“WRITE FROM HOME” Ads Lie
Work from home! Write from the beach! Be your own boss! I’ve been seeing these ads lately on Facebook and around the internet because I guess the Google gods have figured out that I’m a writer (it’s nice to be recognized). And look how relaxed and happy those people in the ads are!
I wish it were true that I have days to frolic on the beach, but that rarely happens. And I live in sunny California on a city that is an actual island. I can walk on the beach any day I want. But do I have the time? (Do I make the time? Different issue…)
I’m afraid that the reality of freelancing is a bit different. I am a full-time writer. I have a journalism degree (for the news-chasing) and a master’s in English (for the editing); I also have a spectrum of experience from teaching in the classroom to editing for the glossy magazines to grinding out the calendar every week, over to the literary side of writing (writing poetry in a swing). I know deadlines intimately. I love-hate them and live by them.
The newspaper industry has changed dramatically since I got into it – from blue pencils and typewriters to computers and social media. I started journalism school with a T-square and an X-Acto knife in my ditty bag. The digital revolution changed how various tasks were done, and it changed the nature of business itself. Skyrocketing health care costs and human resources rules have made most of the smoking, drinking, man’s world of the newsroom obsolete. In fact, I know so many people who have been laid off by newspapers, only to take them back on as freelancers, that by now, the number of full-time reporters is very small.
So freelancing it is. I freely admit that I would be scraping by now if not for my husband’s salary (although I would be single and not raising a teenager now, without him!). So his work allows me not to worry as much about rent, food and health insurance. But I do have a nut I need to crack every month – what I am expected to bring into the family, and freelancing is part of that. So is part-time proofreading, occasional teaching, book editing gigs, and the random oddball gig like making a peacock costume for a bet someone lost. I also thrift and resell items online and pursue rebates for extra cash. And I’m the coupon queen.
Freelancing itself – getting an idea, writing it and polishing it, sending it out, waiting for an editor to respond, then accept it (or not, in which case, start over), then waiting for the thing to print/post, and then…waiting forever to get paid. That’s more realistic. We don’t get paid til the thing sees print or airtime. And then we have to jump through many hoops to get paid. A story I wrote in May 2014 just made it to print in the March 2015 issue. I won’t see the money for that til next month at least. So $300 I made last year takes a year to show up in my hands. You can see that one has to have a lot of gigs going to make it as a freelancer.
I notice the “Write from home!” ads don’t talk about that. They don’t talk about rates going down, quality going down, editors with little experience looking for clickbait instead of actual reportage. So much is left out of the conversation.
There are other kinds of stories, true – travel, or extended research, or corporate – I don’t do those. Either I don’t have the resources (Sorry, honey, I’m going to Fiji. See you next month!) or I can’t bear the soul-sucking it takes to smile and write content for corporate web sites (everything said with a lip-tight smile and a cheerful, chatty demeanor). They pay reasonably well – if you don’t mind travel, or soul-sucking. It’s a toss-up, isn’t it?
In my opinion, “Write from home” comes down to two things — can you write well enough to be accepted, and can you pitch to the right markets? And then market like a mofo. And then chase down the money. Since January 1, I’ve written for several high-visibility sites. I’ve invoiced them twice. Big guys with an accounts payable department. Do they pay quickly? Nope. I’m two months in arrears with a certain magazine publishing company — haven’t been paid for January stuff yet. I know it’s hand to mouth for them, too. And I’m sorry for that, but, hey, I need to get paid, too.
This isn’t meant to be a “poor me, freelancing is hard” post – just a reality check from those “Write from home!” goofballs. Take off the rose-colored sunglasses and put away the sunscreen. You’ll be busy chasing stories and payments far more than you’re working on your tan, if my experience holds true. Spinning plates? Yes. Get busy.
I’d write more, but I’ve got deadlines.
Julia Park Tracey is an award-winning journalist, author, and blogger. She is the author of "Veronika Layne Gets the Scoop" and "Veronika Layne Has a Nose for News" (rep'd by Booktrope). She is the Poet Laureate of Alameda, California. She's also the conservatrix of The Doris Diaries, the diaries of her great-aunt Doris Bailey Murphy. Her articles have appeared in Thrillist, Quill, Paste, San Francisco Chronicle, and in many magazines; her latest poetry appears in The East Bay Literary review.