Today I thought about how this blog is named Jennifer Saylor, Freelance Writer, but I never talk about my freelance writing in it. I thought of changing the name to Jennifer Saylor, Freelance Anxiety Attack Victim, but that just isn’t very catchy.
At the moment I am doing most of the copy for a new real estate website based out of a local community that is gaining a reputation as a resort and retirement area. And the next time I take on an assignment like this, I will inquire as to what extent the client is selling ridgetop lots. Before accepting the work, I hadn’t considered the moral implications of helping to sell real estate in the unspoiled mountains. Live and learn.
I just finished a list of the best Valentine’s Day events to enjoy in Miami, FL (I write for an online entertainment pub that’s based there), and I am considering taking an assignment writing brochure copy for a business that offers golf tours of Japan.
I’d say that these are all pretty typical freelance assignments. I read a blog entry the other day where the writer — a very successful, well-known freelancer and novelist — would soon be writing about cornflakes. Cornflakes. For good money.
I’ve met so many people who think that there’s no money in freelancing, which is a huge untruth. If you want to know how much money a freelance writer makes, ask one. Preferably a successful one. You’ll find that it can be very, very lucrative. I know someone who found short-term work at bursts of close to $200 an hour editing math textbooks. I myself have made $100 an hour or so for many pay-per-project assignments (note to prospective clients — that’s not my typical rate). In my opinion the people who make no money as freelancers typically only want cool, creative work (or think that freelancing only covers fiction), and are unwilling to go where the money is, which is in writing about things — real estate, travel packages — that are not exactly the route to full creative expression. Writing short stories and poetry exclusively is lucrative for only a tiny, tiny percentage of the writing community. And no amount of hard work can assure you the level of fame one needs to make a good living writing nothing but fiction. However, if you have talent and you work hard at writing about unglamorous things, you can make a good living doing nothing but writing. (Which is not to say that I make a lot of money — I spend half my life as a student, and can’t always take on the amount of work or the number of clients that I’d like.)
So I write about travel packages for the money, and for the very real pleasure that I receive both from pleasing my clients beyond their expectations and also from exercising my greatest talent in life. It’s not boring wage-slavery. It’s honest work well done. And then I write about the Kuiper Belt or Roald Hoffmann to please my heart and soul. I have no idea if I will ever get any money out of the science writing that I do for my blogs, and I really don’t care. I don’t do it for the money. I do it so that some part of my life and my talent is expended in pure pleasure and self-satisfaction.
One of the first things that my first writing mentor told me was to always have some writing project that you do just for yourself. Of course, I disregarded this stupid-sounding advice immediately. Just being a paid writer was PLENTY cool enough at the start.
But the years went by and I found myself a real-life pro, with clips, clients, and a real career. And damned if I didn’t soon see what good advice he’d given me. If you’re a good singer, sing jingles for cash and sing for pennies at the bar. The jingles will pay your way in the world; Irish ballads at the bar will keep your heart singing at your mastery of your craft, at the things that your gift can do that bring real pleasure to you and to others.
It seems kind of silly and greedy to me to think that your whole life should be devoted to nothing but creativity. As late as my mid-twenties, I idiotically scoffed at “day jobs,” as if the depth and breadth of a long human life didn’t offer plenty of time for both working and making art, as if there was some shame in supporting yourself with honest work that wasn’t creative. As a more mature and experienced person, I don’t think that the ancient hunter-gatherers, or the farmers working their fields from dawn to dusk, had time for such navel-worship. Creativity is sacred to me, but I so is enjoying a comfortable, happy life that includes managing heating bills, vet bills, expensive textbooks, and car problems. And I have this weird desire to eat food, to pay my way in life, contribute to my society, pull my own weight, and live comfortably and well.
I work as creatively as I can. Think of me as a commercial word-artist, with an identity as a crafter (knitter) and performer (singer). And gardener. And student. And blogger. A lover of science and logic and critical thought. Shit, I also like ping-pong. Like I think everyone should be, I am a lot of things. And I am always changing. Why must we all define ourselves through our jobs, anyway? Let’s start a revolution, you and me, and starting defining ourselves at least two other ways. I choose knitter and student.
I give part of my life to creativity, and part of my life to making a living semi-creatively. I do the last one gladly, and the first one with joy.