The Nine Freelance Suggestions
These were going to be ten freelance commandments, but who am I to boss you around? Still using "thou shalt", though, because language is fun.
1. Thou shalt cut thyself some slack
You are one human. You have to be your own producer, traffic department and accounts manager. You won't get it perfect all the time, and dwelling on your mistakes will not undo them.
2. Thou shalt cut thy clients some slack
Some people in the design world tend to subscribe to some variant of "treat your clients like stupid little children". What they REALLY mean is that sometimes concepts that you know backwards will not make sense to a client, and you will have to explain them. This is not because your client is an idiot, or trying to ruin your life - it's because you know things that they don't, which is why they hired you.
3. Thou shalt take a step back
Getting a little distance is sometimes the best solution for a tough project. Firstly, of course, your best ideas will come to you when you're not looking for them. (Fine, I'll put five bucks in the cliche jar.) But secondly, and more importantly, if a project is giving you trouble - go back to the brief and pretend you haven't started yet. Revisit the purpose and needs outlined there. Being really "in the zone" with your work can be great, but not if the plan you're running with is getting you further from the best solution.
4. Thou shalt make it finished, not perfect
If you have the kind of job that has deadlines (i.e. basically any job) then this is a fact you will have to face. Creative work is subjective, and if you plan to tinker with a project until it's JUST RIGHT, then you'll be working on one thing until you're dead. This goes double for self-initiated projects. Set a deadline, and put it out there. One of the great things about the internet is that it allows us to share our work, get feedback, and iterate! So, in the words of the immortal Jake Parker - get it finished, not perfect.
5. Thou shalt acknowledge and enjoy thy successes
Regardless of whether you work for yourself or someone else, chances are high that you are never on just one project at the same. While the constant forward motion can be fun, there is a side effect - your victories tend to get swept along in the current. If you get great email feedback on a project you finished last month, and you've got a new deadline approaching, do you stop for a second to enjoy it?
At my first job, we had a tradition - if great news came in about a project, then the lead on that project would pick a song to blast in the office and we would all have a tiny dance party. A good ritual. I recommend Pump Up The Jam.
6. Thou shalt take risks (within reason)
I feel like "trust your gut" is becoming my catchphrase, but here it is again. If a project comes your way and you're not sure if you can handle it, spend some time with your feelings. Are you scared to take it because you're afraid of the unknown, or because you genuinely won't be able to pull it off? Are you quivering with fear or anticipation?
7. Thou shalt remember that thou art a plumber
I once read a wonderful blog post that I could never find again, and here's what it said: there's no such thing as a design emergency. (It's not this one, but it was similar.) The author likened design work to being a plumber or carpenter - it's a service job. You work the hours to do a thing that other people don't know how to do. They pay you money to do that. If they need you to do it really quickly or really late at night, they pay you more. If you're not on duty and they call you while you're having dinner with your family, and you maybe try not to work with that person anymore, because that's rude.
Creative people like to place ourselves on a pedestal above other kinds of service workers, but there's a flip side to that coin: nobody ever expected an underpaid plumber to work crazy hours "for the love of the game".
8. Thou shalt stand up for thyself
Don't go picking fights with everyone, my buddy. But if a client or colleague is using you, or pushing you into a situation that makes you uncomfortable, you're not a rude selfish person for putting your foot down. This goes double when it comes to being paid what you're worth.
9. Thou shalt be nice
Not just when you feel like it, either. Be nice to your clients and colleagues, even when it feels like they're being dumb on purpose to make you cry with frustration. Be nice to your friends and family, even when you're tired or cranky or creatively blocked. Be nice to strangers, because science says it's good for you. And never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity. It might be naive to expect the best of everyone, but it's a lot more fun than being all judgy and cynical.
I tried to avoid being preachy there. If you feel the need to punch me in my smug face, remember that this blog post is just me giving myself some advice, and you're the one eavesdropping. Rude.