Being a Writer versus Writing

“I wish I had your life!” I hear it as I run into a friend on my way to a media dinner. They imagine a glamorous life of being wined and dined.

I usually reply “And I wish I had your paycheck.” No one I know in a “real” job gets paid as little as most any freelance writers I know.

Most people I know also have health insurance, sick days, and someone else to turn to when things go South. Every freelancer I know is just a little crispy around the edges, and their friends and family never understand why. They imagine a life free of cubicles, florescent lighting, and jerky bosses.

But now, the jerky boss is me. And the lighting, when it needs to be replaced, gets replaced by me. And if there’s a problem with the printer, or my computer decides to start eating dates on my calendar and duplicating entries in my contact log, guess who gets to de-bug and troubleshooting? Me.

So the business of being a freelance writer is basically a business just like fill-in-the-blank. Most writers are self-employed and work from home. What this requires is enormous, really inhuman, amounts of discipline. It requires tenacity exceeding that of a terrier with a favorite knotted sock in its teeth. It demands persistence rivaling that of your mother when she was trying to get you to mow the lawn or pick up your room.

The writer’s life makes the work of Sisyphus look like child’s play. We are never done. Never off the clock. And even when a job is done, there’s that damn pipeline to tend to. Nothing is more terrifying than an empty pipeline.

In the end, we muddle through. Most of us because, on balance, it is a still the life we prefer.

It is worth remembering that the glass is both half empty AND half full.

  • Empty: You hate being your own IT guy. 
  • Full: You are learning things that will make you more self-sufficient. You can control how long you spend, when you spend the time on many of these tasks, and you can schedule regular maintenance. You can also choose to barter or set a goal to hire help. If you hate it that much make it into a goal that will motivate you to grow your business!
  • Empty: You’re miserable at sales, marketing and invoicing clients.
  • Full: You can take a class or trade some skills with someone who is a whiz at these things. Do a new marketing one-sheet for a friend who can set you up in Freshbooks, for example.
  • Empty: You never have time to take that class you want to take, to get better at photography, or learn some coding.
  • Full: You, no one else, controls your training and development plan. Schedule it like you would going to the gym or a client meeting. Find and join a professional association. Take an Adult Ed class.
  • Empty: You find the business end of being a writer interferes with writing.
  • Full: You must find a way to do the writing. Early in the morning, late at night, lunch breaks from your day job. Just be sure to do the work, get better, and remind yourself how lucky you are to be doing what you love.

Remember, we can mostly make our own hours, we have easy commutes. We can take a walk on a nice afternoon without asking permission. We get to work in jammies or yoga pants if it pleases. Try doing that in a “real job.”

Resources for writers:

UrbanMuse – Ebyline’s own Susan Johnston publishes this site and newsletter that every writer should build into their weekly reading. I dare you to read it once and not come away with three new ideas or leads.

Workbar – in Boston we have a shared, drop-in workspace. You may find that getting away from your own house, office or desk in a professional space enables you to focus in a certain way that doesn’t happen often enough in your own space.

Beyond the Margins – A site by and for writers where you will find tons of great information and inspiration.

Will Write for Food - Especially for food writers, but applicable to more. There are exercises and it casts an honest light on the business. Dianne Jacob also has a blog that often surprises with the depth and breadth of info.

Grub Street - the original writers’ workshop. Drop in and formal classes. Or try BCAE or other adult ed organizations. You may be able to audit a class somewhere, too. Look around, ask.

Inked-In – a site for creatives. Writers, painters, playwrights.

And, for a laugh:

The Oatmeal - “Why working from home is both awesome and horrible.” (and many other things.)

Image courtesy of photostock /

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