This series of posts by the Born Freelancer shares personal experiences and thoughts on issues relevant to freelancers. Have something to add to the conversation? We’d love to hear from you in the comments.

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The accusation took me completely by surprise.

I was once in casual discussions with an industry insider about the conditions under which we might work together on a number of future projects — me as a writer and he in a non-creative administrative capacity.

As the informal negotiations went back and forth it occurred to me his proposed management style was extremely obsessive. When I gently pointed out that he was proposing, in fact, to micromanage the entire writing process (something I would argue best left to writers to sort out amongst ourselves) he readily agreed.

Looking at me with complete sincerity and without a trace of humour he added, “Well, of course I have to micromanage you. You freelance writers are notoriously lazy”.

He then smiled good-naturedly as if he had expressed some fundamental human truth and went on to other issues – but I couldn’t let it pass. It was as if he had punched me in the stomach. What had lead him to such a stereotypically negative view of our craft? Surely someone in his exalted position should have had a far better understanding of us and what we do?

He sighed as if confronted by an unruly youngster refusing to eat their peas during supper. And so he confidently outlined his reasons and those of his like-minded non-writer colleagues. Somewhat defensively I refuted them as best I could.

But it was still fairly early in my career and a little voice went off in my head – what if he were right? What if I was wrong? Had I been fooling myself all along? Were we freelance writers indeed notoriously “lazy”? What little I remember of this epic confrontation I have reconstructed below.

Why One Non-Writer Feels Writers Are Lazy (And My Sometimes Exasperated Replies)

* Writing is essentially a non-physical activity. It’s not really “work”, is it?

This is a view of “work” founded in prehistoric times. Some people still equate physical toil with “work” while intellectual toil is what — play? Ridiculous. It is based on physical work being quantifiable,  intellectual work not as easily so. It is as outdated a concept as spats.

* Writing is an invisible job, nobody knows what you really “do” anyway.

True, outsiders rarely see us at work. Writing is often a solitary occupation. So what do they imagine us doing when we write? Sunbathing, deep sea diving, fondue-making? The truth is much more prosaic – that of slogging away on a keyboard for hours and hours, usually alone and occasionally very hungry.

* When I see writers they are never working.

Of course not! That is when you are seeing us socially. But even in social situations most writers are networking or, at very least, overhearing conversations to work into our next story or play. The “work” inside our heads never, ever stops.

* Writers procrastinate. A lot.

Not true of all writers, but even those of us who procrastinate do so for a very valid reason. (I have written about it elsewhere on this site). In short, we are procrastinating because we haven’t reached the point of creative critical mass. But the steam is building up.

* Writers talk. A lot.

Well yes, maybe some of us do. Words are our currency and if we are not writing them down we may like to use them verbally. Talk is a way for us to interrogate the world, to relate to it and understand it better. It helps us reflect, refine and revive our thoughts. It is an information relating/acquiring process that will ultimately nourish our work.

* Writers daydream. A lot.

Well, yes again, many of us do. But when you see us staring out a window for twenty minutes and it drives you crazy (because you’ve made three phone calls and dictated two memos) try to remember we are being paid to “make stuff up” out of nothing. Part of that process is having the inspiration visit us that you later see pay off in written form. The muses can take their time bestowing their gifts upon us and we must be “in the zone” to best receive them. Tuning in to them is what you disparagingly call “daydreaming”.

* Writers don’t work 9 to 5. They frequently work at home.

This really seems to bug some non-writers. I think it is a control issue. (I think most of these “arguments” are about that.) If you can’t see us working and punching a clock you think we are getting away with something. But the truth is many 9 to 5ers don’t put in a full day’s work even right under your nose. But why do you think working at home is proof we are “lazy”? OK, so we don’t have to battle the daily commute to work and back – does that make us seem less dedicated to our careers?

* Writers love to waste time with displacement activities.

You find it so annoying that we like to read, surf online, play with new technology and indulge our little “routines.” But these so-called displacement activities are either in reality research for our work, or the means to inspire our work, or else the means to allow our subconscious minds to work out creative blocks while we put our attention (seemingly) elsewhere.

The takeaway

I remember walking out of that meeting in a kind of shock. Honestly, I doubt I changed his mind one little bit. But he sure helped me make up mine.

The bottom line: if we do the work, do it well and get it in on deadline — even if we do it in ways some non-writers find unorthodox — how on earth is that being “lazy”?

Of course, there must be some genuinely lazy writers. (Although I can’t imagine them surviving very long.) There must also be lazy chicken-sexers, lazy lawyers and lazy executives. But to insist that all individuals are lazy within a chosen vocation, based on erroneous and frequently misinterpreted “evidence,” is itself (ironically) an example of “lazy” thinking. It demonstrated to me a subconscious (or even conscious) contempt for our profession — possibly because of a lack of understanding of how we do what we do.

Not the attitude of someone with whom I would ever willingly choose to work.

When I walked out I walked away.

Nevertheless, it proved a useful encounter. It fully galvanized within me the conviction that I’d felt all along: namely, that being a writer is definitely hard work and plenty stressful. It is often a mysterious process, hard to supervise, difficult to quantify and almost always best left to those who make it their living to judge.

So if any non-writer ever tells you that we’re all lazy, proceed with caution and be warned that they just don’t get us.

Fortunately, the best employers always do.

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So what do you think? Are we notoriously “lazy”? Or have you ever run into someone who actually believes it? To contact the author directly with questions or comments for a future post, email: thebornfreelancer at gmail dot com

POSTED IN: Features