"Master Dayton" might be humorous, (I mean if Ph.Ds are called "Doctors," shouldn't MFAs be called "Masters?") but in all seriousness I have made a living freelance writing and after several years I have tons of information I want to share to help out my fellow writers, regardless of age, experience, goals, situation, or background. This blog isn't pretty-but it will help if real freelance writing information is what you want.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Why I'm Not Ashamed to Be a Freelance Writer

With All Due Respect, My Critics Can Bite Me

Well it doesn't take a Sherlock Holmes to figure out that I'm feeling a little bit more combative than usual with this blog post. There are a few causes to this, and unlike most of my freelance writing blog posts, I don't even have a basic outline to this one, so this might turn into one of the all time classic ramblers. If that's the case, so be it. No one who's known me since college is likely to accuse me of being too quiet or keeping to myself too often :) As a quick warning - I generally try to refrain from swearing and crudeness, so if you're sensitive to this type of thing, might just want to skim parts of this lightly.

The first basis of this post is simple: I am not, and will NEVER be, embarrassed about being a freelance writer. To me writing is not some some type of dick measuring contest. If you think you're better than me, great. It really isn't my concern. If you've been published in one more magazine or in Chattanooga State Literary Magazine as opposed to the Chattanooga A&M Literary Magazine (I assumed these are made up - so no slight against Chattanooga State if they happen to exist - but maybe against A&M. I'll have to get back to you on that one), great. I'm happy for you. That's not being facetious.

Maybe it's having been around graduate school tool long and academics and creative writing programs, but I've never understood why so often it seems like people believe that individual success has to go hand in hand with tearing others down. I'm not saying all grad schools or creative writing programs are like this, nor all writers. But it does sadden me how often I've run into this, and that every close friend I have who has been through writing and writing programs has been through the same thing.

So recently I've heard from a couple people from my grad school past whom I hadn't heard from in years, and really didn't care to. This wasn't the sole catalyst of my rant, but it was the straw that broke the camel's back. I have no idea how they got a hold of my e-mail address, or why everyone was in a fighting mood, but there are a lot of things in my life people can trash and I just don't care. It's not worth my time to be angry or upset or to lose piece of mind over the bitterness of other people.

That been said, I've wanted to be a writer since I was three years old, when I could first read and write. Yes, you read that right, I was three when I could read and start writing. I've always loved the written word in ALL of its forms, and I refuse to accept any criticism saying what I do is inferior to what anyone else is doing.

I'm not ashamed of being a writer, or having wrote simple articles for online websites. I get paid for my words. People find value in what I write. Even beyond this, I make a living as a freelance writer. A living. I don't make a penny because I have the "right politics" and I don't make a penny because I "know the right people." No one's butt gets kissed, I don't have to sell out my values (I get to turn down any job I simply don't want to do) and above all I get paid for writing. Not teaching.

IMPORTANT POINT: I am in no way, shape, or form bashing teaching. Teaching is one of the most important jobs anyone can do, and a good teacher changes the world - as does a bad one. That said, if you're trashing my writing while making a living teaching (and not writing), then yes, I'm going to take that shot at you because the subject is writing. Do you make a living writing? If not, then be very careful taking a shot at my words, because I MAKE A LIVING WRITING. So you better be able to back up the accusations before trashing my words. This is not a dig on teaching, but at writing teachers who feel privileged to look down on us "lowly" freelancers.

Aside from making a living from my words by freelance writing, there are several reasons why I find being an online freelance writer rewarding. For one, my words aren't read by 20 random people who may or may not pick up a copy of an obscure literary journal. My "views" count from just one website I write on is over one million. That's right, in two years ONE MILLION PEOPLE have read my work online. This isn't including the stuff I've wrote that was ghost written. It may not be Stephen King, but my writing has been read by over a million people. No matter how you try to explain that down, it doesn't change the fact that my words have apparently been seen as pretty useful or worthy by a whole hell of a lot more people than those who still trash me to this day.

Another reason I'm proud to be a freelance writer is simple: it's hard. Yes, given the choice I'd rather write fiction, screen plays, poetry, and other creative writing and get paid full time. That said, being as good a writer as I know I am, I wouldn't give up on freelancing and I would never give up writing online. There's a deep satisfaction from actually being able to talk to my readers through comments, help others get started writing online, and help to change other lives for the better. In addition to this, I've helped shape the online world of the Internet. I find this to be cool. There are literally thousands, if not tens of thousands, of phrases you can type on Google that will bring back an article I either wrote or ghost wrote on page one of the search results.

Beyond this, I don't buy the argument that creative writing is somehow "higher" than freelance writing, or that basic Internet writing is beneath any "good writer." To give my belief on this opinion, I'll quote Homer Simpson: "Bull Plop."

This is crap. If you want to believe that creative writing is a higher form of art, then fine. I have no problem with that very specific statement and description: because the majority of time it will be true. That said, a good creative writer isn't necessarily better than a freelance writer. So I don't buy the crap about that writing being inherently better. I've been paid for my fiction, poetry, creative non-fiction, and freelance writing. Creative writing is different than freelance writing - but it's not inherently any better.

Case in point: it's hard for even good creative writers to get published BECAUSE THERE ARE SO MANY OF THEM! There are many great fiction writers out there, many great poets, many great screen writers. Very few of them can actually make a living writing. If there weren't many great writers, it wouldn't be hard for creative writers to get published. Good creative writers are not a rare breed.

Truly good freelance writers are. Only 16% of writers make enough money from writing alone to be above the poverty line (roughly $10,000). I've never fallen below this amount, and beat it by several thousand even in my first year writing, when I had no idea what I was doing, no money to invest in my burgeoning writing business, no writing portfolio, no references, and no mentors to help me. In addition to this fact, the competition for writing jobs has never been fiercer, never been filled with more wannabe mediocre writers, and never filled with more just plain average writers. Even worse: when measured in "real dollars," comparing the value of rates from then to now, rates have dropped OVER 50% since the 1960s.

So if you're in the top 16% of freelance writers in the world, you're doing damn well. I've been there now for four years and counting, and have made as much as $45,000 in a year. I could have made a lot more, but I enjoy freedom of time more than income, and spent my days and weeks accordingly.

Not bad for a "talentless hack," is it?

Most of the writers I've met through college and grad school simply could not do what I do. At least not as well. This might seem like a strange thing to say on a freelance writing blog trying to help others out on the same road, but it's true.

In some ways it's because certain parts of a college, and especially a graduate school, education get in the way. They teach you writing skills, but not the skills that translate into making a living as a freelance writer. What I've said in other blog posts is true: if you work, work, work, and then work some more, you can learn to be a decent enough freelance writer to make a living at it. This is especially true if you learn how to pursue passive and residual income.

That said, since the criticism is coming from former people who I met in grad school, that's where I'm shooting back. And I'll be perfectly freaking blunt to the two who managed to get my goat:

You can't do what I do when it comes to freelance writing.

That's all there is to it. Deal with it. Or read my blog and use it to prove me wrong. Whatever. The second part of my argument with these two is pretty simple:

One of you has nearly thirty years on me as far as publishing creative writing. I'll catch up. The other hasn't published that much more than me. If your book gets published, congrats. I mean that. Getting a book published is really difficult. My novel, "My Brother's Keeper" has twelve rejection letters with detailed hand written comments. Which also begs the question, at what point does the pile become more impressive than getting published?

But this also brings up another reason why I won't be ashamed of being a freelance writer: because this job has proved to me that I can be a published creative writer.


Well two of my favorite freelancing jobs of all time included ghost writing two fictional novels from two outlines and getting them into "publishable shape." Because of the NDA I signed, I can never reveal the titles of these two novels. But I can tell you that both were published, and I smiled widely when I can go to the book store, pick one up, and see my words in print. Yeah, it's not the same as getting my own published, but two books I've authored have been published.

And my graduate school thesis is getting mighty freaking close.

I'm a creative writer and I'm a freelance writer. I can say by income alone that I'm in the top 10% of pure freelance writers in the world. I'm also one of the most flexible freelance writers out there. I've been told by one client I'm the best press release writer they ever had. Another loved my sales letter. Several have told me my content articles are as good as any they've ever received from freelance writers. I have over 20 ghost written e-books that continue to be sold online. There isn't a lot of writing I haven't done at one point or another.

And things are going to continue to get better. There's always a demand for good writing, and as my learning and polishing of my craft continues, I'm only going to get better. Why should I be satisfied with being in the top 10% of freelance writers in the world when I can be in the top 1%? The pursuit continues.

But I will not be ashamed of being a freelance writer. This has opened doors for me as a radio guest on several shows, sharing expertise on topics that include Sinclair Lewis, Upton Sinclair, the American education system, Fascism, dystopias, and the Coen Brothers. I've had lunch with millionaires, traveled all over North America, and even received a personal thank you note from a King. Yes, as in a royal title. Probably the best amazing story I have to tell.

What do I have to be ashamed of?

I'm one of the best in the world at what I do, and I'm getting better. So in the end, those who want to trash my writing can say what they want - but let me Bible thump with "Wisdom is proven right by her children." I have plenty of creative writing (fiction, poetry, & non-fiction) published, and I've been paid for all three. Ghost written novels are in print that have my words on shelves in different bookstores across the country. I've even been published in an International arts magazine.

and as for my creative writing being that of a talentless hack: my 3rd year in grad school, who was the grad student who won the Alaska short story competition and was the only grad student to even place in the poetry contest (3rd)? Oh, yeah, it was the talentless hack who makes a living as the freelance writer and has this blog.

Last shot across the bow: Amazing how in the first year of blind judging I went from never being mentioned to rocking the world, isn't it?

The one other reason for this rant: ignore comment trolls who leave comments talking about everyone writing for less than $20-$25 an hour being losers or hacks. They're idiots and liars who amazingly never have a website to link back to in order to check their back story. I've almost always found that writers who do make full time livings writing aren't egotistical self serving jack asses, they tend to be good people who want to help out beginners.

So I should probably wrap up with something helpful. The number one rule to freelance writing is still the same: get started now. The second rule to freelance writing is this: ignore the trolls, ignore the naysayers, and ignore all the jerks who want to tear you down and destroy you. Unfortunately, there are many people like that in the world. Ignore them.

Or write a blog post destroying their pitiful rhetorical arguments.

Both are good :)

Next time my blog post will be more helpful with freelance writing tips. That I promise...although maybe not quite as entertaining. Everyone take care, take a deep breath, and do one thing today to get you closer to your goals and dreams. Always do one actionable thing to get one step closer to your goals and dreams.


  1. I'd love to know exactly what provoked this lengthy rant.

  2. www.alexaysabelle.blogspot.comSeptember 1, 2009 at 3:16 AM

    there's nothing to be ashamed of what you do... of so much ideas going on inside your head, not everybody can have that. enjoy writting and make people who read your write ups enjoys also... keep up, God Bless!

  3. WOW!!!!! Nothing better than a man who knows who he is, knows what he's doing and isn't afraid to be himself.... Love it.... You are a wonderful, talented and visionary individual.. Keep up the good work and sit back and watch everyone say "how'd he do that?"... Cheryl

  4. Hey all, thanks for having the courage to comment - I know this post was way above and beyond as far as the normal combative stage :)

    @ Tannice: I received a couple of e-mails in the past two days from people in my past. For anyone who doesn't know, graduate school in general was NOT a good experience at all for me. So when I get combative e-mails calling me a "talentless hack," I'm protective of my writing, especially from people who don't make a living writing. Add this to the many comment trolls online who make up b.s. stories about working for $25 an hour easy and trash everyone else trying to make it as a writer, and I snapped. It happens :) There's no reason anyone trying to make it as a freelance writer should be ashamed, and the general "superiority" feeling some creative writers feel towards freelancers just ticks me off. So that was the combination of factors that provoked the rant - but the direct e-mails (which now I'm guessing they got from finding my articles online) were the main provokers of this long rant. Thanks for commenting!

    @alexaysabelle - many thanks for the kind words. God Bless you, as well.

    @ Cheryl, yeah this one was a bit spicy, wasn't it? LOL. The getting a personal thank you note from a king is still my best story, though I have a friend who insists that somehow I'll top that. He's not sure how, but he's sure it'll happen. I have my own IMDB page as the executive producer of a movie, maybe that's in the same field? Thanks for the kind words. Hope everything is going good in Florida. It is unusually cool up here in Iowa - a beautiful mid-40s at night :)

    Hope all is well, take care, and thanks for commenting!

  5. Oh ouch! I amazed at the snobbishness of writers - I've only seen a little of it on hubpages - but I can quite understand what you are getting particularly if I am right in assuming that the grad school was related to creative writing LOL People have ghostwriter for their ficiton - amazing - that I didn't know!
    I learnt a long time a go to not give a shite of what anyone thinks of my profession or my looks or anything else - its incredibly freeing to see them all figuring out how I make money without actually daring to ask LOL

  6. Lissie - great to hear from you! You're somewhat of an online celebrity to me, so I'm rather honored you stopped by :)

    I think you're definitely right on. "Not giving a crap" can be a very important trait in dealing with being self employed, or sometimes with just life in general. Too little time to be playing by someone else's rules...particularly if you don't really like those people, lol.

    I agree, my friends are thrilled when I have a new story to tell because I manage to get a lot of good ones. Right now I'm trying to balance because I want to shift as much of my work as possible from active freelancing to passive income. I was thrilled to hear about your recent success in this area, and hope to be following you and Grizz's footsteps shortly.

    Thanks again for the great comment. As far as the writers, here's to the good ones! Cheers!

    Shane "Master" Dayton

  7. I didn't bring much to the table as far as skills for being self-employedo online - I certainly knew nothing about marketing - the most important one of all, or believing in myself (2nd most) - but "not giving a shit what others think" I've had since I was a teenager and couldn't gtet into the IN crowd - if you can't join them ignore them was my philosophy - and its worked very for me for the rest of my life.

    Once you are a published author AND making a living from your writing be sure to remember who they are - they will be your new best friends you know once you "make it" LOL

    Oh and I'm not an online celeb - I am just a try hard wannabe according to some comments I get LOL

  8. Wow. Some of the things that you mentioned in this post are exactly what I want to say to people that give me "the look" after I tell them what I do for a living. You know, that slightly haughty expression and smug half smile....I love being a writer and I love the freedom that it gives me - without it I would not be able to work from home while being a single mom. Screw the naysayers, they are clueless.

  9. Hi Master Dayton, you got skills! I invite you to be a guest blogger on my blog if you got time, see you there!


  10. Wow - this is now officially my most popular blog post ever based on 1st week views and comments. Maybe I should get angry more often :)

    @ Lissie. I hear ya. Who wants to be in the "in" crowd anyway? They're all so shallow and boring. Boring is the worst sin. The faith in self is critical. There's always a point I think when no one else really believes in you, even if you're getting lip service, so you have to just keep going.

    I have a long memory. I remember my friends, and my "friends," LOL. Thanks again for stopping by, and if anyone reading this is looking at InfoBarrel, check out Lissie's review.

    @ Lisa. I know the look very well, and I hear you. Many of the people I know from grad school are working 80 hours a week as adjuncts making $20,000 a year. I'm freelance writing and get to enjoy freedom of time and location, and while I work hard, I'm doing a lot better per hour than they are. Keep it up and thanks for stopping by!

    @jun - I'll take a look and get back to you. I'm definitely open on the guest posting.

    And thanks to everyone again for the comments! I'll have to think of some way to celebrate this most popular post ever, lol!


  11. I like a man with the stones to tell the world what you just told, loud & clear. That was a great read and the first article I've ever read of yours. I pretty much know where you stand after one article and I dig it. Now, I'm going to dig a little deeper into your blog. Good work!

  12. Hi Steve,

    Thanks for the great comment! I was actually a little worried that this might ruffle up some of my regular readers, but the response has been absolutely fantastic. Maybe I should go on a long freelance writing rant more often :)

    Yeah, when I know what my beliefs are on something, I take my stand. Glad you enjoyed the read, and I hope you find the blog really useful. If there's some topic you want to know about but I haven't mentioned yet, feel free to ask. I always love to get feedback from my friends and readers.


    Shane "Master" Dayton

  13. Mr. Dayton, I have to say that I have learned alot about what, and what not to do as far as freelance writing goes. I will continue to read the information that you provide here, along with other post, but thus far I am very impressed by your knowledge as far as this profession is concerned. Keep up the good work, hopefully we'll both get into that top 1 percent as far as writing is concerned. Much success to you in 2010,ill keep reading..Firstborn

  14. Hi First Born,

    Thank you for the kind words! This freelance writing blog is definitely more of a labor of love than anything else, and I enjoy helping out as many people as I can. Stubbornness and an ability to learn are probably the two most important things for any freelance writer who wants to make it, and I am a firm believer that if you remain hard working as a freelance writer and treat clients right, eventually "lucky breaks" will all come your way. 2010 has barely started, and it's already shaping up to be by far and away the best freelance writing year that I've ever had! Thanks for the comments, and keep at it!

  15. It's aggressive, but in that situation, it needs to be. I heard a Stephen King quote somewhere that if you can pay the power bills and the rent by writing, you're a professional writer. This site is helpful, keep it up!

  16. Hi Eric,

    Absolutely love that quote, and I think it's very true! Every type of writing has its challenges, and while I may naturally appreciate one kind over another (I do love creative writing), I'm not willing to admit to any one type as being "better" than the others. All forms of freelance writing have their own challenges, and the best writers in each category or sub-genre should be proud of their hard work and accomplishments.

  17. This is a great post, as an online freelance writer I have found the most amazing group of writer friends. We all help each other and work together to make our careers the best they can be. I even started a resource site for beginning freelance writers with advice, tips,opinions and ideas for aspiring or beginning freelancers. www.freelancewriteronline.info I will be sharing this post with all of my friends and I'll be back to read more!

  18. Hey!

    I know this article is old, but I just found this website after I curiously googled about freelance video game writing, for a little extra income as a student. You convinced me to grab a Constant Content account, and while the waits may be long, that's acceptable for disposable income. :)

    I noticed you have a lot of anger in this post. I just want to say that the best way to beat down the trolls, jerks and idiots that try to drag you down is not to respond to them at all. Let them think you totally ignored them - mainly because you have! I do this a lot with people who speak out against me, and it works wonders. I'm not going to bend to their will, because that's when I stop being myself, and start being who they want me to be.

    Next time someone calls you out on your skill, just delete the email/comment and forget about it - who're they to speak against someone making a living off of the skill? :)