March 22, 2011

Interesting, but not definitive

As a freelance writer/editor who also keeps a toe dipped in the pool of potential full-time employment opportunities, I found this piece interesting, but somewhat flawed.

How to Be a Freelancer (and How Not to Be a Freelancer)

Since getting downsized, I’ve been freelancing. That includes part-time work as a digital copywriter, blogging (at Forbes), and various writing gigs. I’ve been freelancing for over a decade. Now, it seems, the rules have changed.

This is partially true. I've found some rules have changed, but others remain fairly solid.

TIP #1: Be Young or Be Stupid.

It’s easiest to be a freelance writer when you’re in your twenties. Your overhead is low, and your responsibilities are few. If you’re not young, you should be inappropriately egotistical about your talents as a writer.

This is one of those rules that hasn't actually changed. As such, I'm not sure why she included this in the list. I would only add young and stupid writers tend to care more about building their name recognition than actually making any money, or sense, or logical arguments. They're just waiting for the world to recognize their own perceived brilliance, and the money will subsequently flow from there.

TIP #2: Don’t Start a Blog.

According to the paper of record, blogs are dead. Instead of blogging, start tweeting. Follow Andy Carvin, who is reinventing journalism one tweet at a time. Social media helps you network. Blogging helps you reenact scenes from “Cast Away.”

I don't agree with this at all. I've been blogging for just shy of a decade, and it's been an invaluable writing exercise, to say nothing of the excellent therapy it's provided over the past few months. I couldn't have possibly conveyed my family's ongoing preemie experience via Twitter. Twitter is the ADD of journalism. Blogging is a labor of love.

TIP #3: Write for Free.

Lately, it’s become fashionable to debate whether or not writers should write for free. On the one hand, your work finds an audience. On the other hand, “free” doesn’t pay the “bills.” The bottom line: If the market dictates you chose between “writing for free” and “going insane,” you should choose “writing for free.”

This is one of those paradigm shifts I've been having a hard time coming to terms with, but generally it's true, at least for some mediums. While I basically blog for free, my freelance writing can pay fairly decent.

TIP #4: Grow a Penis.

More men get published in magazines than women. Occasionally, I have wondered what would happen if I sent my pitches out under a man’s name. If you are a woman, you may want to consider growing a penis. I have no advice on how a woman would go about doing that. I am a writer, not a scientist.

Alternatively, grow a uterus. I can't tell you how many parenting and baby magazines arrive at our doorstep and almost all article contributors and editors are female. I guess it depends on your audience. Like the writer, I have no advice on how a man should go about growing a uterus.

TIP #5: Journalism School Is a Waste of Time (and Money).

The internet has been publishing’s tsunami. Advertising budgets are not what they once were. Circulation rates are on the downslide. Publishers remain unsure how to resolve these issues. (Example: The New York Times‘ deeply confusing, seemingly problematic, and internet-hating paywall.) For most, j-school requires accumulating significant debt. There is no payoff.

I don't disagree that journalism is increasingly a dying field, but unless you're willing to research AP Style and mass media law and all the other arcane areas of news and feature writing, I still think there's a place for at least a few journalism classes.

TIP #6: Stop Writing for Print.

Young journalists no longer dream of writing for print magazines like the New Yorker or Esquire. Print publications are the new phones nobody wants to answer. They are your old washing machine that desperately needs replacing, grinding through one last cycle before it breaks. They are your stalwart grandfather whose body is wracked with cancer, refusing to admit that the Grim Reaper is knocking on his bedroom door. Write for digital, or don’t bother.

Print is in trouble. No question about it. But it's still out there, or the racks and racks of magazines and newspapers I see in stores are just an illusion. That, and I still write predominantly for hardcopy trade magazines, so I'm hardwired to defend it, although almost all my freelance articles for magazines are also published online.

TIP #7: Marry Rich.

“All writers are whores,” bestselling author Harold Robbins once said. In the 21st century, the successful freelancer is fully realized as a prostitute. Given the current economy, the writer who marries for money is the savviest freelancer of them all.

I married an interior designer, so I missed this boat entirely.

Posted by Ryan at March 22, 2011 11:55 AM | TrackBack
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