I’ve wanted to be a writer for as long as I can remember. My parents tell stories of me self-publishing books, minuscule ten-page “novels” held together by scotch tape and staples, telling the story of the unlikely Quarter Horse who wins the Kentucky Derby, or the girl who goes to Ross to buy a hat.
I continued to write into high school and college, transitioning my work into blog format (first on LiveJournal, then Blogger, and now here) as the internet became popularized. In high school, I self-published two short books of prose (thanks to my mom and her office’s Xerox machine), ebb. and a blatant misuse of the semicolon ;. In college, I wrote first for the campus’s Jewish newspaper, The Leviathan, and then for the satirical newspaper, Fish Rap Live!.
As graduation approached, I began sending out resumes to Northern California-based newspapers and magazines. I got a lot of rejection, followed by some unreasonable job offers (ie. the offer of “we’d like to bring you on full-time, but we need you to start NOW” three months before my college graduation, or the offer shortly after graduation that promised a lucrative pay of $1,600 per month). Finally, a wonderful woman at a San Jose-based weekly gave me the opportunity to freelance.
My first story, a piece on a local Olympian, made the front page. I was hooked. I continued to write for the weekly and its sister papers, traveling around the South Bay to interview people, desperately transcribing those interviews late into the night (after coming home from my full-time job in higher education), and putting the pieces of the journalistic puzzle together to create what would become a published news story.
When I moved to Merced, my employer told me I was not to have contact with the media because of my connection to the local university, and I was forced to give up my freelancing. I kept writing, as evidenced by this blog, my award-winning paper on the history of abortion (written for my master’s program in history), and the umpteen novels I’ve started (but not finished) over the last six years.
But there don’t seem to be enough hours in the day to work a full time job and write. At least not seriously. At least not in a way that could become my career.
So with this move to Seattle, I’ve decided that it’s an ideal time to make that transition. Sure, I’ve been applying to jobs in higher education, because it never hurts to have that stability, or those benefits. But with each rejection, each “we’ve decided to go a different way,” I feel more and more confident that writing is not only want I want – it’s also what the universe wants for me.
I compiled a list of newspapers and magazines based in the Seattle metropolitan area, built a website, and started emailing editors. I introduced myself. I told my story. I linked them to my website, which features my resume and samples of my writing. And while I’ve gotten quite a few rejections – mostly of the “sorry, we just don’t have funding” variety – I’ve also gotten quite a few offers for paid freelancing work.
However, I’ve also had offers for unpaid freelancing work, and this is where the business of being a writer – and specifically, starting out as a writer – becomes tricky territory.
I think that taking an unpaid gig or two, just to get into the practice of writing, just to get my name out there, is a great idea. It can also potentially lead to my being referred to other publications for paid freelance work, or even being taken on as a paid regular. But several of my friends (and my husband) have balked at the idea of my doing something for nothing.
I crowdsourced the question, posting it on Twitter and Facebook in hopes that I’d be talked in or out of it. Dan said, “The reason people are professionals in a field is because they get paid to do it.” A friend said, “Get paid for your work, because if you don’t value it, no one will.” But I still feel like this could be a good opportunity. And I feel like if I pass it up now because it has no monetary value at the moment, I might be missing out on other opportunities down the line that do.
Then, an acquaintance who happens to write for a living said this:
So why can’t I go into this with my eyes open? Why can’t I volunteer to write in hopes that it will land me paid positions in the future, with the understanding that if it becomes too time consuming or too much of a job, I can back away at any time?
I’m torn. Because on one hand, I do want this to be my career, and it can’t very well be a career if I’m not making money. But on the other hand, doesn’t everyone have to start somewhere? Maybe this – with some paying gigs, some non-paying gigs, and some writing just for me – is my somewhere.