A simple job description but one that is loaded with so much meaning…and misinterpretation.
Years after embarking on this line of work, I still find that people connect this word, this career, to a world of misconception.
When I tell people I’m a freelance writer, they assume it means ‘author’. It conjures up images of JK Rowling, of days spent in the most artsy café or long nights tapping away on a typewriter or keyboard, of a willing, no eager, readership just waiting to lap it all up, and basking in the glow of personal fulfilment.
Most people who read what I write don’t know my name. Unless the work I do is for a magazine, newspaper or website, I don’t get a byline. It’s hard to get a loyal following that way.
Some days, I admit, are spent in a café but most often it’s just the neighbourhood coffee shop where the crowd is anything but chic or happening. As for long nights, I need my sleep, thank you very much.
Personal fulfilment – now that’s the rub. From the time I wrote my own childish versions of Enid Blyton fairy tales, to my present-day jumble of writing for agencies, clients and magazines, I can truly say that it’s simply a part of me. It’s how I identify myself. It’s something I can’t do without. It’s a compulsion, a constant companion.
It’s also something that’s very hard to explain, and I believe it’s different for everyone. While many writers I’ve come across have similar struggles and challenges, the day-to-day reality is different for every one of us so rather than explain what it is, I’d like to shed some light on what it’s not.
- Not all writers are novelists. There are also reporters and journalists, scriptwriters and copywriters, public relations practitioners, marketing and branding experts, photojournalists, academic and textbook writers, and writers who specialise in some very un-glamourous areas, like writing instruction manuals.
- It’s seldom glamorous. Movies would have us believe that, if you just slog hard enough, someone will recognise your raw talent and you’ll somehow magically transform into the most talked-about author overnight. This doesn’t mean of course that all writers stay in bed all day and ignore the world so they can focus on writing; some, like me, find it easier to have a routine and a healthy assortment of personal tools and tricks to make sure we get our work done.
- It’s not easy to make a living. It may look there are a million jobs for writers but they’re not just for the taking. Some publications pay a pittance or try to lure young writers to write for free, based on the idea that they should be thankful for the exposure. Novels take months to complete. Most companies want experienced writers while industry-specific opportunities are mostly insider knowledge so doors don’t open without a lot of hard work. On top of all this, there are lots of blogs and fledgling writers out there who are putting up content for free so it’s common for clients to feel it’s not worthwhile to pay you as a professional.
- There’s more to being a writer than just writing. You can’t write without information, or material. Essentially, you need to know how to get the material you need. You need to know how to talk to people so they give you the information you need, you need to understand the people who are going to read your work, you need to know how to organise the information you have and present it in a way that makes sense to the reader, and you need to make it interesting enough that people will actually read what you write despite all the clutter in the bookstores and online.
- Freelancers need to wear many hats. People seem to think that freelancers have lots of time on their hands because they don’t have regular office hours. In fact, freelancers actually work a lot harder and across a wider area than most. For many, productivity, networking and professional development are built into most regular jobs with timesheets, work events, seminars, etc. Working on our own, we need to create our own tactics and opportunities, which can be difficult when we’re struggling to meet deadlines. Whether you specialise in a particular field or work within a whole lot of different industries, freelancers also have to fulfil many roles, often without any formal support. Freelancers have to be their own Managing Director, Account Manager, Finance Manager, Accountant, Business Development Manager, Research Assistant, Office/Administrative Manager and intern. If you work out of your own home, add to that list Housekeeper, Cook and possibly Child Minder as well.
These five points are the most common ones I’ve personally encountered. If you’re a writer, freelance or otherwise, I’d love to get your input on other misconceptions you’ve experienced.