Last Saturday night, I was babysitting. While the kids were watching a movie, I started working on the marketing materials for a doll event I am helping to organize at the Denver Museum of Miniatures, Dolls and Toys. One of the kids came over to check on me and asked what I was doing.
"I'm designing a flyer to promote a doll event for the museum," I explained.
"Wait, where do you work?" he wanted to know.
I tried to explain volunteering versus working, but I don't think he understood. Of course, as a kid he probably doesn't yet have a full understanding of doing work for money, and that different jobs pay different amounts... while others pay nothing.
I've been thinking a lot about this lately, and not only since that conversation with the kiddo on Saturday. I actually do a lot of volunteer work, if I stop and think about it. I serve on the board for the museum as well as organizing, helping with, and sometimes running doll events. Writing copy for the museum is often part of that.
I am also active in the doll communities online, helping people in Facebook groups and on Instagram, and creating content that I don't get paid for... yet, I suppose, if I want to be optimistic. I also run a support group for users of the specific type of insulin pump I'm on, and I do a lot of moderation and answering questions every day for that as well.
And of course, I've been a longtime volunteer with National Novel Writing Month. I've been volunteering my time as a Municipal Liaison (basically regional coordinator) for NaNoWriMo since 2015, which means planning and running events, moderating our regional forum, helping participants when needed, and occasionally volunteering my time outside of regular NaNoWriMo season, such as when we score a community table or hold panels at Fan Expo in the summer.
I'm busy, very busy, and most of it is (or at least feels) meaningful for me, even though very little of what I've mentioned above pays. I am trying to build a doll business, which will hopefully generate some income, and of course I could go back to freelancing at any time. Certainly I could use my volunteer work writing copy for the museum as recent professional experience, and my longtime volunteer commitment to NaNoWriMo makes for a nice resume item as well.
In fact, that's a tip that's often given to newbie writers: Rather than working for bargain basement rates at content factories, volunteer your time writing copy for a nonprofit you'd like to support. You'll have quality clips that you can use when seeking paying work, and you'll be able to feel good about having volunteered your time for a cause you believe in.
I'm not doing this for clips at this point in my career, of course; I'm not even sure if I'm going to continue freelancing, or if instead I'll change the focus of my career. But I do feel good about following my passions, whether I'm being paid for my work or not. I'm fortunate to be able to do so, of course, that my husband's income is enough to support both of us, with a little help from me here and there. Hopefully in time my businesses will be profitable again, but in the meantime I'm glad to be able to pursue what I love.