Every freelance writer is in effect a working temp – and sometimes just a temp. And when work is slow, the only thing to do is follow Dolly Parton’s mantra and work 9 to 5 for someone else, using whatever skills you picked up before the writing zephyr swept you out of the conventional jobs market. The sensible approach is to sign up with as many agencies as possible and to not make too many comments about how this is just a stopgap until your real work picks up.
I received a phone call not so long ago from an agency I hadn’t realised I’d signed up with. Partly because I hadn’t. It’s a little complicated so I’ll fast-forward. Eight days’ work, office admin: keyboarding, some telephone work and some data input. An 8am start for a 9 hour day and less than a quid above minimum wage, which I’m not knocking in any way because that’s what I signed up to do. Of course, I didn’t know it was only half an hour for lunch or that minimal training referred to what we’d receive as opposed to what we’d need to do the job effectively. Or that the term DSE break could be an exotic inclusion in a conversation. Some of the staff were brilliant – helpful, warm and welcoming. Others took their cue from the work of Dickens.
Day 2, having spent an entire Day 1 in front of the screen, we were informed we had to also answer the phones by the third ring, naturally then having to ask the permanent staff what to do with the call. This made us as popular, it seemed to me, as a Conservative MP at a student bar. Or an angry student at a Royal Variety Performance. Day 3 I like to think we temps were getting in our stride and, taking encouragement from our supervisor, chomping at the bit to clear the backlog, answering the phones (all crisis calls of one kind or another, requiring information, a decision or action) with increasing confidence and looking forward to the following week to see what we’d be allocated to do.
Five minutes before the end of the day, we were called into an office and thanked for the sterling effort we’d put in and the work achieved. The pride in the room was palpable. Then, in a much less confident voice, the supervisor told us that unfortunately, the management had now decided our services could be dispensed of that night instead of the end of the following week. The blow was slightly softened for me by knowing I had something to go back to, albeit a week earlier than planned. But everyone was pretty shellshocked, including the supervisor who had to deal the dolorous stroke. A temp’s working life is a precarious one, when you consider the job insecurity. the money and the prospects once you get there.
And speaking of money…
In writing professionally, there are different models for success. Hourly rate or payment per word are but two ways of determining how well you’re doing. There’s also the kudos of getting a piece into a national or a hallowed column or a much longed-for novel in print, regardless of the financial benefits. It’s also a movable feast (and famine). Since I gripped the pen in earnest, I have earned minimum wage for writing and occasionally scribed for free; at the other, more comfortably seated end of the scale, I have written for over £100 per hour. It all depends on the work.
Now, if you’re keen to try your hand at a really short story, why not check out A Word with You Press’s One Tight Write competition (or contest, for our American friends). 100 words with $100 for the winner – that’s a pretty good rate of return by anyone’s standards: time or word count. Go get ’em tigers.