The Word Whore*

If you are a freelancer writer, you know what you’re good for–you get the jobs the in-house writers can’t manage, don’t want, or that take up too much corporate time. You don’t get to share the sheet cake when the job is done, but you get a check–the equivalent of leaving money on the nightstand.

"Streetwalker" from gatesofvienna

Now, I ask, is this a bad thing? It depends on your perspective. If you long to be the word-wife with a house and white-picket office, a flower-box window view, and 2.5 weeks of vacation a year, then freelancing simply is not for you.

If you  are the tough writer with a heart of gold,  if you don’t mind getting last-minute calls when you’re desperately needed, but not loved, then freelancing is the life for you.  The voice at the other end of the phone pleads for your time because he’s spent the night on the couch in the office, after the angry words in staff meeting. Or the phone rings because  the regular writer has a headache. You get work because its tedious or other writers have refused.  If this seems part of your working life, you are ready to strut on the street with the other freelancers, showing your stuff.  You will never be invited to the holiday party, and you won’t be publicly recognized in meetings.  You have to be able to take that. It’s a good life, though.

Like the original working woman, your power is behind the scenes. You are called on to perform the work that is too dirty or too hard for in-house writers. But you get paid well (only if you set the price firmly ahead of time) and get respect (only if you don’t let the client treat you like, umm, you know. . .)

If you are very good, you can become a word mistress. Everyone knows who you are, you get smiled at when you visit, but people don’t know exactly how to treat you in the office. They might defer to you in public, but they talk about you behind your back. You don’t get benefits, but you earn enough to buy them for yourself. In your client’s conference room, however, you do your work well and are appreciated while the door is closed. Back in the outside world, you are talent for sale.

You won’t get a lot of proud recognition, and if you start to look needy, you’ll get dropped. Each client wants to think you work for them alone and are always available just for them. Don’t parade one client’s writing adventures in front of another, but do let them benefit from the vast experience you have, how nimble you are, how you can switch positions within the company. You may have to wear a mask or costume–be a marketer one day, a bean-counter the next, a tech expert the day after. But versatility is valued.

The word whore can occasionally become the word wife–by getting a corporate job. Yes, it gives you a certain security, maybe benefits, but in your heart you know sooner or later the corporation will turn you out for a trophy writer, a younger, cheaper version without the experience, but with a generous capacity for swilling Kool-Aid.

So choose your game wisely and with truth in your heart. You’ll be happy in your chosen profession.

* Whore is an ancient original of the word ‘ho. Whore, however, has a great deal more dignity and colorful history. Never call a freelancer a word ‘ho. It’s insulting.

–Quinn McDonald is a freelance writer, creativity coach and trainer in the field of business communication. See her work at (c) 2008, 2011 All rights reserved.