By Andrea Plaid
Image via virtuemarttemplates.org
I’m tapping out of the full-time freelancing writing life. I don’t have the constitution for it.
Or maybe there isn’t a constitution—a binding structure or a shape—to sustain this life for me…and others who leave the profession.
Of course, we’re warned that the full-on freelance writing life would be very hard, to be prepared for “feast or famine” cycles by having so much money to cushion you, to buy things in bulk during the flush times in order to survive the fasting ones when our pitches for blog posts/magazine articles/ news stories aren’t accepted or the check doesn’t arrive on time, if at all.
But what these warnings don’t tell you about is, to really maintain a certain quality of freelancing writing life over time—to be able to pay for a mortgage or rent, food, transportation, clothing, utilities (including phone and some sort of internet access), and some “pocket money” in order to attend those networking events to buy drinks—one also needs to what I call an “invisible income structure.” SBF homie Deanna Zandt touches on this at Forbes, but what this entails is having a financial safety net in place that bolsters the freelancer’s income, such as a steady-paying gig, having roommates, having a partner who works a steady-income job, living on public assistance (from unemployment to food stamps), living off parental support or an inheritance (be it money, property, etc.), student loans, living in a geographically inexpensive place, and/or some other break with expenses or monetary supplement.
Without that structure, how many freelancers are really “making it”—meaning that they’re able to not only pay for the basics, including the aforementioned “pocket money”, but are able to live a comfortable middle-class or upper middle-class life strictly on their earnings, when the market is demanding more from writers for less (and by less, I mean “free”) or, at least, six bottles of wine? Especially in a metropolitan place like New York City, which still is seen as the literary/artistic nexus of the US and still the most expensive city in the nation?
And this life isn’t relegated to New York writers, the usually middle-class US-educated–though so many are still, monetarily speaking, the working poor–creative class and the working-class day laborers, some of whom are undocumented immigrants. In fact, this freelancing life is the reality of US working life. What actors and writers and fine artists have been told (and frankly, we tell each other) is our lot—under the romantic myth of The Starving Artist for —has now metastasized. The economic uncertainty that undergirds the Starving Artist Myth crept into corporate and non-profit “office culture,” with the rise (and rising acceptance) of the temp worker. It also inhabits academia, with the increasing dependence on adjunct faculty. Unlike adjunct professors and artists, the temp jobs held at one point held out the promise of full-time work, if not a 40-hour work week for a certain period of time—which some companies took advantage of—then going from a “temp-to-perm” position in a company, complete with medical and other benefits for one’s self and one’s family (depending on the structure of the family) when hired. With that acquired full-time job—as so many others presumably have in the company—one could build a life, like a home.