Ever since I started writing my column for Sun Media, I’ve had friends congratulate me, often adding:
“Simone, you’re like the real Carrie Bradshaw!”
After I thank them, I usually go into an extended explanation (rant) about how Carrie Bradshaw’s lifestyle is a completely unrealistic representation of what it’s like to be a freelance writer. Ten minutes later, my slightly stunned friends usually reply with something like:
“Wow, I never thought about any of that. You need to write about this. All of this. Right now.”
So, that’s what I thought I’d do today: drop some reality bombs and hopefully shed some light on how writers really spend their days (hint: it’s not shoe shopping.)
A few years ago I read this fabulous piece in Thought Catalog that explains Carrie Bradshaw’s Budget in Real Numbers. I love it because it gives a fairly accurate picture of what Carrie’s finances would look like in real life. I suggest you check it out. Carrie’s finances on the show aren’t the only thing that’s unrealistic. Although I will always have a soft spot for the show and it’s definitely had a huge impact on pop culture, Carrie’s general lifestyle just doesn’t jive with how most working creatives spend their workdays. Aside from a few very superficial similarities (curly hair, shoe collection, writer), Carrie’s lifestyle is nothing like mine. I think it’s important for people to know this – especially if they are considering a freelancing career.
Have you ever noticed that aside from the occasional scene featuring Carrie and her lap-top, everyone’s favourite fictional freelance writer doesn’t seem to spend that much time actually…working? Contrary to what the show depicts, the life of a freelancer involves more than just looking pensive in front of your lap top, leisurely contemplating modern dating rituals. In fact, to make a living as a freelancer, you have to bust your ass. Every. Single. Day. If you’re not working on something for a client or promoting your own brand, you’re networking like a beast with the intention of lining up future work.
Carrie writes one column per week and supports herself without any other apparent revenue sources. When she is forced to take on a second job writing for Vogue, it’s like a totally big deal.
As a real life writer, I often write anywhere from 2-4 articles per weekday (and sometimes on the weekends too.) Although I write a nationally syndicated column for a major Canadian newspaper (which, pays me fairly), there’s no way I’d be able to support myself on that venture alone. To pay my bills and set aside some savings each month, I typically write multiple articles per week for 5-6 different publications. Along with working with these clients, I also write this blog (which sometimes includes sponsored content and advertising) and spend 20+ hours per week managing social media for a small business. I also try and pick up extra work whenever I can.
The reality is that my work-week can get pretty insane.
Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays & Fridays I get up at 6am so I can on my way to the gym by 6:45. Monday and Tuesday are typically 12-hour work days. The rest of the week I work all day, with a break for the gym & meals. I often do some work in the evenings. Around 10pm, I’ll usually settle down to watch a TV show on my computer, read a book or catch up with my favourite music site (No dinner at Balthazar for me!) Friday afternoons I usually save for doing errands & something “fun” – this usually involves going for a walk, to Target, or to check out one of my favourite vintage shops. I love a good martini but I rarely drink during the week because it just slows me down too much.
However, I wish I could drink more because most of my workdays end looking more like this:
Although I dream of once again having a fabulous bachelorette pad like I did in Toronto, working for myself and trying to build up my business means I’ve had to make sacrifices. In my case, this means I’m temporarily living with my Mom again. Although I’m super grateful that I’m able to live at home, it’s far from glamorous.
(*Carrie’s NYC apartment isn’t even spatially realistic. Nor is Seinfeld’s, Ted Mosby’s or Monica & Rachel’s.)
I think that’s one of the biggest misconceptions about being a writer: that it’s super glamorous and lucrative. The truth is that writing actually doesn’t pay very well – at least not when you first start out. While Carrie shops her life away, I often lie awake worrying about whether I’ll ever make enough money to realize my dreams (travel, home ownership) AND still have enough to put a huge chunk into retirement savings. Going by the figures outlined in the Thought Catalog article, I make substantially more money than Carrie Bradshaw, and yet I still can’t afford to drop $600 on a pair of shoes. The only people I know who are able to make those kinds of purchases either have really high paying jobs in the financial sector or are in massive credit card debt, on the verge of bankruptcy.
With that said, I know I am blessed with a lot of pretty things. However, although I have managed to collect a few pieces from some of my favourite designers (Elie Tahari, Chloe, Marni, Alexander Wang, Nicole Miller, Marc Jacobs, DVF, Thakoon) – 95% of those pieces are thrift store finds or purchased vintage for less than $30. Anything designer that wasn’t purchased second hand, was either received as a gift or purchased by me when I still worked in my corporate 9-5 job (which I hated, but offered nice sales bonuses.) When I worked at said corporate job, I also worked part time at a high-end boutique (hooray deep discounts!) and was in a long-term relationship with someone who worked as a designer in the fashion industry (hence, sample shoes & other freebies) Most of my clothes are second hand, discount or from 3 years ago.
With the exception of this white dress, very little of my actual writing income has gone into purchasing glamorous, luxury items because I simply can’t afford it. I don’t know how Carrie does it, but I would hate to see her credit card bills. The irony is that I rarely have a chance to wear any of the fancy things I do own, because I’m always working…and my work wardrobe looks a lot more like this:
Combined with the fact that I live in an ultra casual city where fancy clothes just aren’t appropriate, I spend a lot of time in leggings, work out clothes & things purchased at Target.
It’s not the blatant materialism of Sex and the City that bothers me (after all, the show is meant to be a fantasy and I’m clearly into fashion), it’s the message it sends to young women that not only are entitled to these fancy things and lifestyle, but that you don’t have to work hard for success. Unless you’re blessed with a trust fund (which most of us are not) this is wildly unrealistic. It wasn’t until I started working for myself that I truly stopped buying into this fairy tale.
Although freelancing does provide some perks -a flexible schedule and hours – all the successful creative people I know have worked their asses off to get where they are today. With the exception of Sex and the City’s Miranda, who works long hours as a partner at a high-profile law firm, very few of the characters are shown busting their butts at their jobs. Added to that, not only does Miranda get knocked up and then cheated on by her husband, she’s often stressed out and gets the least favourable wardrobe selections. Not exactly encouraging right?
However, SATC is not the only culprit. Hannah Horvath, the smart and witty protagonist of GIRLS (another show I find wildly entertaining) gets a book deal (out of nowhere) and then completely falls apart when it’s time to write the manuscript. Then there’s shows like Gossip Girl, The Hills & all of the Real Housewife franchises where no one seems to really work AT ALL, EVER. I think this is why I’ve gravitated more towards shows that have strong, intelligent leads that work hard and are extremely good at what they do, like Scandal, Homeland, Damages, 30 Rock and Ugly Betty (which provides a much more realistic look at what it’s like to be a young writer) There’s a reason why we never see Homeland’s Carrie Mathison shopping and having brunch – it’s because she’s too busy trying to save the world. Life’s a lot more hectic when you suspect your boyfriend might be a terrorist.
This is all to say: Don’t become a writer or a freelancer because you hope to be “discovered” and spend your days lounging in designer clothes. DO become a writer if you love writing and you’re prepared to hustle, work long hours, learn, fail and become humbled, all because you can’t imagine not spending everyday telling stories.
That’s why I do it.