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My magazine reading sometimes inspires blogs. “What a Writer Carries in Her Bag” post and my annotated timeline of a “Day in the Life of a Writer” were formatted in styles that I saw in print and thought were pretty nifty. Now, O Magazine has prompted a little essay of “What I Know For Sure.”

freelance writer

As a writer, what I know for sure is that many claim to be writers. An earlier post I wrote about why it’s important to write for free sometimes was received with opposing views on an online forum. It was obvious from the responses that those commenting had not even read my post. I don’t encourage writers to write for free and not value their work. When I recommend writing for free it is in a way that will pay it forward, when it works for you, when it does not compromise your life or your values.

I met with a writer from Chapel Hill earlier this month who is getting her website ready so she can build her own freelance writing business. As I helped her get her site together we talked about social media for authors and what type of content and comments to share. It may be too obvious to even state here, but for most businesses, social media is not a soapbox for religious, intimate, or political beliefs. (Unless your business relies on these themes!) We shared a mutual feeling toward this and both had experiences where we saw other writers or professionals in other industries make comments in the social media sphere that changed our opinion about them. As an author on social media you are building a persona online and finding your own voice. Everything you say and do will shape how people perceive you. You may be clearing your throat every now and then, but your voice will be clearer in the end.

With that said, I steer clear of debates when I see them on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+. I focus on what is helpful, worth my time, and what I believe will be useful to other writers. However, when you put a cork in the pot and leave it on a hot stove, what happens?

I let it out.

Earlier this month, an organization I respect and speak highly about re-tweeted an article about why a freelance writing career is a good job for your health. I thought the topic was great, but when I read the article, it was bogus. And written by an alleged freelancer! It stated multiple times that a freelance writer’s life is stress-free, that you can pick and choose the projects that you like for more enjoyment of life, and that you’re not tied to a desk so you can exercise whenever you want. It appeared to be written by someone claiming to be a writer. I couldn’t keep the cork in any longer, but I didn’t feel comfortable unloading my rant. My simple 140-character response instead politely posed disbelief in where one will find a freelance writer who would say they have a no-stress job. They did not respond.

writer job stressWhat I know for sure is that being a freelancer is a stressful job. You don’t know how much you will make each month. You don’t know where your next project or assignment is coming from or if you will even get paid. You don’t always have the luxury of passing over jobs or firing clients. (I am speaking from the stresses of a single woman with no children and no debt. Just think about others out there who are supporting a family and have significant financial obligations.) You are sitting at a computer, and if you are a smart freelancer, your gym time and workouts are important—but when there is a deadline your work is the priority.

what writers chargeWhat I know for sure is that writers need to value their work. I’m in a few different “communities” for writers on Google+. This week someone posted that they will write an article for $5 for anyone who needs it—and they said they were a professional writer. Their post had errors in it. They were claiming to be a writer. A “writer” who does not value their work. Plus, they were soliciting business in the wrong place – the community is for freelancers to learn from each other.

There went my cork again. (C’mon – even poets make more than minimum wage!) This time I waited and got a third party perspective, who affirmed my feelings and encouraged me to tactfully respond and point out that you get what you pay for and that those who will pay more will expect to receive work that will be free of errors.

My comment was misconstrued, as I see happen in all the other social debates that I avoid. Someone responded and told me that because the person was a student and not a professional that it’s okay to charge a low rate. I didn’t want to get in a back-and-forth matter as I have no experience in the online debate protocol. I wanted to maintain my position with as much professional decorum as possible. I pointed out the person had described their work explicitly as “professional” and that when one makes a profit from something it is no longer a hobby – it is professional. They responded back saying that there should be rules about how people should comment and that writers shouldn’t attack other writers. I knew I was not going to continue the charade, but when I looked back at the original post – the person had deleted all of their comments and all that was left were mine, making me appear as if I had been having a one-sided rant at this poor “professional writer.”

A note for students: Editors and businesses will not know you are a student unless you tell them. If you have experience and knowledge in a particular area and are equipped to write about it – start now. Value your work. I was 17 when I had my first piece published in a newspaper. The editors had no idea what my age was or my occupation. 

writers in durham

Don’t get backed into a wall. Set respectable fees for your writing. (Photo courtesy of my boyfriend at the American Tobacco Campus in Durham, NC.)

What this writer knows for sure is that she wants to see more writers standing behind their words and not being afraid to charge what they’re worth. This writer also knows it’s time to cork the pot and let the stove get hot.