Sunday, July 11, 2010

Use your writing skills to make a buck an hour

When I first started working at newspapers, I always grumbled about writing certain stories. Bowling results, for example. Love participating in the sport, despite the germ-infested shoes and even though I'm so inferior at it I've literally been defeated by a 5-year-old girl (it was bumper bowling, which somehow makes it worse, since I lost despite not having any gutter balls). But writing up weekly reports about the happenings at the local alley always seemed tedious and somewhat pointless.

But eventually you learn that at a newspaper - especially a small daily and especially when you're just starting and don't know anything even though you think you know everything - it's a skill to be able to write about anything, and a necessity. Whether it's track and field agate or dance team, everything you write matters to someone, even if you think it shouldn't matter to anyone. You learn how to write about a wide variety of subjects and take pride in it. You work for a valuable organization and that helps you keep your self-respect, through the horrible hours and worse pay.

Freelancers have a tougher life. Pride is not always a luxury they can afford. They have to endlessly search for jobs, especially freelancers who aren't writing feature pieces for magazines or respectable websites. There are thousands of people who make a living doing low-paid work that is surely beneath their skill set. Maybe they write about napkins. Or write college essays about William Randolph Hearst for frat boys who are too drunk to turn on their computer the night before a 10-page paper is due. Freelance writing: a glamorous life.

Here are some of the latest job atrocities available to eager freelancers.

Writer for title and job description
. A job title and description that doesn't read like a title and doesn't have a description. Very 1984, Newspeakish. I spent 20 minutes trying to figure out what the job entailed. I still don't know. Which means I lack the technical ability that will be so critical for all writers in the next decade and beyond. Damn it.

"Basically, you will be writing the main Title and Description for my niche websites. These should not take more than 10 minutes to do, I am looking to pay someone $1 for writing 2 titles and descriptions for the topic I give you."

Here's an eight-minute youtube video about the job that has replaced Ambien and Jay Leno's monologue as America's leading sleep-aid. The person posting this ad notes that he set his budget at $5. Say one lucky freelancer lands that whole budget. Those five bucks would perhaps - but not likely - be enough to buy a single Prozac tablet the freelancer would need to work through the depression that sets in once the paycheck from the job appears in his bank account.

The same person has posted other jobs, ones that he filled. Like this one to be a "blog commenter." Description:
"I need you to comment on blogs. I will give you the blog post to comment on, but you will have to double check and see if the comment backlinks are 'dofollow.' Only apply if you have experience in commenting."

It's one dollar for every 10 posts and a candidate should expect to comment on 100 posts in a week. So, you're looking at 10 bucks a week. Hey, it could be beer money, at least. And by beer money I mean - if you live in Manhattan - you can buy a single beer and have two bucks left for a tip.

Here's a mysterious job: When applying, all applicants "must start their replies with 'Halloween Project' or they will not be considered." Halloween Project? It sounds like a CIA codename for an attempted coup in a South American country that will go into motion on October 31. The job actually entails writing about costumes for various websites. It's estimated to be a 30-hour-a-week gig, with the budget set at a precise $65. So two bucks an hour, or, twice as much as you'd make writing comments on 10 blogs focused on the majesty and mystery of Halloween costumes. See, freelancers do have options. The poster is a stickler for manners, as every reply must end with Thank You. If you end it with Thank You Very Much, you might be eligible to make $67 for the project.

For you business writers...Five-year strategic plan writer.

"I am looking for someone to write a five-year strategic plan for a fictional company. I have 17 pages of data and information on this fictional company, which you will have access to. The strategic plan should include background, major issues and specific recommendations in detail."

Okay. When reading that, this scene came to mind.

Here's a job that at least sounds like it could be entertaining, even if the wages are the type normally associated with overseas shoe factories. Writer for movie rumors and news.

"I need 5 articles on movie rumors and news per week for the next 8 weeks."

So basically you'll be writing movie news. And rumors. Nothing in there says the rumors have to be accurate. So...

1. Leonardo DiCaprio has reportedly pulled out of talks for the Titanic sequel.
2. A 35-year-old man in New York City stood in something sticky during a viewing of the delightful Knight & Day. Who was he, and what was the substance?
3. When Arnold Schwarzenegger leaves office, don't be surprised if The Governator reprises his role as John Matrix in a remake of Commando. Steven Spielberg is tentatively scheduled to direct.
4. No one in Hollywood wants to go on the record, but it's looking more and more like Godfather IV will be a reality. Marlon Brando will star, thanks to CGI technology.
5. As part of his contract, Wilford Brimley insists on performing all his own stunts.

Five rumors, that's 50 cents right there.

In a few years maybe there won't even be a job called freelance writer. Instead, everyone will be freelance tweeters, which sounds less like a job and more like a part-time recreational drug user. Yes, you're a great writer. You wowed your mom with that essay about ponies in the third grade and you have a 900-page novel set during the fall of the Berlin Wall that you're certain will make you a literary superstar. But in the meantime, to pay the therapy bills, there's this job, where you'll "write simple tweets, will provide urls where you can get the information for the product, from there you will write the tweets. Must be a good writer and know how to sell. ...Our budget for 500 tweets is $12."

In today's world, where teachers and professionals regularly bemoan the writing abilities of students and employees - which is what happens in a land of lol, omg, wut, :), and roflmao - you'd think people who can string sentences (and sometimes even paragraphs) together would be valuable workers. Apparently not.

There are obviously worse jobs out there and being a writer is still a pretty good way to make a living. Yes, there are worse jobs. But there might not be any worse-paying professions.

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