Notes From a Hired Pen

Are freelance writers rivals?

I spoke to my friend Amy’s journalism class a few weeks ago. I do this once or twice a year, and the students are usually full of questions about how do I make contact with editors (connections or cold pitches), how do I spend my day (more scheduled than you’d believe), and can you actually make money doing this (yes). One question in this class threw me for a loop, though: “How do you survive the competition?”

I’d never really thought of that before. That’s because, at least in the circle of freelance writers I know, we aren’t rivals. Sure, we might write for the same publications, but our careers and lives and goals are so different that I see them as colleagues instead of the competition. There’s an unlimited pool of freelance opportunities. Why fight? I know a lot of other writers who write for Runner’s World but I don’t make voodoo dolls of them and stab them with pins, though. We lean on each other for support. And maybe gossip.

I’m writing about this now because I just got off the phone with a woman who recently became a professional runner, and she talked about why she’d picked a specific group to train with as a pro. But she didn’t bash other training groups, even though she competes with their runners in very big races. She talked about how together they’re all elevating the sport. I think that’s how it is with writers, too, especially in a time when some publishers are still putting downward pressure on payment rates. If we all rise together, the better off we’ll be.

Now, before you think I’ve gotten all mellow on you, this isn’t a perfect system. There are some writers who piss me off to no end and do so for a lot of reasons – they’ve been nasty to me, bashed another writer for no reason, used my name to make an inroad without asking me, or yelled very dumb things at me. I just saw one such person praised by another writer I respect, and that mention had me grinding my teeth. I don’t think that’s rivalry, though. I think that’s just a person who’s pissed me off getting praise even though I think they don’t deserve it. I’m human. It happens. And I don’t think that’s freelancer writer specific. This can happen in any field.

When I unclenched my jaw, I did what I have learned to do in these situations: tell myself I have a different path and purpose, and that this person’s Big Clip or Big Praise is in no way an indication of my abilities as a freelance writer.

And then I put my head down, and worked harder.

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