Sustainability and Compromise: How a Freelance Writer Makes a Living

July 2014 stats:

Total earnings: $5,094.57

Completed pieces (all types): 90

Essays/articles published: 40

Here are a few more statistics for all of you, because they’re interesting to me: my year-to-date gross earnings as of August 6, 2014 are $25,576.22. I expect to beat $40K by the end of the year; now I’m curious if I’ll beat $50,000.

Gross earnings, of course, do not equal taxable earnings, nor do they equal funds received. (The primary reason my gross earnings do not equal taxable earnings is because PayPal has to take its cut first.)

My outstanding gross earnings — that is, the checks that aren’t yet in the mail — currently stack in at $2,853.77.

As new paychecks come in, I continue to complete additional work, meaning that no matter how much I get paid, I always seem to have around $2,500 or so that I’m still owed. I dream about opening my inbox, finding all my outstanding paychecks at once, and paying off a credit card. The truth is that this $2,854 is closer to an unemployment fund than anything else; the knowledge that if all my jobs stopped tomorrow, I’d still have $2,854 that would slowly work its way towards me.

I don’t think that all of my jobs are going to stop tomorrow, but I do think often about how to make this career sustainable. I’m on a long ascent right now, a rollercoaster where the first car is labeled “Hustle” and the second car is “Momentum” and there’s, like, a luck dragon painted on the side.

But we all know what happens both with rollercoasters and economies. At some point, I will make less money than I did the month before, and so on.

Honestly, I’m pretty sure I’ll just have to figure that one out when it happens. I don’t know how to prevent this scenario except to do what I am currently doing — hustling, pitching, making connections, writing 3,000 words a day — and that, at least, is sustainable.

The other piece of the freelance career that’s surprising me right now is the amount of compromise required. I think I thought that the higher up I got, the more I’d be able to just write whatever I wanted. After all, isn’t that what I’m getting paid to do? Be undiluted, fresh Nicole, wowing the world with my unique and original ideas?

Turns out it doesn’t work that way.

Right now I’m like a mid-shelf whiskey that every publication wants to blend with its own special mixer. The hardest part of this new phase of my freelance career is figuring out how to maintain authorial consistency within these various cocktail recipes to which I’ve been invited to contribute — or whether worrying about this concept of “authorial consistency” is even important, especially at this stage in my career.

To take this metaphor and run with it: I love cocktails, by which I mean editors, we’re all clear on this metaphor, right? A good cocktail is better than straight liquor, at least until you get to a certain level, and I’m nowhere near that level yet. Plus you can get more money by selling cocktails, and if it’s a really good mixologist, you learn something new.

But there’s also a certain amount of compromise. Yes, you can add sour mix. (I hate sour mix.) Yes, you can put me in a blender; do you know how much money you can get out of those blended drinks? I wonder how much I should worry about the compromise. If it even matters, with the amount of cocktails that get sold every day.

I can’t answer the compromise question right now. It’s all too new. I’m still getting used to just being on the shelf. I’m still realizing how much I have to learn. Even just yesterday, I thought I was right about something and then an editor showed me how it could be simpler, and better. I’m always learning — which is another part of sustainability, by the way. You keep the rollercoaster going up by always learning something new.

And that’s enough metaphor for today.

Next month: I don’t have a topic in mind, so please ask me to write about some aspect of the freelance writing life that I have not yet covered!

Photo: Beyond Neon

See the previous entries here.

Nicole Dieker is a freelance writer and ghostwriter, and is the only member of the band Hello, The Future!

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