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Review by Thomas R. Fletcher

John Clausen’s too lazy to work, too nervous to steal

(How to Have a Great Life as a Freelance Writer)

Clausen’s title is arresting. He lifted it from a reply he once heard a rodeo cowboy give a reporter who asked why he did something so dangerous. An apt title, since freelancing can also be a hair-raising ride of life (with publications folding and rights-grabbing contracts offered by the corporate media, it is a ride one must negotiate carefully).

Courage, confidence, and humor–three key ingredients to a successful freelance career–are woven through the fabric of the book, as Clausen outlines the trials and successes to be experienced in the freelance life. He offers example after example of people who’ve dared to break the mold of society, strike out on their own, to find a satisfactory existence as a freelance writer. It isn’t an easy life, and not nearly as glamorous as we freelancers would like others to believe. Clausen deals with reality. He lays out the hardships as well as the rewards of freelancing. He gives sound advice on how one may resist the societal inclination to be a "wage slave," and survive as an independent freelancer.

Some of the best advice may be "avoid getting stuck in a single genre." In these days of rapidly shifting markets, the broader one’s range, the greater the chance of survival. (My own primary market of travel writing has nearly dried up after 9/11.) The freelancer who plans on surviving needs to be versatile, writing for as many markets as possible. Another piece of sound advice: "Spend at least half your time looking for new markets or developing ways to expand the ones you already have." There is the simple, practical advice that all freelancers need to heed. "Your reputation as a writer rides on every piece you write. Never, never, never turn in sloppy work." Make your editor’s job easy–turn in clean copy. He also nails the reason so many "wash-out" in the freelance life. "Some people simply do not have the mental agility and self-discipline to work for themselves."

Clausen’s book is a satisfying read, whether one is a struggling freelancer or merely hopes to be. While not sugar-coating the harsh realities of the freelance life, he offers hope through the many interviews with those who’ve dared to carve a niche for themselves in the freelance life. It is in the interviews that my criticism of the book lies. In some of the interviews, it becomes unclear whose voice we are hearing–is it Clausen’s or the interviewee? Overall, he speaks truth. "Freelancing requires a discipline that is absent in almost all regular jobs." He tackles the main reason most aren’t willing to sacrifice to make it as a freelancer: security. They see their jobs as security. If we’ve learned anything from recent news events, we know the largest corporations can crumble and retirement funds shrivel on a day’s trading on the stock market. Security is an illusion. "In the final analysis you have just as much security in life as the billionaire in his mansion. Perhaps you have even more, because your lifestyle and resources may not make you a target of envious, money-obsessed, violently disposed folks."

This is a motivating book for the aspiring freelancer, that I heartily recommend.

Published by Writers Digest Books, $19.95

F & W Publications, Inc.

4700 East Galbraith Road

Cincinnati, OH 45236

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
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