On Being a Public Person: How a Freelance Writer Makes a Living

October 2014 Stats:

Total Earnings: $4,433.13

Completed Pieces (all types): 99

Posts/Articles Published: 66

(As always, this “earnings” summary describes “total value of completed work,” since it’ll take a month or more for most of this cash to hit my bank account. October looks smaller than usual, and it was absolutely going to be over $5,000, but a few pieces got pushed forward into November, so I couldn’t count them as October pieces. On the other hand, November’s barely started and I’m all “oh, by the end of this week I’ll be close to $2,000 for the month.”)

So about 2/3 of what I write now shows up as bylined pieces (as opposed to the three bylined pieces out of 150 that I did in January). I have a weekly advice column, I get to hang out with y’all every day (which is, like, my favorite thing), and I recently got picked up by SparkLife, where I get to riff on all of my favorite parts of YA lit and pop culture, like What Your Favorite Avenger Says About You.

(I am Iron Man. Doo doo doo doo doo doo doo vote for me.)

The first thing I did was switch out all of my social media and other bios to “freelance writer, copywriter, & blogger” where it used to say “freelance writer, copywriter, & essayist.”

The things I write may have started out as essays, but for better or for worse — and I have absolutely no problem with this — I have found my voice as a blogger.

And now I get to figure out what to do with a public voice.

The “Nicole voice” is not necessarily unique, but it is definitely recognizable. If we blacked out all the words on this page except for the parenthetical aside “(which is, like, my favorite thing)” you’d know it was me who wrote this.

I am, of course, aware of this as I write it. I’m always riding the line between how excitable to get, how many italics to use, whether everyone is going to recognize the Nelson Muntz quote I dropped earlier, whether I can make a reference to Emily Byrd Starr and her overuse of italics, and if there’s something in the post that we can chat about together in the comments.

It’s a dash of branding, and yes I used the B word there, but it’s also real. Go dig up some YouTube video where I babble into the camera about something (here, this one), and you’ll see that I haven’t changed my voice all that much.

It’s just that a lot more people are sharing it, now.

When you have a public voice, what you say becomes crucial. You have to figure out what you are going to do with that voice: which positions you are going to take, which people you are going to invite to the table, who your audience is going to be, and how you hope your audience is going to connect with your writing.

I want to be a safe space. I want to be positive in spirit and generous in thought and word. I only want to use the word “stupid,” for example, when it is in a very specific context (most recently, when a third party accused another person of being stupid). I want to make sure my language is as inclusive as possible. I want to be an intersectional feminist humanist philanthropist genius. I want to make you snort coffee out of your nose, but only in a way that won’t ruin your laptop.

I’m also becoming aware that, as a public person, people are entitled to have opinions about me and to share those opinions publicly. Most of the sharing thus far has been really positive — but it hasn’t all been. The first time I got real backlash in the comments section of a piece, I didn’t know what to do.

It’s also complicated because a lot of the writing I do on The Billfold involves breaking apart other people’s arguments. I pick on The Atlantic so often it’s practically a running gag, and someday, somebody — maybe The Atlantic, turn about is fair play — is going to pick on me.

“Here’s why Nicole Dieker is wrong about everything.”

It’s changing the way I think about other people. Writing “hey, your 3% savings idea means people will only save, like, $190K” feels fair. Writing “Professor Dumpster stinks, ha ha, did you get it? Stinks.” does not.

I have a responsibility not only to the other people I write about, but also to the larger community. It is a community, after all, and the audience that spends a lot of their time reading and sharing stuff online is extremely interconnected. I don’t want to be the person who rips apart other community members.

There’s also the larger nervousness of being in an environment where the solution to a blog post you don’t like is to harass and/or dox the author. Yes, thus far it’s primarily been #Gamergate related, but it’s out there, now, like a spider you saw crawling on your blanket that ran away before you could catch it in a Kleenex.

Right now my biggest writing concern is whether I’m going to earn $50,000 this year, closely followed by my inability to predict where and how my career will grow. Or not grow. It could always not grow.

But writing as a public and visible blogger with a distinct voice works, for now.

I know it works because all of you take what I write and continue the conversation.

As always, thank you.

Next month: We’ll be getting near the end of the year, so I’ll probably end up writing about that.

See the previous entries here.

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

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