Welcome award-winning, bestselling author Kristine Kathryn Rusch, who writes under a variety of names, including Kristine Grayson in romance and Kris Nelscott in mystery. Her most recent novel, Duplicate Effort, just appeared from Roc--under the name Rusch.
by Kristine Kathryn Rusch
I never advise anyone to become a freelancer. It's a tough way to make a living, and most people aren't suited for this way of life. Yet so many people become freelancers, either unintentionally (through layoffs or firings or other circumstances) or because they took the leap deliberately, that I realized they need help. I'd been planning to write a book on how to freelance for more than a decade, but it was the internet-and more specifically, the recession, the internet, and my friend Michael J. Totten that got me started.
I am writing a book called The Freelancer's Survival Guide, and posting it section by section on my website. With trepidation, I opened the Guide to comments, and it's the best decision I made. The interactive nature of the project has many benefits. It makes me realize that people are reading (besides the numbers on my stats sheet). Readers ask questions, giving me ideas, and make suggestions for each other, adding a depth of knowledge that I would never have on my own. They also reinforce the weekly deadline, since I know people will read the blog-and several have already told me that they rely upon the information I'm providing.
The deadline is the key for me. I started this project years ago and got exactly 6 pages in before I remembered why I quit my fulltime nonfiction career to become a fiction writer. Writing nonfiction doesn't excite me. Writing fiction day in and day out challenges me beyond measure.
But as the recession deepened, the layoffs grew, and the unemployment figures became dismaying, I regretted not finishing that freelance project. If I had written it five years ago, the book would be out now, and people could find it and get help.
So I moped for a day before I realized that I could publish the book myself weekly on my blog. I don't like the idea of writing for free-I get paid for my work-so I contacted my friend, Michael J. Totten. I've known Michael for nearly twenty years. He came to the free weekly writing workshop my husband Dean Wesley Smith and I conducted in Eugene, Oregon. Back then, Michael was in college, with dreams of being a fulltime writer, but no idea where he wanted to go.
Now he's a foreign correspondent whose articles appear on his blog. He makes a fulltime living through donations, which keep him traveling to the world's hot spots. (Check it out at www.michaeljtotten.com) Dean and I met with him, and Scott William Carter, who has experience in web design and whose first novel will come out early next year (www.scottwilliamcarter.com).
Michael explained how to work the donation button. (I do not expect to make a living off my freelance blog; I do hope to make enough to cover my work hours for the freelance section of the blog.) He and Scott gave me tips on how to improve the blog and make it reach the largest number of people.
That last is important to me. I believe that the economy has forced a lot of people into the freelance lifestyle right now, and without some guidance, their courageous decision could cause them even more harm. Freelancing sounds easy, but it is really, really hard.
Freelancing requires a lot of skills not taught in school. Freelancers need to have excellent business skills. They need to be spectacular money managers, since the income is sporadic. They need to constantly pursue new work while making the most out of work already done. They need to have excellent time management skills.
Freelancers also need discipline-and they need to impose that discipline on their families as well as themselves (always tough). And freelancers who continue working for themselves for more than six months must learn how to take risks.
I know that most people who got forced into freelancing will happily return to a day job when the economy improves. Only a handful will continue in this difficult profession.
I want the Guide to help both the short-termer and the long-termer. So I'm being as honest as I can in the writing.
The thing that I am the most honest about is freelancing itself. It's hard. It's not for everyone. More than anything else, it requires what I call a sense of adventure-a willingness to take risks, repeatedly. Most people can't handle that-nor should they.
When Pati Nagle asked me to write this column she titled it "Why Freelance?"
I thought about that for some time. And the answer I kept coming up with was "Why not?"
Now, I can list a thousand reasons why not. In fact, I just put some of those reasons into the section of the guide called "When to Quit Your Day Job." I can be coolly rational discussing other people's situations. But as for mine, I just do what I do.
And I freelance.
I have since I was in high school. I first got paid for my writing as the high school columnist for the local paper. I was supposed to write the silly updates for free, but I asked the teacher who had set all this up if everyone else at the paper wrote for free.
He looked surprised. "No," he said.
"Then why should I?" I asked.
To his credit, he didn't make something up. He said he would check, which he did, and then he came back with the promise of a very small per-word rate for me.
I continued to freelance through college while attending classes and working other jobs. The first time I went fulltime freelance, I was twenty-one years old. That experience lasted all of a summer before I had to go running back to a part-time job to pay the rent.
The tough part about full-time freelancing is the irregularity of income. It took me three more attempts at going full-time before I figured out how to manage an unpredictable cash flow.
But none of that answers why I freelance.
It's because I can't do anything else.
I have always worked best when I work for myself. I don't like working for other people. I have a contrary nature. Past experience tells me that I'll be the perfect employee until one afternoon when someone asks me to do a trivial task, and I say (without forethought), "You want me to do what? And you're paying me how much?"
Bosses don't like that. I don't like that when I'm the boss. But I have done it as an employee every single time.
Besides, I graduated from college in 1982, during the last great recession. I knew, long before this current generation of Americans, that jobs don't last forever, no matter how stable they seem. I figured it would be easier to work for myself than worry about job security. Or, to put it more accurately, I thought it would be easier to control my own job security than to put it in the hands of someone else. (Or, more accurately, to keep job security out of the way of my big mouth.)
Honestly, though, I think some of us are more suited to the freelance life than others. My idea of hell is reporting to the same location to do dull work day after day after day, with no hope of escape until some designated hour. One of my dear friends (author of 13 novels and counting) has told me that her idea of hell is an irregular and unpredictable income. So guess which one of us loves her nine-to-five job. (I'll give you a clue: It ain't me.)
So I think in answer to Pati's question, "Why Freelance," the correct answer is, "Why Not?" If that's your response, then you probably have the right attitude for the job.
If you have a list of the reasons why you shouldn't freelance that goes on for pages, keep your day job. A lot of writers who earn a good living also keep the day job for structure, a sense of security, and that beloved regular income.
I have a lot to say about freelancing. Check out my blog to see more. But realize as you do that I'm not recommending this lifestyle. I'm just writing about it to help those who have gotten forced into it, or who want to give it a try, or who are stuck in the middle of an ill-advised freelance jump.
Oh, yeah-and it'll probably help those of you whose answer is the same as mine.
Thanks to Pati Nagle for inviting Kristine to blog with us.