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Fear, David Desjardins, And Writing For A Living

8 December 2015 2,335 views 3 Comments

penandpaperOne thing that you learn quickly when building a career outside what most people would consider the employment mainstream is that you’ll have to deal with fear. Not just your own fears – of failure, of being overwhelmed by how much work you’re facing as you build your business up, of waking up one day and losing all of your clients – but also the fears of others. I’m talking about the people who decide to tell you that you won’t be able to succeed as a writer – people like David Desjardins, as chronicled in this French-language article published by La Presse.

It starts when you’re young. Although I was encouraged in my writing by my family and a few influential and well-meaning teachers, as a child and later a teenager writing itself was never once presented to me as a viable career. For all of the Young Authors conferences I attended, or writing contests I participated in, at no point was I ever shown a path that would allow me to earn a living as a writer, whether that be as a journalist, a freelancer, in industry, or writing books. I never even met someone who made their living as a writer until I was 22 years old and working in the medical IT business, when I jealously eyed how contented and successful the tech writer at our software company was. Society is so enamored of the concept of the ‘starving artist’ that it rarely ever looks past this tired trope to concern itself with the realities of the ‘working writer,’ and our children are poorer for it.

As I alluded to earlier, even after you’ve overcome your own fear of the unknown and made an effort to build a writing business – whether as an employee or a freelancer – you inevitably find yourself dealing with other people’s fears. Understand this: every person who tells you that it’s impossible to make it as a freelancer, or as a writer, is simply expressing their own frustration with whatever is going on in their own lives. If they couldn’t make it as a writer – or accomplish whatever bitter dream still lingers on in the back of their mind – then they will be certain to project that fear and failure onto you, too.

David Desjardins claims that in 2015 it is no longer possible to be an independent journalist in Quebec. Actually, he’s more specific with his word choice, stating ‘I can no longer earn a living as a journalist.’ Somehow, Desjardins feels comfortable universalizing his own failure as a writer/journalist, making the leap to further decree that ‘In two years, will freelancers still exist? I’m not sure.’ He then goes on to assure the world that only in PR will future writers find a career capable of keeping their heads above water. Not coincidentally, this position dovetails nicely with the promotion of Desjardin’s newly-formed public relations firm, which this ‘article’ comes across as a blatant advertisement for (a theme not helped by the lack of any objective counterpoint from any other working journalists).

I’m sorry, Mr. Desjardins, but you’re wrong. I make a living as a freelance writer, here in your native Quebec, and I have no plans on changing careers anytime soon. In fact, there’s a list of other freelancers in La Belle Province as long as my arm who are in the same position – and many in both languages, English and French.

For you to discourage those who might seek to start a freelance career based on your own inability to keep yours afloat is also wrong. Your experiences do not define the industry. If you couldn’t hack it, then leave the public discourse open to those who could. Let us encourage, support, and promote those who would try to build a life as a writer – something you should be doing, too, rather than using your soapbox to spread your bleak appraisal of the industry. Please, David Desjardins, if you choose to put yourself on the sidelines at least have the dignity to keep your fear to yourself, or better still find a way to learn from your failure and pass that wisdom on to those still in the fight.

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3 Comments »

  • Olivier said:

    David Desjardins said that in 2015 it is no longer possible to be an independent journalist in Quebec City specifically, not Quebec as a whole. Presumably it’s easier in the 5X bigger market of Montreal.

  • Benjamin Hunting (author) said:

    In the digital age, I don’t think that geographical location – provided you have access to a strong communications infrastructure – is a limiting factor when working as a writer or journalist. I have colleagues who live in small towns or the boonies who are working as independent journalists.

    It may be easier in Montreal, but it’s also true that global markets remain open to anyone with an Internet connection.

  • Cecile Gladel said:

    If you are able to write in english, it’s different. But freelance is really hard only in french. So you can’t compare yourself to David. I am a freelance et it’s hard because i don’t want to sign contract not respectful for my rights.

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