The way freelance writers never were

April 10th, 2008

Exhibit A: I’m sure you’ve by now seen the sensationalist New York Times piece that might as well have been called, “Blogging Killz!” While it’s tragic that three prominent bloggers have had heart attacks recently (two of them fatal), this article was a huuuuge stretch. It did remind me, however, that no career is worth compromising your health (as I write this at 5 am, said the insomniac).

Moral of the story: The webconomy didn’t invent workaholism, crappy pay practices, and on-the-job stress. Workaholics, companies with crappy pay practices, and stress bunnies did.

Exhibit B: It’s worth reading Freelance Fizzle! The Decline and Fall of the Writer in the New York Observer, which pines for a freewheeling freelance past (complete with expense accounts!) that died decades ago — and probably only existed for a handful of A-list writers anyway.

The Reader’s Digest version: Once upon a time, magazine writers in Manhattan supposedly had it made. Today they have dwindling markets/readership/budgets to content with, not to mention — cue scary music — the web. Believe me, it saddens me greatly that print pubs are in peril. (Just this week, one of my beloved print clients had massive layoffs.) But I can whine about it, or I can wake up and smell the new economy.

Moral of the story: Freelance publishing rates haven’t gone up in decades. And unfortunately print as we know it is rapidly becoming yesterday’s news. Writers who want to eat need to have at least a couple toes in the digital pool (and depending on how much money they need to make, perhaps a couple more in the copywriting world).

Exhibit C: Procrastinating writers, take heart! Now you can strip away all toolbars, inboxes, and web connections and focus on the blank page at hand. Two distraction-busting word-processing programs (Mac version here; PC here) try to recreate the supposed glory days of writing by typewriter or clunky 80s computer, only with today’s processing speed.

On the one hand, I’m sorely tempted to check out this cool-sounding app. On the other, I did a fine job of procrastinating in the 80s and 90s, first with a typewriter, then with a Mac SE.

I applaud entrepreneurial software devs who sell their creations one download at a time, so I’ll skip the snide moral of the story here. And if anyone’s tried an app like this, I’d love to know what you think.

Entry Filed under: Overworked and underpaid,This freelance life,Toolbox

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. jon  |  April 10th, 2008 at 7:54 am

    I really like Scrivener for projects like novels, articles and translations. You can collect all your material and then work with multiple views or even an old school full screen a bit like Hogbay’s app.

    Personally, I think if you’re going to make it as a freelance wordsmith you have to juggle and promote all your skills. And no matter what anyone says, you work very hard for every single cent.

  • 2. convulso  |  April 24th, 2008 at 7:35 pm

    i have been using WriteRoom for mac for about a month. i love it. there is, at least for me, the inevitable c/p into a bona fide word processor as i complete a piece, but i now have the luxury of treating MS Word like a post-production tool instead of an indispensable multi-function swiss army-thingy. if you enjoy a big black screen with retro-green words dominating your document like it was the DOS era, this is your program.

    i wouldn’t necessarily recommend this software for lovers of the tactile satisfaction offered by typewriters. my wife loves her half-century-old Royal typewriter, but does not get from WriteRoom quite the same encouragement to romanticize her little creative process. she loves her coffee, click-clack and ribbon. just an example – ymmv.

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Who I am

Hi, my name's Michelle Goodman and I've been freelancing since 1992. I'm author of My So-Called Freelance Life and The Anti 9-to-5 Guide. Read my full bio here.

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