Can I Afford to Take This Writing Assignment? 4 Questions to Ask Before You Do

Silver laptop on wooden table near window
Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

We’re in a cultural moment where the bold act of quitting is in the zeitgeist, and the high opportunity cost of gigging is under a microscope. We’re long overdue to reconsider the utility of the low-paying freelance writing assignment.

Many of us are aware of the mindset of needing to “pay dues” before one can even think about establishing a solid career as a writer. This way of thinking usually comes with an expectation of some level of exploitation — financial or otherwise. And it’s so 20th century.

May I suggest an approach to writing (as side-hustle and hustle-hustle) that respects the artisan as much as it honors the craft? Personally, when I find myself inspired to pursue opportunities — out of curiosity, ambition, or, most importantly, the chance to earn extra cash — I’ve learned to ask myself four pointed questions to determine if the project is worthy of my time.

1. What will I gain?

If the answer isn’t something other than writing clips and experience, then it’s worth thinking twice about taking on the assignment. Time could be better spent cultivating a personal website, blog, Medium following, or social media presence as a more enriching means to a similar or a better outcome.

2. Is it necessary for my portfolio?

Upheavals in media/publishing mean there’s no longer one established path for growth. There are roads to legitimacy from listicles, Q&As, games, tweets, posts, and whatever the future holds for written knowledge transfer.

3. Will this cost me?

Time is currency — literal and figurative. Assess the compensation versus the level of required effort: Will the hourly take-home pay be less than minimum wage? (More often than not, when I’ve done the math, the reality has been appalling.) If so, it may be better to simply volunteer your writing talents to an agency or charity you’re passionate about.

4. Will this be “work”?

The saying goes, “Find a job you enjoy doing, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” Does the opportunity bring up feelings of enthusiasm or dread? If the experience looks to be unpleasant, just know it’ll be a money-loser, whether or not the pay rate is competitive.

Reclaim. Your. Time.

If the year 2020 taught us anything, it’s that tomorrow is never guaranteed and time is a stone-cold thief. So, why squander it on an unworthy writing gig?

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Writer, editor, copyeditor, web producer, sensitivity reader. Journalism background; marketing and branding expertise. View profile.

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