My name is Jessica Catalan. Some of you know me. Maybe you’ve read my blog, played an adventure I wrote, or own a book I’ve contributed to. But, let’s face it: most of you’ve never heard of me. So, who am I?
I’m a Canadian mother of Métis descent, a blogger, and a freelance ttrpg author. I have a background in anthropology and like many of us, I adore games. Three years ago, I started a tiny personal blog that chronicled my family’s experiences in d20 gaming: d20diaries.com. A year and a half later, I received an email asking if I wanted to try freelance writing. I was both stunned and ecstatic. It was only after I sent a reply that amounted to ‘heck yes!’ that I stopped to wonder if I was ready. Could I write for RPGs? Being an optimist, I squashed those self-doubts and told myself three words that would soon become my mantra: “I’ve got this.”
Sometimes we fight for our dreams tooth and nail. Other times, they fall into place effortlessly. I’ve been incredibly lucky: I was given an opportunity to do something I’d barely been brave enough to dream. But luck and opportunity were only enough to get me a chance. If I wanted this, I had to take that opportunity and seize it.
Within weeks I was working on my first project: Starfinder Society Scenario #2-03: The Withering World. I put my all into that adventure, met other freelancers, and learned a ton.
It’s been a year and a half since then, and I’ve contributed to a whopping thirty-two RPG projects and counting. Some are released, most are unannounced, and it’s likely while you’re reading this I’m writing. I’ve got more on the horizon and I hope to continue contributing to the games I love for many years to come.
So, maybe you’ve never heard of me. Chances are, something with my name on it will find its way to your gaming table over the next year. Maybe it already has. I hope you enjoy it.
Since I’ve become a freelancer, the most common question I’m asked is: “What makes a good freelancer?” I’m not an expert. But, I’m not inexperienced either. So, before I go, I’d like to share a few freelancing basics I consider important.
I’m not a confident person. But I’ve got this. And, you know what? You’ve got this, too. In freelancing, someone is entrusting you with their project. Of course, you’re nervous—most of us are. But, if you act like you can’t handle a project, why would someone entrust you with one?
A lot of us start freelancing because it’s fun. Good! Have fun! I sure do. But that doesn’t mean freelancing is a game. This is work. Be professional. I’m not saying don’t become friends with your developers and fellow freelancers—you should! But, be mindful. Be pleasant. Be welcoming. Be inclusive. Be accepting.
Most of us don’t know how many quality words we can write in a day, how many days a week we can be productive, or how large a project we can tackle. It’s important you don’t take on more than you can handle—especially early! Start small and crush it. If it’s easy, take on a bigger assignment next time. Work your way up until you find your comfort zone. You don’t have to do a big project to be a successful freelancer. Acknowledge your limits and plan for the unexpected.
It’s important to communicate with the folks you’ll be working with. Have questions? Ask them. Having trouble? Admit it. I know; we don’t want to be a bother. But asking questions saves everyone time in the long run.
Turn your work in on time. It sounds obvious, but life happens. Plan for that. If you’re late, every other stage of that project could be late or someone else will need to pick up the slack. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been offered an assignment specifically because I turn in quality work on time. That’s a reputation I value.
When you get an assignment, get to work. Read it, research, brainstorm, write. Take a break when you need to. Write some more. Leave plenty of time for editing. If your assignment has a milestone or rough draft due date, get as much done as you can for that date. The feedback you’ll get will be invaluable. Don’t leave your project to the last minute. Give it the attention it deserves.
Write what you’re hired for.
When you get an assignment, you’re hired to write something specific. Don’t write something else, or something you think is better, or something twice as long. Write what you’ve been hired to write. I’m not saying don’t be creative—definitely be creative—but be creative within the confines of your assignment.
If you’re lucky, you’ll get feedback on an assignment. That’s awesome! Take their advice to heart, embrace any changes they want you to make, and run with it. Learn from it.
After turnover, your assignment will be out of your hands. Someone will take what you’ve written and make it better. Changes will be made. This is not a reflection of the quality of your turnover, this is someone else doing their job. Let them. Embrace it. And if they made changes you hate? Keep it to yourself. Never bad mouth a change. Those words you turned in are a part of something bigger. Be happy. Celebrate.
Usually, your project is confidential. Keep it that way. Don’t tell your friends and co-workers what you’re working on. Don’t mention it on Twitter. Keep it to yourself. Eventually you’ll get to talk about the contributions you’ve made, but that’s a long way off. Respect that.
Today I’ve shared a story with you—another entry in my d20 diaries. I appreciate you joining me for the ride.
All the best,