Budding Writer, 1979: Put on a time card

Reading Time: 2 minutes
Morning fog clears over a farmer’s field in North Hero, Vermont, on April 26, 2023. By Howard Fielding. Offered under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0.

Ah, yes! The time card. The freelancer’s dilemma: Do more, but keep within your hours. At $X per hour you should be able to cover the same beat plus edit copy for about the same amount as when they were paying you per story.

That’s the predicament I found myself in at the end of April, 1979:

… Consequently, I was late to the J-O editorial meeting today. Just my luck it was also short. Nevertheless, I started in copy editing little stuff and got put on a time card. Worked out quite well. My 3 day, 4-hour schedule fits in Thursdays between the meeting and the stories, Monday between stories, and Fridays. I’m pleased. And tonight I spent a lot of time working out a plan of revamping the arts/entertainment page. The hard part will be selling Robert —

Journal, Volume II
26 April 1979

In retrospect, despite my enthusiasm, editor-publisher Robert knew his market and his audience. Hard-working, up-with-the-sun, in-bed-by-dark farmers and shopkeepers of tiny Bradford and its tinier neighbors probably had little interest in the artsy-fartsy community of a campus 25 miles away. I was simply incapable of understanding this at the time.

I had other lessons to learn, too.

…I got up late, as is my wont, and went to the bank to deposit my paycheck, then to the post office, then back to the bank to deposit my pay for the Student Lawyer story. Then I went up to Bradford to do careful editing on various shitty material. I took too long; Robert said I labored over it too much, that I should have let more slide. Perhaps, but I’m proud of the quality of my work — although I did run 2 hours over what I should have. Maybe I’ll run 2 hours short on Monday.

Anyway, it was good to stay late because that brought me right up to curtain time for a local production of “The Odd Couple.” I’m reviewing it in hopes of getting the arts page to work (for me!)

Journal, Volume II
27 April 1979

The play — likely produced by the Parish Players, a small theater company in nearby Thetford, Vermont — was indeed a local story that the JO should regularly cover. That was appropriate for its arts page.

But getting the page to work “for me!” was shortsighted and self-centered, something I’d deal with again and again. And running two hours short on Monday? Since when in the history of time cards did that ever happen?