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Writing Life: Voices of Experience
Mimi Greenwood Knight : Life as I Know It

Life As I Know It

Living the Life of a Published Freelance Writer

By Mimi Greenwood Knight

I've been accused of enjoying the telling of an experience more than the experience itself. I've actually caught myself in the middle of an adventure already thinking about the words I'll use to relate it to friends later. I got it from my dad, a southern story teller extraordinaire whose motto was, "Never let the truth stand in the way of a good story."

In the same way, I suspect I enjoy saying I'm a freelance writer more than I actually enjoy being one. When someone asks me what I "do" and I tell them I'm a freelance writer, I have this picture of myself wandering through the arts district of our town headed for a sidewalk cafe, a story unfurling in my brain. That's how I see it anyway. I order my grande' breve' latte' (two shots with vanilla sprinkles), sit down next to a bohemian artist and his golden retriever and scribble my idea into a leather notebook. I take in the conversations around me and weave them into my tale.

The reality is more like this. My mini van crawls through the carpool line at the elementary school. I'm balancing a legal pad on the steering wheel, attempting to appease the baby with one hand, write without pressing hard enough to honk the horn then can't remember what was so clever that I wanted to write down. The baby manages to wriggle out of his car seat and starts foraging on the floor of the van for leftover Cheetos. I heave a sigh of frustration, unbuckle my seatbelt to coax him back into the seat, realize this is a funny opening for an essay, flip to a clean page to scribble it down just as two sweaty, little urchins clamber into the van with, "We're STARVING!" and I forget again what I was going to write.

A term I like almost as much as "freelance writer" is "readers". Books on writing will tell you to "know what your reader wants". I adore the idea of having readers of my own. In my other life I'm a drama teacher. Being adored by little kids is in every drama teacher's job description. When I open a classroom door it's to uproarious cheering.

Is it too much to dream of the same from my readers? If I had readers who were as thrilled to see something of mine in writing as my drama kids are to see me walk in their classroom, I could roll over and die happy. My ultimate writer's fantasy is to have my own readers who — just like my students sit in the classroom watching the clock for the time when I'll come and rescue them from Math — sit at home or haunt the book stores chomping at the bit for me to write something more for them to read.

My friend, Georgette, teaches parenting classes. She tells a story about one lesson where she handed out an essay of mine that was running in Parent's Magazine that month and a young mom exclaimed, "Oh, Mimi Greenwood Knight! I love her!" I can't hear that story enough. That woman is my reader.

Of course, the icing on the cupcake of freelance writing is that no matter how frustrating, upsetting, annoying or down right horrible my day has been, there's always the chance I can turn my anguish into a good story — if I'm lucky even a little income. (I guess income would be the sprinkles on the icing on the cupcake of freelancing.)

Take for instance last week when my 9-year-old son played his first baseball game as catcher. My husband took him to the sports supply store to buy him a "cup" to wear under his uniform, something I'd never heard of. He came home, handed the thing to me then got busy doing something in the yard. I took one look at it and put it on our son the only way that made sense to me. We went to the game and watched the poor baby wriggle and squirm and grimace for an hour and a half. By the time we got him to the car, he was in tears and both his thighs were bruised. My husband announced I'd "put the dern thing on upside down." I started to cop an attitude then started ransacking his car for something to write on. The saga of the upside down cup has got to fit into an essay somewhere. (Hey, I think I just did.)

In short there's a lot of not-so-great that comes with the good of freelance writing. There's the never ending tide of rejection letters. There are the checks that take forever to arrive and the amazingly inspired ideas I propose that get rejected. There's the uncertainty of never knowing what my income will be any given month. But what's all that when compared to going to a cocktail party, being asked, "So what do you do?" and answering, "Who me? I'm a freelance writer." •

© 2006 Mimi Greenwood Knight

Mimi Greenwood Knight is an artist in residence and freelance writer living in Folsom, Louisiana with her husband, David, four kids, three cats and five dogs. More »