Freelance Writing: Fact or Fiction?

Revenant Publications

For many, freelance writing seems like a dream career. A lot of people consider it or jump into it thinking it’s a life full of flexibility and freedom. Many romanticize the idea of freelance writing and also have misconceptions about it.

I have freelanced for more than 10 years and know 100+ freelance writers, so I wanted to clear up some common misconceptions. Here are some freelance writing truths to help you decide if it’s right for you:

You have all the free time you want.

Fiction. To be a successful freelance writer, you actually have little to no free time. Your salary depends on how much you do, so it’s easy to work 60 hours a week. Because you are not a traditional salary employee, there’s a constant pressure to produce as much work as possible. Our free time depends on our workload. Some weeks we have it, other weeks we don’t.

You make a lot of money.

Depends. At first, you won’t make much because you have to build a client base. Once you have a client base, you have to adjust how much work you take and who you work for. Some companies pay $1K for a feature; some pay $200. If you’re new to the industry, you’ll probably land the $200 clients. So, if you want to make $30K a year, you have to take 150 features at $200. That’s roughly 13 features a month.

You set your own schedule.

Fact. Freelance writers can usually set their own schedule, but keep this in mind: we work a lot. Sure, we can take two hours to go to lunch or run errands, but we pay for it later. Many of us don’t work 8-5. Some of us have full-time jobs during those hours. Our days range from 8 hours to 12 hours a day, seven days a week, depending on workload and deadlines.

You meet new people.

Fact. Whether it’s through email, phone or in person, you make a lot of good connections. I’ve worked with people all over the country and most have been wonderful. I’ve been invited to events, lunch, offered free accommodations, and more. You also learn about new industries, people, and cultures. Fun tip: If you’re writing for a Southern client, it helps to have a Southern accent so you understand each other.

It’s easy.

Fiction. Some people think because we work from home and “set our schedule” we have it easy. I challenge those people to take an assignment. When you work from home, you never get a break. You have to balance work and home life 24/7. Also, try writing fours hours a day, every day, for one week (28 hours worth). Speaking from experience, there’s only so much writing a person can do before they get stuck. That amount depends on the writer.

You write about different topics.

Fact. Once you have a client base, you will probably write about different topics. In one week, you could write about news, arts and culture, health care, and politics. The variation keeps things interesting, and it helps you master the art of changing gears. You also learn to tailor your writing skills based on client guidelines and needs.

You have to pay your own taxes.

Fact. Most employers who hire freelancers do not take out taxes. That means you receive all of your income, so you have to take it out yourself. You must be financially responsible and save all year. A good base to save is 25-30 percent of your income. For example, if you make $30K a year, you need to pull out $7K to $9K. Depending on your situation, you can deduct some expenses, but it’s best to pull out a higher amount and budget wisely.

Is it worth it?

Depends. I love taking freelance projects. Most of my freelance friends love their jobs. We’re not confined to a cubical all day. We don’t have a traditional office environment with the politics and bs. Freelancers can work from anywhere. We don’t deal with traffic much and control our workload. To be a successful freelance writer takes discipline and hard work. It’s a career like all others. If you love what you do, then it’s worth it.

Plagiarism: Just Don’t Do It

plagiarism cartoon
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Earlier this week I was surfing the Web and came across a fellow blogger who has been accused of plagiarism because guest bloggers on his site plagiarized content. After feeling defeated he said he would no longer blog, but thankfully has since changed his mind and is active again. More than 50,000 people follow this guy…

This infuriated me. This blogger who uses it to relieve stress and express himself was put in the position to give up something he loves because someone plagiarized – the fancy word for stealing someone else’s work.

So how does one plagiarize?

It’s really not that difficult to understand. If someone else said, wrote, painted, sang, created, etc…something, and you try to claim it as your own, you have plagiarized. If you used it in any way without permission from the creator, or if they allow permission, but you do not credit them, it’s plagiarism.

No Plagiarism
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What’s the big deal?

Those who create things – writers, photographers, illustrators, designers, programmers, musicians, anyone considered an artist – work HARD to create things and usually pour their heart into it. It’s just wrong, and why would you steal from some random stranger who’s never done anything to you?

People can also get sued or in serious trouble, hence the copyright laws and usage. There’s a reason people put the © symbol on their creations. It’s a way of saying this is mine, and in my professional world, if you violate it, you’re gone. Do not pass go. You know where the door is.

It’s a violation and insulting. My biggest problem is that most people don’t think about it or care. If it’s on the Internet, it’s fair usage. Wrong. Other people are intentionally trying to cause harm, and karma will find those people one day.

How to avoid it:

  1. Credit everything you use. Photos, quotes, copy, everything. If you did not create it, it belongs to someone else.
  2. Don’t try it. Those of us who know what to look for, look for it. We know if it doesn’t sound right, and a quick Google search will confirm or deny it. It takes 5 seconds.
  3. Respect the creator(s). Most of us don’t mind you using our stuff with credit. There’s a lot of awesome stuff out there, and it should be shared. However, respect the people who put in the time and hard work.
  4. If you can’t create something, try harder. For example, maybe you think you’re terrible writer, so you decide to “borrow” someone else’s writing. Stop. It’s lazy. If you feel that way, do what’s necessary to make it better. Take a class, send it to a trusted proofreader or friend, read books on improving your writing, practice. I know it sounds like a lot of work, but by the end of it, you’ll be a better writer and have self-respect.
  5. If you’re unsure if it’s plagiarism, it probably is. Better to be safe than sorry, so ask for permission and reread No. 1. There are also great sites that check for plagiarism, and there’s no shame in checking! Try: Grammarly’s.

Feel free to share your thoughts about plagiarism in the comments section below!

Writing Inspiration: Siblings

sibling quote
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With the holidays coming to a screeching halt, I felt it was time to take a break and get away from the season. We’ve often discussed inspiration and certain things that spark great stories. This week, I’ve been thinking about siblings, their importance, and how they inspire us to be better writers and people.

Our brothers and sisters, blood relatives or not, can help motivate us in ways no one else can. I’m fortunate to have two younger brothers, one 6 years younger and one 12 years younger, and they each add something special to my life. One is more introverted and sarcastic, but his passion for the things and people he loves is contagious. The other is more outgoing and sensitive, but his drive to succeed makes even me jealous. Both are very bright, talented guys who will go far in life.

The Perks

When recently talking to a friend about her sibling she said, “Your sibling is the only person who really understands you and your faults. They know how you were raised and where you came from, and there’s no judgment. Even though we [her and her older brother] are complete opposites in most ways, it’s that foundation and those differences that bring us together … the jabs, the sparring make it fun.”

I couldn’t have said it better. My brothers and I fought when we were younger, but thankfully we have a bond stronger than ever as adults. We are alike and different in many ways, but we were raised similarly. I had it a little harder being the oldest, but it made me who I am today, and I would not trade anything for that. They understand where I’ve come from and who I am, and seldom question my decisions, even when the rest of the world does. We don’t always agree, but we’re always there for one another.

People in a sibling role can remember those little details you forget, making for great stories. They can be a great source when writing because sometimes you have the memory but not the details. I remember one brother acting out The Mask and Aladdin in almost their entirety. I remember the other one dumping an entire case of fundraiser M&Ms and mixing it with baking soda and dish washing liquid when I was supposed to be babysitting him. I got into so much trouble for that …

Helping raise my younger siblings also made me a better mom. I had already changed diapers, rocked a little one to sleep, cleaned up various bodily fluids, and so on, so when it came time for me to have my own, I was somewhat prepared. Over the years, they have become my safe haven at family reunions and holiday functions, and help break the ice when things get uncomfortable in social events. And things always get uncomfortable. As the oldest, I want to set a good example, and I want them to know they can do anything they set their mind to. They help fuel the desire to be a better person.

What If You Don’t Have a Sibling?

My friend also said she was sad she had an only child because her daughter wouldn’t experience the sibling bond. I disagree. I believe you can have a sibling-type person in your life – the kind of friend you’ve grown up or maybe even a close roommate. The kind of friends who get you, the ones who are always there, and you may not always see eye-to-eye, but you know if you need them, they’re there. That’s what it’s about.

This week, try to write a story about your sibling or a person who is like a sibling to you. If you don’t have such a person, pick the person who you fight with the most but still love unconditionally. That sums up most sibling relationships (wink, wink). And if you have an estranged sibling, maybe consider reaching out. As a new year approaches, it may be time to take the step and see what happens. Happy writing!

Artist Spotlight: Kevin Litwin

Happy October! To kick the month off, we’re spotlighting Kevin Litwin, author of Crazy Lucky Dead and a number of great short stories. Be sure to check him out and like him on Facebook at Crazy Luck Dead!

RevPub: How long have you been writing, and why do you enjoy writing horror?

I’ve written professionally for 20 years but have only penned my dark “psychological torment” short stories for the past four. I don’t really classify my stories as horror, which to me evokes images of slashing, blood, and guts all over the place. Cutting a character on the face so they’ll see that scar in the mirror for the rest of their life…that’s what gets my interest.

RevPub: Who is your favorite author and why?

I rarely read – wish I did – but my favorite author is Edgar Allan Poe, and a major reason is because I received a book of Poe short stories for Christmas a few years back and loved it. Until then, I hadn’t read a book since The Great Gatsby in 1994. Oh, I recently read Stephen King’s On Writing, which has good tips for any writer. It made me quit adverbs.

RevPub: What is your favorite piece you’ve written and why?

I like several – Murder Day, Thankless, To Son, To Daughter come to mind – but perhaps my favorite is The Adam’s Apple, one of my first efforts. It’s written from the perspective of a cat, even though cats creep me out.

RevPub:If you could be any fictional character, who would it be?

I recently read Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Being that big monster would be kinda cool, and I’m 6 foot 5 anyway. Plus, I look good in a suit coat.

RevPub: What scares you?

I watch those Swamp People alligator hunter shows on TV, so I hope to never come across any gator. Snakes I can also do without – maybe all reptiles bother me. Not much else does.

RevPub: What does a writer need in order to write horror? Any advice for those wanting to write in the genre?

I keep saying that I don’t read much, but I do occasionally search the Internet to find bizarre, murder/suspense-related scenarios that occur in this big world. In addition, I used to be a newspaper reporter and covered a criminal/police beat, and I recall several life-in-the-shadows stories from those days.

I just keep my eyes and ears open. For example, I thought of a story called Blind Date while eating lunch outdoors at a Florida restaurant that fronted a canal, and that became the setting for the story. I also give credit to my parents, who always corrected us kids whenever we used incorrect English growing up. That might have led to my English degree, then my interest in writing. Thanks, Sylvester and Patricia.

And for any writer, having a good editor is vital. My editor is actually this interviewer, Raven Petty, who always edits my short stories before they post, helping to turn my proverbial swine into pearls.

Sources of Creativity: Buffy and The Zeppo

Like most dorks I’m a fan of Joss Whedon’s 90s moderns fantasy horror show Buffy the Vampire Slayer. What’s not to like? Great characters, good acting, clever stories, creative story-telling, some nice eye candy, and tongue-in-cheek campiness.

Whenever one Buffy fan talks the show with another the topic of “favorite episodes” comes up (along with least favorite episodes but let’s keep it positive!) There are a few that are on everyone’s favorite list and I have two favorite episodes: One, Season 4’s Hush is almost universally in everyone’s favorite episode list. My other favorite, Season 3’s The Zeppo, has been catching on, though many fans seem to decray it’s goofy tone.
The plot is simple, with Buffy’s “Scooby Gang” all filling specific roles (Willow and her witchcraft, Giles and his knowledge, Buffy’s slayer-ness, etc) perennial mean girl Cordelia tells regular Joe, Xander, that he is useless. He takes up space. He’s the eponymous “Zeppo” referring the Marx Brother straight man. Xander then goes on an independent, relatively low-supernatural adventure on his own, whilst the rest of the gang saves the world off screen. So why has this episode, that not only follows a non-story arc event but also lampoons the series’ more series elements, achieved such popularity? Here’s why:

Xander’s World-Saving duty: Get the Donuts

1.) Creativity: It’s hard to tell a new story. Most stories have been told. One way to add new life to your stories is to tell them in a new way. Buffy and crew had “saved the world” several times by this episode. While it was always done with high drama and often with personal impact to characters, we had seen it before. We hadn’t seen a story telling the tale of what one member of the crew not involved with saving the world spends his time when he’s not “on camera” during a more traditional episode. So Xander goes on his little journey, sometimes crossing paths with the rest of the team, always catching them halfway through something important, and interrupting their melodramatic events. It’s great to see Xander ask for help from Buffy and Angel as she tearfully tells Angel she can’t lose him, while Xander blunders in…then says he can come back if it’s a bad time, to their awkward silence.
2.) Perspective: After the intro sequences you see events only through Xander’s eyes. The hellmouth opens, we see it only as he scampers by in terror. Demons are battled, we see these events only when he crosses paths with more “important” characters in their world-saving quest. Perspective is a very important creative element often overlooked (too many stories are given ubiquitous third person omniscient) in favor of being informative or simplicity. First person, or even semi-first person can give a known world a whole new feel and make events, even small events, all the more personal.

Xander’s Undead Adventure Companions: All good and interesting characters on their own.

3.) Playin’ it Straight: As I said in my Lampreys review, satire is funnier when those participating don’t act like they’re making fun of anything. The rest of the cast plays the episode as though it IS one of the most poignant and emotional of episodes. Buffy and Angel’s encounter mentioned above is as powerful as ever, only given a new feel due to Xander’s oddly timed interruption. A run down at the end of the episode where the characters refer to all the exciting world-saving events we didn’t see is similarly effective. Even Xander’s antics aren’t comedic or goofy, he stays true to his character as the in-over-his-head friend of heroes, his exciting odyssey being marginalized only by the fact that it is occurring while demons are being unleashed on the world just out of frame…
4.) Character Growth: Shows like Buffy go through “season arcs” that tell one long story over the course of a season with a few non sequiturs here and there. Many of these are one offs that might be referred to in passing later but don’t have a lasting impact. This episode does. Xander’s feelings of never being useful come up in the season finale with definite poignancy. His encounter with Faith is brought up again, with similar important story elements coming out of it.
So why spend time talking about a show that’s almost a decade old? As a writer I can attest it can be painfully difficult to write a story that feels fresh. Even worse is writing a piece and going over it and feeling it is entirely derivative… Seeing creative work really does give you hope and, even better, ideas. Much like the Sliding Doors format a lot of shows would later take (many not terribly effectively) it provides a format of experimentation. Follow a lesser known character. Write it from their perspective. Tell a story backwards (see Seinfeld’s “The Betrayal” for that one!) Do whatever you can to gain inspiration. I know I need whatever I can get to gain inspiration, especially for stories I’ve lived with for years, but knowing it CAN be done goes a long way!

If You Want to Write: 5 Ways to Clear Your Mind

“Clarity of mind means clarity of passion, too; this is why a great and clear mind loves ardently and sees distinctly what he loves.” – Blaise Pascal

Throughout the book If You Want to Write, Ueland emphasizes the importance of letting your imagination flow freely. However, with work, family, friends, and everyday stress, it’s not always easy to clear your mind to let thoughts run free.

Our minds are restricted by a number of things, like fear and fatigue, so it’s important to find ways to relax and gain clarity in what we do. Once you have clarity, then your mind is free to express your deepest thoughts and produce your best work.

Here are five ways to gain clarity:

1. Meditation. I know, I know. You can’t meditate. You can’t sit still long enough or focus your thoughts. Whatever. My brain runs a million miles a minute all day and night. It runs so fast I trip over my words and say some epically stupid things sometimes. But I can meditate. It may only be for two minutes, but it helps, and the more you practice it, the longer you can focus. You have to train your mind, and I’m living proof it can be done.

2. Avoid procrastination. Many of us love the rush of an impending deadline, but it kills our clarity. We focus on meeting the deadline more than we do the final product. It becomes more about I HAVE to get this done, instead of I’m going to take my time and make this awesome. Starting early gives you more time to think and work, and you’re free to tweak as needed instead of producing something that’s not your best.

3. Break often. If you don’t procrastinate, you can break guilt-free. Take 10 minute breaks and one day off a week. I’ve started taking one night a week when I turn off my phone and do something I want to do. Removing myself from the world (even Facebook) allows me to focus on what I need instead of everyone else. It also helps me deal with stress and emotions that I push down, forcing me to address any concerns or problems.

4. Listen. If you’re lucky, you have a couple of people who give good advice and listen. The advice isn’t always easy to hear, but if it’s honest and pure, you’ll appreciate it. Listen to those who care about you. Oftentimes, they can offer a clearer perspective because they are not so close to the situation. Don’t be dismissive – you know when they’re right and when they’re not. Listen to your gut, heart, and mind, too.

5. Find inspiration. We all get stuck and go through creative ruts. It’s frustrating to want to create something but not “feel” it and risk forcing it. This is where inspiration comes in. If you read or listen to something else, it may distract your thoughts, inspire you, then refocus your attention to your own work. I find inspiration in everyday things such as conversations, movies, music, and people. If you open up, inspiration is all around you.

If you have any tips for clearing your mind, feel free to share them below!