I’m not just a writing spider. I’m a freelance writing spider. I have a 9-5 gig with a Giant Corporation at which I hold the title of Peon and this pays the bills, but the dream job is full-time freelance writing. While I’m not there quite yet – can’t quit the day job – I’m thinking about it a lot, and making some moves in that direction.
Technically speaking, I have been a freelance writer for twelve years. What I’ve done amounts to a mishmash of genres, industries, and products for a menagerie of clients. I daresay that the vast majority of my freelance work sort of floated to me on the free-ether. That is to say, I didn’t ask for it, it found me. After college I went about being a writer all wrong. I was looking in the paper, thinking, “This is where everybody else finds jobs…” And there were a few, to be sure. But I don’t think that’s how you get to be a freelance writer anymore. Also, I spent a lot of time submitting fiction work instead of looking for ways to develop my journalistic and non-fiction tendencies. I’ve had regular consistent freelance gigs that consisted of such glamorous work as newsletters for nurses. True, I did have a local shopping column that I enjoyed writing immensely, and that was pretty sexy. I’m starting to realized however that if I really wanna do this thing called freelance writing I’m going to have to hustle more.
I put up a website. I made business cards. I…well…that’s it. I did the website and the cards. That’s enough, right?
I’m thinking of you newbies out there who want to know how you become a freelance writer. The short answer is, I don’t know because I’m not really there. The long answer is…read along and we’ll figure it out.
I had to give up the romantic idea of Being a Writer. There are all kinds of people who fit the definition of writer, people who write ad copy, newspaper articles, novels, the brochures for teeth whitening in your dentist’s office. I used to have the same romantic notions. If I tell people, “I’m a writer,” they seem to get this idea that I come home from my 9-5 job and light candles by which I will dip my quill into ink and scrawl for hours on parchment while listening to Bach. This didn’t even apply to me when I was actually doing freelance full time. Mostly I was lucky to put on pants before noon and I certainly wasn’t writing anything exciting. Ghostwriting for home health trade pubs, anyone? I’m an editor, too, but the most important thing I’ve edited was a book. On project management.
I struggled for years to identify myself as a writer and now that I own that label, I finally let go of those romantic ideas for more practical ones like, “Will this job pay my bills?” I can’t speak for all freelancers, but I suspect they feel mostly the same.
I do have a secret. It’s the secret to getting more freelance work than you will via free-ether. My big secret is…you find freelance gigs by asking for them. That’s it. You go ask people if you can write stuff for them. Sometimes they say no. Sometimes they say yes. Sometimes you never hear a word from them. My problem right now is that I’m not asking enough.
I’ve gotten lazy. I have 500 business cards and about 475 are here on my desk. The other 25 are…either in the bottom of my purse or my mom’s purse. My business cards should be out working for me. Ditto the website. It should be doing more work for me. Having a full time job allows me the freedom/excuse to do whatever I want when I feel like it which is…sometimes. In fact, I bought a second-hand scanner off craigslist and only now, four months later, do I plug it in to find out it’s not compatible with my XP. I’m not too worried. I’ll save up, get a better scanner, and put up the rest of my portfolio online. If I was out of work, or had some kids, I’d probably be more motivated.
Beyond the question of motivation, it’s a question of confidence. Ah, the truth comes out. Maybe I’m not good enough to ask Vanity Fair/Esquire/Real Simple/This American Life to publish my work. Maybe I don’t want to spend time getting rejected unless I have to. Frankly, I’m really hoping that Graydon Carter, David Granger, Kristin Van Ogtrop, or Ira Glass will just email me and say, “I’d like you to do a piece about x. We will pay you ONE MILLION DOLLLLARRRSSS. It’s due in a month.” That’s what I’m really hoping for.