Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Hype, letdowns, and confessions

Lately I have been bombarded with opinions and commentary on freelancing. I wasn't looking for all of them -- some I just found when turning the wrong corner in cyberspace. I must admit, once I start reading I just can't stop. And if you follow me on Twitter, you can catch some of my opinions about this topic from time to time.

What I have been reading about lately is the worthiness of online content mills. Any writer that has freelanced online knows about these work opportunities. Not all participate, siting the huge flaws that haunt many of these businesses. What I don't think anyone has addressed is how the current state of the economy is pushing writers, experienced or not, in to choosing this for an additional source of income. While it may make them sacrifice a little bit of dignity, it just may be necessary.

Writers can hate on the content mills all they want. I don't think these businesses are particularly great in any way. Besides insufficient pay, writers in many cases must give up rights to the article (including giving up the all-important byline), write quickly for a decent paycheck and work harder than most people do at your common 9-5 office position. What a lot of people are leaving out are the writers that need these positions for income no matter what they have to sacrifice. I know I do.

Once I found out that the pay at most content mills are atrocious compared to print publications and other respectable writing outlets, I wanted to get out of the content mills and into a real writing position. I decided this back in May, and I have yet to have an opportunity to publish any work outside of a content mill or revenue share site -- which are also a waste of time unless you are really efficient.

Why can't I leave? It's a similar vicious cycle to those commercials about community colleges: I can't get published because I don't have time to write the articles; I don't have time because I'm working too hard for little pay; I can't afford to work less and work on content that may or may not pay; etc. It all goes back to the same thing: no time for writing that does produce instant income.

I don't want to look at this a just a bunch of excuses. I'm working to get out of the rut I stuck myself into with this type of writing. I moved back in with my parents a few months ago. I only have a couple of bills to pay each month and by working where I am I still cannot make a decent living. I'll be honest. I only work about 6 hours a day (6 days a week) for money because when I hit the 5 1/2 hour mark, I feel like I've wasted my time. I could have put the same effort into any of my other writing projects and easily feel more accomplished. I cannot write a great article for a content mill because I can't afford to put in the time that would take. But they accept my less-than-perfect articles, so what does that say about their standards?

At the moment I submit work with 6 different businesses and only get about $800-$1200 a month. Some may say that a full 40-hour work week would correct this, but it doesn't. I've put in 60 hours before and still couldn't get what I was worth because writers don't get paid overtime. If I have to do corrections/edits/rewrites, I don't get paid extra for that. Neither do editors most of the time, but sometimes the power trip they get is well worth it -- and before I get a flood of comments, I know that maybe 1% of editors have this Almighty complex. The rest of the are great and willing to work with writers.

I thought writing would be easy. I have a solid education in English, I love to write and I'm dedicated to deadlines. I know that work isn't necessarily supposed to be easy, but I should enjoy it 99% of the time. Right now, that enjoyment is about at 50%. At this point, I could take it or leave it if I received a better opportunity outside of the writing world.

Neglecting my poetry and fiction has not been a great way to deal with this either. The subject of publishing this type of work was practically forbidden in my writing classes. Every professor shamefully avoided the question of publishing. I heard many times "I can't tell you how to get something published." I now know how to get this stuff published, but I do not have the time to work on unfinished manuscripts and send them out. Instead, I ignore the fact that I even have these manuscripts sitting around. It's like having physical evidence of failure.

Where am I going to go from here? I don't know. I'm not starving, my bills are getting paid and my parents are more than willing to put up with me in their house. I know I cannot work at content mills forever, and it certainly isn't worth it to do so. Time, patience, perseverance -- I'll need them all to keep my chin up and walking towards a future in writing.

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