Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Google searches, or why I love being a freelance writer

Almost every day, the work I do reminds me of why I love being a freelance writer, but as I was wrapping up last night, I hit on a tangible representation of what’s so pleasing about my work day. Imagine, I thought to myself, if I kept a list of every term I searched on Google each day?

Of course, the idea occurred to me at 10 PM, so I hadn’t done it for that day, but I tried to re-create my Google search list from memory. It looked like this:

• Homeschooling in Maine
• Pseudomonas bacterium
• Average age of Iraq war veteran
• NFL players religion
• World War II spy doll collector
• Bariatric sleeve surgery
• Littleton school budget FY 2011
• Acupuncture for weight loss
• De-cluttering tips
• Security Tools virus

Okay, I admit that last one wasn’t for an article I was being paid to write: it was because my computer caught a nasty virus and I was trying to figure out how to fix it. But all the rest were for projects I was on deadline to finish. Some of them I wrapped up yesterday; others I’ll finish before the week is over.

When I look over the variety in that list, it makes me feel so privileged that this is how I earn my living. I’ll never be an expert in any of these topics – not a single one of them – and I’m not sure I could give a cogent explanation of pseudomonas bacterium even after spending a half-hour researching it, though I could tell you quite a lot about a microbiologist in Washington state whose postdoctoral research topic and its relationship to cystic fibrosis would eerily come to transform her personal life when her daughter was born with that very condition. And I can’t claim that the article on the Littleton school budget was one of my most fascinating. But it was short and easy to write, and again, I learned something.

My 11-year-old came home from school earlier this week saying he needed to research Colonial taverns. I sat down to help him, but I practically had to physically restrain myself from taking over. Because I simply love research. Never mind that I attracted 17 on-line comments, half of them derogatory, last weekend on for an essay I wrote on not liking to get involved with the kids’ homework; this was Tim’s first research project, and all of the sudden I saw homework in a new light.

“Mom, it’s my project,” Tim said gently. I made myself give him the desk chair and move across the room, but I was practically salivating. Colonial taverns? I know nothing about that! Hey look – they doubled as inns! They were the place where locals got their national news and debated politics! Strangers were sometimes expected to share overnight accommodations – which appalled European travelers! I could feel my fingertips itching to take notes.

But this was Tim’s project. The others were mine, though, and I got to spend six hours yesterday the way I like best to spend my workdays: immersed in scratching the surface of random topics. Unlike the microbiologist I was profiling for an alumni magazine, I’m no expert in anything (though I fear I might reluctantly become an expert in computer viruses). But I love having the chance to take a quick look at a dozen or more different topics every work day. And that’s why there’s nothing I’d rather be than a freelance writer.

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