Not Just a Writer

professionals looking down on writer
Image created by Wanda Thibodeaux on Canva

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

Yes, she said “just.”

My friend meant well in context. I couldn’t help but be a little miffed by her comment, even so. 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. It’s the concept that we are simply clickety-clacking away on laptops while sipping expensive coffee in some corner shop somewhere.

Setting the record straight about being just a writer

The reality of being “just” a freelance writer is that we work hard. I’d even dare to say many writers work even harder than people in more traditional jobs. We have no guarantee of having work the next day most of the time, so we are constantly anxious. We’re 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. 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. We have to do that no matter how tired or frustrated we are. We spend a lot of time doing administrative work that we cannot bill for. That includes 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 workweek 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.

Defending more than my pride

Is this post inspired by my pride? Sure, a little. But it’s also defending my craft for every other writer out there. Allowing people to say I am just a writer perpetuates the idea writers do not influence individuals or the world. When I redesigned the Takingdictation website, I made my belief in the power of the written word clear on the About page. The vision is to “improve people and the world through empowered personal storytelling.” The core belief is that “everyone has valuable ideas and stories to share. They’re entitled to get those ideas and stories into the world.”

I legitimately believe in the power of writers to make a difference. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, for instance, brought greater awareness to the brutal unfairness of racism. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck questioned organized business, the distribution of wealth, and the treatment of farm laborers.

The phrase “just a writer” also feeds the concept 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 and discriminate 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.