Why Writers Are the Chicken Rex

by Alaina Mabaso

Maybe you’ve heard that writers are dinosaurs.

Workers from another era whose profession is doomed in the age of the Internet.

As I have been preparing to speak on a March 18 freelance writers’ panel at Philly’s Pen & Pencil Club, sponsored by the Online News Association and the Editorial Freelancers Association, as well as teach my first class about blogging (happening in Cheltenham, PA on March 20), I’ve been thinking a lot about my process, my work, and my brand. And I say rise, writers. Rise!

I originally drew the comic you see above for a post about dinosaurs I wrote about two years ago. Back then, it was just an illustration of some science that really tickled me. It’s the truth about dinosaurs: they never really died out. They turned into birds.

Studies claiming to discover and mass-spectrometer-ize T-Rex collagen and link it to proteins in modern chickens are sketchy at best. But the more we learn about dinosaurs’ bones, the more we notice that dinosaurs and birds share skeletal features (both in their body structure and in the make-up of their bones) that no other animals have in common.

So when you chow down on that bucket of KFC, you’re enjoying some dinosaur’s long, long, long, long, long-lost cousin.

But something about that cartoon kept tugging at me. I used it for my Twitter profile. I even thought about putting it on my business cards. Why?

Do I just like science that much, even though I’m an arts and culture writer?

No.

I like that giant, scary chicken because she’s me.

People have questioned my choice to be a full-time freelance writer instead of pursuing a “traditional” career.

Well, I say, the core work of what a writer does and the value of what a writer does has not changed. The rest of the world has. Our industry is evolving at light speed and a writing career today does not look anything like it looked in past decades, but that doesn’t mean what I do is any less worthwhile. From the outside and even from the inside, it can look and feel like you’re scrambling for impractical scraps while everyone else has the good sense to get a 9-5 office job or at least look for work in restaurants.

At every turn, people and companies who want to exploit your valuable skills as a writer will try to make you feel worthless.

Like you should write for the byline.

Like you don’t need to be paid if the “exposure” is good.

Like you should work for the “experience.”

Like your expertise is worth nothing but the price of a dinner out.

But you’re still someone with a skill that the modern world, from business to politics to science to the arts, can’t do without. You can still be a force for good with the words you write and you should receive fair pay for the work that you do.

There goes the chicken, clucking in backyards and filling sandwiches by the million. That chicken doesn’t know it, but she is the closest thing to a T-Rex we will ever see in real life.

Too often, in the eyes of the world, writers are helpless factory-farm chickens who used to be Tyrannosaurs. Dinosaurs that got respect. Dinosaurs with a say in the food chain.

The world might see you in a very different way than it did a few years ago. People might tell you that nowadays, writing is not a “real” job. But remember your writer’s DNA. Remember that dinosaurs never disappeared. They just carved out a whole new life for themselves right under everyone else’s nose. Be the Chicken Rex. And tell the world who you are and what you’re worth.

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