Giving it Away: My ’Free’
Lance Writing Career
By Leah Mullen
A few weeks ago while I was listening to one of my books on tape called Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential by Martin Seligman, I heard something astounding. A psychological study of a group of lottery winners revealed that within three months after winning, a majority of the individuals went back to feeling exactly as they did before experiencing the windfall. If they were miserable before the money, nothing changed permanently after the money. So now there's empirical evidence for the old saying’riches can't bring you joy.
As a writer, this is important for me to know. Now, I'm not saying you can't make a comfortable living writing. Actually you can. In 1997, when I was 27, I was offered a writing project where I charged $30 per hour. Four years later, I was charging $35 for a similar project and if I were to do some business writing today, I would probably up the ante again. Yet even knowing the monetary worth of my skills, I still commit to giving a portion of my work away for free. Moreover, I make sure I write something every day just for me.
To decide to write for free was not a conscious choice, nor was it easy at first. I can remember moments when I'd read about someone who decided one day to write a book. A year later she had a deal with a major publishing company. Meanwhile even though I desperately wanted to write a book, I'd be working on three or four short articles. To make matters worse, only one of them might be a paid assignment.
During these moments I'd fume and beat up on myself. I'd wonder what was the difference between this writer and me? And even as I asked, I knew the answer. She focused on the book while my attention was fragmented. To this day, I haven't changed only I realize that while my writing time and attention are splintered, my devotion to my craft is not’as evidenced by all the writing I've done solely for the satisfaction of doing it.
I've written over a hundred articles, profiles and reviews etc and many times I did the work in exchange for a ’byline’ and the all important ’clip’ and that's it. This is how I started my career and to some extent, how I intend to carry on. I also write daily in a personal journal. I pen long letters to friends, and post on internet writing groups.
Yes, I want to be a multi-book, best-selling author one day, but these words I give away are not stepping stones to get there. I honor them as part of a whole writing life. Much of my writing, the general public will never see. But that's okay because it's sustenance, a comforting activity done within the crevices of a very busy existence full of the j-o-b and family.
My ’free’ lance writing is sometimes my anchor, the string that holds the kite. It's the net I've secured below to catch me if I should fall. For example, last summer, after finishing my first book bit by bit, I sent the manuscript to an agent who did worse than reject me, I got absolutely no response whatsoever! But I wasn't phased. After-all, in my ’free’ lance writing career, I hear ’yes' all of the time. A professionally written article free of charge? An offer almost no editor can refuse. If my work is an ocean, far reaching and deep, a rejection is a mere drop.
Two months ago I got the writer's equivalent of a visit by Ed McMahon, when a UPS truck pulled up in front of my building delivering copies of my first book Again and Again. I remember cutting the box open with a knife and then gently lifting the book from the wrapping’an infant emerging from the womb. During my commute into work that day I stared at the cover and flipped through the pages like I really was checking a newborn for all of her fingers and toes.
Then an hour later I was thinking about an article I wanted to write (and donate) that had nothing to do with the book really. I mean I was happy, but I was still, well’me. At first I thought it was strange until I heard about the study I mentioned earlier. My reaction was normal. After the high of seeing my ’baby’ for the first time, my equilibrium returned and the trajectory of my career continued just as before.
The other day while listening to the This I Believe segment on NPR I heard an essay by famed Chilean writer Isabel Allende where she said ’you only have what you give.’
Yes, over eight years separated the day I decided to write a book until UPS knocked on my door, but with my ’free’ lance writing career, I didn't miss a thing. If money doesn't bring lasting happiness, maybe having a sense of purpose does. I was writing for the love of it’even giving it away’and in the end that is what matters most of all.
Editor's Note: Ms. Mullen contributed this article to AALBC.com - gratis
Click to order via Amazon
by Leah Yvonne Mullen
Format: Paperback, 209pp
Pub. Date: January 2005
Publisher: iUniverse, Incorporated
Growing up, Sarah just wanted to be loved, but she went about it in the worst possible way. If Sarah could turn back the hands of time she would not have made so many mistakes. She wants her daughter Bridget's last years in high school to be smooth and trouble free, unlike the poverty and homelessness Sarah grew up with. Most of all she does not want Bridget to become a mother before she is a woman.
However, Bridget--bright and determined, yet doubting her own worth--has her own vision for her life, one that is full of the young man she adores.
Sarah's fierce determination to overcome her wild, party girl past and create a conventional future jeopardizes what is most precious to her. Can she keep her hopes for her daughter's success from crushing Bridget's dreams, while at the same time making peace with her own unfulfilled desires?
Leah Mullen - Official Web Site