Monday, April 13, 2009

What Do You Do? (Freelance, Part I)

As a full-time author/writer, I find myself growing more and more frustrated with the tightness I see in people’s faces when I describe myself as such. When I say I’m an author, there’s a polite moment of conversation about what I write, but it often leads back to a follow-up question: “But what do you do for a living?” I’m forced to respond: “Umm... I WRITE. Books. Some of them are even published...” That’s when the tight expressions set in.

I’m irritated. I couldn’t care less what other people think of me – on the one hand. But on the other hand, the frequency of these reactions makes me wonder about the cause of them. Is what I’m doing really all that strange? Lots of people patch together a living in bizarre ways, right? I’m really not alone. Am I?

Since becoming a “freelancer,” I’ve become acutely sensitive to conversations about what people “do” for a living. Career is such a go-to topic in mingling conversations and small talk. I’ve come to believe that there’s a deeply ingrained stigma against self-employment. People seem to think it implies unemployment, lack of job skills, laziness, or avoidance of “real” work. Even people who know what I do constantly ask me how I’m earning money. This baffles me. Granted, writing does not pay well at my level. Any income is prized, especially in this economy. But why is it an object of fascination to so many people?

When I describe my schedule as “flexible,” people read that to mean I’m not doing anything with my time. But just because I can easily arrange to hold a meeting in the middle of the day, or leave town at a moment’s notice doesn’t mean I’m not still putting in a full day’s work – if not more.

I’m tired of defending myself to people I don’t really care about. I’m tired of hearing “well, you’re not working, so...” Should I just suck it up and smile tightly back? Or is there something I can do to educate people about my work, and that it’s not just make-believe?


Pauline Karakat said...

Kekla, I think its great that you can make a good living doing what you love as a freelance writer. I have discovered that I am not suited to 9-5 jobs in cubicles myself, and so I am looking for a way to accomplish that without going broke. Keep doing what you are doing and ignore the naysayers. It is based in ignorance, and possibly even jealousy.

Great post!


This was such an interesting post. Freelance work seems like a great situation in that it may offer you a bit more independence, flexibility, and freedom in pursuing exactly what interests you. For me, I'm jealous of people who are able to be successful on their own terms!

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