Keep Office Hours

I have found that unless I make myself some office hours and stick to them—8.30 to 11 A.M. and 1 to 3 P.M.—I don’t do any writing. I pick some wild flowers and arrange them, wash the dog, and make a cake, and then it’s too late to start this morning. So I read another chapter of the book I started last night and go swimming. Morning is really the time your mind is clearest, I remember being told. There’s no sense in trying to start writing in the afternoon. So I’ll write tomorrow. I really will.

But I wouldn’t if I didn’t have my office hours. If I can’t think of anything to write about, I just sit in front of the typewriter and brood.

― Louise Rich Dickinson

Where’s the Freedom in Freelancing?

by Lori Arnold

For the better part of a year, workers across the country—and the globe—have discovered a little secret that freelance writers have known for years: It is possible to work from home and earn an income. It’s possible to not just survive, but to also thrive.

When COVID-19 restrictions forced most Americans to work from home last spring to accommodate stay-at-home orders, many scrambled to create workspaces in bedrooms, dining rooms, closets and sheds. They struggled to establish boundaries even as their children began distance learning. (For a terrific resource on working in your jammies, check out this e-book, The Joy of Working at Home, by four Evangelical Press Association freelancers.)

But those of us who are established freelance writers were already well entrenched, thanks to laptops and the Internet. We’ve managed to cut the employment cord by using cell phones, Zoom, Skype, and Google Hangout for interviews. We publish with InDesign and QuarkXPress, and keep all the details straight with Trello and Redbooth. Each of these advances has completely revolutionized the act of gathering and telling stories.

I often marvel at the opportunities to practice my craft. There’s never been a better time to be a freelance writer—technically speaking—and I was well positioned to meet the shelter-in-place demands to stay at home without interrupting the income stream.

Except . . . I live in California.

In January 2020, two months before coronavirus infiltrated our vocabulary, California implemented a new law aimed at so-called “gig” workers. Gig is a clever and broad-based moniker for independent workers. Think of musicians who hire out for entertainment gigs.

In essence, the new law removes the free from freelancer as the government seeks to control the who and how of our work. The new reality is: There is no freedom in freelancing.

The nexus for AB5 was a 2018 state Supreme Court ruling requiring employers meet a three-prong test to use independent contractors. Another factor was complaints of unfair labor conditions, most notably by drivers for ridesharing giants Uber and Lyft.

Convinced that all California freelancers needed saving, San Diego Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, a former union organizer, seized the opportunity to create legislation designed to coax employers into making independent contractors part-time employees by placing significant restrictions on their use. The bill, however, went well beyond transportation services. It impacted videographers, writers, photographers, interpreters, truck drivers, janitors, health care professionals (but not doctors), health aides, performers, and landscape architects. There are special carve-outs for accountants, attorneys, real estate agents, and dozens of other specialized occupations.

Because of the broadness of the bill and its random caps, it’s deeply flawed. California freelance writers, for instance, were suddenly limited to 35 articles per publication annually. In an October 2019 business article for The Hollywood Reporter, Gonzalez addressed the restrictions impacting journalists.

“Was it a little arbitrary? Yeah. Writing bills with numbers like that are a little bit arbitrary,” she confessed to reporter Katie Kilkenny.

The problem with her plan is that news outlets are using independent contractors for a reason. With declining ad revenues and circulation, they can’t afford the cost of salaries and benefits for employees.

The plan backfired.

Although the bill applies only to California businesses, some companies outside the state, fearful of violating the law, also blacklisted freelancers, saying it’s too cumbersome to track the story counts. The fine is steep, $5,000 to $25,000 per infraction. Additionally, according to the Orange County Register, employers can be forced to retroactively cover payroll taxes, overtime pay and other costs.

The Personal Cost

For me, practically, I reached that 35-story limit with my (then) biggest client in April and I was kept from contributing to them until January 2021. The clock starts over in the new year.

It is particularly irksome that the state has decided freelancers are not wise enough to determine the best professional pathway for their families. One lawmaker, Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, went so far as to dismiss journalists’ concerns about AB5 by saying they were upset because their “lollipop” was taken from them. (I would argue that, before the state got involved, it was more like “Good & Plenty.”)

While I thrived in corporate work settings for three decades, working for myself allows me the flexibility I need to help with an aging parent, to spend coveted date days with my semi-retired husband, and to maintain my health by spending precious hours each week at the YMCA pool.

But there’s good news. The reaction from the journalism community in California was swift. Bending to pressure, Assemblywoman Gonzalez authored a fixer bill to remove that cap, one of several tweaks to the ill-conceived AB5.

The new fix for writers, AB 2257, passed through the legislature this summer and Gov. Gavin Newsom signed it into law as an urgency measure on Sept. 4, meaning it went into effect immediately. Unfortunately, my client remains skittish and has yet to approve my return to their freelance roster.

National Push in the Works

Why does this matter to freelance writers in America’s other 49 states?

California has long been known as a bellwether state—legislation here usually sweeps across the country. Several other states, including New York, New Jersey, and Illinois, are already considering similar laws.

In February, Congress passed the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, mostly along party lines. H.R. 2474 is a multi-faceted bill that stifles independent contractors while also dismantling right-to-work protections by forcing all employees to fund union activities through dues. The bill got stalled in a Senate committee, but in September Joe Biden tweeted his support.

In an article just weeks before the Nov. 3 election, CNBC reported freelancers nationwide were widely concerned about their livelihoods in light of H.R. 2474. In a February piece for Forbes, Erik Sherman warned the union-sponsored bill was actually hurting the workers they were seeking to protect.

The saving grace for Christian freelancers is that we serve a miracle-making God, one who is bigger and more powerful than government. As is his way, as soon as the state closed one door, God opened another for me through a national ministry that showed great compassion as they waded through the murky elements of AB5. Although it took more than six weeks to maneuver through their legal department, they ultimately decided to take a chance on me. Ponder that. They pursued me in spite of the government-mandated obstacles.

And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.

2 Corinthians 9:8

Lori Arnold is a national, award-winning journalist who spent 30-plus years as a writer-editor for both a daily community newspaper and at the Christian Examiner. She owns StoryLori Media and her work’s been published by Christian Headlines, Cru Inner City, EPA Liaison, LifeWay, Teachers of Vision and Metro Voice.


Your 2021 Writing Goal: Stop Waiting!

A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper.

E.B. White

If we let ourselves, we shall always be waiting for some distraction or other to end before we can really get down to our work. The only people who achieve much are those who want knowledge so badly that they seek it while the conditions are still unfavorable. Favorable conditions never come.

C.S. Lewis

If you wait for perfect conditions, you will never get anything done.

Ecclesiastes 11:4 (The Living Bible)

Epiphany: A bright thought & the real end of Christmas

by Stephen R. Clark

Christmas is greeted by many with excitement, by others with anxiety. Potential stressors include being thrown together with relatives that grate, dealing with the drudge of shopping, or just enduring non-stop Christmas music.

But whether you love or loathe Christmas, nearly everyone wants to know when it’s over.

Oh, you thought December 26 was it? Nope. The official last day of Christmas is traditionally January 6, which is called Epiphany.

However, the word and the day, Epiphany, hold a variety of nuanced meanings.

A light bulb called “Eureka!”

One of the meanings of epiphany is “a shining forth.”  The word initially referred to divine manifestations. However, over time, it also came to mean “a sudden manifestation of the essence or meaning of something.”

Frank Maier, a journalist, once wrote that he “experienced an epiphany, a spiritual flash that would change the way I viewed myself.” Irish novelist James Joyce is credited with first using the term this way in his novel Stephen Hero, which was a precursor to Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. He also used the term in Ulysses,where Stephen Dedalus muses, “Remember your epiphanies on green oval leaves, deeply deep, copies to be sent if you died to all the great libraries of the world, including Alexandria?”

For Joyce and others who use the word in this sense, it points to those often unanticipated and startling moments when something suddenly crashes into our consciousness with intense clarity. You know, those light-bulb-over-the-head moments. As J. K. Rowling explains, “There’s nothing better [than] when something comes and hits you and you think ‘YES’!”

For writers, epiphanies are coveted and eagerly sought after. As we craft an article or devotional, we hunger and thirst for the perfect “Aha!” image, phrase, or metaphor. That magic thing that will tie our words together, end our piece with a bang, and make our readers go, “Wow! This is an epiphany for me!”

On the thirteenth day of Christmas – Epiphany!

I had a tiny epiphany a few years ago when it dawned on me that I had managed to get through the entire Christmas season without once hearing “On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me….” Amazing, eh?

The song traverses the full 12 days of Christmas, accumulating a plethora of laying hens, leaping lords, golden rings, calling birds, and a zoo’s worth of other livestock. Unfortunately, our culture only gifts on the 25th. A real disappointment when I was a kid.

Epiphany, January 6, actually marks the true end of Christmas. The 12th day of Christmas is the day before Epiphany.

Some people leave their Christmas tree up until Epiphany, when, traditionally, it is supposed to be taken down and burned, or at least recycled.

All those other gifts accumulated from your “true love”? They can now be returned, put to work, shooed away, auctioned on eBay, or eaten.

We Three Kings a caroling

Epiphany is also known as Three Kings Day (or Festival of the Three Kings, or Adoration of the Magi). Viewed as the traditional day when the three wise men (magi) visited the baby Jesus, it also celebrates the Christmas star that guided them.

For some, Three Kings Day is as big or bigger than Christmas and involves even more gift-giving and great holiday food. In Bavaria, there is said to be a custom called “Star Singers,” where, from New Year’s through January 6, children dress as the three kings and go door to door caroling while holding up a large star. They are greeted at each home with money or treats, the money usually being given to charities.

According to The Christian Sourcebook (Ballantine, 1986), “Epiphany began in the Eastern Orthodox Church—perhaps as early as the third century—and originally was a celebration of Christ’s birth. In the fourth century, however, December 25 was declared Christmas, and Epiphany took on its current significance. Although Epiphany falls on January 6th, it is often observed on the first Sunday after the New Year.”

As I mentioned, the word epiphany derives from the Greek word for “appearance” or “manifestation” or “a shining forth.” So it makes sense that the Christian feast day by this name celebrates the revelation (theophany) of God incarnate as Jesus Christ. It is an acknowledgement of Emmanuel, God with us.

2020—what a long, strange trip you’ve been

So here we are, Epiphany 2021, fresh into another new year. In some respects, it feels good to say goodbye and good riddance to 2020, the year of COVID-19, massive wild fires, endless hurricanes, political madness, and so much more wackiness. It’s been a nauseating roller coaster of a year. Here’s hoping the new year brings less stress!

Still, the start of a new year is always a time of anticipating what adventure this way comes. What epiphanies lie ahead? What new insights will be gained?

In his book, Ambition and Survival: Becoming a Poet, Christian Wiman says, “Nature poets can’t walk across the backyard without tripping over an epiphany.” I believe the same could be said for Christian writers as we live out our faith, experiencing the woes and wows of this world. Nothing is a wasted moment; all moments are seeds of epiphanies that will yield new insights into the holy.

For Christian writers, now is a good time to reflect and process on what’s passed before. To glean the goodness of God that’s there and leave last year’s tares behind. As we lean into our spiritual journey, we can be sources of epiphanies for our readers.

As John Milton wrote, “Gratitude bestows reverence, allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies, those transcendent moments of awe that change forever how we experience life and the world.”

Lean into grace and gratitude and let Christ’s truth shine out from all you write.

I pray this year will be filled with awe-inspiring epiphanies as you continue to faithfully practice your God-given—and essential—craft of holy wordsmithing.