"Get a Real Job" and Other Freelance Buzz Kills

Ah, the joys of working as a freelance writer. You get to work from home, spend the day in your pajamas, have no boss looking over your shoulder, watch soaps in the middle of the afternoon, run errands whenever you feel like it, and to top it off everybody respects you. Yeah. And then you wake up.

It's funny how non-freelancers have these idealistic views of what we do, isn't it? So in honor of all of those folks who just don't "get it," and the freelancers who have to deal with them, I thought it might be fun to share some common buzz kills, often coming from those who know and love us the most.

Get a Real Job

A lot of people don't seem to think we "work" if we're a writer. This one comes in many versions. For me is was my mother handing me the job ads from the local paper whenever I visited her. She quit that after a few years when I finally (and literally) showed her the kind of money coming in. There were also the well-meaning relatives who would always ask if I found a new job yet when we'd see each other. Eventually those turned into "how is the business going?"

For those who don't snap out of it on their own, here's a reality check: writing is a job. Freelancing is an employment status, not a virus we're trying to shake. And guess what. It can be hard. If it were as simple as a lot of people think it is, a heck of a lot more would jump on the freelance bandwagon.

We plan just like any entrepreneur. We market to attract clients. We compete and we network. We deal with administrative duties and manage the finances. And on top of it all, we have clients to take care of. We don't answer to one boss. We have to adapt to working for a wide variety of clients.

Yes, freelancing has its perks. Those perks don't make it a cakewalk. They instead act as motivation. Those perks give us a reason to put up with all of the challenges that most in the 9-5 world couldn't handle (and that many have failed at when trying).

Since You'll be Home All Day....

This can come up a lot with some of my married freelance colleagues. Their partner sometimes acts like their job out of the home is more important or a bigger time commitment, and they assume the freelancer will handle things like cooking dinner and taking care of the house because they happen to be home all day. I'm lucky in that my husband doesn't ever pull that crap with me.

Before getting married and moving to our current home, I lived very close to my mother and sister. At the time, they used to constantly ask me to run errands for them during the day (taking care of their pets, being available for contractors or deliveries for them, driving my sister to appointments, etc.). They figured since I was home all day, that meant I was available to do these things. They did eventually take the hint that working from home meant I needed to be in my own apartment to actually work, and they learned that I was very capable of saying "no" (and that last minute requests would probably get that response).

Do you get this one from someone--a husband or wife perhaps? Do they ask you to take care of the grocery shopping or drop off clothes at the dry cleaners during business hours just because you work from home? Do your kids want you to drop everything and play chauffeur because they don't feel like taking the school bus? Do friends call or neighbors stop by and expect you to be available to chat at a moment's notice?

Oh. [Insert Long Awkward Silence Here.]

OK. This might fall under the "get a real job" group, but it's my favorite so I think it deserves its own mention. This one's great; you either meet someone for the first time and they ask what you do, or you're catching up with someone who isn't sure of your employment status.

"So, what are you doing these days?"

"I'm a writer."


At this moment, I'm never really sure what I'm supposed to do. Sometimes I want to laugh. Other times I just roll my eyes. And sometimes I feel like I need to defend my job (though I never do anymore).

Occasionally this is followed up with something like "Who do you write for?" or "Are you working on a book?" or "So what have you published?" How you respond to this, and whether the other party "gets" what you do, depends on what type of freelance writer you are. It can be easier to get past the buzz kill phase if you talk about magazine writing, business writing clients, or traditional publishing -- things people are more familiar with. If you're a blogger or indie author, you can find your work being dismissed a bit easier, though these days I find more people are genuinely interested in learning more.

So tell me. What are some of the worst things you hear from friends, family, or even strangers? How does it make you feel when people don't take your work seriously? Does it wreak havoc on your self-confidence, or can you simply smile inside knowing that they're probably just jealous, ignorant, or a combination of the two?

This post was originally featured on February 2, 2009 and was updated in June 2014 to reflect changed circumstances.

Get More Content Like This in Your Inbox

Did you enjoy this post? If so, please subscribe to the All Freelance Writing newsletter where you'll be notified of new blog articles and receive subscribers-only content.

Subscribe now.

39 thoughts on “"Get a Real Job" and Other Freelance Buzz Kills”

  1. Since you’ll be home all day…why don’t you unload the dishwasher, do the laundry, take out the trash, go buy me stamps, get the food shopping done…

    Neither my husband nor my mother ever seem to get the picture, though I told my husband that if he wants me to be a housewife, I’m ore than happy to stop bringing in income and leave the bills to him.

  2. Oh yeah… how could I forget dishes and laundry? I made the mistake of cleaning up an ex’s place a few times, and from then on whenever I spent a few days there (working while he was), he essentially expected to come home to his laundry done and folded, bed made, dishes washed, and dinner ready. Never again thank you.

    Sounds like you handled it as best you could. Did that help it sink in, or is this one of those things people continually “forget” from one instance to the next?

  3. That’s a great point Nicole. We do have to prove ourselves quite a lot. I think we end up better for it though–if everyone said “go for it” when I first started working for myself, I probably wouldn’t have been so motivated to grow things quickly. Sometimes I feel like I succeeded to spite the people who said I wouldn’t… and I’m cool with that. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  4. Hey Jennifer and all!

    I’ve been freelance writing for 7 years and my Mom finally shows me the courtesy of not calling during the day because she knows I’ll be working. I nearly fainted when she told me that. I never thought she would come to respect my profession. The only person that has ever taken me seriously is my husband – from the start. Now that I am more successful others are slowly coming around. I think the biggest buzz kill is feeling like we always have to prove ourselves. I have just completely changed my outlook on that. Others follow suit when you’re able to do that. ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. My dad actually has a new twist on the ‘get a real job’ comment. He’s absolutely convinced that I’m not actually making any money and, every time he calls, he asks if I need some help financially.

    While I appreciate his concern, I’m considering making him look through my invoices to prove that I’m doing good!

  6. Thursday – Just hang in there. One of the best feelings in the world in this game is the day those people who either helped out or assumed you always needed their help finally come to you for a loan or something.

    Latoya – I get the “antisocial” comments too. They don’t bother me as much as they used to though. My favorite in that sense is the “you’ll never meet a good man” one. I just remind people that I haven’t met any “good” ones outside the home either, and that tends to shut them up. ๐Ÿ™‚ I’ll admit it’s lonely work sometimes. I live in quiet area, and most of my friends have left here – closest are about a half an hour away or so these days, so that doesn’t help much. But I’ll take a little loneliness over working in a job I can’t stand for 8+ hours a day any day. That always felt like such a waste of a life to me.

  7. I have relatives who insist that I am “going crazy” because I’m missing the social aspect of working outside the home. They suggest that I at least get a part-time job and reference me to online job sites.

    Then, I get “When are you going back to work?” all the time. I used to play along and say “Oh…I don’t know…” Now, I simply say “I’m not.” It’s funny how many people want to work at home, but have no respect for people that actually do work at home. I don’t get it.

    @Thursday – I think I would take my dad up on the financial “help” whether I needed it or not! lol

  8. I am lucky! I can’t recall ever getting any “get a real job” comments that have been tossed my way since I became a freelancer. I guess I should count my blessings, eh?

  9. I’m transitioning from full-time day jobbing to full-time writing via part-time day jobbing. Last year I approached my boss about changing my contract to four days a week so I could focus one day on my writing career. She was very respectful about my career plans and agreed to the arrangement. Ever since, though, I’ve had a lot of ‘How was your long weekend?’ because she insisted that my day away from the office be Monday. I’m sick of explaining that actually I had the same weekend she did, and then I worked for myself for a day. (In fact, probably worked on the weekend as well.)

    Then, whenever I get an assignment she asks me, ‘And are they going to pay you a little bit of money?’ in the sort of voice you’d use when asking a 5-year-old what he wants to be when he grows up.

    • LOL I love the “little bit of money” line. Just think about how good it’ll feel when you can eventually say “Nope… LOTS of money… enough that I don’t need this job anymore!” ๐Ÿ˜‰

  10. “A little bit of money” is cracking me up. I’m so sorry you have to listen to someone patronize you like that, though! “Gee, Wally yes! It’s even more than my allowance! Now I can go down to the dime store and get a Coke for a nickle! “

  11. The comparison between freelancing and artistic endeavors (not that writing isn’t artistic) is actually quite common. If anything, working with musicians for years makes me kind of grateful to be doing what we do. We may not get more respect than a lot of other professionals, but we do get more than many other kinds of artists (why I’d rather work for musicians than as one!). The funny thing is that it’s often the artists who continue the stereotype, assuming that they won’t ever earn a living at it, so they never fully try (although I’ve known a few who really treat it as a business and have a lot to show for it now).

  12. Haha – This is so true and its very annoying in real life.

    I have a friend, she was jobless up to a few months ago. Back then she was constantly asking me to help her find freelancing gigs and I did. I didn’t know how she’d work out as a writer so I gave her some of the projects assigned to me so I can edit it before I submit it to a client. She was ok at it, but she was very slow. I was that way when I started out myself. She stopped writing for me after a few weeks and she still says she has plans to start again… she hasn’t yet.

    Now, she has a job an 8-5 gig and one day when I was free, I visited her at work. We talked and I told her that I was being offered an 8-5 gig, but that I wasn’t sure I was going to go for it. For one, it paid much lower than what I was earning as a freelance writer. Then she starts saying: ‘Go on, take it. At least we’ll both have ‘real jobs'”.

    I must say I was a bit disappointed at her and a bit shocked and even insulted. I never thought that her of all people, her that I who actually earned some money from freelance writing now fails to consider it real… tsk tsk tsk..

    • I find that those who have tried freelancing but still don’t consider it a “real job” are usually just the ones who couldn’t cut it. It’s not for everyone, and that’s okay. But I do get tired of reactions like that. If it didn’t seem like “real work” to them, they quite obviously weren’t doing something right.

  13. I’ve recently quit my part-time job in favor of freelancing (programming). I haven’t been experiencing any of the poor reactions from people that you all seem to be.

    Could it be that people view different types of freelancing differently, even if really they work pretty much the same way (ex. you write an article, I write a program, etc.)?

    Cool article1

  14. I think that’s definitely the case. Not everyone thinks they can handle programming on their own, but many people take the mentality that “anyone can write,” without understanding that not everyone can write well. They don’t understand everything that truly goes into a piece of sales copy for example in order to not only get the words down but also appeal to readers and influence conversions. Or they don’t understand the complexities of news writing, conducting interviews for features, etc. There’s much more to writing than slapping words on a page, and unfortunately many don’t understand that.

  15. I get all of these!

    Instead of saying I’m a freelance writer, I tell people that I own my own writing business. No more awkward silence now. When I told someone that recently, his eyes got really big and he said, “Wow, tell me about that!” I think “freelance” comes with a negative connotation, so I tend to throw the phrase “writing business” into conversation when on the topic. (And the good news is that I’m not lying one bit.)

  16. I’ve had all of these – most of the time I just laugh to myself, because I’ve come to expect it. I have made it pretty clear to people that while my time is sometimes flexible, last minute requests for whatever won’t be entertained, because I’ve usually got a deadline.

    • Oh, how I wish policies like that worked on my mother when I was younger. ๐Ÿ˜‰ Thankfully most people in my life came around to the idea pretty quickly. And these days freelancing doesn’t seem to be quite as strange to people because more and more of us are striking out on our own. ๐Ÿ™‚

  17. I must say I’ve become a “tough old bird” in that I’ve learned to set boundaries–especially with my husband and kids. Fortunately, my hubby is very grateful for the income that I bring in—he’s seen the fruits of my labor. And he encourages me in my work.

    When it comes to my kiddos, I’m more of a mama bear–they come first and I took their age/maturity level into consideration in regard to my working hours. So there were years, I wasn’t banging out the work like I’m now. However, now that they’re both in their teens, I’m more strict with my work times because they can be more responsible and independent. Matter of fact, last night, we had a family discussion about friends over during the summer and other things that would distract me during my working hours. There was a hue and a cry, but my husband backs me up–so the kids will have to adjust.

    And I like to do some of the household stuff–and I like to start my working day at 1 p.m. and work until 6ish. I don’t trust my hubby and kids near my washing machine or in my kitchen for vast amounts of time…Call it OCD or my strong German ancestry–but I like being the manager of my home as well as a professional writer.

    When it comes to strangers, they usually are interested in what I’m doing, and they ask me a lot of questions. My side of the family has always supported me, but I felt at times my in-laws wish I would go back into teaching–b/c that’s secure. I don’t tell them how much I make (it’s not any of their business, in my opinion) and I make more being a writer than I would as a substitute teacher. Plus, I don’t have the headaches that goes with trying to manage teens and English lit and grammar. And the other headaches of teaching in school.

    • It’s definitely nice to have a partner who understands and what respects what we do. We don’t have kids yet, but when we do I’m glad I have a husband who will back me up on things like that. I’m glad to hear yours has your back. ๐Ÿ™‚

      I was surprised at first, but my in-laws actually don’t give me any grief about the kind of work I do. I think it helps that hubs is building his own business too, so they understand that even though the work is very different, the work environment isn’t anything crazy or overly risky.

  18. Several years back a new neighbor was making the rounds, introducing herself to all the neighbors and learning more about the people here. When she got to my house, after pointing out her new house and saying she was a math teacher she said, “I hear you’re an aspiring writer.” I said, “No. I AM a writer.” I never found out who told her I was a writer, and if they uses the a-word or if she inferred that.

  19. I also get “You’re a workaholic!” because I’m working in the eveningโ€ฆafter having spent the day doing something like shopping or cooking or cleaning or visiting a friend (or running an errand for the person who’s now calling me a workaholic).

  20. OH MY GOSH! I finally LOST MY SHIZ all over my hubs and MIL just this week on this very subject. I’m going out of town for a weekend writing retreat (AKA: a business trip for ANYONE ELSE ON THE FREAKING PLANET) and family events got scheduled when I wouldn’t be there… all kinds of feelings hurt (mine) because for anyone else’s corporate business trip, they’d have planned accordingly.

    I’ve been writing professionally for 4 years now and some days I’m just uber sensitive about not being taken seriously. This week had them in spades.

    THOUGH, what I did learn from this, is that I get to treat my work like I would if I were an accountant… i.e. I don’t get to shout from the rooftops that I’ve finished someone’s taxes (or a book) and expect people to give a crap. I’m just doing my job, day in, day out. We’ll see if that makes a difference.

    But I’m super done talking about what I do at family functions, that’s for darn sure!

    (and oh yes, on the laundry, house cleaning, dinner on the table, kids ready for school, etc etc.)

    • That’s a great way to think about it Jen. Ultimately the only people who have to understand what we do are our clients. Hopefully in time family will think of writing with as much respect as accounting. It sucks that you’ve been left out of things. But at the same time, maybe you taking that work time will help your family see how important it really is to you.

      I hope next week is infinitely better for you. ๐Ÿ™‚

  21. My husband totally gets that I work from home and leaves me to get on with it. My friends and family can’t quite get their head around it. The usual comment is ‘Are you still retired, Deb?’ Grrr.

    • On the spouse front, it probably helps that they can see the income coming in pretty directly. Other friends and family don’t always see that, so I suspect that’s a part of the problem. In the end all we can do is take our work seriously and help others see how important it is to us. Hopefully they’ll get on board eventually and knock off the repeated comments. ๐Ÿ™‚

  22. I used to get mad, now I just laugh. After nearly six years writing full-time, some of my family members finally accept that what I do is legitimate. But there are others who say things like “You don’t have a real job, so it’s not like you have a bunch of money.” Of course, it’s better for some people to think you’re broke. I just wish the IRS were one of those people.

  23. I used to get all kinds of requests from friends and family because I was “home all day” apparently with nothing better to do that babysit, talk on the phone, run an errand, etc., but the worst I’ve ever gotten is people who assume because of what I write, my work is either available on some website (presumably for free, i.e., it’s not really a job but a hobby) or I’ve self-published (which I have utter respect for, but why is it an automatic assumption?) I write gay romance and I have a publisher. I get paid. And after my first few royalty checks, my friends and family stopped assuming that I was at their beck and call. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    My husband, thankfully, has always been incredibly supportive.

    • It is a shame that people jump to conclusions. I get just as frustrated by the opposite, where people assume being an author means you have to work with a publisher to be legit or make any serious money. I guess we all have our misconceptions to deal with when it comes to family and friends. ๐Ÿ™‚

      I’m glad they stopped taking advantage of you. Money does seem to have that effect! And I’m even happier to hear that your husband has always stood by you and your business decisions. There’s nothing quite like a supportive partner. ๐Ÿ™‚

  24. I once asked a man who raised horses what he “did” with them, to which he said with a straight face “We eat them.”

    I think “the question” is an automatic response to not knowing what freelance writers actually do.

    I used to practice long-winded answers to have at the ready when I’d be asked “What do you write about?” I’d reply “I write feature articles, case studies, and web content on the use of information technology in healthcare, mostly.”

    My wife called this my “elevator answer.” Something I could comfortably spill out in the time it took to travel between floors.

    Eventually, I tired of this answer. Today, when asked what I write, I say “Obituaries, mostly.”

    Michael McBride


Leave a Comment