Monday, May 23, 2011


One of the realities of being a professional writer is deadlines. When you're a full-time freelancer like me, your ability to get paid centers on your ability to deliver usable quality work by a deadline. I am self-employed, providing clients with a valuable service (i.e., my writing). I am assigned article topics to deliver (I also pitch my own topics to editors) by a set deadline. If I don't do it, I don't get paid. It's that simple.

One reason that many people like to work a cushy job with a regular salary is they get paid whether their work gets done or not. I know this from experience. When I worked in the corporate world, oftentimes my own work was dependent on a whole bunch of other people who seemed to have trouble with deadlines. If they didn't get their work to me, I couldn't make my own deadlines. (Funny thing, a lot of the people who didn't make deadlines and also seemed to do no work in general often outranked me in both job title and salary; that kind of bullshit is one major reason why I prefer to be a sole proprietor).

I have tried to explain to people (i.e., aspiring writers, my three-year-old son, my mom, my husband, ad nauseum) that when I am on deadline, PEOPLE CANNOT BOTHER ME. My mother is especially talented about calling me up and wanting to chat for hours when I'm on multiple article deadlines. Her usual response when I tell her I'm too busy to talk is, "But you work at home! You can do whatever you want!" I have long since tired of explaining to her why I can't talk to her when I'm on deadline, and use caller ID just to screen my calls and not answer them.

People, if I don't make deadline, I DON'T GET PAID. Period. It's that simple. This is why I get irritated with people who think that just because I'm a freelancer who works out of my house that I can just screw around and do whatever I want all day. Some days when I'm not on deadline I do have a lot of freedom and control over my own time (which is one reason I'm self-employed) but not when I'm on deadline.

Also, I do self-impose a lot of my own deadlines, such as when I'm writing fiction. I tell myself that I have to finish that novel by Day X, and I do it. Self-discipline is necessary in this business. That's why I call bullshit whenever people tell me that they "don't have time" to finish that novel they've had sitting in a drawer for five years. They DO have the time---but they don't have the self-discipline to set themselves a deadline and meet it. We all have the same number of hours in the day everybody else does, it's all about how we choose to use them.

I think that we might solve a lot of the world's problems by forcing everyone to work the way I do. If you don't do your job, you don't get paid. What a concept. How many people out there would be totally screwed if that's how the world worked? I can name several hundred right off the top of my head.


Sunday, May 15, 2011

Fantasy Island, Part Deux

You probably remember my last post about people having the strange notion that writers/editors can and should work for free. I'd like to add another post about the strange fantasy world people seem to live in regarding my line of work.

Case in point: a week or so ago a friend of a friend whom I hadn't previously met came to my home to pick up some silk I had purchased for her friend when I was in China recently. (The person I actually bought it for couldn't pick it up herself, so she sent this friend of hers to do it since her friend was in the neighborhood.) She was a nice older lady who knew a lot about fabric and sewing, and had at one time worked in the fabric retail industry, so we struck up an interesting conversation about sewing, which was kind of fun. She also helped me with the formidable task of dividing up 40 yards of silk into 4 equal 10-yard pieces.

While we were visiting, she asked me about what it was like to write for a living. (our mutual friend had filled her in on my profession). I gave her a 2-minute rundown of what I do and how I do it. She then asked, "Do you need to hire a proofreader? Because I do that."

I just shrugged and said, "Well, I do that too." I don't generally proofread professionally anymore because the pay is too low to make it worthwhile when I can make more money writing, but I have done it for pay. But I do proof my own work religiously, and then once I've handed over a clean copy of it to my clients and/or publishers, they all have their own in-house editors/proofers who do the same before publishing it. When I explained this to her, she frowned. "Wow, that's not how it was back when I worked in publishing at all."

I pressed her for details, and it turned out she had spent some time working in the magazine industry about 35 years ago, back in the days when everything was done by hand on paper (and "cut and paste" literally meant get scissors and glue). She had worked as a manual proofreader and typesetter in those days. I politely explained that neither of those things are done manually anymore.

"So it's all done on computers now?" she asked. I nodded. "I remember when computers first came out in the 80s," she said. "I didn't want anything to do with them then, and I don't want anything to do with them now. But my husband died recently and I need a job, do you know where I can get work as a proofreader? I do everything the old-fashioned way, with a pen and paper. I take my time, too."

"Uh huh," I said. "Well, if you actually need to make a living, I would highly recommend you take some computer classes and then look in the online job classifieds for something."

She just stared at me. "Oh, I don't want to do that," she said. "I thought that if maybe I can't find a job as a proofreader, I'll go into business reading people's auras." (Seriously, no joke. She said this. With a straight face.)

I wished her luck and sent her on her merry way.


Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Fantasy Island

I had a Facebook exchange about this today, thought it might make sense to blog about it.

It never ceases to amaze me how many people think that professional writers/editors should just work for free (or next to free). (I'm not alone in that sentiment, even big-name pros like Harlan Ellison frequently gripe about repeatedly being asked to work for free: check out this video to see what I mean). Just this morning I opened six different emails asking me to write stuff and/or edit stuff FOR NOTHING, and/or were complaints that rates I had quoted them for my professional services were too high.

Well, excuse me for fucking living, but I'm a professional writer, with a helluva lot of serious publishing creds, not to mention almost 20 years' experience being paid to write, either as a freelancer or an editorial staffer. I did not just fall off a turnip truck yesterday and hang out a shingle asking people to pay me to type and/or spew hot air. I have been published in major newspapers (Chicago Tribune, Washington Post, I could go on), have hobnobbed with high-level government bureaucrats, have published multiple books, have written speeches for CEOs, ad nauseum. If you want me to work for you, PAY ME.

Just because there are a bunch of clueless amateurs out there willing to give away their very questionable writing "services" for free does not mean that I should too. Just because you can hire some flunky in a Pakistani word-churning/plagiarism mill three cents an hour to fuck up your already unpublishable work (and make it even more unpublishable and/or illegal) doesn't mean that I should also charge only three cents an hour to do an actual professional, quality job. You wouldn't expect the guy ringing up your groceries or the nurse taking care of you in the hospital to work for free, so why should I?

And while I'm on the subject, before you decide that it's cool to criticize me for my choice of publisher/agent/tax accountant/level of writing income, perhaps it would be somewhat intelligent of you to first have some idea what you are talking about. (i.e., like maybe being able to claim you are a full-time writer earning at least $75,000 a year from writing, like I do). Just saying.

I am a professional freelancer who owns/runs a small business. I contribute to the American economy. I'm lucky to do so, and most (i.e., 95%) of the people who try to do what I do professionally will fail. But that's really not my problem. I'm a businesswoman, and I'm not running a bleeping charity. So don't ask me to work for free. And while you're at it, why don't you get off Fantasy Island and join the rest of us in the real world?

That is all.


Tuesday, May 3, 2011


Okay, so I've been away for a while. Sue me. The month of March was insane work-wise (I wrote 20-plus freelance articles for four different publications, including the Washington Post), then the first two weeks of April were equally insane as I tried to pack a full month's worth of writing work into half the time, since I was travelling overseas for the second half of April. On top of all of that, I finished writing a novel and sent it to my agent, as well as cared for a sick child and hubby, packed for a trip to SE Asia, did housework, yadayadayada.

The writer's life is never easy, but when you're doing it for a living (which is basically running a small business) and also running a household/parenting, little things like blog posts tend to fall by the wayside. Those of you who follow me on Facebook know I do some microblogging there, but it can't replace a longer, well-thought-out post. Which is not really what this is, but I digress.

Whenever you get back from an extended trip overseas, there's always lots of housekeeping to do when you get back. Like mowing the lawn, going through all the mail that's piled up, returning phone calls, etc. Except when you're self-employed like I am, it goes double. Plus there's that pesky little thing called jet lag, which is brutal when you're coming back from Asia. So I'm just now getting back on my feet, having caught up on my accumulated list of chores---such as updating my website, returning emails to my editors, alerting interviewees that the articles I wrote about them are live, cleaning up my dark pit of a house, unpacking 16 suitcases (okay, I'm exaggerating a bit, it was only 5 suitcases, it just seems like 16), catching up on bills, trying to figure out where some of my royalty payments went, etc.

It's very nice earning a full-time living as a journalist now, but it is sending the fiction writing (which I still get paid for, just not as much) to the back burner a bit.

Just before I left, I got my authors' copies of my latest novel release in the mail. It's slowly trickling into bookstores, and one of these days when I get a free minute I need to book some signings at my local Barnes & Noble locations. Two of them have already agreed to let me do signings at their respective stores, I just haven't found the time to call the store managers back to get on their event calendar. I'll do it eventually. I just need to remember where the phone is. (I think it's under a giant pile of laundry.)