One question I'm asked often when people learn that I'm a writer is whether or not I'm hoping to get a job as a writer, which I know means whether or not I want to get a staff-writing position. The answer, of course, is an unequivocal no. When I first started writing I applied for a few positions with half-hearted enthusiasm, kind of aware that it wasn't really want I wanted to do. Since day one I've known I wanted to freelance.
There are a few reasons why I opted to freelance rather than become a staff writer. For one, I didn’t want to be tied to a desk. As a freelancer, I can write from anywhere with an internet connection, a freedom I value even if I don’t always make the most of it. I can also write about anything -- Iran, movies, books, history. If something interests me and I can write a strong pitch, I can dive in headfirst.
More than anything else, I’m my own boss. I answer to my editors, but I decide how to structure my days and spend my time. I decide what stories grab my attention and what angle I want to take. Sure, not having someone to hold me accountable from day-to-day means I can lose a lot of time on the couch, but I’ve managed to find a balance that works for me. I make the rules for my career, not someone else.
But freelancing is hard. It’s a lot of rejection, a lot of extra hours, and you have to be your own advocate. As someone who is quiet and non-confrontational by nature, that was a challenge. Another challenge: Coming to think of my career as a business. There’s nothing romantic about crunching numbers, but it’s crucial to get a sense of how viable your work is and to ensure a steady upward trajectory.
There’s also another challenge to freelancing, and it’s mostly psychological. Growing up and throughout college, I always thought of a job as something given to me by someone else. Someone with that kind of authority would tell me that I was qualified, tell me what my work was worth, and grant me some kind of credibility. As a freelancer, I’m on my own. I made my own job, and sometimes it’s easy to forget that it’s just as legitimate as any other job. Even though no one touched me with their magic Hiring Manager wand and made me a Writer, I am one.
There is a lot of advice for people looking to get into the freelancing game, but here’s what I’ve learned in the past year. First and foremost, don’t think that taking a day job to pay the bills makes your creative work less important. Everyone has to eat, but finding a job that lets you make your real work a top priority will make your life easier. Finding a community will also make your life easier, because it’s easy to feel run down when the rejections pile up and you just need someone to offer a kind word. Make friends through the internet or join a writer’s workshop so that you have people to turn to when you need to vent about an impossible client or celebrate a big pitch being accepted. Finally, learn how you work best and embrace it. Freelancing means freedom, so use it to make your work fit your habits.
Bridey is a freelance writer living in Washington, D.C.
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