Breaking the Stigma: A Career in Freelance Writing
Growing up, I always knew I wanted to be a writer. My free time was spent writing stories about my friends, family, and events that happened in my life. It kept me occupied for hours.
As I grew older, writing became therapy as I struggled with depression and the difficulties that grief and illness bring. When I finished high school, I knew exactly what my major would be. Registering for my first year of classes, I wrote down “journalism” and never looked back.
Going to classes full-time and keeping up my GPA made it difficult to find a traditional job, so I created my job. I took my laptop, joined a job board, and went to work. My new business cards said “freelance writer.” I had never felt more excited in my life.
Telling people I was a freelance writer was and continues to be a difficult thing to do. There’s something about the word “writer” that causes people to think of a starving artist. Someone with a quill pen or typewriter, pounding away words that won’t be heard until decades after you’re dead. “Freelance” seems synonymous with “free,” “unstable,” and “illegitimate.” I wince every time I hear the response:
“Oh, you’re ‘freelancing?’ When will you get a real job?”
“So, you’re looking for a job, right?”
“Freelancing? That’s cool. You get to hang out at home and watch TV all day. Sign me up!”
The comments I’ve heard all show a similar strain of ignorance toward the profession. Overlooking that this is a real job, with real challenges and a real paycheck. I’m not the only one to notice this.
Going to Facebook (the freelancer’s best friend), I asked several writing boards what stigmas and misconceptions they faced by their family, friends, and clients. Their responses echo what I and countless others have faced over our careers.
Gary Gately, a journalist at Talk Media News, said, “My mother — my mother! — asked me once: ‘Are you still working as a freeload writer?’ She was joking, but still….”
Amy-Lynn Vautour, a self-employed freelancer, commented that she often heard “‘Anyone can do that’ … ‘Must be nice’ … people think it’s super easy. They don’t realize I need to know tax law, do my own bookkeeping, chase clients, actively seek learning opportunities every day…”
Laura Hignett, a writer who recently started freelancing, told me “One family member said ‘it’s just a phase, it’ll blow over’- but I use these statements to drive me and prove them all wrong! I’d much rather enjoy my work then feel empty doing a 9-5 where I get told ‘I’m too young and too ambitious.'”
Amardeep Sodhi, also a freelancer, said it’s difficult “being asked ‘Have you found a job yet?’… Every single time I meet relatives, for the last seven years.”
Sarah Layton, the owner of Real Estate Writer, said “There are 3 aspects to my business: marketing and writing for my business to promote it, actually writing for my clients, and coaching my clients on content marketing strategies for their business… I work an average of 16-18 hours a day. My friends and family think I lay around watching tv all day or tanning at the beach. I would be frustrated but my clients know how hard I grind for them every day and it helps to inspire them. That’s all I care about.”
These are just a few of the many comments I received. Every writer knew the struggle. Skeptics who think that writing is a “temporary thing” that has nothing to do with business and everything to do with laziness and spending too much time on Facebook.
Want an accurate view of freelancing? Here it is: you’re responsible for your taxes. If you make yourself into an LLC, you have to deal with the paperwork. Constantly searching for jobs online because networking with friends typically turns out people who don’t want to pay you.
Half of the jobs online are scams that will steal your work if you give them a chance – it’s up to you to make sure they don’t have that chance because most states provide little to no protection for writers.
The worst part? There will always be someone bidding a lower price than you are for a project. You’re in constant competition. Their lower bid makes clients expect lower prices from all writers. Some sites won’t pay you at all, claiming that you’ll “get tons of exposure” instead.
This isn’t the tanning-on-a-beach-lifestyle freelancers are thought to have. It’s a difficult life with an expectation of maximum output and minimum gain.
So why do writers do it? How could someone possibly choose this line of work?
Partially, it’s because of your portfolio. Big employers like magazine and news publications won’t hire you if you don’t have a large, impressive portfolio. Content writing on your own can help build your credibility.
Money is another reason. If you find the right clients, you could find a job that consistently provides income and future jobs.
But the most important reason? Because it’s a job we were born to do. Yes, there are hideous jobs writing about a topic you hate simply so you can pay the bills. There are also the jobs where you research something you never knew about before and find a new passion. Things I never knew about a year ago I now love because of my job.
If you have the grit and determination, you can succeed. But make no mistake, freelance writing isn’t for the weak of heart, despite the stigma of easiness our culture spreads. Don’t believe the lies for a second. Freelancing is a harsh mistress, but worth it for those willing to take a risk and spread their wings.