Freelancing is not free


flicrk keith williamson

Freelance has become a part of my vocabulary in past few years.  Since I submit articles to the Berthoud Surveyor newspaper  and some other sources, I guess I am a freelancer.

I recently asked a question about whether those of us who get paid to write should call ourselves freelance writers or just writers.  This question was posed at both my wonderful writers’ critique group and the monthly  Northern Colorado Writers coffee meeting.

Many felt that by tagging freelance on the label used for business cards and profiles on social media, it lets people know you are for hire.  (By the pay some organizations offer, I think they focus on the FREE part too much.)

Under the category of great minds thinking alike, my friend of more than 40 years, Jim Willard researched and wrote part of his Trivially Speaking column in the Reporter-Herald newspaper on the history of this topic.  Here is the excerpt from his recent column (with permission):

Those of you reading this know that I write a syndicated newspaper column. “Trivially Speaking” appears regularly in newspapers.

On occasion, I also write a series of pieces or articles that are not affiliated with my column. Nonetheless, I am not an employee of the papers in which you might read my writing. I am known as a “freelancer.”

That’s an interesting word considering that few of my comments are sharp or piercing, but the origin of the word transcends writers. During the Middle Ages, most knights or warriors were loyal to some level of feudal (in some cases futile) lord. However, there were soldiers of fortune who would simply hire their combat skills – typically involving the use of a lance on horseback – to the highest bidder. The medieval Italian guys were known as “condottiere,” while the French of that ilk were “compagnies grandes.” They were free men who would fight for any cause, good or bad, if the money was good. These mercenaries, free of any known loyalties, were typically known as “free companions.” That is, until Sir Walter Scott came along centuries later. You may remember Sir Walt as the guy who wrote “Ivanhoe.” Sir Walt coined the term “free lance” to describe a knight of purchasable loyalty. It sounded better than “self-employed swordsman” and so it stuck in our language.

Pirates became known as “freebooters” since they only fought for their own booty (do not be concerned with the modern usage of this word). After Sir Walt used “free lance” in “Ivanhoe” in 1819, it took about six decades before it began to be used to describe writers who were not employees of any particular news organization. That was followed by its conversion to the verb form “to freelance” in about 1900. Note the two words had been combined to one in this time period.

Today, we not only have freelance writers, we have freelance photographers and freelance journalists seeking stories and images that they might sell to the highest bidder. Although I am considered a freelance writer, there are a lot of days when I feel like one of the early “free lances,” Don Quixote, simply tilting at trivial windmills.



2 responses to “Freelancing is not free

  1. Both the blog entry and the excerpt were interesting to me. I am working on my writing and just started a blog. interestingly enough I have several times over the years considered and billed myself as a freelance carpenter or free lance installer to get work. Thanks for your posts!

  2. You are welcome iamforchange. Yes, freelance can be attached to many vocations.