Susan Rich and many others sometimes advise we freelance writers quit calling ourselves by that title.
The gist of the argument is that the word, free, sets the wrong expectation in the eyes of potential clients, that it somehow disrespects either the writer or the work the writer does becasue it implies the writer will do the work for no pay.
Poppycock I say!
Origin of the term
The origin of the term, according to Wikipedia and others, comes from the novel, Ivanhoe, written by Sir Walter Scott in 1890. The author coined the term, free lance to refer to warriors who were not sworn to any King. In other words, they were free to fight (or not) for whomever they pleased.
And that’s the key – they worked for whomever they pleased and when they pleased.
They weren’t drafted, they didn’t sign up and promise to be loyal. The took the assignments that they wanted and rejected the others.
Which is exactly what we freelance writers do.
We find writing that needs to be done and sell our skills to the person who pays us to get that writing done. Then we do it all over again. Sometimes with for the same client, more often with a new client.
Dictionary.com defines freelance as:
a person who works as a writer, designer, performer, or the like, selling work or services by the hour, day, job, etc., rather than working on a regular salary basis for one employer
We are not working for a salary, nor are we required to work particular hours, or in a particular place. Nor are we beholden to a single employer. Generally speaking, if you’re a freelance writer in the U.S. you are an independent contractor. (Hat tip to Simply Stated Business for the link.) But calling myself an independent contractor, while true, doesn’t really let people know what I do – I write for myself and for others, for pay.
How the term, freelance writer, helps
The term, freelance writer is a recognized term. Most people will know, at least roughly, what it means. They are much more likely to assume you’re self-employed than if you simply say writer, or professional writer.
Sometimes a freelance writer is exactly what they want – it just never occurred to them to look for one in a coffee shop or down at the beach.
Sure, not everyone knows exactly and some prospective employers don’t get it. They think that they can control how you work and still call you freelance – they’re wrong. And you can quietly send them the link to the IRS definition of independent contractor above if they need that information.
I’ve been a freelance writer for over 30 years now and I have yet to have a client be surprised that I charge money for what I do. Yes, there’s been the occasional ‘you mean you’re not truly a free writer’ or some such, but always in jest. If I said I was a free writer, which is also true in a larger sense, then they might ask me if I mean I write expecting no pay. The term, freelance, however, is the signal that I charge for my writing.
And I’ve never found the term gets me anything but respect. Not everybody is impressed, but most actually are, at least a little, and a little bit envious of my freedom.
Freelance writer is a professional term, one that’s widely recognized and that we can use proudly.
What do you think? Freelance writer or some other term? Tell us in comments.
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Write well and often,