Wednesday, June 25, 2008

A Freelance Life

A self-employed person working, or available to work, for a number of employers, rather than being committed to one, and usually hired for a limited period.

It sounds so appealing, doesn’t it? Self-employed. Working for a number of employers. Hired for a limited time. As with many facets of business, the job description rarely matches the position. Freelancing is no different. It’s been touted as the work from home, pick your projects, set your own hours, convenient, easy choice for writers in this, the age of technology.

It is nothing of the sort. In fact, freelancing has been the toughest job I’ve ever had.

Depending on the source, I can spend the better part of a day transcribing tape recordings. I can’t decipher my own handwriting so, when I interview by phone or in person, I use a tape recorder. Don’t worry, I’m up front about it with all my interviewees. Not one of them has turned me down, yet. There is one other reason why I tape interviews; so I can quote my sources accurately.

I find a topic I feel hasn’t been covered and I research it. I jot down sources and contacts. I read until my eyes hurt. I make notes until they start losing any semblance of order. I organize the information and pull quotes I can attribute to another source (always footnoting the source in the article). Inevitably I need answers to many questions on the topic and start writing those down. The list can be long. Once I have my complete list of questions I go back through my notes and research to see if I’ve missed the answer somewhere. When I can’t answer those questions, I call on the contacts I’ve uncovered.

Every interview is different because every interviewee is different. There are people who have so much information to give but little time to give it. Then there are people so enthused about what they do that nothing will stop them from giving as much detail as they can for every question. These are the extremes with many kinds of people in between. I love and hate both of these types of interviews since those with little time don’t take up as much of mine but some how miss answering some key points. Those that give so much detail that I have to flip the tape over or put in a second one always answer my questions, invariably burying the answers so deep in the interview that my fingers hurt from the transcribe. You’d think I’d learn to cut out the waste, but I am my own worst enemy; I have to type everything – I rarely skip over parts of the interview.

Which brings me to the worst part, the transcribing. I remember being hit so hard in a hockey game once that I literally saw stars. I would gladly take that punishment again instead of transcribing taped interviews. I get this panic every time I push the play button. What if it didn’t work and none of the interview is on the tape? If it isn’t, I start over, and I probably miss my deadline which means, I don’t get paid. Even though this has never happened to me, I can’t shake that initial feeling.

Once the transcription is complete then comes the easy part. I love writing the articles and enjoy the process of stringing words together. That is, until I’m just about ready to send the piece to my editor (whomever it happens to be that day). There’s this spike of self-doubt that feels like the worst hunger pains I’ve ever had; a nagging, empty feeling that makes me think the work isn’t good enough. As you might expect, I have to give the work one more good going over before sending it off. It never quells the pangs of fear and doubt, but I send it anyway. The days when my edits are so heavy that I can hardly see where my words once were, are long gone. There’s always a few fixes and matters of differing opinions but all are easy enough to handle.

I have to find the work, research, pitch it, more research, interviews (some travel at times and always on my dime), write it, edits, and rewrites. I don’t set my own hours – those are set by the deadline. If the work has to be done in a day, I work whatever hours I need to get it done. Yep, I’ve pulled all-nighters and not for as big a payday as you’d think.

Why do I do it? Simple. Writing is what I do best so, I can’t fight it.

Fiction has its similarities. We research our subjects to death, we write whenever there is a spare moment, and we do it far longer than our eyes and minds can take. All for the same reason – we love it. Are writers destined to poverty? It would seem not; names like Rowling, Brown and King negate that thought. If nothing else, at least for the majority, writing disproves the old adage, do what you love and the money will follow.

Do what you love because you love to do it.

Here’s an article I wrote, ToyOps Excels With Toys That Teach. After transcribing the interview it turned out to be seven pages long, single spaced. One interview, seven pages. I still twitch at the thought.

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