Career Advice: a poll for my readers

Is this my fate?

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?



Add yours →

  1. Your communication is too complicated for me. I wish you would write in a simpler way.
    Jan Weiss, BSc, BA, MTh, MBA

  2. Don’t give up just yet! I agree that life is too short to be in a job you hate, but I would always keep your options open. 🙂

  3. It’s hard to give an advice without knowing the whole situation, but I think I would just try different things and see what works out best. You can always change your mind and quit.

    And does it really have to be a choice between a super fun and exciting freelance writing and mundane and boring full-time office job? Maybe it’s possible to find a regular job that involves writing? Or get a part-time well-paid boring job and spend the rest of the time doing interesting things?

    • Yes, I’m sure that there are myriad options – I always tend to think about things in an unhealthy black-and-white way. I could do part-time well-paid boredom, assuming I could find it. But even if I get a boring full-time job, I won’t be giving up my creative outlet, because I’ll still write the blog. In fact, I think my current writing career is probably reducing the volume of my blog posts currently, while picking up a non-writing day job would probably increase my creative output on the blog, because I wouldn’t be using my writing juices elsewhere. Thanks for your comment.

  4. Speaking as a Writer with almost two books out but who sits in a beige cube hive all day (and enjoys a fantastic benefits package), to me it’s all a matter of time. How much time do you need in any given day to continue to write? Would you be able to continue doing some freelance work, albeit less, while joining the 9-5, M-F corporate world? Does getting a full-time job necessarily mean dropping all freelance possibilities?

    I gotta say, as beige-y and cube-y as my 9-5 is, I completely and utterly love my reliable, direct-deposit paychecks and my consistent work days and work weeks. They actually enable me to set a schedule for writing and to write more consistently. And nothing made me feel more like a grown-up in the best of ways when I ended up in the ER with a kidney stone two years ago, was sent a bill for $6100 a month later with a line for my employer-provided insurance deduction and a total amount due of $50. But the company I work for has an unusually good benefits package.

    So for me it’s worth the trade-off. Plus I get a lot of writing done in my down-time.

    Just out of curiosity, what is your degree in?

    And if you’d like I could always submit your resume here where I work. We have a pretty acive marketing department.

    • Benefits are another huge factor which I didn’t mention above. Currently I am COBRA-ing the benefits from my former job at huge cost, and when that runs out, I’ll be shit out of luck. I have a chronic illness that needs therapy/ meds. I’m glad you like your job, and I’m always impressed with your prolific blog output – I can’t match it.

      And you’re right that a full-time job would not preclude freelancing on the side. I did it for years, clocking out at 5:30 and then heading to the latest press opening – sometimes two or three shows/ deadlines a week on top of my work schedule. It was hectic.

      My degree is in theater arts and English – lucrative,I know.

  5. Ah, yes – this sounds familiar! (Full disclosure, I read this and am responding even though I’m on deadline and SHOULD be writing.) It’s a tough call. Mostly because (as you know) it’s hard to keep up the volume of freelancing with a full-time job, and some press events and interviews just can’t be conducted outside of the 9-5 hours. Have you tried corporate writing? Bios and Q&As for trade publications and the like? They pay quite a bit better than editorial, but are sometimes hard to find. I’ve done a little bit of corporate writing and keep thinking if I could find a steady gig there, I could freelance for them AND continue with the travel and the arts writing that I enjoy so much.

    And in actuality, I have zero good advice as I’m in the same position – I alternately apply to interesting-sounding part-time gigs (museums, nonprofits and the like) that I know won’t pay well, but will allow me to continue pitching and writing on the side, and to full-time, full-blown creative/writing/copywriting/PR/marketing gigs that will totally pay the bills but may not leave me with any time/energy to write. (And if an interesting assignment comes along while I’m in the middle of an application, I immediately leap on the assignment) Of course, there’s always the problem that you’ll be overqualified for the interesting part-time gigs and won’t get a call back, or that you won’t have enough qualifications to get the top-paying PR/marketing/advertising job that would provide enough cash that someday you could quit and go back to writing. (double-edged sword, what?)

    If you come up with an answer, I’ll look forward to hearing it…! Until then, keep up the writing!

    • Boy can I relate to all that. Definitely looking into more corporate opportunities – newsletters, bios and such.

      Another interesting thing is that I sort of enjoy the motivation that my current situation lends to my professional writing. Doing it on the side while paying the bills another way is nice, but then I wouldn’t have quite the same fire to pick up assignments.

      Thanks for chiming in. Now get back to your deadline.

  6. I made the switch from freelance seamstress/ clothing designer to office job about nine months ago. Neither choice has been satisfactory. My plan, which I will implement soon, is to work part-time to alleviate the financial burden but continue working on my clothing design. Hopefully that will work out better for me.
    It doesn’t sound like your ready to make the switch but you may be in the future. Maybe consider doing some bartering with someone willing to handle your invoicing for you? Or find a way to be tougher with your employers about paying you in a timely manner? Just some ideas. I’m very interested to see what you decide to do.

  7. I see your dilemma and I live one similarly. I find that within my own practice I am only able to be sporadically devoted to the “freelance” lifestyle but I sure wish I could be permanently devoted. Either having a day job or not having a day job causes me practically the same amount of stress level.. just on different subjects: having no money or having no time to do what I love. Almost same outcome in my mental and physical health.

    Thus, I voted against giving up free-lancing. (I could be persuaded that a 1 or 2 day a week day job scenario is fine though). If you can keep it up or even barely keep it up I say go for it. Barely keeping it up is a success! (even though it sure does not feel like one).

    Plus, The things they never tell you in creative pursuits school: The only way you will be able to become more self-sufficient at it is to keep up with all the communicating, advertising oneself and applying for new leads and that takes loads of time – time that can never be counted on the payroll or within the actual writing time. So if a day job takes the time away you can allow yourself to do the backside uncreative paperwork necessary to have the frontside creative side. It might not be worth the money.

    I say do not give it up, but only if you have the support system (more emotional than financial) in place to allow you to do it. Otherwise only give up the absolute least amount of time and effort towards something else that you can.

    Bend the least amount as possible! Unless the job is a full-time writing gig!

    • Thanks Sam. What you say about the networking is SO true. It’s massively time consuming and totally necessary. When you go to school for arts, they don’t teach you how to manage yourself as a business and self-promote, both of which are key to your success. If I didn’t have a large, effective network in which to pursue my work, I’d throw in the towel.

  8. I will preface by saying that I am sure that there are many fabulous work places and endeavors that supply regular paychecks, a clear use in society, benefit packages, paid vacations, retirement, etc. I will also say that I personally do well with boxes – give me specific limitations or accountabilities and my creativity soars.

    With that said, I believe that we live in a society full of artificial “norms,” a false sense of security, and a whole lot of wasted time – particularly in an office setting.

    My husband and I have been running our own business for over six years now. We have the whole mortgage, two car, three kids thing going on. We pay for our own health insurance. There are days where it feels like a regular pay check would solve all our problems. Yet even (or especially) in the current economic climate, it feels right to be proactive in our individual pursuit of income vs. passively receiving that direct deposit every other week that could disappear out from under us at any moment.

    You might perhaps make more money in a 9-5, or manage your budget more peacefully with predictable income, but when you are answering to yourself – you are your primary limitation which I feel is a deeper and more enriching reality to engage in than letting a boss or work place culture dictate who you need to be to get paid.

    I’ve been thinking a lot lately about participating in/creating some sort of support network for self employed, freelance types that crosses the boundaries of “what” people are doing (as in, there are groups for writers, or artists, or plumbers, or lawyers) and focuses more on the structure around “how” people are doing what they are doing. Every one of us deals with how to get paid, how to be heard or seen, taxes, time management, time/product value etc.

    If you have the constitution to continue plugging away on your own, I would highly encourage you to do so. Leave the 9-5 to someone else. I truly believe that while trailblazing your own path comes with unpredictable and obnoxious difficulties, the potential for positive repercussions is limitless.

    You mentioned that you have a pretty extensive network, does this network include people who support what you are doing on an emotional or intellectual or nuts and bolts level vs. providing you with assignments?

    Peace to you and your family with the passing of your great aunt.

    • Thanks for your comment. I am very lucky in that not only do I have a viable professional network, but I have emotional support and encouragement from many family members and friends. Well, I guess the family is good luck, and the professional network is from years of practice and quality work.

      What you say about the difficulties of the 9-5 is true. I busted my butt on a full-time job for three years, got a long-wanted promotion and raise, and then my boss, who is actually an unmitigated asshole, fired me with no warning in a hugely humiliating way. Even with all the stresses of my life now, I’d never want to work for someone like him again. Meeting my own goals is so much healthier in the long run.

      Nice perpective on the focus of how we do things, rather than what we do.

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