In the recently published “Gluten Wars” poll, voters seem pretty well split between a devotion to gluten in their own lives and a happily gluten-free existence. This was not the clear-cut answer I needed, so thanks a lot to everyone who participated.
Regardless of past disappointments, perhaps you can help me this week.
My current dilemma seems pretty monumental, at least from my own perspective. You may not find it as interesting, but your more objective take is probably all the more valuable.
Should I ditch the freelance life for a “real” job (assuming I could find one)?
Here are the relevant factors, as I see them.
I can usually make ends meet month to month, though a few other pursuits, such as a bit of eldercare and a smidgeon of tour-guiding, in addition to pay for my articles, have helped to round out my bank account this year.
I am not eschewing regular employment so I can sit in my apartment (or my parents’ house) and call myself a “writer” because I keep an exhaustive blog about my life. I have relationships with several editors at a few different publications who seem willing to assign me articles and features on an ongoing basis, or at least publish what I send them when I feel inspired. Over the years I’ve been steadily building my portfolio and experience and am continuing to meet my career goals.
When people ask me what I do for a living and I say, “writer,” I get a personally unprecedented internal surge of happiness and self-worth. Not only do I love to write – I love to learn, and sometimes I think a writing career is just one big excuse to go on learning about things, right from the experts, without having to pay for school. In the last week or so, I have written about Italian cooking and food trucks, toad migration, the Philadelphia Orchestra, racism and Mary the mother of Jesus. Upcoming assignments include mural design and urban chicken-keeping. I love not knowing what new knowledge the week might bring.
And, in the world of my own shameless ego, what is better than being introduced to a group of people as “the author” and being asked to sign your book? Plus I like the special access to interesting people or events that comes with being a member of the press. No-one returns your call faster than someone who realizes you want to write about him.
The cons of my current lifestyle are the hours spent crouched over a calculator, my bank balance and my assignment/invoice-tracking lists, watching the dollars coming in barely covering the dollars going out. But even this is not as depressing as the inevitable difficulties of actually collecting the money that is due to me through an amazing world of invoicing screw-ups that I never would have thought possible. Also, there is the problem of knowing that I have, in theory, earned enough money to cover my bills, but not knowing whether the money is going to arrive in time to pay said bills.
It also takes a lot of ongoing energy not only to meet existing deadlines, but to always be cranking out ideas for where else I’d like to be published and what else I could pitch or write, and reminding editors that I exist and that I can write pretty good. Nobody is going to hand any work to me.
There is an answer. My husband provides it as gently as he can when he suggests that I alleviate my stress and make more money by “switching careers” or, since I’m reasonably smart, perhaps going back to school for an MBA or something else more lucrative than journalism (not that I even went to school for journalism in the first place).
I’ve worked in an office before and I’ve had the pleasure of weekly or bi-weekly paychecks (taxes already deducted), especially the ones that slip into my bank account electronically, even saving me the trouble of going to the bank. Budgeting is ridiculously easy when you can count on receiving the same amount of money on the same days of the month. Perhaps I could even pay off my student loans before my own unborn children start college.
If I worked a regular job, I could probably come home around six o’clock each day and sit on the couch, instead of flitting around the city or suburbs all day, chasing meetings, interviews or assignments, and then sitting down at my computer until all hours of the night.
Even imagining a return to more stable, consistent employment (probably some kind of marketing, PR or tourism job, given my experience and abilities), where my daily duties would be fairly consistent and I would work with the same people in the same place week after week, makes me more than a little desperate, even as I longingly imagine the potential financial comfort. I want to continue meeting new people, diving into new topics, and telling stories. But the bottom line is that I may need to be more practical than that.
Life is not about doing whatever you think is fun. Life is about being a responsible adult and paying all your bills on time and making enough money to afford some kids, dogs, a house and a nice car, and not be bankrupted by health insurance costs, even if you don’t like your job. And maybe my whole idea of working any job besides freelance writing is needlessly pessimistic, and I simply haven’t found the right employer for me.
Right now, it seems like whenever I sit down at the computer and swear to myself that today I will job search and send in applications, a writing assignment will come in and I jump on that instead. Not only is it more interesting than job hunting, it guarantees a payment that a job hunt does not guarantee. But am I screwing myself in the long run by not pursuing something more lucrative and stable? Is it foolish to explore more ways to increase my freelance income through journalism, essays, blogging or corporate writing when I could be applying for normal jobs?
I’m sure many of you can relate to the freelance life, whether you’re a writer, musician, actor, artist, or any number of things. What has your experience been? Would you recommend your lifestyle to others?