Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Keeping the "free" in freelance writing

Everybody always laughs uproariously when I say this, but it's true. "I am a free lance writer, with an accent on the word FREE."

The origins of the word "freelance", author Philip Yancey told me earlier this month, come from the Middle Ages. Some knights were attached to dukes, earls, lords or whatever... and some were self-employed and available to be hired by whoever needed a knight for a day or a week or a campaign of some sort. Their "lances" were "free".

I get paid per item - usually a set amount for a column or a feature, plus a few $$ for the photographs, and I'm always scrambling to make sure I'm doing enough paid work to make ends meet (or even justify the gas to drive to the interview!).

I have enough regular work with the Tampa Tribune to predict a "ball-park number" of dollars coming in each month, although the newspaper has significantly cut back both on the amount of work they give me and the rate at which I am paid. Then everything else is pretty much about submit.. reject; submit... reject; submit... reject; submit... ... ... ... bingo!

My best estimate is that, still, a good 50% of my work is either rejected, published without any payment, or simply ignored.

This week, however, I have a new challenge: I'm wrestling with more work than time. I accepted an ongoing assignment with a magazine - but I'm just not getting the research done, the people contacted, and the writing completed in a timely fashion. So today I'll actually be negotiating for less work. It's hardly an ideal solution, but if I fall on my face it's one closed door I'll never see opened again.

Then, just yesterday, my publisher asked for a formal proposal regarding my next book! Not the one coming in September but a volume slated for the fall of 2011. So now, on top of everything, I have a fairly dense 30 page document to complete over the next eight days.

But that is, in a nutshell, the writing life. It's feast or famine - mostly famine - but when opportunity comes along the commitment needs to be 100%.

And I'll add that I love what I do. I feel blessed beyond measure to be in this position, married to someone who is completely supportive of my muse, beginning each day with a new opportunity to bring truth and clarity to the world via a few carefully chosen words.
  • May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer. - psalm 19:14

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