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The ups and downs of freelancing

Quitting your job and becoming a freelance writer is freedom personified. No boss. No early morning traffic.

No irritating co-workers.  Your life is now completely yours – that is the upside. The downside is that your life is completely yours, which means completely your responsibility!

Before you take that leap, make sure you know yourself. You need to accept that there will be no set pay cheque at the end of the month. What you earn is going to be decided by the work you put in. So if you like sleeping until 11am, then you better be sure you like working until past midnight.

Freelance writing, especially at the beginning when you have not yet built up a good stable of clients, involves a lot of querying. Querying involves doing research, outlining the article you intend to write, making sure you can secure the people you want to interview. This all takes time and it is unpaid work. If you query a magazine and they accept the query and contract you to write the article, then fine. If they do not it is a bummer. And often they do not. But you need to take it on the chin. You need to recycle the query and angle it toward a different magazine and send it out again. Try not to waste the work you put in.

The world of print media is shaky at the moment. I know lots of writing friends who freelance who have had clients they have worked for for years suddenly write that dreaded email telling the writer the publication is closing shop. It can make a writer’s heart stop. You have developed a relationship with the editor, you have done good work for the magazine and they respect that, but economics is sadly economics. Try to keep in touch with the editor, though. She will need to find a new job too and maybe she can take you with her to her new magazine.

Another thing you will realise when you no longer get a pay cheque is banks do not understand you. Just now I am from the bank. They needed to update the info about where I live and how I earn my money for their accounts, to make sure I am not selling drugs or some such thing I guess. I tell them I am a writer. “Can you

make money from that?”  Which is demoralising enough but then: “Do you have a licence?”  It was nearly as bad as the traffic cop who when I told him I am a writer, told his partner who was writing my speeding ticket that I was unemployed.

The biggest problem when freelancing is getting paid in a timely manner. As I have said before, insist on contracts. Even for short articles. Something written down, even in an email. Try to push for more money —every single time.  Also, insist on being paid at acceptance of the article not when the article is published. I have clients who can take a story now and they won’t use it for 12 to 24 months. Do you want to wait that long to be paid?

But even if you get all of those things right, you will still have to be very strict about money and you will need to be a debt collector of the most severe type. Money not paid on time must be followed up relentlessly. If not, you will have serious problems paying your bills at the end of the month. It is a constant complaint from freelancers. You will work under insane deadlines to help out overworked editors and always get your article in on time, with few to no edits, and you are thinking they will repay your commitment to their success in a similar fashion, and yet when it is time to pay you will hear the most ridiculous excuses. “A signatory is missing.” “The accounts have closed for this month.” “Your invoice got lost, can you write another one?” It is one of the most demoralising part of freelancing.

Freelancing is great. Freedom from the 9-5 is fantastic. But you need to jump that wage-ship with your eyes wide open.

Do you write creative nonfiction??

The Kalahari Review is holding monthly contests for creative nonfiction articles around different themes. The winner each month receives US$50.  The prize is called the Igby Prize for Nonfiction. The deadline each month is the 25th. The themes for the next few months are: February — Relationships & Family;

March — Night life: On the night life of cities and towns around the continent;

April- Freedom; and May — Food.  You can get more information at their website.

Its all I write




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