I get questions all the time about what it’s like to be a freelance writer or journalist or author or whatever you want to call it. So why not answer some of these questions here? Then, when the next person asks me one of these questions, I can bypass any real-world interaction and just tell them to check out my blog. That will be awesome.
So, are you a freelance writer or a journalist or an author? What’s the difference?
Honestly, I’ve used all of those words to describe what I do, but most of the time I just go with writer or, if I’m feeling especially saucy, freelance writer. Here’s the difference. “Freelance” is sort of a catch-all term for any job in which you get paid on an hourly or project-by-project basis for multiple employers instead of working for a salary from a single employer. I definitely do that. Sometimes it’s a single article for a magazine (like this recent one for Paste), and I get paid for the finished product. Occasionally it’s a big project for a company or organization, and I am able to invoice my clients for accumulated hours. Freelance writer covers just about everything I do. (Outside of my freelance espionage work, of course, which I’m not allowed to blog about.)
Whether I call myself a journalist or an author is a little more confusing. In my mind, author is a more fancy way of saying “writer,” and I reserve it for referencing my books. Ask me what I do, and I’m not likely to say, “I’m an author.” That seems a bit pompous when spoken, requiring a William F. Buckley sort of vocal inflection, or a brilliantly arched eyebrow. Either way, I’m not very good at those. I rarely say, “I’m an author,” though you’ll find me describing myself as “the author of Pocket Guide to the Bible” in written biographical stuff. Maybe author is the kind of word that’s OK to use in writing but not in everyday speech. Sort of like the phrase “brilliantly arched eyebrow,” which I rarely have the opportunity to drop into conversations. This is something I deeply regret.
As for journalist, I try to reserve it as a description for a certain type of writing. A journalist is a writer who specifically practices journalism, as opposed to writers who write greeting cards or instruction manuals or the copy on the backs of cereal boxes. (Not that those kinds of writers should be considered “lesser” than journalists, because I’m convinced that some of those greeting-card writers are geniuses, especially the ones who write the very serious sentimental cards combining serene beach scenes with italicized type. These cards are treasures of our culture. Do not disparage them.) Anyway, in my mind, journalism is a particular type of hard-news writing or reporting (like, I suppose, this article). It’s more factual than opinion-driven, and it relies on interviews rather than personal commentary.
So pretty much I’m just a freelance writer. Sometimes I write articles that might be considered journalism. Sometimes I write books and, in the minds of some, this makes me an author. But mostly I’m just a writer.
It’s all very fascinating, which is why I’m sure you’re just barely able to contain yourselves waiting for Part 2.
Do you have specific questions for me? Leave them in the comments and I promise to answer them, unless they’re really personal questions like “how much money do you make a year?” or, perhaps, “does this look infected?”