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Lusty Lady

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Friday, September 25, 2015

Putting the full time in "full time freelancer," or why I stopped writing for free

When 2015 rolled around, I realized I had to make a choice: get serious about being a full-time writer/editor/teacher, or give up. That was before I lived somewhere where you pretty much need a car to get around, and not only don't I have a car, I also don't have a driver's license. That makes the stakes even higher; even if I could theoretically find a full-time job after being out of the workforce for four years, unless it was within walking distance or on a nearby bus route, it would be hard to get to.

More than that, though, I wanted to know I had given freelancing my all. I love the work that I do, the writing personal essays, interviewing people, penning two sex columns, editing anthologies and teaching writing in person and online. I enjoy and am proud of it, but if it doesn't bring in enough income to support me and, hopefully, in the near future, a child, it's not the right job for me. It didn't take me long to figure out that one drain on my time was writing for free. I've done it plenty in the past (all those Gothamist interviews, with smart, amazing people, I didn't get paid for, as just one of many examples), but now that I'm nearing 40 and want to build both peace of mind so I'm not scrambling to make rent and a safety net, free wasn't going to work.

So I vowed not to do it, even if it meant tabling a great idea or already written essay because I couldn't find a home for it. The one exception I've made is writing for group blog Lady Smut, and I consider that more akin to blogging here, which I also don't get paid for, than freelance writing, where I'd go through the usual channels of pitching.

I'm not arguing that anyone else shouldn't work for free; that's your call, and certainly some of my early free writing later helped me get paid gigs (case in point: Thought Catalog). But with 40 breathing down my neck, and especially lately, with costs of seeing a fertility specialist, almost none of which are covered by the insurance I'm incredibly lucky to have through my domestic partner, I'm even prouder of my resolve.

The greatest impact my decision not to write for free has had is it's forced me to pitch my heart out, to pitch places I once would have thought were "beyond" me, like The New York Times. It's made me bolder in seeking out opportunities, and writing outside of my usual beats of sex, dating, books, pop culture and hoarding, about topics like travel and tech and babies. This week, I'm finishing my first piece for a site I've been reading daily and am excited about writing for. I am starting to realize that my time in a day is finite, and so is my time here on earth. I could die tomorrow and I want to be proud of what I've accomplished, but also proud that I didn't spend 24/7 working or worrying about work. That's an area where I've failed a lot this year. I've let work take over my life and hinder my relationships with my partner and with others. I've let it dominate my mind, even when the amounts of money involved were relatively small. That's what I want to try to improve on, while still continuing to find new subjects and markets, to innovate and expand.

Something I don't think people realize is the costs involved in what I do, which goes back to whether I am making the success of RKB Enterprises, Inc., my company, a priority. There's always a line; how much time and money am I willing to devote? I've largely stopped traveling for work, because it's not cost effective; my three upcoming writing workshops, October 15th in New York, October 21st in Portland, Maine and November 8th in Washington, DC, all coincide with other trips I was already taking. My main focus is on teaching online, for both LitReactor and my soon-to-launch personal writing teaching website. I'm also planning to put more effort into my consulting business, where I work with erotica writers and sex-themed nonfiction writers to craft their work.

The truth is, it's scary to not know if any of it will work out. Any day, I could wake up to find my recurring gigs have ended, nobody's responding to my pitches, nobody's buying my books and it's back to the drawing board. If that happens, I will be prepared. These past four years of freelancing have taught me that while nothing in this business is stable, I'm resourceful enough to keep seeking and looking and trying and risking. For me, being a full-time freelance will never be a 9 to 5 job, because that's just not feasible for the work that I want to accomplish, but what I do strive for is to keep improving, both how I operate, and what I believe I'm worth. I don't know what that will look like a week or a month or a year from now, but I know that I want to keep pushing myself out of my comfort zone, into new ventures and opportunities, and thereby keep learning and making it more likely that I can keep this up for four more years, and hopefully many more beyond that.

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