The Freelance Writing Club: It’s Not So Exclusive Any More

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I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about freelance writing and how it’s evolved over the last decade. The freelance writing club used to be a lot more exclusive, they didn’t just let anyone in. Back in the day, it wasn’t as easy to make a living as a writer. Nowadays, it’s a little different. A Journalism or Mass Communications degree isn’t required, and freelancers don’t have to spend days chasing checks and scrounging the trades for the rare freelance writing opportunity.

In 2009, freelance writing jobs are very easy to find. Freelancers of all levels have plenty of work, especially on the web. This doesn’t make some people very happy.

I liken it to a favorite local band. Fans religiously flocked to intimate clubs to listen and enjoy their music. All of a sudden the band hits the big time. Their music is everywhere. So much to a point where it’s getting a little out of hand and the original fans can’t stand listening to them anymore. The intimacy is over. Writing is like that now.

I don’t know if I agree with exclusivity. Like music, writing is best shared with lots of people. My preference is for a “the more the merrier” approach.  While I don’t think that everyone can simply become a writer, I do believe there’s room for everyone. The ArTEESTes (HT: James Chartrand) of the world may not like it, but times are changing and we need to change along with it.

It’s difficult for someone who has spent years struggling to find print work to see someone less trained and less seasoned earning $60,000 a year writing for places they don’t approve of. It’s not easy for someone who spends half of his time contacting accounting departments only to learn the “check is in the mail” to see so many writers paid on a weekly basis. The club isn’t so exclusive anymore, and some writers aren’t sure of what to make of it.

Yesterday, I participated in my most important speaking engagement to date. I visited with a classroom of second graders to talk to them about writing. It occurred to me that we’re all for encouraging young people to get out and write, but not so much with adults. Why is that?

What are your thoughts? Do you feel writing is sullied and crowded?

I’m all for getting a bigger clubhouse, how about you?


  1. says

    I hope HT: doesn’t mean “this guy is one of those snots…” Anything but!

    Yeah. It’s funny, eh? Here I am telling my kid, “You can be whatever you want to be and do whatever you want to do in life. You can!” And then I look around at all the people who are going to come up to her in life and say, “Who do you think you are for trying to be one of us?”

    Luckily, I’m also telling her, “Put your body behind your punches, darling. You want to really make them count if you ever have to use them…” hehehe.

  2. says

    Interesting isn’t it? People HATE that I have been able to find work writing. My grammar, spelling, and so on are not up to the required standard (apparently), and just watch the looks I get when people find out I left school at age 15 and never went back. Where is my journalism or English degree? I should be flipping burgers or clearing tables! In my view, the more voices and experiences we can bring to the party the better, while my readers get value out of what I do I will keep doing it, and the elitists need to live with it or get a new gig 😉

  3. says

    Amen, Deb! Amen, James! Amen, Chris! I think we don’t practice what we preach because the internal belief system says, “Yes! everyone (else) came with that built-in ‘success potential’! We just KNOW that…but we LIVE on the inside of our thinking, reasoning, selves where our self-esteem battles constantly with the enemy of our soul who wants none of that positive, ‘all things are possible to him who believes’ stuff. Besides, What If I look or sound stupid?

  4. says

    I wonder if those who snot over ‘lesser’ writers getting work are not getting the jobs because they deem themselves to be too good for [insert area here]?

    Getting work/making money isn’t entirely about how good you are, it’s also about how well you market yourself. A crap writer can do much better in business than an excellent writer, if they find their market and work it properly.

    To get work you do have to be willing to put yourself in places you might not necessarily want to be forever, like in any industry – but, as Calvin’s dad always says in Calvin & Hobbes, “it’s character-building”.

    And yes, I like having all those voices out there. It’s great reading other people’s blogs etc., and getting ideas, and to that end I say bring it on!

  5. says

    As long as the playing field is level, I don’t care how many are on it.

    What I like best about writing – especially for blogs – is that credentials don’t matter. It doesn’t matter whether you have, say, a PhD or whatever… if your writing sucks, no one will read it.

    I like that a lot.

  6. says

    I think that we all get a richer experience by being able to see what other writers are doing — especially those who are new to the game. There are so many people who come up with a brilliant idea in a field they’re new to, mostly because they don’t know that they’re not supposed to.

    I’m excited by all the ideas that I constantly see popping up — I don’t know any old school freelancers who really would have even considered earning money by writing social media profiles or tweets, yet there are writers out there earning money in exactly that manner.

  7. says

    I’m a high school drop out who never went to college. I come up against plenty of people in this line of work, and in my previous, who are quick to judge the fact that I don’t have a shiny piece of paper that somehow signifies that I’m “smart” or “capable”.

    Working experience trumps a degree on almost every day of the week, outside of specialized professions like doctors or lawyers. Writing is *not* a specialized trade. It never has been. For thousands of years anyone with a pen and the mind to use it has been able to become a writer.

    My old man is 49 this year. His first loan was when he was 14 years old for a herd of dairy cows for 40 thousand USD. He tripled that investment in 2 years. By the time he was 20 years old he was married with 2 kids, had a 2nd generation company + a farm under his belt, and retired at the age of 30 as a multi-millionaire. He came out of retirement in his mid-30s to start another company, and went on to even greater heights. He’s retired again (not by choice; West Nile gave him encephalitis of the brain 5 or 6 years ago) but him and my mom are worth over 20 million dollars in net assets. They have a large ranch, everything is bought and paid for.

    He dropped out of school when he was 16 to raise a family and run a business. He never went to college. He’s worth over 20 million dollars. To THIS DAY he doesn’t get respect from a wide variety of people because he’s not “educated”. Doesn’t matter that he ran two multi-million dollar businesses. Doesn’t matter that he built up an empire. Doesn’t matter that he’s worth over 20 million in assets.

    People put far too much value on degrees. A piece of paper doesn’t always signify that you are worth what the paper says you are. In many ways, people who put hard work into something are more intelligent than those who wave that shiny piece of paper around. Bill Gates, one of the richest and most powerful men in the world, never finished college. Got busted for pot, even. Yet here he is today, without a formal education.

    Writing isn’t something you learn how to do in a classroom. It’s learned intuitively, and through practice. I believe that everyone has the ability within them to be a writer, they just need the motivation to pick up that pen (or keyboard) and start working at it. Over time, skills will improve.

  8. says

    Of interesting note, and something I didn’t think about last night, is how things work here in Europe.

    In Europe, a 4 year degree doesn’t mean anything. All it shows is that you went to school for four year to learn about something. Even a Master’s Degree still doesn’t merit you any sort of special rewards. Almost every single employer in the European Union looks at one thing first: relevant work experience.

    I had a couple of interesting discussions last year with a pair of professors from England. We were discussing the relevance of a four year degree, and both of them said the same thing: it’s not worth the paper it’s printed on. Here, in the EU, if you expect people to even bat an eye when you talk about a degree you have to have a minimum of a Master’s. And even then, someone with 4-5 years of experience in the field you are discussing will generally trump in terms of viability for the job. Why? Because they have hands-on experience.

    Now, while this isn’t the case for certain areas like Law and Medical professions, it is true for almost every other area. One of the kids in my language class that I’m taking now is 26 years old, from India. He has two majors…in computational science and physics. He is currently working on his doctorate (PhD) in mechanical engineering. He’s 26 years old. Do you know why he has spent the entirety of his 20s in college, and why he is spending another 3 years finishing up his PhD? Because without those three enhanced degrees he’s not viable in his marketplace.

    Obviously each market is different, but freelance writing is one of those areas where anyone with the ability to form coherent sentences and with the motivation to pick up the pen can do the job. It’s not brain surgery. It’s not rocket science. And while a journalism course can teach you some basics of good reporting (such as objectivity), there is no substitute for hands-on experience and field work.

    Many is the time in my previous occupation when I would meet someone who had a degree in interior design or some such. Kids who were my age (at the time)…mid 20s. Kids who thought their degree meant that they were smarter than me, that they knew more than me, and that I was just some redneck grunt who worked with his hands. Funny thing was that their degree never taught them any of the things you come up against in the field. You can plan and design a house all you want on paper, but anyone who has spent any length of time in the field will tell you that the difference between the blueprints and the actual application in the field is often miles apart. There are always variables that you cannot account for unless you know they are there, and the textbooks don’t teach that. One of my favorites was when I was working on the Home Depot Expo Design center in Denver ten years ago or so and one of the girls who was a designer of the program came in and tried to have an argument with me regarding the installation of a certain type of materiel on a jacuzzi surround. I showed the architect and the GC why it was an unsound installation, and what needed to be changed in order to make it structurally sound and last a lifetime. I wasn’t about to put my name on something that would fall apart in 6 months. The girl came in (she was around 24, I was 20 or 21 at the time) and literally had the audacity to screech about her degree when the architect and the GC questioned her regarding it. “But I have a degree and he’s just some construction worker” was the general gist of her remark.

    Funny how that one worked out. She was wrong, I was right, and the architect went with me, because I had the hands-on experience that trumped her degree. The textbooks don’t cover everything, and just because you have a degree doesn’t make you automatically right.

  9. Debbie Ferm says

    I was really with some of these comments when we were talking about equality, level playing field, be all you can be, etc., until the attack on people WITH a degree began.

    I do have a degree. I have a couple of them in fact. It was the right course for me to take in my life. I don’t think that makes me smarter or more capable than those who do not, so how come people are making the argument that their work experience and lack of a college degree make THEM smarter, more qualified etc. than me? It’s ridiculous and it ruins the entire point that people can gain knowledge and experience in many different ways.

    Me thinks the lady doth protest too much.

    Debbie Ferm

    • says

      I look for learning from everyone and everything. While I don’t have a degree, I would have liked to have had that experience, most of my friends who went to university do not regret it. Having or not having a degree doesn’t make much difference to me. All that matters is the person and what they have to offer in my view.

      Yeah it has been frustrating being judged based on the lack of a tick in a box, especially when it made no sense to be judged that way. That said, I do understand it. Some people are snobs, yeah, but many companies just find it makes the selection process easier. It’s not they think people with or without have a different level of intelligence, it is just the degree shows “an ability to learn what is taught”.

      Back in the early 90’s IBM told me they would not take me as a trainee programmer (in a programming language that I had commercial, proven experience in) because I did not have a degree. Any degree would work, even if I had an art history degree. They didn’t want people who could do the job, that was too difficult to determine, so they took people on who they were confident they could teach. People who had degrees.

      If your work gets results and you can prove it then that trumps anything we might say in a discussion or anything you might put on a resume.

  10. Debbie Ferm says

    I agree with you, Chris G, and I read your blog daily, by the way. I’m starting something new, and who do you turn to, but people who have the information you need, and can present it in a way that you can understand. It makes no difference to me if the knowledge came from an Ivy league school or digging trenches.

    The funny thing is, I’ve got a degree in Marketing from when I was a kid, and a Masters in Education which I completed in my adult years to become a middle school learning disabilities teacher. I only got that marketing degree because I was 18 and I didn’t know what else to do, so Hey! I just did what my friends were doing. That degree hasn’t done me a lick of good in the past 20 years, but I have never regretted it for one minute.Now,suddenly EVERYONE wants you to have a marketing degree. It’s kind of comical. I am being overlooked these days because despite the fact that I have written millions of pages of content, it wasn’t on the web. It’s always something:)

    On that note, I am going to start my own blog or two, because I am free to do that! What a country.

    Life is an adventure and a battle for all of us. There’s room for everyone. Kumbaya.

    Have a good day – and thanks Deb, for starting an interesting conversation.


  11. Tania Mara says

    I don’t have a degree. I know what it is to be called names because I “dare” succeed as a freelance writer and “steal” opportunities from the “real” writers. Then again, what do those “real” writers know? I don’t write for them; I write for my clients, and they are happy with the quality service they get.

    Obviously, I’m happy that the freelance writing club isn’t that exclusive nowadays. Let more members in! 😉

    It occurred to me that we’re all for encouraging young people to get out and write, but not so much with adults. Why is that?

    Because young people aren’t seen as potential competitors, unlike adults. Bashing adults is a (silly) way to try to discourage them and supposedly make it easier to get high-paying jobs.

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