Freelance Roots

Freelance Writing

Defining Terms

by Kathy Coogan

The term freelance derives from medieval warriors who joined armies on a non-contract basis. They hired out freely, independently, using their weapons, their lances, in the aide of anyone who could and would pay them.

Independent contractors, they were paid by the battle, free to come and go as they pleased, once their task was accomplished (if they survived). They worked solely for money, and were distinguished from the soldiers who were conscripted or who fought out of loyalty to the crown. Thus the modifier free is defined as “at liberty,” not its secondary definition, “gratuitous, costing nothing.”

Unfortunately, the Free Lances were mercenaries who did not garner the respect of their cohorts because they were free to walk away when the going got tough. That negative association has trickled down to the modern usage of freelance.

Some misunderstand freelancers to be casual, uncommitted artisans, not serious career-focused performers. As sole practitioners of their craft, only the individual freelancer can erase that misimpression through personal responsibility and accountability.

As is now obvious, one problem with freelance writing is the first syllable: free. It refers not to the lack of stipend but to the limited contractual obligation of the writer. Like the warriors of old, you get to pick your battles, get paid for performing, then have the freedom to walk away to fight another day (if you survive).

If you do it well (and like to eat and have shelter) freelance writing should not be free. You should be paid for your gathered words if others use them. At least that’s the goal.

Novice freelancers can be very tempted to give their product away just to see their carefully constructed articles (and their by-line) in print, on the theory, “If what you write isn’t read, why write it at all?” In the early days, you may give away samples, but eventually, after enough consumers praise your paragraphs, those consumers must be converted to customers.

Sir Lancelot’s reputation and expertise in battle, if he had been a mercenary, would have spread by word of mouth. His choices would have been restricted by distance and time. Traveling on horseback with all that armor and those heavy lances eliminated some opportunity. The modern word-mercenary travels light over great distance with the click of the send key.

The facility to transmit instantaneously enhances opportunity but also competition. The freelance often spends as much time marketing as writing. As in medieval battle, in the free-lance world only the strongest, most capable and luckiest survive.

This freelance writing site aims to arm you with tips to survive on the battleground of free-lance writing.

Are you ready for Reality?

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