or a late payment. So you ask if you can change a deadline date, for example, even though they never gave you that option. If they say no, ask why. If they won’t give you an answer, kindly decline moving further and thank them for giving you the opportunity to write for them. If you are waiting on payment, make sure to follow up when time has passed. I went from waiting 2 days to follow up, to a week when I wrote how-to guides for a site.
Depending on the size of the project, it is always a good idea to know your rights as a freelance contract worker. For example, NYC has an act known as The Freelance Isn’t Free Act. It allows a contract worker to take a client they were contracted to work under to small claims court after 30 days from the date of publication. Because it does not cover the whole state and only the city, you need to bring a publication that is based in NYC to court in order to utilize the law. Meaning, you can still utilize the law if you live in Texas and the piece you published was in New York City, like the New Yorker or Buzzfeed. You never want to get to this point, but if it is out of the hands of the editor you are working under, it’s best to know your rights in general.
And if you can, join a union. Navigating my first year as a freelance media worker would have been a lot more difficult had I not first joined a union (FSP) that allowed me to be more confident in negotiating rates, dictating the best deadline I can work around, and having the support of my friends and peers.
I absolutely believe you should join a union for freelancers in order to improve your communication skills. When I joined the Freelance Solidarity Project in March of last year, I was very nervous because I did not feel I belonged. I was scared and very withdrawn because it was a new challenge for me to be more social and feel like I belong when I hadn’t written as much beforehand.
Fast-forward a year later, and I am finishing my one-year term as Events chair for the first rendition of their organizing committee. I would never have gotten that far into being elected without learning about what it means to be a part of a union, what rights I have as a contract worker, and what can be done to help gain and protect the rights of this generation and future generations of media workers. I was elected on my guarantee of wanting spaces where we had events (back when we could meet in physical spaces safely) to be as accessible to everyone as possible, and to not make anyone feel alienated from coming.
That is especially how I felt when it came to my fellow people with autism and how sensory overload can be difficult to navigate in a setting with loud music or people being crowded up on one another. I can’t tell you the future of events, but I can tell you that finding solace with people you’ve never met before, and creating friendships out of that, will help you communicate better. Being part of a community makes you feel less alone in your thoughts, and that helps expressing what is needed for you more clearly in the workspace. You also just feel good at the end of the day too.
Michael Baginski is a writer, video editor, and streams on Twitch. You can find him on Twitter talking about pop culture, politics, and Tim Curry @bagmanman. You can also find him streaming at twitch.tv/bagmanmanman because the one man was taken.