Loving and loathing freelance writing – a four year, four month and nine day protracted retrospective on random issues

As some of you have already read, after nearly four and a half years of balls-out, homeless, clueless, godless travel writing, I have decided to move back to my home town of Minneapolis.

Several people have misinterpreted this development. Though it’s true that I am closer to financial ruin than I’ve been since I finally beat my Star Wars trading card addiction in 1979, I am not returning to Minneapolis to re-enlist into the Federal Reserve System. This move is, in fact, a long term freelance writing power play (as well as furthering my short term goal to re-familiarize myself with the sensation of waking up in the middle of the night, confidently knowing what city/country I’m in and knowing which direction to go to the bathroom).

I’ve come a long way in the past four and a half years, most notably transforming from someone that couldn’t fathom being paid to write to someone who gets indignant when cheap, blood-sucking, S.O.B. publications offer less than 50 cents a word to write.

The body of this short career has been largely filled with me learning stuff the excruciatingly hard way, running through 2/3 of my savings and enjoying occasional spurts of bladder-evacuating good fortune and almost-fame. I’ve also managed to leave a legacy in 40 countries of annoyed bus drivers, smitten women and horrified old folks witness to one of my patented quad-lingual cursing jags.

The plan is to pounce on the next level in freelance writing – i.e. getting to within chopstick stabbing distance of the Sushi Line, stamping out newbie mistakes once and for all and enjoying a general proliferation of people offering a living wage, or at least answering my pitches with something other than a six week late form rejection email addressed to someone else.

This means few to zero acceptance of chump-change, rube assignments, which, as a community service, I am hereby passing onto the next generation of balls-out, homeless, clueless, godless travel writers until such a time when they too get burned out or go broke and start demanding a living wage. And so the freelance writer circle of life continues until publishers finally drop the façade and resort to employing nine year old, Vietnamese writers, who will be happy to work 29 days a month, making 17 cents an hour, denied access to press trips while paradoxically being required to pay for all travel expenses out of pocket. Straight out of the Dr. Evil School of Publishing handbook, edited by Frommer’s publisher Michael Spring.

Since I’ll have all that free time, there will be a renewed effort at high profile pitching, with the occasional laser-guided zing at ludicrously out-of-reach publications. (Are you still reading me Playboy editor guy? How does ‘ROUND ITALY WITH A LAMBORGHINI grab you?)

Furthermore, I’ve been gently and patiently schooled in more effective methods of blogging. Apparently, if you avoid the Leif Method (e.g. posting 1500 words, once a week on current gastrointestinal peculiarities or the latest airline to commit a grievous personal offense) one can actually earn more than 36 cents a day at this thing. I’m doubtful, but that’s never stopped me before – the last four and a half years of my life being a testament to that. As such, keep an eye out for fewer epic appetite suppressant entries and more frequent punchy musings on the state of things in travel and travel writing, with the occasional digression about how great my butt looks in my new jeans.

Sadly, some obnoxious, Anne Coulter-style self-promoting will be necessary to attract new readers and ramp up my hate-mail (a sure sign of success). The end-user sting of this hateful practice could be greatly reduced if you, my cherished regulars, would simply tell 200 of your closest, bored friends about my blog. Do it today. Maybe send my URL out to the global email list at your place of business. People love it when you do that and you’re virtually guaranteed to get that temp-to-hire position.

Finally, in tribute to this tenuous, transitional moment in my career, I’ve decided to share with you, my loyal seven readers according to Google Analytics, the overarching highs and lows of the past four and a half years, which I present you in a precedent-setting punchy, pro/con, bullet list format:

• What rules about freelance writing: The commute – I wake up, roll over, fart, open the laptop and I’m ‘at work’.

• What sucks about freelance writing: little to no daily human interaction

• What rules: sleeping in five star hotels, being force-fed wine and truffles and trying to figure out how to get complimentary wine, olive oil, and assorted swag into my already bursting checked luggage.

• What sucks: changing trains at 4am in Buttfuck, Romania (population 112 humans, 874,495 pigs) at Hour 36 Without Sleep and Hour 47 Without a Shower.

• What rules: Saying things like “I can’t go to your baby shower, because I’ll be on a plane to Chile”.

• What sucks: Missing my best friend’s impulsive nuptials because of previously arranged, prohibitively-expensive-to-change travel plans.

• What rules: Seeing my name/face in print.

• What sucks: Not seeing my name/face on TV – my own show would be great, but I’ll settle for Oprah in the meantime.

• What rules: Learning of improbable, but inspiring developments like that I have a – albeit very tiny – fan club in Bangalore, India.

• What sucks: Being kindly invited to contribute a single, brief travelogue story for inclusion in a cute anthology book. Never mind that it pays almost nothing, it’s a subject that I love, so I do it anyway because it’ll only take about 30 minutes of work. A year later I’m three stories into this bottomless pit of a project, still for the same munchkin fee (which I haven’t received), still dealing with maddening publisher requests/edits and not being able to even put the goddamn thing on my resume because the publishing date keeps being moved back.

• What rules: Being 37 years old and having the accountability (and net worth) of a Deadhead.

• What sucks: Despite my best efforts, not being able to respond to all my reader emails and comments like I swore I’d do no matter what when I was being similarly snubbed by writers/editors four years ago.

• What rules: Prancing around, seeing once-in-a-lifetime sights every other week.

• What sucks: Having to turn down invitations to go to the local Pompeii exhibit, citing that I was at the real Pompeii six months earlier, without sounding like a pompous ass.

• What rules: Visiting the Porn Museum in Copenhagen and topless beaches for ‘research’.

• What sucks: Visiting Bucharest for ‘research’.

• What rules: Citing my ‘journalistic imperative’ while dutifully reporting on nightlife, cuisine and wine.

• What sucks: Trying to marshal the inspiration to dutifully report on nightlife, cuisine and wine on those frequent occasions when I am without company and have already put in 12 hours of driving, walking and note-taking that day.

• What rules: Being able to pack everything I own into two modest, aerodynamic bags and fly out the door to unknown adventure with only five minutes notice.

• What sucks: Only having one pair of shoes, which while versatile and comfortable, don’t do me any favors when I’m obliged to enter flash nightclubs and high-end restaurants.

• What rules: Returning to America means that I no longer having to conduct day-to-day business in a time-consuming foreign environment, no more border dances to satisfy visa rules, my dollars don’t change value several times a week and I sleep in the same bed on a regular basis.

• What sucks: This is the only country in the world where I can’t afford health insurance.

• What rules: Working from home

• What sucks: Trying to convince people that working from home still counts as work and that I put in eight to 10 hour days just like every other schmuck, never mind that I’m usually in my underwear.

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