Friday, April 17, 2009

If you think freelancing is bad, try working for a newspaper

There are days when I hate being a freelance writer. They're the days when my phone doesn't ring, my e-mail messages go unanswered and the mailman delivers me the credit-card bill when I was really hoping for that check from a late-paying publisher.

But then, every time I even contemplate chucking the freelance life, I get a reminder of why working for myself is the best job I've ever had.

A former editor of mine -- my very first, actually, from back when I worked for $13,000 a year at my local community newspaper -- sent me a message. He knows that I sometimes write for the comic-book industry, and he wanted to know if the publisher I work with needed any writers. Turns out, my former editor was on an unpaid one-week furlough from the newspaper chain for which he works as an editorial page editor.

Yes, my former editor is nervous. With the state of the newspaper industry -- with solid papers like the Rocky Mountain News in Denver and the Seattle Post Intelligencer failing -- he's worried that he'll soon be out of a job. He's already survived one round of staff firings this winter. He's not sure he'll escape a second round.

So, yes, freelancing can be a tough go. And, yes, there are times when you wonder where your next month's payments will come from. But no matter how bad it gets, at least you're in control. You can scour the Internet, hit the phones, pester former editors and do everything it takes to find work. You can try online writing options for the first time. You can create blogs, equip them with Adsense and hope they take off. You can submit stories to places like Triond or Suite 101 in the hope that maybe, just maybe, they'll generate at least some spending cash.

People who work full time at newspapers and magazines can do all this, too, of course. But if they don't already have that freelancer's risk-taking spirit, they might not diversify their writing lives until they're already out of work and desperate for a paycheck.

So next time your 18-month-old son wakes up 45 minutes early from his nap -- as mine is doing now -- remember, it could be worse: You could be getting a pink slip from your boss this morning.


  1. Hi,

    I wanted to mention, I had gone out after being burned what I thought was one too many times by clients either stiffing pay or just too much trouble. I wanted a 'normal' job with less complications. I envied people who had benefits and never questioned when or how much they would get in their paychecks.

    I spent a solid month applying to jobs all over my area. Most companies didn't like that I had an 'unstable work history'. There were other problems, but basically, if I wanted a normal job, I'd have to delete my resume and start at the bottom.

    Eventually, I realized how silly my effort was. I was looking at hourly rates and scoffing the idea of I could only make so much an hour, no matter how hard I worked. I'd also have to get dressed, drive, put up with office people, couldn't regulate my hours or decide to rearrange work to take off for a week.

    When I came back to freelancing, it was so easy. I picked up three or four new clients almost within the first two weeks. I was in my zone. I knew how to apply, how to become hired, how to talk my way into a job.

    There's a place for everyone, I suppose. I might complain about some aspects of this life, but still... the benefits are too great to do it any other way.

    Great blog.

  2. Hi, Calissa:

    Thanks for your message. There are times when I, too, get frustrated enough with the freelance life to contemplate going back into the 9-to-5 world. But then I think back to when I was in that world, and it makes me shudder.

    Then there's the fact that today there is no real job security anywhere. Freelance just makes more sense.