There’s a perception that writers who work from home are always there to babysit, or to drive neighbors to the airport. That’s the way people seemed to view me. Something needed to change, I realized. I needed to change, and start treating my writing as an actual career. I needed to stop saying yes to every request for my time.
My transformation began after I gave myself a title—story technician—and wrote my job description: “Responsibilities of a story technician include any combination of project management, researching potential story lines, conducting interviews, and pitching ideas. A story technician writes proficiently for specific audiences and markets, revises copy, meets deadlines, accepts editorial changes. Also cultivates relationships with industry professionals, appreciates readers, and incorporates professional development—conferences, workshops, webinars, writing associations, and critique groups. Invests in reference material, reads extensively. Has access to ergonomic workspace. Backs up work externally. Owns reliable laptop and smartphone. Is tech savvy. Maintains current website. Tracks assignments electronically. Submits invoices. Markets and publicizes content—tastefully and humbly—via social media. Negotiates contracts. Keeps impeccable records of expenditures, deductions, and profits. Is thick-skinned.”
Understanding what being a professional writer really entails was a game changer. My daily and long-term writing responsibilities were finally crystal clear. Now, I frequently and unapologetically say, “I’m not available” to requests that interfere with my work hours.
If you’re a freelance writer who wants to reclaim your precious time, here are six rules to writing yourself a job description:
1. Identify your title. What is your specific role? Go ahead, give yourself an interesting title.
2. Prioritize your daily obligations. Think about the writing-related goals you must accomplish each day. Perhaps you’re a fiction writer but depend on freelance assignments to fund your passion, like I do. Also consider related tasks: maybe part of your day includes researching ancient Egypt or searching for a literary agent.
3. Summarize your ongoing commitments. Being a writer isn’t only about writing. A writing career involves marketing, educational development, fostering relationships. Plus, a grasp of the literary climate includes copious amounts of reading.
4. Determine the tools required for you to effectively accomplish your goals. What do you need—a computer, reams of paper? Think about communication. A smartphone, for instance, makes it a cinch to respond to writing-related inquiries wherever you are. Do you have a website? Are you comfortable navigating social media? How do you track the status of your submissions? Do you have the latest edition of The Chicago Manual of Style?
5. List the legal aspects. Think about contracts and W-2s. You will need to track income-related expenses for tax purposes.
6. Combine your answers into a succinct summary. Temporarily abandon your exquisite sentences for brief words and phrases. Spell out every single thing your writing career demands—write in present tense.
Prior to becoming a writer, I worked as a geographic information systems technician. Choosing story technician as my job title seemed like a natural choice. My GIS days were easier: An administrative assistant kept track of my continuing education requirements. My employer paid for classes and conferences. Someone from the IT department always came to my rescue. But when my boss asked me to edit a document or write a report and I jumped for joy, she told me: “Perhaps you should consider a literary career in your next life.” I listened and said goodbye.
Five years in, this gig remains the most difficult thing I’ve ever done. What I love doing is linked to rejections, an unpredictable market, and an irregular income. The trade-off is the opportunity to be part of a bigger world, plus flexibility. When I attend my daughter’s basketball games or hike the Oregon hills with my husband, I appreciate the freedom.
I still crave personal connection in this solitary venture. And now, I can occasionally respond, “Sure,” to a request.
Go ahead. Write your own job description. Recognize the magnitude of what you do.
Heather Villa is a fiction and nonfiction writer who lives in Oregon.