Prolific Scripted writer Betsy Stanton describes the ins and outs of her lifestyle as a freelance writer in the Pacific Northwest.
It’s a still a gray dawn here in the Pacific Northwest, but the phone on the windowsill moves and makes a tiny chiming noise. It’s an email alert about a Specialist assignment – I’ll have to move quickly if I want a chance of snagging it.
I find my reading glasses and scan the job rapidly. Are the guidelines clear? Will I be able to write the job? Yes and yes.
I click to take it AND … nope! It’s disappeared. Fair enough: Someone else was quicker on the draw.
A Balance of Uncertainty and Freedom
Freelance writing is a lot like going fishing; it requires the writer to stand back and trust that more jobs will materialize.
I get peace of mind by staying a few weeks ahead of the bills, so I don’t worry if the jobs thin out for a few days.
I then head downstairs to feed cats and light the wood stove. Making breakfast, I listen to lesson 56 in a set of French language-learning podcasts. One of the incredible perks of being a freelance writer is the ability to work anywhere. Next spring I’ll be living in Paris for two months and the freedom still takes my breath away.
Later, I settle in to do some background research for an article — which turns out to be super-interesting — and toy with the idea of going to a conference on it, just to learn more. One of the other perks of this work is learning crazy new stuff and seeing sides of society you’d otherwise never even know existed.
How People See You When the Couch is Your Office
The phone rings. My elderly neighbor wants to consult with me about his cat. I try to explain that I’m not an authority on cats just because I have four of them. Really.
“You need to take it to a vet,” I repeat. But of course since I’m home, people assume I’m not working. Maybe they think I just chat on Facebook all day.
The doorbell rings. No, I’d love to come on a walk with you, but I have a 5:30 deadline. I put a sign on the path to my door that says, “Working. Please Do Not Disturb.”
The ones who do understand that I earn a living this way are prone to asking things like whether I could show their unemployed 16-year-old how to do what I do online so they can start reaping the benefits of freelancing.
As a freelance writer, you’re sometimes treated as having a marginally legitimate career. You aren’t necessarily perceived as a grown-up professional when you work in your living room with cats on your lap. I let the doubters doubt all they want, though – I take comfort in the freedom my profession affords.
Dangling From the Interwebs
Finished with the assignment, I click “submit” and get — nothing. The internet has gone away. While it’s exciting to be able to earn a living far from urban centers, there’s something to be said for city conveniences.
Out here, a rogue wind or — who knows, too much rain? — can wipe out my tenuous internet connection. The right tools matter profoundly in this work. My daily bread depends on delicate technological threads. I pack up my computer and bike to the home of a neighbor on the waterfront, using their Wi-Fi to submit the job ten minutes before the deadline.
I promise myself not to push it that close again.
Night falls, bringing the intense dark of off-the-grid countryside; owls call. I turn on the computer again — no internet needed now — and switch my mind to a different setting. Working on my own poetry, the luxury of sculpting words for non-commercial use.
I live by words, shape them into products, give them weight and heft. They travel invisibly to clients; payments magically appear in my bank account. Those of us who choose this work don’t have the security of a full-time gig, but what we earn in exchange for living on the edge is freedom and self-sufficiency. Most days, It feels like a pretty good trade.