Wednesday, January 31, 2007

The new debate about respect for writers

There seems to be a new debate brewing about respect for writers.

It started with a post on Carson's Content Done Better blog, about the Freelancers' Union and the differences between a freelancer and an entrepreneur. Unlike me, Carson doesn't get up into arms about low paying employers or issues of professional standards in the field, but his post struck a chord with me nonetheless. Carson says:

Have you ever met a “freelance doctor?” A “freelance mortgage broker?” A “freelance therapist?”

Not really. But at some point, our language begins to shift. We wouldn’t think of calling a heart surgeon a “freelancer” most of the time, but we have no problem using the term to refer to a musician. You wouldn’t call your accountant a “freelancer,” but “freelance writer” seems normal.

It was like being socked in the gut. Everything suddenly became clear: why writers are all too often underpaid and underappreciated, why we have such a hard time establishing professional standards for the field.

Too many of us think like freelancers.

In his post, Carson also linked to an article by Liz Strauss that offers a way to determine whether you are a freelancer or an entrepreneur. I took the test and was unsurprised to find that I am both - and neither. As I commented on Carson's blog:

I don’t see a difference between the-work-supports-the-business and the-business-supports-the-work. To me, it’s an equal relationship - if you don’t have both you have neither. I also tend to divide my focus between the day-to-day work and plans for the future - when I’m super busy, I’m all about the day-to-day, and when I’m not as busy, I’m making plans to *get* busy. And although I love all the administrative stuff like planning my website, creating invoices, tracking income and expenses, etc., I have to say I still regret that it takes me away from writing.

I didn't start out this way. I think I've been trending more toward a business mindset as I add to my experience. For instance, I've noticed in the last couple of months that I've been starting to refer to the people I work with as "clients" rather than "employers." These are changes that have come about as my business has grown.

As if to feed to the debate, this week in Writers Weekly Pamela White published an article on the importance of business plans for writers. Her article also emphasizes the importance of running your writing like a business instead of a job.

But I'm still not purely an entrepreneur, and I don't think I ever will be. "Writer" comes first to me. I doubt I'm the only one, either - I have a feeling that there are plenty of writers out there who don't like to use the term "Freelance" in their title, yet still don't quite think of themselves as an entrepreneur either.

As I stated on Carson's blog, I think there is room for a third category there: writers who have the "client" mindset, but who focus on the writing as much as they focus on the business. But what should we term ourselves?

Personally, I don't think you'd call your doctor, lawyer, or accountant an entrepreneur, any more than you'd call them freelancers - but what would you call them? "Professionals" is what comes to mind. And I think that's what those of us are who focus on neither the work or the business, but a combination of both. Maybe if more of us start seeing ourselves as "professional writers" instead of "freelance writers," we will naturally start setting those industry standards so many of us crave.

Incidentally, though I agree with Kathy Kehrli's comment on Carson's blog: all of these titles, whether they be "Freelance Writer," "Professional Writer," or "Entrepreneur" are inherently boring. I think I'm going to put "Literary Goddess" on my next round of business cards...


B said...

Literary Goddess,

My business cards currently say "Content Done Better" and have my name, sans title, along with the requisite contact info.

I'm title-less and cool with that.

But if you all start busting out "Literacy Goddess" on your cards, I am going to have to come up with SOMETHING.

Steve Martin used to have a bit that included a mention of the "All Being: Master of time, space and dimension."

Content Done Better
Carson Brackney

Nah, probably not.

The new blog, by the way, looks great. Oh, and if you don't like your contact form solution, I have a copy of the html script for making your own without using MAILTO somewhere around here. I used it on my old site and it worked like a charm.


Anonymous said...

It's the same for graphic designers, too, you know. As if by being "freelancers" we are any less accountable as professionals, huh? BTW, my business card says "Chief Creative Officer" and my resume says, "Principal and Chief Dragon Slayer."

Angela Watson


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