“Write” of Passage: Breaking the Freelance Cherry By Chaleen Duggan


Many novice writers think that being published, having an idea and your name in print, is the “biggy”. It is the ultimate sign of success, the breaking of the cherry, so to speak. Time and again the old-timers warn that seeing your name in print is NOT a good reason to want to write a book- or anything else for that matter. Heck, if that is the be-all end-all, then go stand in the park with a shot gun and start shooting pigeons. Believe me, in no time at all you WILL be asked to write to your heart’s content and sign it, and I have a pretty good feeling your little story will end up in print all over the papers, perhaps even nationwide! Fame is easy, rites of passage, not so much.

Think about it. Does a woman’s first pregnancy mean she is no longer a virgin? Does the birth of her first child indicate the first sexual encounter? Not on your life! At least, not too often these days…

Think about the grind and the grunt work. The reading, the writing, the submitting of queries, the crossed fingers and watched emails. Think about the response: the ‘nod’, the excitement. The short deadline, the late hours, the huge sitter fees and missed meals. Reality is found in the piles of laundry getting higher and higher while you write and wait and prepare and rethink and review and rewrite and tweak and tweak and bite your stubby nails and tweak a little more.

Finally, you have it. You have completed the perfect submission! Eight hundred words of beautiful prose. It is a dandy! You send it in and of course they love it. ‘Can we have a few pics to go with that? Is it doable?’


You giggle, skip around the living room, and tell everyone you know because you are so proud of yourself and THEY LOVE YOUR WORK! The feeling is quite a lot like love actually. That elation, the feeling that somebody approves of you, they acknowledge and appreciate your gifts. You start your little pipe dream about how this relationship will go…not to marriage, of course not, but a future writing for this group. Every month even…perhaps you will be a regular contributor or be asked to join their stable of reliable and gifted writers!

Coming down off your ‘love high’, you turn to the other part of your brain and spend seven or eight torturous hours setting up, laying out, and taking the perfect pictures to go with your perfect article. It is not nearly as much fun as the writing part. You pause to wonder why you agreed to it, and then smile as you think about the added value of photos. You have done the reading and so you know that photos can double the value of your article. So, you smile and grit your teeth and complete the task at hand, thinking about what could be, what should be…

You finish it up, You are satisfied and exhausted. You submit your baby. The editor loves your work. In fact, you are informed that the entire office love your article. You sigh, you do the happy dance, you eat. Perhaps you do a load of laundry, and then you stop and stare at the wall.

You wait a day or two. Nothing. You keep checking your inbox. Nothing but spam. You do more laundry, you even eat for the second time in 4 days, promising yourself to add this worthy ritual to your daily routine.

Finally, you check your bank account and realize you have no choice. You compose another work of art, an email to the editor telling them you are so pleased they love your work, and obviously the only thing left to sort out would be payment and rights.

You fool!

Like a one night stand, you hear nothing back, no excuse, no empty promises, nothing.

You have been deflowered. The rite of passage for a freelance writer is not in the visual proof of your talent and the fact somebody else besides your mother knows you are truly gifted. Nope, the true Rite of Passage is in the getting screwed and not even a quick kiss the morning after. In fact, you don’t even have a name to curse.

Welcome to the real world.

If this article were about sex, I would say ALWAYS, ALWAYS USE A CONDOM. But it isn’t. It is about writing and the world of freelance. I guess the rule of thumb here would be DO NOT TOUCH PEN TO PAPER (OR A FINGER TO KEYBOARD) UNTIL YOU HAVE A CONTRACT!

I think every writer who has a healthy portfolio would be able to tell you a few horror stories and bad experiences. One night stands gone wrong. Chalk it up to experience, wipe the tears from your eyes, and always use a condom… I mean a contract!

Chaleen Duggan is a writer and mixed media artisan living in Mattawa, Canada. She is no longer a freelance virgin, but she is determined to stop giving it away. Even whores get paid.