restricted access Preface
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The first confession I have to make is that Confessions of a Guilty Freelancer is misnamed. Technically, I haven’t been a freelancer all these years; I’ve been a moonlighter. Since 1974, I have been employed by one institution of higher learning or another. Mea culpa. But, in the world of words, moonlighter hasn’t been much used, if at all, when it comes to those who write for the public prints. That “freelancer” has been the designation universally used is not an adequate excuse, of course. One of the first writers I ever knew personally , Edward Dahlberg (1900–77), used to thunder at me: “All excuses are perjuries!” and I certainly believe that. But, in all my years of writing what is loosely called journalism (literature in a hurry, according to Matthew Arnold [1822–88]) I have never “worked” for any of the publications that have published me. In that way, I am solidly freelance. Freelancing has never been a pretty word, bringing to mind, as it does, medieval sport, jousting, and the general aggressiveness required to wield a pen for hire. I have never been a pen for hire. It is not so much for high-horse reasons, or that I was entirely above that sort of thing; it was because I didn’t have a talent for it, pitching story ideas, interesting eager editors at the glossy magazines in New York City about trends and celebrities. Friends of mine who did have that talent went on to much more remunerative Preface xv xvi workinHollywood.IleftNewYorkCity,andreturnedtotheMidwest, to teach at the University of Notre Dame, where all of the contents of this book have been written. Intheessaythatendsthisvolume’sfirstsection,thetitleessay,you willfindtheline,“Itishardtooverestimatethelowesteemfreelancing inspires in the regularly employed.” After the article appeared, I was sent a note by a Chicago press critic, one who had never taken public notice of me during the five years I wrote a weekly political column for the Chicago Sun-Times, saying that the line had struck him and he wanted to apologize for never mentioning me, though he read my column regularly. Being freelance is similar to being single at a certain age, a suspect category. We currently are experiencing an unsettling transitional time in journalism. I was paid, to write for the Sun-Times, a freelance rate of $150 a column. (None of those columns are found herein; but you can find them at When the column ended, I presumed my demise was about money and space. I was the canary in the journalistic coal mine and was the first to go as the latest recession hit newspapers early. Steve Huntley, the editorial page edi­tor of the Sun-Times, the man responsible for my being a five-year fixture there, had once told me, “No,” when I asked him if he wanted to write columns. The unsigned editorials were more to his liking. Shortly after I was cut loose, the Sun-Times began to use more wire service copy and Huntley, himself, turned up as a regular columnist. The cutbacks had forced less original copy being used, while, at the same time, sweating those on staff who were permanently employed to produce more. Lookingovermytableof contents,Iseethatabouthalf of thecontentswas written “forfree.”(Andthose thatwere remuneratedfetched mostly paltry sums.) Recall your Boswell, quoting Samuel Johnson: xvii “No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money.” Well, we have created a generation of blockheads, and more to come. The internet has turned writers into content providers, most often working for free. The word freelance is now becoming literal, at least the “free” part–why? lots of reasons: higher education, for one. Just as there used to be clear distinctions between “commercial” and “literary ”fiction(andnonfiction),distinctionsthat,overtime,havebecome decidedly blurred, there are fewer distinctions separating the work of what professors do in order to retain their jobs. Scholarship must be created:scholarship,which,inthepast,didnotnecessarilypayenough to provide a celebration dinner, but which was necessary to keep the maker employed, and, thank the Lord, eventually tenured. The growth in the academic world of the creative writing MFA over the last thirty or so years (increasing from a handful of such programs in 1970 to nearly three hundred in 2010) has dragged hundreds of writers, novelists, poets, nonfiction writers into the same world the dedicatedscholarinhabits:publishorperish.Andthechangesthatcircumstance has brought about are easy to see. For one, check the back of any volume of, say, The Best American Short Story volume, pre 1945...