Thursday, August 5, 2010

Why I Didn't Order The Vitamin Soup - And Stuck with Copywriting

I’m a freelance writer, and I telecommute from wherever I am at the time of the assignment. That’s what's allowed me to travel for longer periods of time, and consequently, that’s what enables me to write this little blog about the places I fall for.

When I say I’m a freelancer writer, most people ask, “What publications do you write for?” Then I have to explain that I’m not a freelance journalist, but a freelance copywriter. That I write websites, newsletters, emails, ads, brochures and “marketing stuff.”

At this point, their expression usually turns to one of disorientation or disappointment. But it's okay - I don’t take it personally. I understand that journalism has more romance than copywriting. It’s just that I like being paid on an hourly basis rather than per word.

Five years into my freelance adventure, I’m still okay with why I took the direction I did. I’m still self-employed, after all. I’m still getting to travel. And I even managed to buy a house…with another freelancer. (Different industry, same glorious uncertainty/flexibility.)

And if you’d like to know even more about why I didn’t pursue travel journalism after flirting with it, I’ll directly you to this painfully amusing excerpt from a former freelance journalist (now a staff newspaper writer). Sure kills the romance, doesn’t it?

Excerpt from “Seven Years As A Freelance Writer, Or How to Make Vitamin Soup" by Richard Morgan:

Freelancing is pitching two ideas to a new editor at the Times, after having written for the publication for five years, and being told (quoting exactly here): “I think you’d have better luck pitching your stories elsewhere.”

Freelancing means walking from the West Village to the Upper East Side and back because you don’t have enough money for the subway. Freelancing means being so poor and so hungry for so long that you “eat” a bowl of soup that’s just hot water, crushed-up multivitamins and half your spice rack (mostly garlic salt).

Freelancing is being woken up on a Monday at 8 a.m. by an editor who gives you the following assignment: “Put together everything interesting about all the city’s airports by Friday,” doing it, and then not getting credit when it runs… as an infographic.


Freelancing is having your mother send you a book called $ix-Figure Freelancing which lists as helpful resources, on page 198, the dictionary, thesaurus, and sree.net.


Freelancing means your editor will reject your pitch and then, seven month later, run the story you pitched—with the same language as your pitch—and then have it submitted for a National Magazine Award.


Freelancing is having an editor tell you that he really loves the story you’ve filed and wouldn’t change anything, and in fact suggests you expand upon the characters a bit—and also cut the story in half. Because, in an editor’s world, it’s possible to expand upon characters and not change the structure while you also cut the story in half.


Freelancing means having to chase down checks every time, even when that means waiting two years for $1000. It means having stories killed and being told that the editor-in-chief gave no reason, but that the same editor would love to work with you some more.