Editors have done a great job of training us to think in terms of dollars per word. The more, the better, right?
And for editors and publishers, this paradigm makes perfect sense. The more of a page you fill, the more they’ll pay you.
But I had a minor epiphany recently when I realized the word rate is not what’s key for me, the writer. After all, I’ve had 2,000-word features that come together like a breeze, and, conversely, 500-word-news bytes that are a nightmare to polish off.
What matters to me is how much of my valuable time the story uses up. So for the month of July, I tracked every minute (well, every minute that I remembered to actually turn on the timer). I used a timed-work option that comes with my financial software, MacFreelance, and summed time for each story.
This is a great freelancer exercise to determine what your time is actually worth. And remember it’s not just the time you spend researching and writing—what about pitching, answering e-mails, chasing down that hotshot scientist who’s too good to answer your calls, lying awake at night wondering how this story is possibly going to get done on time, brainstorming you lede, dealing with edits, suggesting art…?
By the end of July, I‘d learned some of my clients pay me better than I realized! Others, not so much.
Freelancing has made me think of my income and expenses in terms of time. Do I buy that new pair of shoes, for example? Well, they’re worth about 45 minutes of solid work. It helps me consider work-related expenses, too. Recently I was considering sending some interview tapes out for transcribing. I figured out how much the transcription service would cost, and how long it would take me to do the job myself (a very long time…I am a sloooow transcriber). Now that I know what an hour of my time is worth, I can accurately weigh the difference between doing the job myself or contracting out for it.