Whenever I’m at a dinner or a party, inevitably someone will come up to me and ask what I do. I tell them I’m a freelance writer. Then they either ask me where I’m published or what it’s like to be in business for myself. The first question is relatively easy to answer. I dazzle them with a long string of publications, most of which they’ve never heard of. But the second question is a bit more tricky because most people work for someone else. Even my closest friends often have a hard time understanding how I manage to live on so little money. Yes, folks, the truth is that the majority of freelance writers aren’t paid all that much for their work. Do I love to write? Yes. Do I love to eat? Even more than I love to write.
So where did the term “freelance” come from? Historians believe that Sir Walter Scott coined the phrase to refer to itinerant knights who traveled about the countryside, equipped with their own lances and sold their skills to anyone who would pay them. And since the term originated in his works about kings and knights and damsels in distress, it has acquired a romantic connotation.
And to this day, it has retained those same romantic notions, albeit to the detriment of many a would-be writer.
The truth is that freelance writing offers more flexibility in work and lifestyle than most other occupations, as well as a great sense of satisfaction (when my belly is full). From an outsider’s point of view, freelancing seems the best of all worlds—the best job on Earth. Most likely some, if not all, of these outsiders get up at an ungodly hour to brave a bumper-to-bumper commute on a jammed highway or equally crowded train, then spend eight more hours sitting behind a desk in a cubicle. They see freedom from all this drudgery as a form of liberty and power. But as the grass is always greener on the other side, they don’t see the discipline necessary to accomplish that freedom.
Some of the reasons I love freelancing include getting up later, working at home on bad winter days when everyone else has to fight the weather, knocking off early if I’m too tired, and going grocery shopping when everyone else is at work. Notice, I didn’t say anything about writing.
But there are reasons I love freelancing for writing’s sake. The first and foremost is that I can generate my own ideas and develop them the way I want. Second, I can work at my own pace, except when I’m on deadline. Third, I get continuing credit and recognition for my work as long as it’s in the hands of readers. Fourth, I have only a five-minute commute to my office, from bedroom through the den to my office—with no traffic jams—thus saving me precious hours during the workday. Fifth, I can set my own priorities. In fact, that’s one of the most important facets of freelancing for me, being able to prioritize my work. Sixth, I can get paid for my work multiple times, depending on how I use the information I gather through research. Seventh, I’m constantly meeting new people and learning new things. Eighth, since my schedule is open, I can take advantage of opportunities and events that others might not be able to because of their jobs. And lastly, I can develop my work the way I want and gain great satisfaction that I did it myself.