In my previous column I shared some of my negative experiences as a freelance writer, specifically with scams designed to milk you of money and exploit your time and talent.
But there is a bright flipside to that dirty coin.
I confess, there is only one period in my long career where I actually made a living as a full time writer, which is rare. I was subcontracted by a big company (that will remain unnamed) for which I wrote “click bait” web content on a variety of assigned topics, basically researching the subject daily, then creatively cribbing from them to create my own plagiarized-yet-disguised version.
The main purpose of this online strategy – like many similar blogging networks – was to sucker browsers into clicking on the many sponsored ads embedded in each article. Nothing unethical about that. This is how web-based magazines make their money, just like their revenue-challenged print equivalents.
This company paid extremely well. In fact, that year I made more money than I have in my entire life – writing. There was nothing creatively rewarding about the work. In fact, it could get quite tedious and grueling. But I could do it all from home, meaning I didn’t have to take my work home with me. It was just there when I woke up in the morning, the ideal “commute.”
Then I began reading rumors that the company was being accused of using what’s known as “bots” to click on the ads, leading their clients to believe they were generating a lot more traffic than they actually were.
At first I dismissed them, mostly out of fear I’d lose this dream gig. But then one day I got a text message that the company was going under and I was being let go. Just like that.
The company soon merged with another, and I was re-hired, though at lesser rates with fewer assignments. But a few months older that deal imploded as well.
After improbably recovering from the loss of my previous, twelve-year career as a film programmer, which also ended quite abruptly when the company folded, I was back to square one.
From Bots to "Mr. Robot"
At the time Christian Slater was still moving ahead with his option of my novel Love Stories Are Too Violent For Me. But then he got a TV series and had to postpone the project “indefinitely.”
Devastated, I secretly hoped his new show would fail so he could resume our project. It was cancelled after five episodes aired. But then he almost immediately scored another one, Mr. Robot, which is now a critical and commercial hit. I am very happy for him. He’s a good guy, at least in my experience.
But his “comeback” does nothing for me. At least not so far.
So I decided to do something proactive to change my life, rather than relying on others to improve my situation. We sold our condo in the Bay Area and moved to Seattle, an epic relocation, logistically speaking, but well worth it. I am much happier and more productive here than ever before, having already written and published two novels, in addition to starting my own imprint, and my wife is also finally pursuing her academic dreams by studying for her PhD in the University of Washington School of Drama.
I had a lot of trouble finding steady work when we first moved here, and our profits from the condo sale were rapidly dwindling. I was rejected for basically every type of job I applied for, possibly due to the fact I’m a middle-aged pulp writer without any formal education.
After the initial rush of my newly inspirational environment, which is very important for any artist, my spirits were rapidly sinking all over again.
Happy Ending - Just Beginning
But now, over two years later, I make decent cash doing something I really enjoy – dog walking!
So what about my original career goals?
Well, I’m being flown to Costa Rica next year, all expenses paid, to conduct workshops at a writer’s retreat; a French publisher has expressed interest in my fiction; and I have two short stories coming out in two different anthologies – at the request of the respective editors.
I was also re-hired by a former Bay Area movie theater client as the administrator of the Facebook page, in addition to writing their newsletter, promoting special events, etc., since I could still do all that from my remote residence. In fact, it's a new iteration of the theater I once worked for, run by different owners.
And as for my fate as a star-crossed freelance blogger?
You’re looking at it.
PHOTO: WILL VIHARO (IMAGE BY DYER WILK)