The Freelancing Dilemma, or Keeping it Real

For the past five years, I’ve been a full-time writer. 100% freelance. To get to that point I saved my pennies, learned to Do Without, adjusted my American Lifestyle expectations, and scaled down my plans – and never expect to retire, at least not willingly. All so that when someone says to me “what do you do?” I can tell them – “I’m a writer.” Full stop, no other explanation needed.

I can hear a lot of you out there breathing the air of envy. That’s the grail quest, right? To ditch all other jobs and focus on your writing? Yeah. Except… I can’t do it. And neither can a lot of other people. And maybe, y’know, we shouldn’t.

Not for financial reasons, although especially in this economy, that’s always a concern. No, I mean for sanity reasons. On the one paw, being a full-time writer means being able to focus on the writing, keeping to a regular publishing schedule and making my readers – and my publisher – happy. All good things. And yet…

Is it smart, long-term? Is it healthy? And I don’t mean just for us – I mean for our work. If we sit alone for too long, do all the voices in our head start to sound the same? I have to ask myself that every six months or so. Do I need to get out into the Real World on a daily basis, to be true to my fiction?

I think I do, yeah.

There was an article in the New York Times this weekend about that: the real-time, face-to-face aspect, and how it acts as a reality-check for many of us who otherwise sit at a desk and interact through typed or telephoned words.

Like most writers, I’m an introvert, happiest in small groups, or by myself. Interacting with the rest of the world – especially in Very Large Crowds – is best kept for conventions and book signings, where I can be Cheerful!Lively!Interesting! Laura Anne for 48 hours, and then go home and collapse, and then get up and write.

Because the best place to find new characters isn’t inside our heads… it’s out there. Conventions alone aren’t enough to refill the well, though. You need normal, everyday, non-family interactions for that. Strangers, with voices and thought-patterns you’ve not been exposed to before.

When I teach, I joke that at some point I will use every single person in the room in a book. They laugh (sometimes nervously) but it’s true. We may look like we’re sitting quietly in that corner café, or half-asleep on the subway, or helping you pick out a pair of shoes or totaling up your bill, but in fact we’re eavesdropping. On you.

So thanks for your help. Feel free to eavesdrop on me, too. I’ll try to give you a few good one-liners.


About Laura Anne Gilman

Laura Anne is a recovering editor-turned-novelist, with an Endeavor Award, a Nebula nomination, another Endeavor award nomination and a Washington State Book Award nomination under her belt. Her most recent series is the award-winning "Devil's West" trilogy, starting with SILVER ON THE ROAD, and her same-universe story collection, WEST WINDS' FOOL, AND OTHER STORIES OF THE DEVIL'S WEST. The novella GABRIEL'S ROAD was published by Book View Cafe on April 30th, 2019. Her Patreon, featuring original fiction, writing advice, and original Rants, is at Learn more at, where you can sign up for her quarterly newsletter.


The Freelancing Dilemma, or Keeping it Real — 3 Comments

  1. That was also said of Jane Austen. In latter life she would sit quietly while the rest of the family surged around her. Only later, much later, did people realize she was doing RESEARCH. More scarily, Charles Dickens would throw parties and then stand by the fireplace with his hand up on the tall mantel, conversing wittily with his guests. Only close observers noticed that at the same time HE WAS WRITING with that hand. What was he writing, inquiring minds want to know? I bet he was TAKING NOTES.

  2. The best conversations I’ve ever eavesdropped on have been at cafes where I went to write. I was working on finishing a book one day when a couple came in, sat down at the table behind me, and began to discuss who got what in their divorce. It was rivetting, must-hear stuff, not so much in terms of what they were splitting up, but in both parties attempts to be civil, sliding into rancor, wrenching be back to civility again…over and over. You betcha I’ve used that.

  3. I have advised students in my writing class to go to quiet bars, or perhaps a Starbucks or other venue, and eavesdrop. This works better if you have a laptop, upon which you can be rapidly transcribing what you overhear but looking like you are working. In the pre-laptop days we would haul along pads of paper and pencils; in this case it is better to go in twos so that you can spent intervals staring deeply into each other’s eyes and the waitresses assume you are madly in love and leave you alone.