There are two kinds of professional writer.
The first is the staff writer: the schlub who, day after day, hammers out copy — which may range in quality from routine boilerplate to high art, depending on the taste and needs of the employer — for a regular paycheck. Some of these folks work for publications like newspapers and magazines; but the great majority are “work for hire” employees in some sort of public relations or internal communications shop — they sell their copyright to their employer, who therefore owns everything they write.
The National Writer’s Union considers work for hire to be inherently exploitive; they may be right, but it’s also the only reason why many of us can make a living at writing. Certainly, staff writers’ employment can be precarious, because writers tend to be regarded as a luxury at many companies, and an early item to go when there are cutbacks.
The patron saint of staff writers, therefore, is Scheherazade.
The second kind of pro writer constitutes the glory corps of writing — the freelancers, people who live from project to project and contract to contract. The stars of the writing world number among them; but so do some very under-paid, hard working folks who, because they freelance, live from hand to mouth. So, also, are many people who write the occasional piece, do it well enough to get paid (often very well), but for lack of time, inclination, ambition, or sometimes just luck can’t make a go at it full-time.
The deal with freelancers is that, myths of “choose your own hours” aside, they actually tend to have less free time than staffers. Every full-time freelancer I’ve ever known worked at least as many hours as staff people, because freelancers have to spend so much (unpaid!) time marketing their writing rather than writing.
The patron saint of freelancer writers, therefore, is Thoreau’s basket maker — the fellow who, unclear on the supply/demand thing, made baskets and was puzzled why nobody would buy them as a matter of course.
That may sound stark: Certainly, the literary life has offered me a lot of joy over the years. Eighteen years after they ceremonially ripped the stripes off my lab coat and sent me out into the cold, cruel world of the professional writer, I’m still — so far — making a living at it, so I have far less cause to complain than many.
But I confess: I’m sick of being Scheherazade, and I’m sick of wanting to make baskets nobody (or no publications) seem to want. To pay the bills, I plan to keep the day job; to make some extra money, and to keep myself a bit sharper as a wordsmith, I hope to continue writing paid freelance pieces. But I wanted a space for myself — a space where I could write what interested me, not what I thought I could sell (or had the time to market, anyway).
Maybe it will be a space for things that interest you, too. I hope so; but in all honesty what I’m really doing is nurturing my inner basket maker. We’ll see whether he has enough to offer to warrant a readership. Hell, a writer who can’t take risks isn’t much of a writer.
So what will you be reading here? Well, checking out my bio, you’ll see that I have a peripatetic, typically University of Chicago background. So I plan to have a somewhat peripatetic site. Most of what you’ll see will probably reflect my ongoing fascination, as a former biochemist and current volunteer search-and-rescue dog handler and professional science writer, with the sense of smell (hence the blog’s title). SAR subjects may often come up, in that context or alone; so may navel-gazing pieces on writing like this one (though I promise to try to minimize these, as they get old). I write science fiction as well, so SF topics may also appear.
And like any bloggist, I reserve the right to mouth off on current political (and other) issues about which I’m not well enough educated to illuminate.
Ya fires up yer browser, ya takes yer chances. Reading, like writing, poses its risks.