Not “Just” a Writer

Recently, I had a friend of mine tell me how lucky I am that I am just a freelance writer.

Yes, she said “just.”

Although my friend meant well in context, I couldn’t help but be a little miffed by her comment, because I’ve heard it many, many times before. At the heart of the sentiment is always the idea that somehow, freelance writers are not serious professionals, that we are simply clickety-clacking away on laptops while sipping expensive coffee in some corner shop somewhere, totally relaxed and content.

The reality of being “just” a freelance writer is that we work hard–and I would dare to say, even harder–than those in more traditional jobs. We have no guarantee of having work the next day most of the time, so we are constantly anxious, constantly searching for the next project that could tide us over until we have to search yet again. It’s not unusual to spend just as much time looking for work as we do actually writing, and even when we find workable projects, the pay isn’t always ideal. So, often, we have to work more hours to make ends meet.

What’s more, being our own bosses isn’t all sunshine and roses. Sure, we can set our own schedules and such for the most part, and that’s great, but there’s no one to catch us. If we get overwhelmed or something goes wrong, we are the ones who have to figure the problem out, no matter how tired or frustrated we are. We spend a lot of time doing administrative work that we cannot bill for, such as handling invoices, updating spreadsheets and tracking tax information. Some of this can be automated, but not all of it can.

In short, the typical freelance writer’s day is very flexible, but as is true for just about everyone who owns their own businesses, it ends up being very long. A lot of the time, we don’t “clock out” after eight hours of work the way “normal” people do, simply because the administrative work and need to look for the next project is in addition to the standard work week that results in pay. Even when we do everything right, we still have the normal demands of household chores and family to handle once the pen is down or the computer is off.

Even if all this didn’t bother me, I’d still be a little upset by being called “just” a freelance writer, because this inevitably cheapens my craft. It perpetuates the idea that, even as major corporations around the world rely on writers to produce their website, general correspondence, marketing and other documentation, our work is not worth a decent, living wage. It implies that companies can push writers to the side, essentially discriminating in ways that would never fly with other workers. If writers do not fight this discrimination, the worth of what they do will always be in question and they will always struggle.

The Writer’s Balance

As I write this, it’s about midnight. I have to be up in roughly five hours. When I do emerge from my comfy boudoir, I’ll stumble sleepily out to my kitchen, grab a bite of whatever-fruit-I-bought-this-week and a soda (horrible morning habit, I know, but I don’t drink coffee and need the caffeine), and sit at my computer again. Most mornings, I am writing within fifteen minutes of the alarm going off.

What, you thought writers got to lounge around in their pajamas clicking away at the keyboard all day?

(Ok. I’ll admit, my morning work does happen in my pjs.)

I know each morning that I would love some extra sleep. But I also know that I have bills to pay and that my keyboard clicking handles that. I know most people can clock out in the early evening, but I stay late (in my living room or home office) so that I can be my own boss. When I am writing about something drier than months-old rice cakes, I make it a point to listen to music that revs me up.

The point is, to be a writer, you need to fight for balance. Our craft is a  passionate one, and you need opportunities to be…not creative. To just be. Remember, the best writing rule is to write what you know. If all you ever do is write, you leave yourself no room to experience and learn, to give yourself the foundation on which to hang your plots and ideas. As a result, the range of believable, authoritative content you’ll put out will be ultra small.