A friend recently tipped me off to a great source of writing income for freelance writers looking to make a few extra bucks. That source is Craigslist, the tried and true platform to lose and seek things in your region. I myself have advertised garage sales, power washers and a plague of inherited collectible glass donkey carts there and came away a winner on every occasion. So who is to say it can’t work for short term writing gigs? A writer is not tied to their region in terms of who they may write for, but there is something charming about the idea of writing blogposts for the local kitty shelter, or getting 20 bucks a pop for reviews of musical performances that I would go to anyway. So I went online to seek out those gems. I imagined I would plug myself in to a network of world-weary writers who do their daily word count hustle before knocking off to the Rainbo Club to commiserate over a Pabst beer. Oh, the laughs we would have about the type of work we had taken on and executed expertly for no glory. Although I knew deep down that technology had elevated writer fraternity to online Salon communications only, I needed to tell myself otherwise in order to get the courage to log on and see what the internet had to offer writers for pay. Most of what I uncovered can be sorted in to three categories, with varying degrees of legitimacy behind their veiled messages:
1. I am not going to pay you because I am an artiste myself.
2. Help me make something seem better and more important than it actually is.
3. Technical manuscript needs writing or editing for non-specific pay rate. (The only one that actually pays, but requires technical know-how on legalese or how to speak Ukranian)
My favorite opportunity so far came from a university student who needed help writing a 2 page essay about feminism. It paid $15, but maybe more later on if I netted him good results. The real challenge was to produce an essay that could arguably come from him, not too professional he explained, or else the professor would know he wasn’t the author. This could be the entrance to the dark underworld of black market sweat shop writing I always dreamed was out there. I imagined myself laboring for up to half an hour (but no longer, because of the $15 limit) on a persuasive essay while attempting to riddle it with age-appropriate errors. Surely, I have had practice with typos over the years. Would I be skilled enough to write him an essay that tipped off the professor that the student was a hack and possibly a plagiarist too? Then I might be able to justify to myself taking on such a job in the first place. A standard steganography cipher might work. But to be fair, I understood the time constraints the student offered as an explanation. He couldn’t really take the time to write a great essay he explained, because he had to work. Thanks Obama. Alright, maybe this kid was working three jobs to finance his college education and could use a little sympathy. Of course, he could have taken a few hours off of work (maybe $15 worth of hours) to write his own dang essay, sure, but this is America, and if a guy can’t outsource his content writing in the name of progress, then what the hell? I mean, once he graduated from journalism school he’d have an assistant anyway to do all of his pesky writing for him, right?
There was a writing gig was for a literary magazine. My ears twitched with excitement. A literary magazine was soliciting submissions of creativity in the Romantic tradition. I was instructed to bone up on the poetry of the Romantics before I even attempted to submit my own work and informed that payment would be publication itself. So I moved on in search of a writing gig that didn’t presume my ignorance and that had payment in the form of monetary reward itself.
The next guy just wanted feedback on his memoir about overcoming anxiety. Friends were just saying it was good probably so they didn’t offend him. He needed volunteers who could read the brief 150 pages that comprised his life and be brutally honest. I figured this guy had to be young. So young that he hadn’t connected the two hemispheres of his brain completely, which is why he didn’t know yet that inviting total strangers to be brutally honest about every sad detail of his life would attract dozens of creepers and maybe a few equally anxious people. He’d need a few more years of stressors to his anxiety disorder before anyone would consider his efforts heroic, permanent and print worthy. He’d need to struggle to overcome something, fail , struggle more, learn something about himself, adjust his thinking from knowledge and fail a few more times before succeeding. Then people might take his memoir seriously. Right now was the time for him to focus on his science fiction stories. If I could just email him without ‘volunteering’ to read the 150 pages, I might congratulate him for being brave enough to confront his demons, question his use of Craigslist as a platform for developing his personal growth, and suggest he be on the lookout for creepers. But then, my email would be somewhat of a creeper move in itself. I clicked the back button in search of a more professional opportunity.
Clearly, I was being too picky. The next one I saw, I would inquire about regardless of how ridiculous it was. Because roofs didn’t fix themselves on picky writer wages. The only criteria would be pay. My paranoid and hopefully well-honed ability to discern a scam would be essential to emerging out of the experience with laptop, phone and checkbook intact.
Get Paid To Play Video Games. Start now. $25-$50 per review. That sounded legit. I registered with a throwaway email address of course. I chose the Astro Lords Cloud Game. It had something to do with a space time anomaly. The author of such a geeked-out game intro surely would not want to hack my computer, but I could be wrong. I needed a username, so I chose TimeLordz. Password, droolpops. It led me to a short install of the unity web player. A faint echo of my computer savvy husband’s voice spoke to me then.‘Never install anything from a source that isn’t trusted’. I regret to say, I closed the window and moved on to the next paying job.
Write Amazon Reviews. For pay! In Chicago!* I’m not sure if this was strictly illegal, a scam or simply frowned upon by societies’ consumers. Not to mention the dubious morals I’d need to compete against bots and the poor in 3rd world countries. I hit reply and offered as few details about myself as they’d given about the job. Maybe I would luck out and write some review of a soap dish that goes viral. I was hopeful. It could become a secret venue for my creative urges. I could finally learn how to be succinct! I did not supply my actual email address and the minute they require my true identity I am more certain that I will bail on the project than I am certain of gravity’s pull.
Next up, a quick $5 Writing Gig to Review an App. All you needed was an iPhone and some time to download their app and comment on it, honestly of course, but only after giving it 5 stars. I emailed back saying BRING IT ON. It was so refreshing to answer emails unprofessionally that I was eager to find more gems of this nature. In this App there were photos of aspiring models wearing clothes that you could admire, post about and purchase via retail links. Of course, those models had bios that you were welcome to comment on. I searched for weird comments to tip me off that it could be a fancy prostitution ring, but it turns out maybe there are just a ton of people out there connecting over their mutual desire to wear expensive clothing. Or who were paid to seem as if they did. Whatever the case, the review would be a cinch, because mindlessly positive pap was all that was required. No need to point out that I thrift my clothes and would prefer a thrift store locator App. How long until I would feel the sting of guilt for having duped all of those fashionistas in to believing my glowing review? Not long, but the sting was brief, because my impatience to check my PayPal account for that $5 was greater.
Mystery Shopper for Gyms in Chicago. This one required reconnaissance work, which I consider my imaginary specialty. If I got to snoop, judge and pretend to be someone I wasn’t and write about it afterwards, then I was going to knock this one out of the park. However, I silently promised the fitness instructors of the universe I would be gentle. Unless they sucked and the place was dirty. Payment was $40! Of course, it is not the sort of writing that is likely to advance my career since the only ones who would read it would be corporate overlords who want to feel the place at ground level. Nevertheless, $40 is 2 roof asphalt roof shingles, according to my research and I’d get to leave the house on a mission.
Ghostwriting for Blogger in the Suburbs Who Cares Deeply About Civil Rights. Right away I saw she would require extensive punctuation intervention. Passionate writing about people’s rights sounded fun. Although the tentative mention of possible hourly compensation did not seem heartening. Also, when an employer requires no credentials, it does smack of something a little funky. Like a 12-year-old with Catfish aspirations or maybe a zealot looking for potential cult members. My inquiries treaded lightly.
Honorable mention: Compensation TBD, but wouldn’t it be cool if I could help this gentleman write a piece in the genre of erotica as a gift for someone? He would just love to receive an email from me so I could run my thoughts by him. Maybe break down the plot scheme a little so he could see where it was going.
Next was an avant garde fashion magazine that needed content. They had so many photos of men wearing sweatpants that I’m not sure they had googled the definition of avante garde properly. Plus, there were the constant pop-ups adds trolling for membership that obscured the tiny bit of content every time my mouse got near it. I gave up.
Write a Yelp review for female clients. $25. I could be the lowest hack of the low if this came through. Unless I was honest, and as long as I didn’t have to go see some back-alley gynecologist and rave about it. Don’t restaurant critics get free meals? What is the difference between reviewing food and reviewing the performance of a business I asked myself philosophically as I clicked reply. I mean, besides a third party and presumed integrity on the reviewers part? Anyway, this one was too vague to mention what the female clients did, so I had my concerns and gave an alternative email address.
Wait, someone needed a script written for their music video about a zombie?! I was starting to see the charms of Craigslist. They were a bunch of 20 something kids living in a loft in Humboldt Park who probably would offer to pay in backstage passes, but still, it isn’t often that one gets a chance to unleash their zombie fantasies on the hipster community. I emailed them immediately and dusted off my old zombie notes. My pitch was summarily rejected for having too many scene changes…the band could only afford one location. Plus, they were looking for something really ‘out of the box’ that went along with the lyrics of their song. Which is why my script that involved a love story, and parallels between the zombie apocalypse and societies’ robotic response to the economy busting eviscerating machinations of the global economy was a little too involved. But she did say she liked it.
Write me a country song, the next ad said. Clearly I have struck a vein of pure gold. How does that work? I email her my song and only if she accepts do I get my $50 plus royalties? So I could be writing a country song merely as an intellectual challenge?So I wrote my first and only country song, titled YOLO- a country song. I am still working on the hook. It will be a work in progress. I’m not ready to share it yet with this musician in need of words. It will be something I can turn to when my zombie music video script rewrite and I hit a creative wall. Something to cling to when I have the App reviewing blues, or when I tire of buoying up a civil rights activist who doesn’t have the time to produce words to describe her passion.
When the day was done, I had a theoretical $45 in the PayPal account and had spent a mere 4 hours reading, emailing, recalling forgotten passwords and stamping the internet with my hackneyed words about how you only live once, right ya’zombies? Most importantly, I had partially overcome persnickety writer syndrome in favor of selling my soul to Craigslisters. And hopefully in the same theoretical world as my $45, there were my writer buddies waiting for me at the Rainbo club to buy them a consolation brew.