Top 3 Clueless Comments Freelance Writers Get — and How to Respond

Casual businesswoman resting head on desk in the officeWorking as a freelance writer makes life equal parts challenging and exciting.

You may keep strange hours. You may have to navigate periods of too much work — and the dry spells that sometimes follow.

The one thing you need most is the support of those around you. But sometimes they just don’t get it.

Here are the comments I’ve heard from people who don’t understand freelancing — and the responses I’ve used to help them get it.

 

1. “If you had a real job, you’d understand.”

For people who equate the word “job” with working 9-5, the world of freelance writers is baffling.

You see the late nights, early mornings, and weekend work. They picture you napping during the day and binge-watching Netflix.

Comments like these are hurtful, no doubt. But they’re often said because of a true lack of understanding (or even a little tinge of jealousy), and not out of spite. Knowing this can help to lessen the sting.

Instead of throwing a jab back, try educating the person about what life is really like for freelance writers. When they toss an, “If you had a real job” your way, you can say,

“Actually, I’ve got deadlines to meet and clients counting on me just like you do. Every morning I get up at 7:30, answer e-mails from clients, spend some time brainstorming story ideas, put together pitches for magazines, and scout out potential new clients.

“I break around noon for lunch, probably like you do when you’re at work, then I get back to it and spend time writing and revising copy, meeting with clients in person or on the phone, and sending invoices. It’s a real job — I’m just doing it in my home.”

2. “What do you do all day?”

This may come from a friend who has the day off and wants you to join them somewhere. Or it could be an honest question from a family member who just isn’t thinking about the implications of their words.

Instead of laughing off the remark or rolling your eyes, try saying something like this:

“I usually start my day by answering e-mails from clients. Then I spend the rest of the morning working on new projects, whether it’s writing an article for a magazine or handling copy for a client’s brochure.

“In the afternoon, I’ll work on pitching new clients or invoicing so I can keep the work coming in when I’ve wrapped up my current projects. Sometimes, I’ll have a meeting with a potential new client or a call with an existing one. I typically work until 5:30 or so, and may do some more work in the evening depending on deadlines.”

It’s easy for someone to understand what a doctor or a teacher does when they head into work, but they may need more details to fully appreciate the workflow of a freelance writer. By hearing exactly what a day looks like for you, they’ll understand it’s not just about lounging around in your sweats.

3. “Could you watch kids/do an errand for me?”

You know the quality of your work suffers when you divert attention away from writing projects to child care or household chores, but this may not be apparent to others.

Explain to your family that your workday is like anyone else’s, even if it happens at home:

“It wouldn’t be a good idea if I showed up to your school or workplace with a load of laundry that needs folding, right? These chores wait until you come home, so you can concentrate during the day.

“I’d appreciate it if it could be the same for me. My work suffers when I’m trying to multitask, and I want to make sure I keep my clients happy by giving them 100 percent of my attention.”

Whatever you do, keep your cool — and remember, the only one who really has to understand the freelance lifestyle is you. If friends and family don’t get it, find a writer community where you can share your concerns.

How do you respond to misconceptions about freelancing? Tell us in the comments below.

Lauren Levine is a freelance copywriter, magazine writer, and blogger who lives in Charlotte, North Carolina. Check out her blog, Life with Lauren.

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55 comments on “Top 3 Clueless Comments Freelance Writers Get — and How to Respond
  1. Aziz says:

    Hello, I’m an electronic engineer passed out recently. I have applied for few jobs but seriously I don’t want to work under anyone. My problem is I live in India where all the perky neighbours and relatives look as 23-year-old boy doing at home when all others are working. well, I too want to have a job and support my family just for ‘parental’ pressure.
    Do you think freelancing is substitute for job? They don’t cover other aspects of job like covers and promotions.
    I told my mother and she says, “You don’t want to succeed in life. For how long you can depend on this crap.”
    I was hurt. Is freelance writing good for supporting a family? Can we grow by freelancing only? as we don’t get any experience letter or whatever. Please help me.

    • Carol Tice says:

      Aziz, it’s a generational issue rather than a country issue. Many of our parents spent their working lives in a world where job security existed, and was important to secure. I hear this plenty from U.S. writers, too. But today, job security is increasingly elusive, and building your own business more viable, thanks to the Internet and the ability to earn remotely.

      It’s certainly possible to earn a full-time living as a freelance writer — but to do it, you’ll have to have the confidence to pursue it even if people around you don’t understand that this has more potential to create financial security than the traditional route.

  2. Wow, this post really hit home. I’ve heard these comments before and they do sting. But as you point out, you learn to handle them. My income is slowing growing, and there have been times I’ve wanted to give up because of these comments, but I’ve stayed with it. Thanks for posting this.
    Mandi Bowerman recently posted…The Storymatic: A Game for WritersMy Profile

    • Elke says:

      Oh yes. For years I used to get comments that I don’t work ’cause I’m at home – and people turning up to get me put of the house as assumed I must be bored, in need of company.

      I also live in a rural area where the concept of working is very much linked to working on a farm, and sweating – and nothing else counts.

      A few years ago, I worked in an office for a while, and was shocked to discover that working 9-5 was so easy in comparison.

      Like others have already pointed out, you can chat – sometimes as much as you like – and no one seems to mind. And you automatically get lunch breaks which you must take for legal reasons.

      Best of all, when you get home, you’re finished! In the evenings I was completely free to engage in some unpaid speculative writing (short works of fiction).

      I’m now back working full-time at home, mostly writing non-fiction articles. I adore how I don’t have to commute, can get household chores done and prepare meals while thinking about a story concept, research angles without interruptions from others – unlike working in an office.

      I even have a easel set up and paint for a total break if I get stuck on an article.

      • Carol Tice says:

        I do sometimes long for the days when people had a 2-day weekend. Nobody went into the office or logged in. They just relaxed! Of course, as freelancers we are free to set our own schedules. But I find the Internet age really challenges us to be offline and turn our full attention to our personal life. The ferry I ride used to not have Internet, for instance…but now it does. Really a mixed blessing.

  3. Like many freelancers, I’ve heard all of these. It’s so depressing, considering how ridiculously hard I work to make my business successful! Great responses here!
    Philippa Willitts recently posted…Escape from Content Mills: Tell Me What YOU Need to Know!My Profile

  4. I can relate to this post. In the past few months I’ve built a website and blog, I’ve written an ebook, and I’ve taken research data for an environmental PR campaign. Some relatives just think I sleep all day. Whatever.

    Marissa
    Marissa Richardson recently posted…Startup Guide FeedbackMy Profile

  5. Jude D'Souza says:

    This happens to me most of the times. If someone in my family –for a part of the day– finds me sleeping, they tell off everybody that I sleep all the time. My parents always ask me to, ‘Go, find some work’.

    Thanks for sharing! It was an interesting read.

  6. Michelle says:

    Sometimes I worry I’m the negative stereotype of the freelancer. I typically start work at 10 or 10:30am because I just don’t have my brain at on mode before then (it’s always been that way). If someone wants me to go check on their cat at 2:30pm I gladly do it for a break. I do chores throughout the day, take naps after nights of poor sleep and take novel breaks.

    But that means I write evenings, Sundays and sometimes at 1:00am. And I’m cool with that. Regular schedules and early mornings are a type of death to me. It’s why I do this freelance thing, fundamentally. I can keep up with my weird schedule and my husband’s.

    I had someone tell me my last job working out of a home office wasn’t a real job. I ignored it. Their deal, not mine. If I feel forward I tell them, “Really? It pays real money and requires real work!”

    • Carol Tice says:

      Yeah, we have different ideas of ‘reality,’ don’t we?

      And hey — if the ‘whatever’ schedule works for you, I think that’s awesome! Many of us with kids want to get it done while kids are in school so we can be on deck when they get home, so my hours tend to be pretty typical business hours, plus that occasional late shift. 😉

  7. Laura Davis says:

    I’ve been freelancing long enough that my household members are now “trained.” Very early in my freelance career, I stayed at a hotel, and the “Do Not Disturb” signs there said, “There’s a good reason for you not to knock right now.” I asked one of the hotel maids if I could have one. It now hangs on my office doorknob, and everyone in the house knows that if that is up, someone had better be in need of medical attention, or something better be on fire for them to knock!

    My dad freelanced for a number of years, so he’s got a pretty good idea what I do, but my mother is just convinced that I don’t actually work at all. *headdesk*

  8. Mel says:

    Great post! I do think freelancing offers a lot flexibility, which is why I’ve turned down two offers of full-time work at the local newspaper. Being able to set my own hours is such a blessing; it means being able to watch nieces & nephews sometimes, attend school functions, schedule appointments/run errands/go to the grocery store during off-peak hours. I love it!

    However, I have had to be proactive about not letting others “steal” my time. It took several months for my family and friends (and clients) to understand that being home doesn’t mean I’m just “hanging out” and available any time. In addition to flat out telling them, “I’m sorry, I’m working” or “I have an interview scheduled then,” I also often set my phone to silent, put a sign on my door to let people know I’m working (a couple of family members tend to drop by unannounced), set myself to invisible on Google chat, and if I do take a break to answer emails, sometimes I schedule them to go out later (I use Boomerang for Gmail) so people don’t assume I’m available right then.

  9. Nate says:

    Yes!!! I also get the “Oh, sorry, are you just waking up?” question at 10am because the person calling is probably the first person I’ve spoken to all day.

    Nope, I’ve been up and working since 7:30am. I just don’t talk to anyone because I’m working, not in an office, and all by my lonesome… Just how I like it:-).

    That said, I really love your answer to #2. I think laying it out for people is so enlightening for folks, and often terrifies them, because they wouldn’t want to have to go out and bring it home… every… day…

    Thanks Lauren!
    Nate recently posted…3 Most Important Techniques I’ve Learned on WordPress (So Far)My Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      Ooh, I like it too! People are always asking if you miss the office camaraderie. You mean, people wanting to shmooze about what was on Grey’s Anatomy last night when I’m trying to write? No, I don’t!

  10. Judy Haar says:

    Working at home is a problem in itself. It has been a learning experience for my family……..I say things like quit interrupting me, I can’t get anything done, and I can’t concentrate. It’s hard
    Judy Haar recently posted…Should you use a landing page to help sell your book?My Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      You need a door that closes and locks, if people might be too young (or ignorant) to get it.

      For a couple of years, I used to wave goodbye to my 2-3 year old, walk out the front door…and around the back of the house, into the garage, where I’d work in a garage office. Worked great!

  11. Love your answer fir number 3.

    I think I might try that – would be nice to get my laundry done for me 🙂
    Steve Szubert recently posted…Audrey Hepburn: Glamorous Gamine? Or Guru?My Profile

  12. Cherese Cobb says:

    Lauren,
    I have heard all three, and I have been freelancing for only five months. Family members think you should be able to watch their kids at any time, and they complain about their 9-5 job while implying you could never understand! Worst of all, during faminine time, they don’t understand how marketing–reading magazines/blogs and pitching could actually be work. Thanks to your post, I’ll have something to say about it–without being snarky.

  13. Sue says:

    This post is an excellent study on our coping mechanisms as human beings. I don’t get my undies in a knot if others don’t think I have real work or what I do all day. I’ve got bigger things to worry about, but thanks for opening my eyes that these are huge stress factors to some writers. Never would have occurred to me. It makes that saying “don’t stress the small stuff” more vivid. What’s small stuff to one writer is a huge source of irritation to another. Thanks!

  14. Marte Cliff says:

    Before I started writing for real estate I was a real estate broker. It used to make me crazy that people would assume that it was fine to sit down and chat because they could see that I “wasn’t doing anything” – just because I was at my desk rather than out meeting with clients.

    Once a lender came in and was making the rounds, chatting up everyone in the room. She came over to me and said “Who is this who is ignoring me?” I told her it was someone with work to do.

  15. Hi Carol,

    Thanks for this insightful post, it’s too true! I work as a dancer (and am trying to break into the freelance writing world) and find the same thing goes to people who wonder what dancers do all day. Even though I’m at the studio rehearsing or choreographing or cutting music or sound checking, those things aren’t qualified as “real work” to people who have typical cubicle-esq jobs. It’s hard to calmly explain (without raging) that making art is important work, and that artists (dancers, writers, etc) should be paid for the time the spend at their craft–whether it’s at home, in the studio or at the office.
    Carlye Cunniff recently posted…Giving Tuesday: How I’m Taking Time to Take The Holidays BackMy Profile

  16. Angela Tague says:

    Great post! I have encountered every one of these!

    I think a few people finally got the message that I actually do work and earn money when the hubby and I went on vacation.

    “What? You can afford a vacation?”

    I just just explained I had a good writing year and YES it was time to treat ourselves!! 🙂
    Angela Tague recently posted…How to Write a Pitch that Won’t Get IgnoredMy Profile

  17. Your point about sitting around and chatting is a great one, Kevin! I hadn’t thought of it that way, but it’s so true.

  18. Thanks so much, Kyanna! You’re exactly right about the difference between setting your own schedule and just lounging around all day. Thanks for reading!

    Lauren

  19. Katharine says:

    I have some time flexibility, but not when I have a big article due. If someone doesn’t understand why I can’t do something at a particular time, I tell them that I have interviews scheduled. When my family doesn’t respect my boundaries and it’s crunch time, I simply grab my laptop and head out to the local library or coffee shop.

  20. That’s brilliant, Laura! From now on, I’ll use that response. Thanks!

  21. I have a friend who asks if I’m working hard or hardly working. She tends to visit when I’m marketing online. No amount of explanation has ever worked despite her husband being an independent contractor. She also thinks I dress professionally for no reason.

    The office I use belongs to a mutual friend of ours who also works from home. She believes in me enough to let me use it. That also keeps me focused.

  22. Michelle says:

    Great post! I think I’ve managed to educate most of my close friends and family, but I do still get these kinds of comments from people I’ve just met. When people try to say that writing from home is easy, I tell them that I used to have one of those 9-5 jobs and I work harder now that I ever did before. Whereas you can leave an office job, my work is always here, staring at me. Even on the weekends, when I try to give myself some time off, I’ll feel drawn to work on a pitch or do some research. Or I’ll get an email from my editor begging me to take on a breaking story.

    One of the best emails I ever got from one of my editors was about a story they wanted posted over the weekend. I took the assignment on a Friday and when they replied back, they were quick to point out that I should ask any questions right then as they wouldn’t be available over the weekend. Their time off was clearly important, but mine meant absolutely nothing. It’s amazing that even those you work for don’t get how hard you work.

  23. Linda H says:

    Yes, I’ve heard them all too, and like Laura, I sometimes say I run a small writing business. I’m probably busier now than when I worked in Corporate America.

    Over the past few years my close friends understand my work schedule, and I’ve started working late to be more productive when it’s quiet.

    Ironically sometimes my clients believe I’m available 24/7 and call or email expecting immediate responses. I’m setting boundaries and take weekends off, but it’s still interesting.

    People are either intrigued by a writer’s lifestyle or critical of it, mostly because of ignorance about it just as Carol points out.
    Linda H recently posted…What Do You Say When an Interviewer Asks — Why Should I Hire You?My Profile

  24. @Laura: love it! It’s a great response, and I’m going to use it.
    D Kendra Francesco recently posted…“In Today’s Competitive Market” Doesn’t ExistMy Profile

  25. I started a freelance writing business this past September and I’ve already gotten the last question several times. Fortunately. I was able to educate my family about freelance writing before I started my business. They know how important my new job is to me and my family, so they don’t assume I’m not busy and they only ask me if I’m their only option.
    Randy A Brown recently posted…Coming Soon – WP ignitorMy Profile

  26. Barbara Alvarez says:

    I’ve had to “educate” my DSO about the money I earn writing. We met working for a research organization several years ago. This organization paid pitifully low commissions by design.

    When I tell him about a new client/job, his response, “Oh, you’re working for RDD again.”

    My response? “Oh, well, if I can pay rent, student loans, utilities and buy groceries with my ‘RDD’ money, then I must be doing better than I did with that company.”

    Another favorite is, “You’re just playing online.” My response: “That’s strange. My landlord, creditors and the grocery store all accept my ‘play money.’

  27. Chuck Douros says:

    Laura, I really like that. I’m stealing it. 🙂

  28. (The Reply positioner must be off again; my last comment was intended as a response to the last sentence of Comment #1.)
    Katherine Swarts recently posted…7 Ways to Keep Christ in YOUR Christmas SeasonMy Profile

  29. Williesha says:

    Good post! I do have a lot of free time currently, but what most people don’t understand is that I’m always “on.” I say I’m done by six & don’t work weekends but I may end up saving blogs to read later or replying to emails late. Even though I’m not full-time, I still have so much going on!
    Williesha recently posted…12 (More) Blogging Lessons After Year Two (Part 2!)My Profile

  30. Does your family member know nothing about the health concerns specific to sitting in front of a computer and pounding a keyboard 20-30 hours a week? How do they think writing is accomplished–by telepathy and telekinesis??
    Katherine Swarts recently posted…7 Ways to Keep Christ in YOUR Christmas SeasonMy Profile

  31. Matt MacLeod says:

    This isn’t just about writers. I am a digital marketing consultant. My wife has no clue how hard it is to work at home and take care of our daughter. I make almost double what she makes and she just doesn’t get it. It is hard to work when you are constantly being pulled in so many directions and at the end of the day the work still has to get done.

  32. Luke Sprague says:

    Lauren,

    You hit the nail on the head!

    You know I see the same thing as historical researcher. People just assume that I sit around all day and eat bonbons–nothing could be further from the truth. This is especially disheartening when it is close family members who think you do nothing all day, when in fact you’ve got a “full court” press growing your business.

    The way I get around this is simply by maintaining time discipline, i.e.: I work from this time to this time and a little bit more should I decide to donate. But basically it looks like regular work day plus some if you use a clock to measure. Then, when people ask me why I am not mowing the lawn, watching TV, or doing the dishes, I just say I am working, because I am. Work is work, play is play. This technique also helps to draw clearer boundaries around that personal (play) time, this is important for survival in the long haul.

    Best,

    Luke
    Luke Sprague recently posted…Military records explainedMy Profile

  33. Yep, I think I’ve heard all of these at one time or another. I’ve changed the way I introduce myself. I never say “I’m a freelance writer anymore.” Instead, I say “I run a small writing business.”

    The distinction may seem small, but the difference in the response is huge. Many people don’t understand what a freelancer is, but they do understand the concept of running a business.
    Laura Spencer recently posted…Book Review: Freelance Business BootCamp – The eBookMy Profile

  34. Cheryl Rhodes says:

    It doesn’t bother me if people think I don’t have a real job. I’ve never been the type of person who worries about what others think about me. Nor do I mind if someone needs my assistance and can count on me because I’m at home. I’m a giving person and not one to turn my back if an emergency comes up for someone else. I’m an easy going person and I guess that makes me less touchy over issues that would light a fire for someone else.

  35. Gina Horkey says:

    Great post Lauren! Love your comebacks:-)
    Gina Horkey recently posted…4 Reasons It Pays to Write for FreeMy Profile

  36. Great post! A lot of my friends work odd hours, so I get a lot of requests to re-arrange my day if they want to go to lunch. Since I’ve really been pushing more marketing recently, I’ve had to turn a lot of plans down and I’m getting “can’t you do it at a different time?” in response. They seem to get that a 12 hour day is still a long work day, even if you get to do it at home! I’m definitely going to take the approach of #2 and try harder to explain how marketing = constant job search.

  37. Rob says:

    I don’t have a problem with people thinking I don’t have a real job because I think real jobs are for people with no imagination. I don’t say it in so many words, but that’s what I think. I have the biggest problem with people who think I can jump up at a moment’s notice and leave my work. Most understand, but some feel snubbed. I’m in the middle of a huge assignment right now. I just sent emails to my friends and writing group saying I’ve gone underground until my deadline. They understand what I mean because it’s happened before.
    Rob recently posted…Overcoming Fear Part One: Freelance WritingMy Profile

  38. I was chatting to a friend recently about how much she is doing and advising her to take it a bit easier as her health may suffer as a result. Her reply was “Well, I have to. Don’t have a life of leisure like some people”. I said, “By some people are you referring to me”. Her reply, “Well what do you think. You have such a relaxing life”. She clearly thinks I just sit around doing squat all day…. It was annoying but I’m sure most of my friends think that.

  39. Hi Lauren

    This has been the subject of much strife between my partner and myself over the years.

    The message is gradually sinking in – although when she comes home from work she still sometimes checks to see if the TV’s still warm.

    When people assume I doss around all day, I usually explain one telling difference between my work and theirs: If they sit around in an office chatting for half the afternoon they still get paid for it, whereas I don’t.

    That’s usually enough to make them stop and think.
    Kevin Carlton recently posted…10 super simple strategies copywriters use to find a sizzling-hot USPMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      Good one, Kevin! Man, there was SO much time-wasting stuff at the last office I worked in, it was unreal. People stopping by your desk to chat while you’re trying to file on deadline…ugh!

  40. Elna says:

    Lauren,
    Great post! Both my husband and I work from home and I have twin toddles to take care of while trying to write! Needless to say, I HAVE to multi-task and work around their schedule in order to get my work done and not have my house or family suffer.

    Many people just don’t understand working from home is difficult and we do everything possible to set a schedule and organize our day to be productive.

    Thanks for the come backs to those pesky questions!
    Elna
    Elna recently posted…Freelance Writing Jobs for Newbies: Landing Your First ClientMy Profile

    • Thank you so much, Elna! I can’t imagine taking care of twins AND writing all day. Props to you for balancing a career and a family, while maintaining a disciplined schedule!

      Lauren
      Lauren Levine recently posted…Hello world!My Profile

  41. Kyanna says:

    Insightful post. I cannot tell you how many times folks who know me and know that I work my buns off all day ask me to do things for them. People just cannot get past the fact that just because you work in your home or make your own schedule does not mean that you can just slouch around all day. Writing as a career is very tough and can be extremely time consuming. I’ve seen the early mornings and they weren’t glamorous at all. I agree that it can be hurtful when our efforts are downplayed. I’ve had a close family member of mine ask why I was tired when ‘I all I do is write.’ Ugh.
    Kyanna recently posted…Motivation: Little Nudges in the Right DirectionMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      Hahaha — they should come over here and see what I look like when I’ve finished a big magazine feature — I have to go take a shower! I’m all sweaty and gunky from the effort of getting that out.

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  1. […] to 5 Monday through Friday (sometimes more), depending on project deadlines. A recent post from the MakeaLivingWriting.com blog made me realize, I’m not alone in getting asked about what I really do. The life of a freelancer […]