Today I thought I’d talk about what it’s like being a freelance writer. I know some people on Blizzard Watch are always curious about what our day to day is like, and maybe you folks are, too.
As a freelancer, I’m essentially a one-person small business. I hunt for clients to write or edit for, I negotiate rates and contracts, I produce any work the client requests, I send invoices for payment, and I keep track of accounting (whether I was paid, when I was paid, when I get appropriate tax paperwork). A lot of that’s frustrating stuff that, as a writer, I’m not really interested in, but it still has to be done.
Freelancing offers a ton of flexibility — I get to pick and choose who I work for and I’m my own boss — but it lacks stability and security. (Though I posit security is hard to find anywhere these days.) Here are a few things that have actually happened to me as a freelancer:
- Contracts can be terminated on no notice. When WoW Insider closed shop, we knew around a week in advance. That same month I was also let go from another gig because of “restructuring,” and the two together amounted to about 75% of my income at the time. Ouch.
- You may or may not be paid correctly or in a timely fashion. One business I wrote for decided to switch from paying net 30 (which means 30 days after getting an invoice) to net 45 (which means 45 days after getting an invoice) without notifying writers. I’ve had clients I’ve had to send friendly reminders to pay me, sometimes over the course of several months, before I got checks. In January a client paid me for two fewer features than I’d written, which was just a mistake, but one that was a strain on my budget.
- Taxes. Ugh. This week I had to talk with a company that had not sent me tax paperwork for 2016 yet. They hadn’t because they thought I’d made less than required to send out the paperwork… when I’d actually made about twice that amount. (I haven’t gotten the paperwork from them yet, so it’s up in the air as to whether or not it will be accurate!)
- Constant job hunting. Even when you think things are going well, you have to keep your eyes open for other opportunities, because you never know when something might fall through.
- Holidays? What holidays? You never have to ask your boss for vacation, but you don’t get time off, either. If I want to get paid, I have to work. So I have a flexible schedule but I also have to stay busy to keep up with my budget.
Right now I work for four different publications: Blizzard Watch, DealNews, Techlicious, and a credit union. Blizzard Watch is an everyday commitment, but the rest vary. I write an article a week for DealNews and the credit union, but my workload on Techlicious goes up and down a lot. Last Monday, I wrote three features for them because of Mobile World Congress, but usually I only write a feature or two a week, plus a bit of news. Here’s what my schedule looks like for next week, as an example:
- Monday: Heroes article for Blizzard Watch (plus whatever else comes up), feature post for Techlicious.
- Tuesday: Whatever comes up for Blizzard Watch, feature post for Techlicious.
- Wednesday: Whatever comes up for Blizzard Watch, finish up anything for Techlicious.
- Thursday: Blizzard Watch livestream (plus whatever else comes up). I try to keep Thursdays pretty empty, because I find livestreaming totally exhausting and don’t get much done for the rest of the day.
- Friday: Webcomic article for Blizzard Watch (plus whatever else comes up), feature post for DealNews.
- Saturday: Do anything I didn’t get to over the week..
- Sunday: Write my weekly credit union article, because there’s an big chance I won’t find time on Monday when it’s due. If I can get a head start on the week, that leaves me in a better position to handle anything unexpected that pops up.
That’s a pretty busy week, mostly because I have Techlicious work already queued up, and I’m likely to have a few news articles pop up for them, too. Sometimes I wind up with very little to do the first half of the week if nothing’s going on (which is when I email everyone I know asking if there’s any work to do). Each assignment pays differently, so my weekly and monthly income bounce around a lot.
You can see how this creates budgeting and time management problems. It can make work a bit of a scramble: I often try to do more than is really feasible simply because I don’t know if work will fall through next week or next month.
This is something that’s been a real problem as I’ve tried to add fiction writing to my schedule: I’m always a bit anxious when I’m taking up time with work that won’t result in a paycheck at the end of the month. I probably could get by doing less, but that worry is always there.
So is freelancing worth it?
I wonder about that, but I also don’t have any serious plans to give it up. I’m a night owl by nature, and like being able to set my own schedule. I don’t have to get up first thing in the morning, I don’t have to burn hours a day commuting, and I can take a break or a day off whenever I want to (as long as I’m caught up on projects). Sure, it could all fall apart, but when it’s done that in the past I’ve had a few bad months and then found new projects and kept going. Like anything else in life, you have to roll with the punches and adapt.
And do you have any more stability with a full-time job? Corporations can be unpredictable, and you can never be certain when you might be hit by “downsizing.” So here I am, juggling projects and trying to add more fiction writing to the mix. (Note: I do not actually know how to juggle things. Would learning help, you think?)
I’m planning to do more updates here talking about writing and other topics moving forward, so let me know if there’s anything you’d like me to talk about. If you like reading stuff like this, I’m putting these posts up on Patreon first, along with other writing discussion — particularly about my fiction writing. Last week I posted the rough draft of the first chapter of my novel for all patrons. If that’s the sort of thing you find interesting, you can support me on Patreon.
But, whether you do or don’t, I appreciate you stopping by to read this. 🙂 Expect more of such posts in the future, and I hope to have my first novel out by the middle of the year for everyone to enjoy in its finished form.