Ah, the joys of working as a freelance writer. You get to work from home, spend the day in your pajamas, have no boss looking over your shoulder, watch soaps in the middle of the afternoon, run errands whenever you feel like it, and to top it off everybody respects you. Yeah. And then you wake up.
It's funny how non-freelancers have these idealistic views of what we do, isn't it? So in honor of all of those folks who just don't "get it," and the freelancers who have to deal with them, I thought it might be fun to share some common buzz kills, often coming from those who know and love us the most.
Get a Real Job
A lot of people don't seem to think we "work" if we're a writer. This one comes in many versions. For me is was my mother handing me the job ads from the local paper whenever I visited her. She quit that after a few years when I finally (and literally) showed her the kind of money coming in. There were also the well-meaning relatives who would always ask if I found a new job yet when we'd see each other. Eventually those turned into "how is the business going?"
For those who don't snap out of it on their own, here's a reality check: writing is a job. Freelancing is an employment status, not a virus we're trying to shake. And guess what. It can be hard. If it were as simple as a lot of people think it is, a heck of a lot more would jump on the freelance bandwagon.
We plan just like any entrepreneur. We market to attract clients. We compete and we network. We deal with administrative duties and manage the finances. And on top of it all, we have clients to take care of. We don't answer to one boss. We have to adapt to working for a wide variety of clients.
Yes, freelancing has its perks. Those perks don't make it a cakewalk. They instead act as motivation. Those perks give us a reason to put up with all of the challenges that most in the 9-5 world couldn't handle (and that many have failed at when trying).
Since You'll be Home All Day....
This can come up a lot with some of my married freelance colleagues. Their partner sometimes acts like their job out of the home is more important or a bigger time commitment, and they assume the freelancer will handle things like cooking dinner and taking care of the house because they happen to be home all day. I'm lucky in that my husband doesn't ever pull that crap with me.
Before getting married and moving to our current home, I lived very close to my mother and sister. At the time, they used to constantly ask me to run errands for them during the day (taking care of their pets, being available for contractors or deliveries for them, driving my sister to appointments, etc.). They figured since I was home all day, that meant I was available to do these things. They did eventually take the hint that working from home meant I needed to be in my own apartment to actually work, and they learned that I was very capable of saying "no" (and that last minute requests would probably get that response).
Do you get this one from someone--a husband or wife perhaps? Do they ask you to take care of the grocery shopping or drop off clothes at the dry cleaners during business hours just because you work from home? Do your kids want you to drop everything and play chauffeur because they don't feel like taking the school bus? Do friends call or neighbors stop by and expect you to be available to chat at a moment's notice?
Oh. [Insert Long Awkward Silence Here.]
OK. This might fall under the "get a real job" group, but it's my favorite so I think it deserves its own mention. This one's great; you either meet someone for the first time and they ask what you do, or you're catching up with someone who isn't sure of your employment status.
"So, what are you doing these days?"
"I'm a writer."
At this moment, I'm never really sure what I'm supposed to do. Sometimes I want to laugh. Other times I just roll my eyes. And sometimes I feel like I need to defend my job (though I never do anymore).
Occasionally this is followed up with something like "Who do you write for?" or "Are you working on a book?" or "So what have you published?" How you respond to this, and whether the other party "gets" what you do, depends on what type of freelance writer you are. It can be easier to get past the buzz kill phase if you talk about magazine writing, business writing clients, or traditional publishing -- things people are more familiar with. If you're a blogger or indie author, you can find your work being dismissed a bit easier, though these days I find more people are genuinely interested in learning more.
So tell me. What are some of the worst things you hear from friends, family, or even strangers? How does it make you feel when people don't take your work seriously? Does it wreak havoc on your self-confidence, or can you simply smile inside knowing that they're probably just jealous, ignorant, or a combination of the two?
This post was originally featured on February 2, 2009 and was updated in June 2014 to reflect changed circumstances.