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Freelancing for Now | 當一名自由工作者

Shirley Wang is a freelancer. (Courtesy of Shirley Wang) Shirley Wang is a freelancer. (Courtesy of Shirley Wang)

中文摘要

父親罹癌早逝,促使王雪麗(Shirley Wang)走上自由撰稿人之路,她將療傷的過程、父親及家族的故事化為文字;彈性的工作型態使她更能觀照自身,重新安排生活步調,擁有更多旅行、學習、探索文化與世界的機會。

2018年,她在WBUR發表名為「My Dad's Friendship with Charles Barkley」的文章及音頻報導,紀念父親王琳與NBA退役球星巴克利(Charles Barkley)之間的友誼,引起廣大迴響,迄今已超過200萬人次點閱。

在下面這篇文章中,王雪麗分享了她的文字工作經驗、如何與家人溝通求得理解,還有這一行的報酬及甘苦。縱使她的文章獲得主流媒體報導及採訪,仰賴文字為生仍不是一條容易的路。

王雪麗認為,如果想成為自由工作者,一定要清楚知道什麼是自己想要的;你需要妥善的計畫時間,並且擁有安全網,才可能應付報酬不高且相對不穩定的收入及生活。

但是,這項工作也給予人許多學習成長的機會,像是如何投稿推銷自己、如何寫出會被青睞的文字,以及怎樣議訂合約等。無論是否留在這一行,有了這些經驗,你都會更加了解自己的工作習慣、學會如何挑戰,並最終找尋到對自己最重要的事物。


Shirley Wang and her father, who passed away last June. (Courtesy of Shirley Wang) Shirley Wang and her father, who passed away last June. (Courtesy of Shirley Wang)

I chose to freelance because there were stories I wanted to tell and I felt an urgency to tell them. When my dad got sick, I was still halfway through college. I was away from people that knew him and my family. I would avoid talking about what was going on at home for two years and my thoughts after visits to see my dad. They were times when I was reminded of his sick, skinny and dying body.

Friends used to notice how I would talk about my dad’s illness and say that they thought I seemed overwhelmed and unable to act. Paralyzed by all the change in my life.

‘You are so slow to process,’ one friend said to me.

So now, I spend my time processing. Mostly, for the past year, the only thing I want to write about is my dad. After he passed away, he was all I could think about. I wrote an article about him and his use of opioids for a local arts and culture magazine, two others  for an online publication, one about his favorite hair salon and then later about his friendship with Charles Barkley - a story that, to my surprise, went viral. 

But it all came down to this: I really just needed time to think and an audience to celebrate my dad’s life with. That was my guiding star.. For a while, there weren’t other stories I was interested in telling; my head was filled with static. I was (and still am in many ways) figuring out what had happened to myself and my family. I was even a little angry that people like dad, a Chinese immigrant from Iowa, or things from my dad’s life did not seem to exist in the media. It was like he was erased from the world. 

I spent most of my time scheming on how I could get paid for writing about him, and what it meant to still be alive while my dad was gone. My life was upended. I had a desperate need to figure out what it all meant. I needed stories and reasons to think about him and hold on for longer.There is an effect when you write about the people you’ve lost. They become alive, you are writing with their spirit next to you as you think of them. When you write about them, you are trying to hold onto specific memories and moments. They become alive in your thoughts.  When you write about them, those feelings of sadness and distraction are put away - they exist on paper and become a calmer part of yourself.  

Another reason why I began freelancing was because of my body. My anxiety comes from both losing my dad, but also from fearing that I will never be healthy. As someone who is prone to hopelessness and depression, my stress had turned into chronic pain. For the past 6 years, I have had constant muscle spasms and extreme neck pain. I needed a schedule that allowed me to take days off, take walks with my dog when I needed, and not ignore my body until the damage became permanent. I hated being in a full time work setting because it felt like I was sad all the time.I became disturbed that working 9am-5pm every day meant that I had to pretend I wasn’t in pain.

Growing up in a Chinese immigrant family, the only person I knew who was pursuing creative passions was my older cousin who lives in New York City and works as a commercial videographer. I always heard of him flying around the world, working with some of the most creative minds in the world and setting his own work hours. I suddenly realized that this was something I could want for myself. He had already done the work of proving to our family members that this was a viable career path and that creative pursuits didn’t always inevitably lead to permanent failure, struggle, fire burning destruction. 

I didn’t plan to do it for the rest of my life, but for the moment freelancing was perfect. I could set my own schedule and work when I felt the most productive in the morning. I could have a better work/life balance. The rest of my day I would explore, think and travel. While writing, I lived to Hong Kong, New York City, Argentina and Bolivia. I kept writing and kept my career alive while also getting excited about all the things I didn’t know about the world and staying curious. I felt I could heal and also work. While traveling in Asia, I learned more about ancestor veneration and began talking to my dad every morning. While traveling in South America, I started learning Spanish and felt stronger every time I used it in new situations. I had more reasons to live a full and exciting life.

Being a freelancer means that you can have your own schedule. (Unsplash) Being a freelancer means that you can have your own schedule. (Unsplash)

Life is more than work and many people want to be their own boss. I thought of people like Amy Tan, who before writing her best-selling book The Joy Luck Club, worked as a language-development consultant for the Alameda County Association for developmentally disabled children. She left this job and started a freelance business that was so successful she was able to buy her mother a house. After a while she felt it was too much work. Because Tan had learned to take risks and try new things, she felt confident she could write a work of fiction without any experience and even finished the book in four months. 

I learned a lot from freelancers who left their jobs in order to explore independently. 

I know that this does not describe every freelancer. Leaving a job or giving up a regular job is not always preferred. For example, in 2018, business publication Fast Company conducted a survey that showed that 42 percent of U.S. millennials now freelance, concluding that more and more Americans want to be entrepreneurs. However, after the story was published, many freelancers online chimed in, claiming that they only started freelancing because they had trouble finding a job elsewhere. 

Before choosing to be a freelancer, it is important to have specific reasons, a time frame and a safety net.

There has to be very strong reasons why you want to freelance because it is really difficult to pay for a livelihood. For example, Amy Tan had to work 90 hours a week in order to afford that house for her mother. 

You also need to know what the market is like for the type of freelancing you want to do. Freelancing as a writer can mean many different things. There is business writing like Amy Tan  did, which means copyediting and marketing writing. This type pays much better than creative fiction or nonfiction, journalistic freelancing writing. As you get more experienced, you might be paid to consult or edit a story. Writing exactly what you want, like I did, does not pay much, until you get as well-known as someone like Taffy Brodesser-Akner who writes for the New York Times and gets paid $4/word. If you are not like her, publications treat you like you are lucky to write for them. They do not treat you like you are offering them a service, which you are. 

While it is possible to do freelance writing full-time, it is very tough starting out and you sacrifice stability for about a year. Freelancing is really tough for someone who is in more financially-vulnerable situations, and at the beginning should be paired with regularly-paying small, part-time jobs. It requires strong relationships, good story ideas and a strong will. You face horribly low rates that start from $.05/word and sometimes you are expected to work for free just to build a portfolio. Audio reporting is much better paid and that is part of the reason why I wanted to have experience in radio. But still - There are no employee benefits. 

There are a lot of problems with the freelancing industry. I will tell you because I find details useful in comparing situations. I am not a full-time freelancer. Most months I either break-even or spend my savings. I sometimes write for business. During college, I received financial aid and the rest of the tuition was paid for by my parents. I had worked as a waitress and saved up money. I don’t have dependents and most freelancers tend to be untethered -  only about a third of freelancers in the U.S. are at least 50 years old. I have financial stability and experience in my field. Next time I start freelancing again, I will have a part-time job. 

Personally I believe that freelancing is enjoyable but difficult to maintain for a very long term. 

Even if I understood that for me freelancing had more benefits than negatives, I still owed it to my mom to know why I wanted to freelance. I had to be able to explain to her why I would accept this instability, which she really feared. Though they really tried, my parents can’t t fully understand. They came from science backgrounds and are not involved in my world as much as I am. So I feel it is necessary to explain to my mom why my career and my lifestyle matter so much to me. I feel even though I might be doing something she doesn’t understand and doesn’t fully approve of, I owe her that much. When I told her that I was going to freelance and travel, it wasn’t her favorite idea. The reality is harsh, but parent and child should try to face things together. 

Shirley's father and his friend, Charles Barkley (right), on the set of Inside the NBA. (Courtesy of Shirley Wang) Shirley's father and his friend, Charles Barkley (right), on the set of Inside the NBA. (Courtesy of Shirley Wang)

In my field, to the outsider it looks like everyone, no matter how talented, has to bounce, bouncing from internship to internship until you get lucky. But as more and more evidence shows, there are people getting lucky to do the work and lead the life that means the most to them, and there is work you can do to increase that luck -  the pay-off is huge. 

Nowadays, more and more people accept that sometimes the most unconventional and unpredictable career paths can be rewarding. While that uncertainty is very difficult, it makes a person stronger. Take the guests on the English podcast Rock the Boat, who are all Asian American, mostly first or second generation who never thought they could lead the career they wanted. With guests like presidential candidate Andrew Yang and media mogul Bing Chen, they discuss how believing in yourself and hard work can be a powerful combination. 

I know for me, I am trying to succeed as a freelancer because I want to fight for the kind of life I want to live. One where I can rest and think. So I’m freelancing for now.

If you think freelancing might suit you, you owe it to yourself to try. You can learn how to pitch, how to write in a style that people want to pay for, and how to land contracts. You have to know why you want to do it. Is it because you want the freedom? Your own schedule? Because you can’t find jobs you like?

No matter what happens after freelancing, even if you tried it and didn’t like it, you gain a sense of your work habits, how to take risks and you learn about what is important to you.


中譯:當一名自由工作者

我選擇成為自由寫作者,是因為我有一些故事想說,並且有股動力催促我必須將它們寫下來。當我父親生病時,我大學剛念到一半,我離那些認識他和我家庭的人很遙遠。有兩年的時間,我會避免談論家裡發生的事情,以及回去探望父親之後的一些想法與感受。我總會時不時想起他那病懨懨、瘦弱、垂危的身軀。

之前朋友常注意到我談論父親病情的方式,他們說,我就像是垮掉了一樣,彷彿沒有辦法再邁出一步。生活上的各種改變癱瘓了我。

「你進展得很慢呢。」一位朋友這樣對我說。

所以,我現在努力地花時間來「進展」。去年大部分的時間裡,唯一讓我想提筆寫作的,就是我父親的種種。在他過世後,我的腦袋裡全是他。我寫了一篇關於他以及他使用鴉片類藥物的文章,登在一份地方的藝文誌上;另一篇給了一家網路媒體,一篇是關於他最喜歡的理髮廳,然後是一篇關於他與巴克利(Charles Barkley)之間的友誼──而出乎我意料地,這篇文章在網路上爆紅了。但這都歸結到一件事:我就是需要花時間去思念、以及需要有人聆聽我歌頌父親的一生。這其實是個很容易的抉擇:我沒有興趣講述其他的故事;我那時試著(並且在許多方面來說,現在仍是)想理解在我和我的家庭身上發生了什麼。我甚至有點生氣,因為像我爸爸這樣的人、一個住在愛阿華州的中國移民,或者我爸經歷過的事,似乎從不曾在媒體上出現過──就好像他已經被世界抹除了一般。

➤➤➤女兒憶亡父~ 華裔科學家老爸、NBA球星巴克利 傳奇友誼故事感人

我花了大把的時間,來計畫如何書寫他的故事以賺取報酬,以及思考在父親離世、我的人生天翻地覆後,活下去有什麼意義。我無法自抑地想明白這一切的意義。書寫你所失去的人,會產生一種效果:他們會活過來,當你想著他們,你便在和他們的靈魂一起寫作。當你書寫他們時,你正試圖抓住特定的記憶和時刻。他們在你的記憶及思念中活了起來。當你寫下你的思念,那些感情就會被儲存起來──它們存活於紙上,同時更多地存活在你的心中。我需要更多的故事和理由來思念他,並堅持下去。

There have to be very strong reasons why you want to freelance. (Pixabay) There have to be very strong reasons why you want to freelance. (Pixabay)

我開始自由工作的另一個原因是我的身體。我的焦慮既來自喪父,也來自害怕我將永遠失去健康。作為一個容易絕望和憂鬱的人,我的壓力變成了慢性疼痛。在過去五年裡,我經常出現肌肉痙攣和劇烈的頸部疼痛。我需要彈性的作息時間,讓我在有需要時可以休息幾天、和我的狗一起散散步,並且重視我的身體,以免造成無法挽回的傷害。我不喜歡全職的工作環境,因為那讓我感覺不愉快,朝九晚五的工作也讓我不安,因為那表示我必須假裝沒有痛苦。

在一個華裔移民家庭中長大,我只認識一個追求創意熱情的人,就是我的堂兄,他是一個住在紐約的商業攝影師。我總是聽到他在世界各地旅行,與世界上一些最有創造力的人一起工作。我突然意識到,這也是我可以追求的東西。他已經向我的家族成員證明,這是一條可行的職業生涯,而創意性的工作並不見得必定失敗、掙扎、在烈火焚身中毀滅。

➤➤➤他是王琳 他留下了愛給女兒與NBA巨星巴克利

我沒有打算從事自由工作一輩子,但就目前的情況來說,它是完美的。我可以設定自己的時間表,並在我感覺生產力最高的上午時段工作。我可以在工作與生活之間達到更好的平衡。在其他的時間裡,我可以進行探索、思考與旅行。當我在寫作的時候,我去了香港、紐約、阿根廷與玻利維亞居住。我持續地寫作,維持我的工作,同時也對我還不了解的世界感到興奮並保持好奇心。我覺得我能讓治療與工作並行。當我在亞洲旅行時,我對慎終追遠的文化有了更多認識,並開始在每天早晨與我的父親說話。在南美洲旅行的時候,我開始學習西班牙語,而每當我在新的情境下使用它的時候,我都感覺到更有力量。我愈來愈覺得自己應該過充實且有趣的生活。

生活不僅僅是工作,而許多人都想當自己的老闆。我想起像譚恩美(Amy Tan)這樣的人,她在寫出暢銷小說《喜福會》之前,在阿拉米達郡(Alameda County)發展障礙兒童協會擔任語言發展顧問。後來她離職了,並開始從事自由寫作的行業,她的事業發展順利,甚至讓她能為母親買下一棟房子。但過了一陣子後,她覺得工作負荷太重了。由於她懂得要冒險及嘗試新事物,所以她有自信能在沒有經驗的情況下完成一部小說,甚至只花了四個月就完成。

從那些深思熟慮後決定從事自由職業的人身上,我學到了很多事情,他們當中有些人離開原本的工作崗位,是為了能進行獨立自主的探索。

我知道這並不能概括描述所有的自由工作者。例如商業雜誌《第一商情》(First Company)在2018年進行了調查,顯示有42%的美國千禧世代從事自由工作,並認為有愈來愈多的美國人希望成為企業家。然而,在報導發表之後,許多的自由工作者在網路上留言表示,他們之所以從事自由工作,是因為找不到其他工作。

Before choosing to be a freelancer, having specific reasons, a time frame and a safety net are all extremely important. (Pixabay) Before choosing to be a freelancer, having specific reasons, a time frame and a safety net are all extremely important. (Pixabay)

自由撰稿工作有許多不同的層面。有人從事的是像譚恩美所做的商業寫作,即編輯審稿和行銷文案。這種類型的報酬,比寫小說、非虛構作品、自由新聞報導來得高。隨著經驗累積,你可能會獲得諮詢或編輯故事的工作。但如果你像我一樣,只寫你想寫的東西,報酬通常不會高,除非你成為像Taffy Brodesser-Akner這樣為《紐約時報》撰稿、每字稿酬4美元的寫手。如果你不像她,那麼出版商會認為你為他們寫作應該感到慶幸;他們沒把你當勞務提供者對待,雖然你的確是。

自由工作的行業裡頭存在許多問題。我想跟你說,在衡量比較情況時,有一些細節很重要。我並非全職的自由工作者。大多數的月份,如果我不是收支打平,就得動用我的積蓄。有時我會從事商業寫作。在大學時,我有獎助學金的補助,而其餘的學費則由我的父母支付。我當過女服務生並存了點錢。我沒有需要我撫養的家屬,而大多數的自由工作者傾向於不受拘束──在美國,大約只有三分之一的自由工作者超過50歲。我的財務穩定而且具有相關經驗。雖然從事全職的自由工作是有可能的,但是一開始投入時會非常艱辛,你大概要犧牲一年的穩定性。對於處於經濟弱勢的人來說,自由工作是非常困難的,所以在起步階段應該要兼做定期支薪的小型兼職。對自由撰稿者來說,強大的人脈、出色的故事點子以及堅強的意志,都是非常必要的。你會面臨可怕的低報酬,從每字0.05美元開始;有時為了要累積你的作品集,你甚至得無償勞動。語音報導的報酬要高得多,這也是我想做廣播電台工作的原因之一。儘管如此,你仍然無法享有員工福利。

即使我知道自由寫作對我而言利大於弊,我仍要感激母親能夠明白我為何想成為自由工作者。我必須要向她解釋為什麼我會願意接受這種不穩定性,而這種不穩定性正是她最擔心的。雖然我的父母真的已經努力去了解,但是他們仍無法完全明白。他們的專業背景是科學,所以他們並不能深入體會我的世界。因此,我覺得必須向我媽解釋為什麼這份工作對我來說這麼重要。我覺得,儘管她不能完全了解,而且無法完全贊同我所從事的行業,我仍無比感激她。即使現實艱難,但父母與孩子應該一起去面對。對局外人來說,我的領域看起來像是每個人──無論多有才華──都是不斷地在實習工作中跳轉,一份又一份,直到你交上好運為止。但是,有愈來愈多證據顯示,的確有一群幸運兒能夠擁有這樣的工作型態,過著對他們來說具有意義的生活方式;而且的確有這種工作,能讓你增加這方面的好運──而回報是很龐大的。

如今,愈來愈多人接受了這樣的看法:有時候最不尋常以及最難預測的職業,可以獲得巨大的報酬。雖然這種不確定性難以駕馭,但它能使一個人變得強大。就拿英語播客節目《興風作浪》(Rock the Boat)來說,它的來賓都是第一代或第二代亞裔美國人,大多從未想過他們可以擁有自己渴望的職業生涯。像總統候選人楊安澤(Andrew Yang)、媒體大亨Bing Chen這些來賓,都談論著結合自信與努力,可以產生多麼強大的力量。

如果你覺得自由工作可能適合你,你就應該去試試。你將學會如何推銷自己,如何練就一種人們願意付費的寫作風格,以及如何得到好的合約。你必須十分清楚為什麼你想這麼做。是因為你想擁有自由嗎?想要自己決定作息時間?還是因為你找不到喜歡的工作?

無論在從事自由工作之後會發生什麼,甚至是嘗試後發現你並不喜歡,你都會了解到自己的工作習慣、如何從事冒險,以及明白對你來說最重要的事情究竟是什麼。


作者簡介

王雪麗(Shirley Wang),塔芙特大學(Tufts University)人類學系學士,現為自由撰稿人及多媒體記者。寫作主題涵跨移民、社群、文化與休閒等,作品發表於Popula、WBUR、the Little Village、Metro U.S. Iowa Public Radio及WGBH News等。2018年以紀念已逝父親王琳與NBA球星巴克利友誼的文章,在中英文媒體引起迴響,被NBC列入「2018年13個最令人感動的亞裔美國人故事」(13 moments in Asian America that moved us in 2018)。

➤➤➤看更多 2019年《教育特刊》精彩文章



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