Why freelance writers are a fucking pain in the ass with broken brains

Here is how it goes: The writer, at long last, has an idea for a new story. These are not easy to come by! Long before they can pitch that story they have to figure out what and where the information they will require to complete the story is, and then if it will be plausibly attainable. At the same time they have to be thinking about which publication, of the dozens of options, if any, it would be a likely fit for, while continuing to read more on the subject. At no point in the hours entailed here is the writer being paid, nor is there any guarantee they ever will be.

Next comes the writing of the pitch, often tailored to the specifications of the publication, and the individual editor, in question. Maintaining a running database of the whims and personalities of many different people, themselves often cranky and volatile, can be confusing and emotionally exhausting. Imagine trying to date 20 people at once. During this time a type of anxiety kicks in. Someone else may have thought of the same story. The writer wants to get it done as soon as possible. At no point in the hours entailed here is the writer being paid, nor is there any guarantee they ever will be.

The writer sends in the pitch. And then they wait. In the meantime they continue to read on the subject, hoping to be ready to go when the assignment approval comes in. The effect is like waking up every morning and reapplying for a job that you already have. At no point in the hours entailed here is the writer being paid, nor is there any guarantee they ever will be.

Sometimes they hear back right away yes or no. Amazing! Sometimes they do not. So they wait. The story is all they can think about, because it’s all they’ve been thinking about. The writer knows the editor is busy, and probably not ignoring their email out of spite. (Or are they? Shit.) Ideally they should begin the process all over again with another story idea and another editor, as a sort of make-work gamble. But what if they did and both are assigned at once? Will they be able to handle that? So they wait. Perhaps they could pitch the same idea to more than one editor at a time and run the risk of pissing off someone they really need to not piss of so that they will give them work again. At no point in the hours entailed here is the writer being paid, nor is there any guarantee they ever will be.

Sometimes a no will come in. This could be anywhere from 20 minutes to days. A quick no is a mercy. Beautiful, sweet, quick no. They reconfigure the pitch for another editor. Sometimes another no will come in. At this point the writer considers scrapping the entire idea altogether. Think of the sunk cost already though. They know it’s a good idea. It belongs somewhere. They try again. At no point in the hours entailed here is the writer being paid, nor is there any guarantee they ever will be.

A useless day, the writer tells themselves. No money earned. Nothing accomplished. They fear pitching that same editor again so quickly because two declines in a row would really fuck with their self worth. So they wait, trying to think of another idea for a story. A shittier one perhaps? With more obvious potential to be clickable? They read what’s having success on a number of sites they’d like to pitch to see where the editorial vision is pointing at the moment. It very well may not be where it was yesterday. At no point in the hours entailed here is the writer being paid, nor is there any guarantee they ever will be.

A yes comes in! They might be given the go ahead explicitly, or they might be given a maybe, let us see what you have. The privilege of spec work. In the latter case, they begin writing the piece, never knowing along the way whether or not they’re actually going to be paid for it.

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Hours or days or weeks or however long the story they wanted to write takes to report and finish go by and the writer turns it in. Will it pass muster? Did the editor completely misunderstand what the intent was and no longer wants it? Was the story… a pretty good start and could the writer perhaps re-write the middle? Could the writer call a few more sources? Could the writer add an entire section one editor wants to see but the next editor to look at it will end up taking out anyway? Of course they can.

At no point in the hours entailed here is the writer being paid, nor is there any guarantee they ever will be.

The editing process may go smoothly or it may not. It may not be going on at all for all the writer knows as they wait hours or days for an update. The editors might not have even begun thinking about editing the story yet. The writer will often not know this, and not wanting to be perceived as a nudge, they will sit there at home and stew. At no point in the hours entailed here is the writer being paid, nor is there any guarantee they ever will be.

Finally, it comes into shape. The story will go soon. When? No one knows. So the writer waits again. At this point they have had an idea of what they are hypothetically going to be paid for it for a while, but it’s still not a guarantee. Not even with a contract.

And then it is published! At long last. The writer signs into the confounding electronic filing system — each publication has a different one — and spends time doing clerical work that used to be done by people on staff. It is the writer’s job to do that for themselves now. Nonetheless, all the hard work has paid off. Except it hasn’t, because you still, at this point, have no idea when you will be paid. Months later, typically. Maybe never.

The writer waits to get paid. Who can help them? Not your actual boss, of course, the editor who assigned the work. It’s someone you’ve never dealt with before who you have no relationship with and will never meet. The writer will email a friendly request for an update to that person, and then they will wait. Days or weeks later a response will come. Sorry, we missed this. Can you resend it? They do. At no point in the hours entailed here is the writer being paid, nor is there any guarantee they ever will be.