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Thursday, 5 August 2010

It was enlightening but above all depressing to read Richard Morgan's risible take on freelancing on US-based website The Awl. It seems as though he finally gave up on the life after seven years. Well, at least this side-splitting report makes you laugh while you cry.

Or anyway you might smile in mild amusement. But beyond the humour the truth is hard to overlook: freelancing is a tough gig. I've been travelling on this road for a year now so I guess if Morgan succumbed to the lure of a desk job after seven years, I'll need to gird myself with happy thoughts and a fair serve of writerly gumption if I'm to avoid the same dismal outcome.

I won't go into all of his travails in detail here - you can read about them yourself (go on, you will smile at his wry sense of fun) - but it's worth noting how sharing disappointment can benefit others.

For me, freelancing is about sales above all, so I don't completely subscribe to his understanding of the freelance writer's total subjection to the vague whims of editors. Editors, for their part, have to answer to someone. Their performance is measured albeit according to different metrics than the writer's. And editors are kept pretty busy in the email department. For every email I send, they'll have a dozen arrivals in their inboxes. Each one has to be read, its merits weighed against publishing priorities, and its sender answered.

Admittedly, it becomes fairly frustrating at times. You send an email to an editor and wait - sometimes for weeks - before getting a solid 'No'. And editors tend to be fairly brief in their communications. A line or two is enough to turn down a pitch, it seems.

Waiting for replies constitutes a significant amount of the freelancer's endeavour, in terms of the attention given to things other than researching, interviewing, transcribing, writing, and editing. It's a hard game to play. And you have to keep track of a lot of themes and stories. You are never just working on one thing at a time.

For me, though, journalism is a calling. It's more than an occupation. There's something bigger at stake beyond the hurly burly of story generation and production. The public sphere is a space that is occupied by a select few. It's my privilege to be counted among them - for now.

Pic credit: Robert Todonai.

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