Archive for July 29th, 2007

So you think you want the life of a freelance writer? Maybe after you hear about my monthly ups and downs, you’ll think again.

Currently, I am under obligation to provide 16 articles – about 22,000 words – each month about GNU/Linux and free software. I may also do a number of other paying articles on other subject, depending on what other contracts I have going at any given moment. Unless I am working on a breaking story, most of this work doesn’t have to be submitted at a more particular time than by the end of the month.

I start each month by sending out invoices. Invoices are the part of my work that I enjoy the least, but are also the whole point of my efforts, so I grumble and force myself to send them out. Then, overcome by the effort and aware that a whole month stretches ahead of me, I am likely to take a few days to slack off. I may do a little research for possible stories, but, more likely, I run the errands that have been piling up for the last couple of weeks, and work on other projects.

By the end of the first week of the month, I start to get nervous and produce a few articles. Come the second week, I am producing steadily, but anxiety is riding me like a nightmare as I count the remaining number of articles I have to finish by the end of the month.

In the third week, the anxiety leaves me hag-ridden. “You’re not going to make it!” a mocking little voice seemingly just above my head starts saying over and over. At night, I have dreams of inadequacy and lie awake staring up at the dark as the little voice continues its chorus. “You’re not going to make it!”

In the day, motionless and cramped in front of the computer. I start scanning the Internet for possible story leads – any leads – and making the rounds of my contacts. I start writing furiously, sometimes even managing to submit two stories in one day.

It’s not, you might say, the ideal time to confront me with the unexpected, or ask me a favor. At this point in a month, I truly emerge as a geek — and by that I don’t mean a computer programmer, but a grubby refugee from a circus capable of biting chickens’ heads off for a living.

At times, too, in the middle of the month, I wonder if being a circus geek wouldn’t be a less stressful way to make a living. At least the job would get me out of the house and meeting people face-to-face.

By the fourth week, I can see the end in sight, but I hardly dare to hope that I will make my quotas. In fact, I’m a great believer in flop sweat, and have a half-superstitious belief that if I think I can make it, I won’t. But I plug away steadily, seriously over-dosed on writing, and then, miracle of miracles, it happens: I finish, usually with a day or two to spare. Sometimes, I even manage to finish ahead of times in months that have 30 days, or even in the cruelty that is February, with its punishing three days short of a normal month’s length. And, a day or two aside, I rarely have to pull any especially long hours to reach quota.

Part of me is chagrined by this work flow. In school and university, I always had assignments done well ahead of deadline. Common sense tells me that I should dust of those old habits, and write to a schedule, four stories each week, banged out in regular order.

Yet somehow it doesn’t seem to work that way. After my rollercoastering month, I usually need to rest for a few days at the start of a new month, and so the whole sorry cycle gets perpetuated. Maybe the stark, raving terror of deadlines is a great motivator, but it sure doesn’t make for peace of mind.

And you want to know the really sorry part of this schedule? The fact is, I set it myself. I don’t pretend that I am indispensable to any of the editors for whom I write regularly. I’m told that I write well and on-time, and generally need minimal correction – virtues that all editors appreciate – but, should I suddenly disappear or miss quota one month (and sooner or later, I’m bound to), my editors would survive the catastrophe far better than I would the shame of it.

You see, the trouble with being a freelancer – or a consulting editor, if you want to pretty up my position – is that you’re your own boss. And if you have the personality to be a freelancer, you also have the personality to be the most demanding and obnoxious boss for whom you’ve ever had to work.

So pity the poor freelancers. Not only are we under the worst bosses imaginable, but the only escape is back to the nine-to-five jobs we escaped. And nothing, not even our abusive management, is worth such a desperate move.

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