Make it Work

Really Annoying Things People Say to Freelance Writers

By Dawn Papandrea April 23rd, 2013

All professionals have to work hard to prove their value to employers, coworkers, and clients on a daily basis. But for those who choose to write for a living – especially in a freelance capacity — there are perceptions that are hard to overcome.

In fact, sometimes, the things people say to freelancers are downright insulting, maddening, or maybe just annoying, as these writing pros share:

“At least you don’t have to get up and go to work everyday.”

“The statement just irritates me. It shows no understanding of what I do,” says Ann Logue, a freelance writer specializing in business and technology. On the contrary, she says, not only does she get up and go to work every day, she rarely has any time off at all.

“Because I own my own business, I don’t get paid sick days, paid holidays, or paid vacations. I’m okay with that, except when people imply that what I do is leisurely,” she says.

She points out that beyond billable hours, there is so much more that goes into a freelancer’s work day, including time spent on marketing and administration.

“There is no receptionist who could take care of a mailing, and no intern who could make a quick run to the office supply store,” she says.

“You’re pretty good. If you wanted a job, you could probably get one.”

That’s one that irks Jennie L. Phipps, freelancer and founder/publisher of Freelance Success (FLX), a networking group for writers.

“Over the years, I have heard this several times. It always sounds condescending to me, especially when it comes out of the mouth of someone who I suspect is making half of what I make as a freelancer, and has to work twice as hard,” she says.

The assumption here is that being self-employed is somehow beneath being a salaried worker, or that being on staff is something freelancers must aspire to, neither of which is necessarily the case. In fact, a good portion of the freelance writers who are part of FLX chose self-employment after years of being on editorial staffs, or in other full-time positions.

“Must Be Nice!”

On the flipside of the put-down type remarks, Fred Minnick has experienced the opposite – people who show envy toward his “glamorous” occupation. Minnick, who’s also a photographer, specializes in writing about wine and spirits, so he essentially gets paid to drink whiskey and travel for a living.

“I am sent all over the world to cover the most-amazing people. I absolutely love it, but I’ve turned down trips because I was tired of spending more time in an airplane than with my wife. There’s often a disregard for the work that goes into getting to this level,” he says.

More than that, though, Minnick says the underlying message he heard in such statements was “you don’t belong in those circles.” After years in the business, though, Minnick says he no longer frets over other people’s opinions or second guesses his own successes. Now when he hears the “must be nice” remark he simply replies: “It is.”

“Freelancing isn’t a real career.”

When Elizabeth Hanes attended her husband’s company holiday party, they sat with a woman who also worked there, and her husband who was unemployed but beginning to dabble in freelance writing.

“We proceeded to discuss freelancing in more detail. In fact, I declared, I made a full-time living as a freelance writer while working only part-time hours,” explains Hanes, a medical writer and RN who has also worked as a brand ambassador and community engagement specialist for companies including WebMD.

Two days later, she ran into the woman again, who confided that she wasn’t happy at the company, but that she had to keep her job because her husband was out of work. “She looked me up and down and said, ‘You of all people know freelance writer isn’t a real career,’” explains Hanes.

Naturally, she was taken aback. “For her to take away that my job was somehow secondary (in every way, financially and otherwise) to my husband’s simply because I work at home really made me feel angry and, well, marginalized,” says Hanes. “In a nutshell, she hurt my feelings. To have someone, in a single phrase, denigrate my profession was very hurtful.”

On the other hand, Hanes says she is lucky to be surrounded by lots of support starting with her husband, and extending to family and friends, and at the end of the day, she loves what she does.

No matter the comments, or the intentions behind it, part of being a freelancer is having a thick skin to deal with rejection, edits, criticism, and yes, some snarky commentary. Before you take it to heart, though, try to give others the benefit of the doubt, says Logue.

“I used to think that people who said they were freelancers or consultants were either men embarrassed to be unemployed or women embarrassed to be staying home with their kids,” she says. “I know now that there are a lot of interesting part-time and short-term gigs out there.”

Image courtesy of gadi/flickr

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