Hi, I’m a Writer and I Freelance For a Dying


Hi, I’m a Writer and I Freelance For a Dying

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

It’s almost 6 am, and I’ve been awake for an unearthly 26 hours straight. Yeah sure it’s a choice, but more like the choice you make when standing at the edge of a cliff – whether to jump or be attacked by a pack of charging bears.

I am trying to finish the first draft of an article I’m supposed to turn in, in about six hours. Submitting it on deadline and not even a minute late, will ensure that my payment won’t be delayed to the next week. I’d be able to continue buying food and paying rent. Hi, I’m a writer, and I freelance for a dying.

The freelancer is having his moment in the sun. With his tattoos, beach office, and free spirit, he is celebrated across social media as the person showing other millennials everything they’re missing out on. He has inspired a slew of life goals and hashtags exhorting others to quit their job, follow their dreams, and travel the world. Yet somehow, all this carpe diem spirit around the freelancer lifestyle doesn’t really address the whole who-the-fuck-will-pay-your-rent question.

Barely a year and a half into my first job, a snowball of hashtags – #lifegoals #freedom, and #quitit – comes crashing into me and makes me plunge into the freelancing world with the same amount of thought that a lemming puts into jumping off a cliff. There’s also the usual shit that influences your decision – a crappy boss, your flatlined wage graph, and, I won’t lie, I was also sort of thrilled by the idea of finally being allowed to work without any clothes.

As my portfolio gets beefier and Google gets more comfortable with my name not appearing at the absolute bottom, I get offers to work for people from around the world.

By choosing to leave the pool of what the corporate world considers to be the “experienced” lot, you’re now heavily dependent on your own ability to raise the value of your work, building your own brand by taking up the right projects and pitching to the right clients. Think about it, the longer you stay solo, the harder you need to work on keeping that value up, to not fall behind the “ talent pool”. At the same time, you got to keep earning enough money for food and general expenses, things you just don’t need to worry about when you are part of the monthly salary cycle.

It’s tough work but the promise of being able to work without clothes is too good to give up on.

Working life is scarily designed for efficiency and highest productivity, as you find out on the first day trying to work from outside office. It’s surprisingly difficult to introduce even the least bit of discipline in your life unless specifically told to do so. Working in a different time zone, where waking up on time meant waking up at 8 pm, complicates things a bit. I was now dealing with editors from all over the world, struggling to keep up with the rotating Earth. That’s just about the schedule, though, finding those clients in the first place is a whole new game altogether.

When your next project is dependent on your previous ones, and not the number of years you woke up, got dressed, and went to the office in your past life, you better make sure it’s the best one on your portfolio. The consistent inner dilemma of writing articles that take time and research against articles that are easier to finish but pay less and don’t look that shiny on my portfolio, make sure I’m always at sea. As the months go by, things keep getting more complicated.

The long route to making it all simply stop sucking, is getting better at writing – but the short route is mastering WordPress, photo editing, a bit of PR, and quite a bit of marketing. Quick tip to all the freelancers out there: Do not undermine the importance of vocational skills (other than writing) in your writing career. That’s where it sort of starts working out.

As my portfolio gets beefier and Google gets more comfortable with my name not appearing at the absolute bottom, I get offers to work for people from around the world. (Special thanks to that YouTuber who sent me $200 as an advance for some articles and never got back in touch after I sent them across.) I’ve since worked on assignments for renowned brands. The going gets easier but never smooth.

For all the inspirational quotes I post on Instagram with the #freedom, I research for three hours every day. My pitches have failed to impress editors for, at times, six months straight. I’ve gone through years of financial insecurity before I reached the same goddamn place in my career which I would have achieved had I just continued as a full-time employee. Yes, all of it for exactly the same payoff.

Is it worth it, in the end?

There is no correct answer to that. Are you ever interested in spending months, perhaps years, to build a name that’s not going to do anything spectacular to your career, except over the years fill up your mailbox with angry messages from an ethnically and geographically diverse group of editors? How about never being sure about whether the brand that employs you will remain in business for long? And don’t even think about taking an EMI, not even on a bicycle. Some months you will eat very, very lean meat.

But there is a tiny thrill to being your own boss, choosing the projects that interest you, and taking the cheap Volvo bus to Lonavala (that’s all I can afford).

That, and yeah, working without clothes.