Someone I considered instrumental in mentoring my career as a freelance writer once referred to the other people we compete against as the “Energizer bunnies” we chase, if you remember that old commercial. (I do hope she’ll correct me if I’ve got the details on that wrong, since it’s filtered through my fuzzy memory of about 15 years ago.)
Over the years, I’ve chased a lot of Energizer bunnies, nearly all of whom went on to far surpass me in their writing careers by writing for bigger-name publications than I have. Many succeeded in making themselves a “brand.”
It makes sense that they would have surpassed me since they were more focused and put in more effort than I did, and were not sidetracked by mental and neurological health issues the way I was. I hold no bitterness toward them and cheered their success from afar.
I do also note, however, that many of them are also not full-time writers anymore, either, and I wonder why that seems to be so common. It seems to be a career that has a somewhat limited shelf life. I’m thinking of high-profile bloggers who mainly write personal essays, in particular, and I realize that most move on to something else after 10 years or less.
Maybe that’s because the instability of self-employment gets old, particularly the responsibility for paying one’s own taxes. (The issue of self-employment tax is part of a worrisome trend in many industries–not just writing–and I hope to write about it soon. Teaser: self-employment is sold to us as the ultimate freedom, but is it really, when many such people end up owing thousands of dollars in debt to the government?)
Maybe people grow out of freelancing because, like me, they are perpetually curious sorts who want to pursue lots of different interests in their lifetimes and can’t be confined to one career.
Maybe some new passion just became greater than writing. Or maybe they eventually began to realize that writing as a business is not the same thing as writing as a passion and decided to separate the two so they could rediscover the latter.
Maybe they initially started freelancing as a means to keep busy and earn a little money while staying home with young children, and no longer saw it as being as viable or necessary to be home as the kids got older. At some point, you realize your kids probably don’t need full-time servants anymore and you need to rediscover who you are as an individual.
Maybe using their personal life and relationships as material had negative effects on said relationships. I’ve actually observed several such cases.
All I know is that more than half of the freelancers I’ve known over the years have gone on to do something else. Sometimes they’re still self-employed in other industries. Those who are still writing have at least changed areas of specialization. (I know the primary focus of my paid writing has morphed several times over the years.)
The ones who have no specializations at all generally work more hours for less money and have fewer bylines with their names attached to what they write, which is essentially not much different than assembly-line work.
Despite all this, I still have one Energizer bunny that I chase, and she doesn’t even know me, let alone that I low-key chase her.
But she does share my name. Her first and last name is the exact same as mine, and she’s a year younger than me. She comes up first when you do a Google search for my name. Her name still comes up first when you search my name + writer.
I would like to come up first in the rankings of my name before hers. I mean, 6 of the 10 entries on the first page of Google results when you search my name + writer are still links to my profiles, website, or bios related to work that I’ve done. I continue to write more for new clients and as Google indexes those pages, I’m sure I will move up in the rankings.
But isn’t this also similar to the pursuit of Instagram and YouTube fame, which I so often criticize? I don’t want to be famous; I truly don’t care about that. I’m actually working toward getting a FT job somewhere, where my digital presence will likely matter even less. It’s actually kind of ridiculous to care about whether I’m better known than some Ivy League professor because we’re not even in the same lanes, as they say. I doubt she’s even aware of me, let alone feeling any competition.
My fellow name-bearer can keep pursuing all her professory talents and I may gradually fall off the Google radar altogether. Or I may not; the Internet has a long memory. I don’t think I’ll ever stop writing completely, even if I push freelancing into the background.
But in the meantime, that’s what drives me: to fill up more of the search results associated with my name with links to work I’ve actually done for different paying clients. So far, I’ve made a lot of improvement in that regard. I don’t want to be the most well-known writer. But I would like to be the most well-known writer with my name, and it bugs me that I’m not yet.