Mark Terry

Saturday, December 13, 2008

10 Things I Like About Freelance Writing For A Living

December 13, 2008
#1. The Money
If you'd told me 10 years or 15 years ago that I would make more money freelance writing than I did working in a hospital genetics lab, I wouldn't have believed you. Too bad, because maybe I would have quit earlier than I did. I never would have guessed that freelance writers could make 6 figures or even more. Some of those people are exceptions, but truly, if you work at it, there's money to be had as a freelance writer.

#2. The Flexibility
An obvious one, sort of. Yes, I have flexible hours. I get locked into deadlines and scheduled interviews, and if I don't keep regular hours I don't get enough work done, but in truth, I rarely have a problem stopping working at 10:00 or 10:30 in the morning and going to the gym and stopping work around 2:45 to go pick up my son at school. The alternate is, of course, that sometimes I have to work in the evenings or on the weekends to make up time I dithered away during the week, but I like that, actually.

#3. No commute.
Yo Mama! I drove 45 miles to work through heavy traffic and crappy weather for years. It sucked. I had accidents. I morbidly wondered if I was going to die in some horrible accident in my car. It took a minimum of an hour and often closer to 90 minutes, which means 3 hours of your day wasted getting back and forth to work (a place I didn't want to be anyway). Commuting 12 steps is a big, big deal.

#4. No Line-Of-Sight Supervision.
On my jobs, generally speaking, I liked my bosses. Not all of them and not all of the time, but they were okay. But most bosses want to know what you're doing. They want to see you working. They want to keep tabs on you. I hated that. I tended to follow my attention span and body rhythms on the job and I do now. I just read an article that suggested humans can't really concentrate longer than 45 minutes without some sort of break. I believe it. But try telling that to your boss. I'm my own boss and mostly that's a good thing, although I can be more demanding at times than any boss I ever was.

#5. No Office Politics
No kidding. I listen to my wife rant about work politics every day. Erica Orloff commented on her blog once that an office was a place where people could come to blows over who made the coffee last. All of the people I worked with at the hospital were good people. No psychopaths, no criminals, no evil people. But on any given day I could find myself detesting them for some damned reason, whether they were nosy, moody, opinionated or a million other reasons. The woman I sat next to for several years hated my guts. Why? I don't know. Maybe I talked too much. Those days are over and Thank God for it.

#6. Lifelong Learning.
This last week I've been working on an article about WiMAX. What's WiMAX? It's 4th generation (4G) broadband wireless service and if you haven't heard of it now, you will in the next couple years. You're hearing about 3G in terms of iPhones or Blackberries, etc., well, 4G is better. I've interviewed a guy from IBM and a woman from Intel, among others. We've discussed 4G networks in Pakistan that IBM is putting together at the behest of the US State Department, among other things. I discovered I like learning things. All sorts of things. Even things that, before, I might have said I wasn't interested in. It's a big freakin' world and I've discovered that yes, as a matter of fact, I'm interested in it. And freelance writing helps me do that.

#7. I Get To Do It For A Living.
I've said it here before and most aspiring writers don't like to hear it. It's difficult to make a living as a novelist. The number I've heard is there about 500 people in the US who can make a living solely on the basis of their novels. And even that's tough. (I also suspect the 500 number is too high). If I was still solely focused on only writing fiction, I'd still be working in cytogenetics and I assure you, I would be one miserable sonofabitch. I wonder if I'd still be married. The last couple years there I fought clinical depression--I called them elevator moods--where I would leave for work in a decent mood and the minute I stepped out of the car in the parking lot my mood would sink into a deep black hole. That's no way to live your life. It's easier (not easy, necessarily) to make a living as a freelance writer. I'm thankful daily that I have the opportunity.

#8. Variety.
I've got a number of projects on my plate. One is the article about WiMAX. Another is a white paper about negotiating contracts in medical labs. I'm doing a piece on laboratory demographics. I'm contracted to put together a directory and write profiles of hospital laboratories. I'm working on a white paper about the integration of imaging and diagnostics in the clinical diagnostic lab. I just completed a book proposal about practice management (that I was hired to write). I'm the editor of a technical journal. I've just completed the rough draft of a middle grades fantasy novel. I've also written about personal finance, business, and very technical aspects of the pharmaceutical and medical industry. I love the variety. It goes back to lifelong learning, but I like how each project is different. On my last job I sat at a microscope 8 hours a day analyzing chromosomes, which is akin to doing the same jigsaw puzzle over and over again, hundreds of times a day. This is better. Much.

#9. Work Equals Reward.
I'm a fairly ambitious person. Not dramatically ambitious, but fairly ambitious. What I discovered in my last job was that if I worked my ass off, the boss patted me on the back (maybe), but there was no additional money, no promotion, no reward other than feeling I had done my best. But when you detest your job, that rewarding feeling doesn't work very well (or if you're depressed), and I found like many people do, that I would work DOWN to my minimum, or at least an average level. In freelance writing, if I work my ass off, I get paid more. I get more work. If I build a reputation as being good, I can charge more. I can get into better paying markets. There's an equilibrium between work and life that I try to find, for sure, but I do find that the harder I work the more successful I am, and that was not always the case on my previous jobs.

#10. Ownership.
I'm responsible for me. I take pride in every single job I do, no matter how odd, whether it's editing a journal, writing a book review, writing a market research report or a novel. I own my career and it makes me feel good about myself and my life. This is a very good thing.

Mark Terry


Anonymous Eric Mayer said...

This mirrors my own thoughts to such an extent that I really can't add much. I love not having to put on a ridiculous tie every morning. I also love the fact that I have a strictly contractual relationship with clients I do work for. We both sign off on an agreement, for a limited time, by which I agree to perform a service for a fee. Period. No matter the actual legal relationship involved in regular employment, in many cases the employer takes the attitude that he or she owns the employees. As an independent contractor one doesn't have to put up with anyone with such an attitude.

10:25 AM  
Blogger Zoe Winters said...

That's great, Mark!

I've flirted with freelancing before, but it's one of those things that I'm not interested in enough to make it fly, plus I've got so many other projects I'm in the middle of, it's just one more thing to have to think about. Plus I sort of vowed never to write another query letter, and that would totally screw with my vows.

I too love having to take 12 steps to the office. There is sort of office politics with blogs and such, but that's my own fault. I choose to engage. I don't have to do that, I can just ignore and block it all out. (Yeah, the day Zoe can shut up, the internet will throw a party, but anyway)

I'm also that way about bosses hanging all over me. I can't work with someone staring over my shoulder. I've had 33 jobs, I don't do well in these situations, haha. Though the jobs I liked the most were hotel night audit jobs, because by default I was in charge (since my boss was home sleeping), and I didn't have to deal with him.

1:21 PM  
Blogger sex scenes at starbucks said...

I also don't play well with others. People in offices wear me out.

3:08 PM  
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Thanks for the article. With retirement becoming less and less possible, you've given me new hope for freedom from the cubicle.

Marcia Calhoun Forecki
Better Than Magic

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