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Stet Blog

Since its inception in the 1980s, the IWOC monthly newsletter, Stet, has featured helpful news, tips, and information for IWOC members and the entire Chicagoland freelance writing community—including previews and recaps of IWOC meetings and events, book and service/software reviews, and advice for developing and sustaining business as an independent writer. As of January 2018, the standard monthly newsletter format has been replaced with the blog format contained on this page, which allows articles to be posted in a more timely fashion. 

Whether or not you're a member of IWOC, we invite your contributions. Our only criteria are writing quality and the usefulness of the information to writers. IWOC reserves the right to gently edit submissions. For information regarding submissions, contact the Stet editor.

ViSIT THE Stet ARCHIVES

Over the years, the Stet delivery format has evolved from snail-mailed paper copy to emailed PDF/HTML file to site-hosted, aggregated blog. Stet issues in PDF/HTML and aggregated-blog format from 2002 to 2017 are available for viewing in our archives.

  • To view PDF/HTML issues of Stet (published from 2002 to 2015), click here.
  • To view Stet in its aggregated-blog format (published from 2016 to 2017), click here.

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  • 01 Jun 2024 11:18 AM | Laura Stigler (Administrator)

    Since IWOC’s inception, coming up with programs for our monthly meetings has always been a challenge. Yet without exception, every month since 1981, our Program Committees have come through. Being that we’re based in the world class city of Chicago, we’ve never had a problem finding speakers for those programs. And thanks to Zoom, we now invite speakers from the world over. 

    But there is a treasure trove of talent that we also mine, and it happens to be right here within IWOC. With a membership spanning 60+ areas of expertise, over the years we’ve been able to entice numerous members to speak about their particular field – how they got into it, what it entails – and how to succeed at it. 

    Cases in point:

    At our June 11 meeting, video scriptwriter/producer/narrator Greg King will be giving his up-close and personal views on – yes, writing scripts for video. Which takes more than an ability to write well. It takes visualization, imagination, and organizational skills. To name a few. Come to that meeting and it may open up a few ideas on how to expand your revenue stream.

    In the past, Jeff Steele talked about the in-demand specialty called “Convention Writing.” Chicago is one of the world’s most sought-after Convention towns, where there’s always a big need for fast-thinking writers with reportage-like skills, and the ability to meet tight deadlines. “Piece o’ cake” for writers like Jeff. You wanna piece of that? Hear how to get it on the recording listed on our Member Resources page

    We’ve also held a program on travel writing, where current members Kathryn Occhipinti and Cindy Bertram, along with longtime IWOC friend Pamela Dittmer McKuen respectively spoke about their trips to Italy, cruises on the high seas and fascinating places of interest nationwide. Listen to them exchange stories and discuss how to nab those coveted travel writing gigs.

    And what can be more intriguing than writing about people’s lives? That’s what IWOC member Betsy Storm spoke about – and she should know, having interviewed 50 prominent Chicagoans for her inspiring book, Bright Lights of the Second City. Joined by the aforementioned Ms. McKuen, Mr. Steel and ghostwriter Danielle Perlin-Good, you can listen to the lively discussion covering how to excel at the discipline – and make money to boot!

    That’s just a taste of the kind of programs that have been presented by IWOC’s very own in the last few years alone. So why bring this up? For one thing, it gives us a sense of pride to belong to an organization filled with such an array of talents. It’s also to convey our members’ high caliber of professionalism to potential members, all our contacts and clients seeking writers.

    Say! If you’re an IWOC member (and even if you’re not), do consider being a Guest Speaker! Come share how you got into your field and what it takes to make a go of it. Not only will we all benefit from your knowledge, but you’ll benefit from the free publicity that’s disseminated to 130+ media outlets, all our social platforms and 1000+ contacts. You’ll also be treated to a post-program dinner as a thank you, compliments of IWOC. 

    Interested? Simply contact our Program Committee and we'll get right back to you.

    Do it and we’ll all be in for a real treat – so to speak.

    -- Laura Stigler


  • 30 Apr 2024 10:55 PM | Laura Stigler (Administrator)

    Sometimes a work assignment makes you reflect, and causes you to consider the bigger picture. Nature, people, animals, the food supply, the earth.

    While working on a produce packaging assignment, I was asked to inquire about sustainability efforts. The companies that create fruit and vegetable packaging told me they’re using less plastic, or recycled plastic, or recyclable-friendly plastic. This is being driven by consumer/retailer demand and current/future environmental regulations.

    As I conducted further research, I found myself overwhelmed by facts about plastics. Soon I was in the territory of Chicago Daily News columnist Sydney J. Harris, who wrote an occasional feature called, “Things I Learned En Route to Looking Up Other Things.” 

    In the spirit of that recurring Sydney J. Harris column, here is what I learned:

    • 430 million tons of plastic are produced each year. 
    • One-third of it is single-use plastic.
    • Of the plastic that is produced, 9% is recycled, 19% is incinerated, and 72% is in landfills or the environment.
    • In the U.S., about 5% of plastic is recycled (partly due to infrastructure challenges).
    • Plastic that is not reused or recycled, breaks apart to form microplastics. 
    • Microplastics are plastic pieces less than 5 mm long - about the size of a pencil eraser.
    • Microplastics make their way into our fish, meat, tofu, fruit, vegetables, and get into our drinking water, blood and organs.
    • 22 million pounds of plastic debris enter the Great Lakes each year. 
    • Humans consume a credit card-sized amount of tiny plastics each week

    On April 20, Earth Day, I realized it’s time to make personal changes. After all, this year’s theme is “Planet vs. Plastics,” and the goal is a 60% reduction in production of all plastics by 2040. While I don’t produce plastics, I do consume them. Why not consume less?

    So I’m now buying peanut butter and salad dressing in glass jars (not plastic). I’m mixing frozen orange juice with water in a glass pitcher, like my mother once did. I’ll make my own iced tea (rather than buy huge plastic bottles of it), and switch to cat litter in cardboard containers (rather than big green plastic jugs). And although I long for berries in the green pulp cartons from my childhood, those plastic clamshells seem ubiquitous (except at summer farmers markets). 

    This writing assignment definitely made me think about our planet. While I don’t plan to revert to “Little House on the Prairie” living, I’ll aim to buy paper, cardboard or glass packages — instead of plastic. Thanks to the facts I discovered, I am inspired to do so. #

    -- Sarah Klose

    Further reading:

    MIT Technology Review, October 12, 2023. “Think that your plastic is being recycled? Think again.”

    Chicago Tribune, April 28, 2024. “86% of Great Lakes litter is plastic, a 20-year study shows. And the plastic is 'just getting smaller and smaller.’“ (need subscription to read article)

    Earth Day website


  • 30 Apr 2024 10:12 PM | Laura Stigler (Administrator)

    Sometimes little accidents can be inspirational enough to write about, turning what was sadly unfortunate into something fortuitous. As what has happened to me. If it didn’t happen, I never would have written the following story, which ended up winning an essay contest and was published in the 2023 “Play”-themed anthology produced by the TallGrass Writers Guild. I’m sharing it here to serve as inspiration to you. And prove that while it may not be immediately apparent, oftentimes sad little accidents can have happy endings. Simply by putting pen to paper...

    *****

    My piano bench died today. Yup. Just like that. Came crashing down when our pear-shaped piano tuner was doing his thing, scooching back and forth from one end of the bench to the other, diligently twisting the strings of the 60-year-old keys until they were precisely in tune. 

    How did it come to this? Why? Why? I blame myself. Why couldn’t I have left well enough alone?

    The piano hadn’t been tuned since God-knows-when. I was fine with that! But the other night, after not having touched the instrument for several months, I spontaneously decided to noodle around with the melody of a song I was working on. Upon striking the first few keys, I recoiled at the sound. It was wavering. Tinny. Like the far-off strains of a piano in an abandoned ballroom, circa 1944. I could see it all now: The ghosts of soldiers and sweethearts, perhaps their last time together, slow dancing to Irving Berlin’s “When I’m alone...with o...nly dreams...of you...that won’t...come true... what’ll I do?...”  

    “Oh gosh, I really need to call the piano tuner,” I said to my husband. But of course, as with most everything else on my to-do list, I forgot to do it. Lo and behold, the very next day the tuner called. OMG! I couldn’t get over the coincidence. Providence. He left an ominous voice message, “Hey, Laura, the last time I tuned your piano was in 2017! You know, letting it go on that long is very dangerous. It starts to turn into...a project.”

    Not liking the sound of that, I couldn’t make an appointment fast enough. We set it for today. And it was while I was preparing his tea to the soundtrack of the unrelenting, headache-inducing pounding of keys (BONK. BONK. BA-BONK-BONK. BONK.) that I heard the crash. Followed by...silence. Mind racing, not knowing what disaster I was going to encounter – collapsed shelves of cherished family pictures? My one-of-a-kind ceramic rooster lamp, shattered? -- I rushed into the living room to discover the tuner, sitting bewilderedly on the floor, surrounded by rubble, rubbing his wrist. I worried. For many reasons. Were those stars circling over his head...or dollar signs? I screamed, “Are you ok? Are you ok?” “Yeahhh, yeahhh. My wrist feels a little sprained though,” he softly whined. Having once fractured my own wrist, I knew he would have found it intolerable to move his, were it broken. What a relief. If anything, now we could sue him.

    No longer having to put a call into 9-1-1, it was time to assess the situation. Like a bad accident, it was hard to look. But look, I did. My heart sunk. There was the piano bench, contorted. Lopsided. Two of its legs had jettisoned across the room in opposite directions, like the legs of the scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz after having the stuffing beat out of him. Except instead of hay, jagged shards of dried wood jutted out from the “hips,” where they once joined with the seat of the bench. No orthopedic surgeon in the world could have salvaged this sad mess. Prognosis: Hopeless. The poor bench lay there. Helpless. Unable to right itself, as if crying out “Help! I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!”

    But the last straw – as it were –  was seeing all of the bench’s contents spilling forth --  everything that was kept safely in its possession since the day I started learning to play. The workbooks of scales and exercises, notated in my 2nd-grade handwriting. The sheet music. The music books. Anthology books: Great Songs of the ‘60’s...Great Songs of the 70’s. It all came tumbling out. And with it, the memories.

    My sweet bench. The one I first sat on when my parents surprised me with the piano, a Hobart M. Cable spinet bought at Marshall Field’s. It took my breath away. The maple wood, waxed and glowing. The keys, all shiny in their stark black and whites, like a reception line of gentlemen dressed in sharp tuxedos. And the fragrance of that wood! As intoxicating as the smell of a genuine leather handbag. Or a new car. My parents were glowing, too, just seeing how happy this all made me. No longer will I have to practice on a cardboard keyboard. 

    The bench... 

    The one I sat on in the summer, dining room windows flung wide open so our Swedish neighbors could hear my rendition of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Younger than Springtime” – my mom egging me on to play it again...and again...and again, because, she said, she loved the tune so much. Her sneaky way of getting me to practice and perfect it.

    The one I sat on when I played a haunting little waltz called “Airy Fairies” – my dad’s favorite tune. One that he’d always request out of the blue. “Play ‘Airy Fairies’, will ya, Laur?” “OK, Dad.”

    The bench. The one my older brother sat on, reluctantly banging out “Anchors Aweigh” with no feeling whatsoever. He’d rip through it so he could dart off to play more favored games. Work on his model airplanes. Or pour over his latest issue of Mad Magazine. He hated to practice. And hated when I practiced, sometimes giving the upper keys a few indiscriminate, spiteful bangs as he passed by. I’d pretend not to notice, figuring I’ll get my revenge later.

    The bench. Where my little sister sat, dutifully playing before our mild-mannered Austrian piano teacher, Mr. Witz, who sat slumped in a dining room chair next to her, nodding – not to the tempo, but to sleep. Such was the soporific effect of having just consumed the Saturday night lox-and-bagel snack my mom would serve him as he taught. Mrs. Witz, wearing not a stitch of makeup but who did manage to balance a faded auburn beehive atop her head, would sometimes show up with Mr. Witz. He must have told her about the lox and bagels. Mom would kindly serve her, too, as my sister played on, mistakes going unnoticed.

    This was the bench where my first boyfriend sat – the one who loved me, but whose heart I so sadly broke. I regret the way I did it to this day. My Grandma described him as a “lang loksh” – Yiddish translation: a long noodle. He was very tall. He’d entertain our family, playing bouncy ragtime tunes, his wingspan extending beyond the width of the piano as the sleeves of his yellow 70’s-style shirt billowed to the beat. Of course my Grandma and Aunt kept nudging each other in an effort to stifle their laughs, seeing the whole image as comical. Like a cartoon in the New Yorker.

    It was the bench where my best friend in college and I once sat as she gave me words of advice when I was distraught about being judged by a couple of snobs in my theater group. “What makes you think you can’t judge them?” It completely changed my point of view.

    And it was the very bench upon which I sat and learned “Tico-Tico” and Bach’s “Solfeggietto” – two incredibly intricate pieces. Yet after much practice, I somehow got through them, and even played them well enough to sound like I knew what I was doing. Although I’m quite sure Van Clybourn would have winced. I played the piano. But I was no pianist.

    The bench. The one that would migrate with my husband and me as we’d move from apartment to condo to condo to condo, always serving as extra seating around the dining room table whenever our big, beautiful family would come to visit. Back when everyone was alive.

    The bench that, for decades, sat empty in front of an inexplicably silent piano until 2010, when I started to write songs, opening a whole new dimension to our marriage. After so many years of neglect, the bench was still there, holding no grudges, welcoming me back as I notated my melodies and tested them out. The long absence from the piano necessitated the tuner, who returned every year since.

    And now this.

    Oh, my little piano bench, how I miss you so. 

    But at least I still have the piano.

    -- Laura Stigler


  • 03 Apr 2024 12:43 PM | Laura Stigler (Administrator)

     If you’re unfamiliar with the following topic, please go to the links at the end of this article for background. But to bring you up to present time, as of March 11 the U.S. Department of Labor’s (USDOL) “Classification of Employees and Independent Contractors Under the Fair Labor Standards Act” has been launched. So now what? Do we have to accept it and, should the need arise, go into Plan B in plotting how we freelancers can continue earning a living? Or is there the possibility that this controversial ruling will eventually be voted down...and out?

    Some Good News nuggets

    I’m no fan of living in a litigious society, but in this case, it is well warranted. Lawsuits against the USDOL are mounting, including challenges by the four co-founders of Fight for Freelancers USA, trade groups, a transportation group, a trucking company and most recently, the country’s largest business lobby, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. No doubt, there will be more rolling in. By targeting what amounts to 72+ million Independent Contractors, this is an intrusive rule that could take down 45% of the U.S. economy. Clearly the movers, shakers and backbones that make up working America are not standing for it.

    It’s heartening to know that the Congressional Review Act (CRA) (sponsored by U.S. Rep. Kevin Kiley (R-CA) and Senator Bill Cassidy (R-LA)) to stop the USDOL’s Classification Regulation has just passed the House committee and is poised for a vote. The Senate has yet to move on it. This is why it is so important to contact your U.S. Representatives and Senators. As Editor Lila Stromer advises in the most recent issue of Freelancer Dispatch

    • Ask your U.S. Representative to vote yea on H.J. Res. 116.
    • Ask your U.S. Senators to vote yea on S.J. Res. 63.
    • Lila’s sample elevator speech: “I’m a [fill in type of freelancer] and have been a freelancer for years. I’m [for example: a senior, parent of young children, caretaker to parents, have health issues, live in a rural area, etc.] This is why I choose to be a freelancer and not a W2 employee.” Then go into your ask (voting yea on the appropriate Senate or House bill).

    They’re actually listening. From Freelancer Dispatch: “Staffers from more than 30 members of the House’s New Democrat Coalition (NDC) met with and listened to five freelancers on this regulation. The coalition is composed of House Democrats, making the House’s bill potentially bipartisan if/when it goes to President Biden’s desk.” Check out the NDC link to see if your reps are members. If so (and even if not), contact them and make your case, as suggested in the aforementioned elevator speech. 

    URGENT MEETING 

    In sum, even though the USDOL rule appears to be a done deal, the pushback is gaining momentum. In the meantime, if you’ve any questions as to how the rule may affect you and your business, please try to attend a special Zoom meeting on Tuesday, April 16, where Employment Attorney Lori Goldstein will be speaking, informing and answering your concerns.

    I truly hope to see you there.

    -- Laura Stigler

    Relevant links: 

    Fight for Freelancers USA

    Everything You Need to Know about the USDOL Independent Contractor Rule

    "Are We About to Lose Our Independence?" March Stet President's Post

    To subscribe to the Freelancer Dispatch newsletter, please email Lila Stromer

  • 27 Feb 2024 3:42 PM | Laura Stigler (Administrator)

    After enjoying a successful career as a freelance writer for over 30 years, could I wake up and suddenly find my clients gone without a trace? Naw! Not in an America where Independent Contractors (ICs) have been freely choosing how they work and live ever since the Declaration of Independence was penned. 

    Yet the nightmare of finding our way of life ripped out from under us is about to become a reality. On March 11, the US Department of Labor (USDOL) is launching the  “Classification of Employees and Independent Contractors Under the Fair Labor Standards Act.” 

    That regulation is modeled after California’s AB5 law, passed in 2019. As a result of AB5’s reclassification of Independent Contractors as employees, the careers of 4.5 million Independent Contractors and entrepreneurs were destroyed – despite a rescue plan of numerous carve-outs.

    All the destruction that AB5 has inflicted on the Golden State can now spread its tentacles nationwide to affect 72+ million Independent Contractors. That's almost 45% of the U.S. workforce, according to MBO Partners. Freelancers in over 600 different fields will be fair game -- everyone from CPA’s, caregivers, hair stylists, landscapers, physical therapists and translators, to graphic artists, writers of all stripes, real estate appraisers, dental hygienists, truckers, musicians, and bookkeepers. To name a few.

    Bluntly put, our business is none of the USDOL’s business. What have we IC’s done to deserve this? Absolutely nothing. In fact...

    • According to the Pew Research Center, the majority of self-employed workers (62%) say they are extremely or very satisfied with their job, compared to (51%) those who are not self-employed.
    • From Upwork: 74% of ICs say freelancing has given them greater control over their life, while other benefits include attention to their physical health and work-life balance.

    Given those stats, why are we being force-fed a “solution” for what was never a problem in the first place?

    Turns out, a groundswell of pushback is erupting: U.S. Representative Kevin Kiley (R-CA) and U.S. Senator Bill Cassidy (R- LA) will be using the Congressional Review Act (CRA) to attempt to repeal the rule. On January 16th,  Fight for Freelancers USA co-founders have filed the first suit against the USDOL. More suits are following. Ultimately, the rule will be catastrophic to the entire U.S. economy, no doubt necessitating SCOTUS involvement. But that doesn’t mean we can all sit back and hope for the best.

    Time is of the essence. The time to act is now. With the USDOL regulation ready to pounce on March 11, it is imperative we all voice our opposition to this deleterious rule by contacting our U.S. Congressional representatives. Tell your U.S. Rep and both your U.S. Senators to support Senator Cassidy’s and Rep. Kiley’s Congressional Review Act that will stop the USDOL rule in its tracks. You can even make it personal in how the rule would/could affect your business.

    Even if you’re not an Independent Contractor, you most likely work with or hire them, considering the hundreds of professions ICs represent. Do you really want your hard-earned tax dollars going towards the enforcement of rules that will wipe out millions of jobs and small businesses? 

    The clue here is in the name. Think “opposite.” Because there is nothing fair about the “Classification of Employees and Independent Contractors Under the Fair Labor Standards Act.” It is patently unfair. And downright un-American.

    -- Laura Stigler 

    P.S. Please plan to attend IWOC's Special Meeting on Tuesday, April 16, when Employment Attorney Lori Goldstein will be discussing the USDOL rule, how it can affect you and how you may be able to protect your business.


  • 27 Feb 2024 3:29 PM | Laura Stigler (Administrator)

    James T. Ardito, who blazed a shining trail as the co-founder and first president of Independent Writers of Chicago (IWOC), died on December 29 in Evanston.

    Ardito, 78, launched IWOC in 1981 for a creative group of mostly local, print-media independent writers. It would grow and develop over the years into what it is today, still standing tall as other local, professional writers groups have withered away and died in today’s difficult environment.

     As a writer, Ardito presented himself in a well-earned confident manner as one who would generate original copy or advertising that he guaranteed would “sell” the products and services of international corporations, as well as for other more modest endeavors.

    Ardito offered to write blogs, brochures, E-marketing, newsletters, social media and web content, specializing in multiple areas of topical expertise —advertising (including radio and TV), food, health, medical, marketing and sales. He could also provide employee communications, brand strategies, videos and industrial training films. A man of many facets, to be sure.

    After serving as president and remaining many years as a member, Ardito allowed his membership to lapse. Much time had passed until 2017, when he attended “Life in the Freelance Lane,” an IWOC program presented at Evanston’s library by current president Laura Stigler and board member Jeff Steele.  

    Reigniting his passion for the organization he first established, Ardito immediately rejoined IWOC with new gusto and once again, brought his enthusiasm to IWOC’s Board of Directors on which he served from 2018 to 2019.

    In his profile, Ardito made sure to describe himself proudly as a professional writer who had served as IWOC’s “Charter” President. “What a joy to see it survive and thrive for decades,” he said.

    An obituary posted Jan. 1 at Legacy.com pointed out that Ardito had been born in Hamden, Connecticut, earned his B.A. from Franklin Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and then earned his Master's degree in advertising at Michigan State University.

    “If it had anything to do with selling, he could—and did—write it,” the obit noted. “Jimmy told stories, all kinds of stories, scary stories around camp fires for his kids, funny stories for his nationally syndicated column.” 

    "Funny" followed Jim everywhere: He loved looking at life through a humorous prism.

    Jim resided most recently in Skokie, Ill., and is survived by his wife Merry Juell, two grown children, Sam and Zoe, and a brother and sister.

    No details were mentioned regarding a memorial service, except to say that a “celebration of life” would take place at a later date.

    -- Tom Lanning

    Editor's Note: Here is link to a funny 2019 Stet article Jim Ardito wrote on rejection letters. Note that he also pays homage to his Italian heritage by including a recipe for Lobster Fra Diavolo (the instructions are not for the squeamish). 


     



  • 27 Dec 2023 12:09 PM | Laura Stigler (Administrator)

    This last November, I sent an e-blast to you all regarding the latest news in the fight against a US Department of Labor (USDOL) job-destroying ruling – the PRO Act (Protecting the Right to Organize) containing the ABC Test. Its aim is to classify Independent Contractors (ICs) as employees. (If you don’t know what I’m referring to, find out here.) In that email, I mentioned that the ruling was poised to be enacted around Thanksgiving. That didn’t happen. While versions of it are currently making their way around various states (IL, MN, NJ, RI, NY, etc.) the ruling is still pending on the national level, with a possible launch in January. In the meantime, the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) has been taking meetings to hear both sides of the issue. 

    Our business is none of their business.

    Politicians and unelected officials should not be able to decide how we work and live. It is our constitutional right and responsibility to fight back:

    1) Contact the White House and voice your opposition to the PRO Act/ABC Test. 2) Find out where your U.S. and State Congressional Representatives stand on this ruling. If they support IC’s, thank them. If they support the PRO Act/ABC Test, set them straight. And 3) get into the business of those unelected officials in the USDOL and on the National Labor Relations Board. Let them know in no uncertain terms where you stand. 

    Make your voice heard. I have.

    On November 28, I spoke for ten minutes on behalf of IWOC and myself in a teleconference hosted by the OIRA. There were nine in attendance, representing the OIRA, the USDOL, DOL’s and OIRA’s Offices of Management and Budget, and DOL’s Wage and Hour Division. While backed with stats and facts, my statement was intensely personal. It had to be if I wished to make any impact. If you’re curious as to what I presented, my statement is posted below.  You may even relate to some of it. Or at the very least, be informed and inspired enough to contact your representatives or write an op-ed, and make your own voice heard.

    Will my voice – and that of the millions of Independent Contractors expressing their concerns – halt the enactment of this deleterious ruling? We can only hope. But to not fight and just accept what will be forced upon us...is unacceptable. 

    Stay tuned, 

    Laura Stigler

    STATEMENT FOR THE OFFICE OF INFORMATION AND REGULATORY AFFAIRS

    11-28-23

    Thank you for accepting my request for a meeting and hearing me out. My name is Laura Stigler. I’m serving my 8th term as president of Independent Writers of Chicago, speaking for myself and on behalf of our members. I’ve been a freelance writer for 34 years. Previous to that, I worked as a full-time employee for 14 years – the first 2 years in retail advertising, and the next 12 working my way up to Creative Director at J. Walter Thompson – which at the time, was the world’s largest advertising agency. For 10 of those years at J. Walter, it was glorious. The training and experience I’ve gained I wouldn’t have traded for the world. Everything I’ve learned there I continue to put to use in my freelance writing career. 

    But in the last two years working at the agency, there was a regime change, turning my days into nightmares where I experienced the kind of backstabbing that is often depicted in movies and novels about the advertising industry. I went into a deep depression, where I’d go home every night, jump in the tub and read fairy tales to escape, as I didn’t do drugs. After my boss sabotaged my work only to throw me under the bus in front of a client, I was fired. Which ended up being a blessing. I vowed never, ever to work for a jerk again. So I decided to go freelance. This was in 1989.

    Nonstop since then, I’ve been happily and successfully making my living as a freelance writer, setting my own rates, hours and picking and choosing my clients. At J. Walter, I wrote TV and radio commercials and print ads. But being a freelancer allowed me to expand my own skill sets exponentially, enabling me to offer an extensive variety of writing services that answer the different needs of a wide variety of clients. Need a website written? A blog? A video script? A press release? I do all that – and more. In doing so, I’ve developed solid, trusting relationships with my clients, in every case giving my all in providing my best work, and rewarded with being paid my hourly rate willingly, eagerly, and promptly. In the 30+ years of freelancing, not once have I been stiffed. And for the very few times payment was late, I handled it, appealing to those clients’ better angels.

    To those who believe they’re doing Independent Contractors (ICs) a favor by forcing them into being an employee, thinking that is more secure: My experience should tell you, that is simply not the case. Sure, as an employee you’re secure – that is, until you’re laid off due to budgetary concerns. Or you’re fired by a nefarious boss. Or you’re canceled because of a misspoken word. Or the company simply goes out of business. Oh, by the way, the iconic J. Walter Thompson – the world’s largest ad agency? They no longer exist. 

    According to Fiver“Over 80% of independent workers strongly or somewhat agree that having multiple sources of income provides a greater level of security than relying on a single employer, and 89% agree having control over their work life allows them to adjust to changing economic conditions rather than being tied to the decisions of an employer.” 

    Keep in mind, too, that when you lose employment, you lose your health insurance. Poof! Gone. How secure is that?  As a freelancer, even if you lose a client, you still get to keep your health insurance – as long as you keep up your premium payments. 

    That’s the thing about being independent. It teaches you responsibility. To find your own health insurance. To be proactive in paying your quarterly taxes. No, you don’t get paid vacation or paid family leave, but what you do get in return are three benefits money cannot buy: Freedom, variety and flexibility. 

    An example of flexibility:  I was able to earn a living while helping my dad take care of my mother during the four years she battled cancer. 20 years later, I was able to be the caregiver for my dad for 5 years until he passed away at the age of 99, all the while, taking on writing assignments that I’d work on in between the hours of helping my dad. As an employee, I wouldn’t have been able to do that.

    Regarding freedom and variety, that is something you do not get as an employee. Oftentimes – and I speak from experience, you can end up working on the same thing, day after day, year after year. But as a freelancer, I get to be creatively stimulated – and happier – by freely working for a variety of clients on a variety of assignments. So if I were to have to work for one of my clients as an employee – assuming they’d even want to hire me as such, does that mean I’d have to give up all my other clients, and be forced into working in a way that I’ve come to find soul-crushing? Why? Just because you say so? Or because of some ill-thought-out arbitrary rule?

    I’m referring here to Factor 5 of the USDOL’s rule, the one that emulates prong B of California’s AB5 ruling that destroyed thousands of jobs and small businesses. The personal stories are heartbreaking. That factor states you will be classified as an Independent Contractor if “The service is performed outside the usual course of the business of the employer.” Well my business would be wiped out, because I’m in advertising and the majority of my clients have been ad agencies. 

    You say, “But they can hire you as an employee!” Fat chance. No ad agency will hire anyone my age for full-time employment. Ageism is rampant in that industry. Once you turn 50, you’re out. Happened to my husband and to my dad. But the way to beat that – is to be a freelancer. I get hired – and respected because of my expertise, my experience, and the fact that as an outsider, they count on me for bringing in fresh ideas and an out-of-the-box perspective. In total, I’ve garnered millions of dollars’ worth of business for my clients. My reward? They continue to hire me and pay me more than they would were I their employee.

    Corroborating my experience are these facts from Upwork:

    ·       85% of hiring managers say that working with independent talent allows them to access specialized skills or expertise. 

    ·   79% agree that working with independent talent has enabled their business to be more innovative. 

    ·   Nearly 80% of hiring managers who engage skilled freelancers say they are confident in their ability to find the talent they need, compared to just 63% of those who don’t engage freelancers.

    Let’s also take into consideration the fact that often, smaller businesses will hire IC’s because they simply cannot afford to take them on full time – they can’t afford the vacation pay, health insurance and countless other expenses that go with hiring full-timers. So what will happen is they’ll drop the IC’s altogether. The IC’s will lose their clients. And their clients will lose someone they’ve depended on to help their business succeed. Which in turn, has caused many small businesses to go under as well, because they’ve basically lost their work force. 

    According to MBO Partners (a job sourcing platform for ICs) and Freelancers Against AB5, there are 72.1 million Independent Contractors in the U.S. representing over 600 professions ranging from accounting, graphic artists and language translation to hair styling, physical therapy and writers of all stripes. That’s almost 45% of the nation’s workforce. The destruction these rules will do to the nation’s economy will be catastrophic. 

    But what it all basically comes down to is this: Millions of IC’s in professions across the board have been voicing their opposition to this rule. If it provided such great “protection” for freelancers, why are only unions in support of it? As it is, the NLRB is being sued for overstepping its regulatory capabilities (with franchisees) and this USDOL regulation will also be sued in court. The millions who have chosen to be Independent Contractors are living exactly how we want to live – with freedom and flexibility. As Americans, that is completely within our right to enjoy. Any ruling that impinges upon that right is a brazen infringement on our God-given unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. 

    And personally, I don’t want my tax dollars going towards rules that will ruin my business and that of millions of others, including the businesses of the writers my organization represents. 

    In sum, this so-called Classification of Employees and Independent Contractors Under the Fair Labor Standards Act is patently unfair. And quite frankly, un-American.

    Thank you.

    Submitted by Laura Stigler

    NOTES:

    9 people were present in the meeting: Stephen Davis, Robert Waterman -- DOL/Wage and Hour Division; Andrea Reyes, Laurel Havas --  Office of Management and Budget / OIRA; Claire Monteiro- OMB Labor Branch; Amy Hunter, Lyda Harris, Rina Majmudar DOL; Dean Romhilt – DOL/SOL  (represents Secretary of Labor)


  • 26 Nov 2023 10:28 AM | Laura Stigler (Administrator)

    You won’t find my name anymore on the list of IWOC members. After a dozen years of freelancing and IWOC (including a couple of terms as president), and about 30 years in newspapers before that, I have decided to retire. This won’t be a semi-retirement of doing a few projects here and there to keep my hand in. It’s walking away from everything all at once. 

    You see, I reached the point where I want all of my time to be my own. This past spring my wife and I took a bird-watching trip to the border country of southeastern Arizona, someplace neither of us had ever visited. Of course I had a deadline overlapping the trip, had to ask for flexibility from an editor, had to push to get ahead before we left, and had to push to finish the assignment when we returned. I decided I’d had enough of jamming my pleasures into the spaces between work. In addition, my journalism work has become more difficult in the last few years. People aren’t as cooperative — when they bother responding to interview requests at all. I don’t know why that is, and while I could speculate about the reasons, ultimately reasons don’t matter. Only the effect on my work matters.


    I will miss IWOC very much. It was invaluable in helping me master the mechanics of freelancing, but the greatest benefit was finding a group of friendly, helpful, and supportive people, and it is all of you that I will particularly miss. I don’t recognize as many member names as I used to, but that’s good because organizations need to change if they are to survive. IWOC especially needs to do that as writers face the age of artificial intelligence (as true a moniker as it could be since what it produces has little to do with actual intelligence) and business “thought leaders” (a term much like “artificial intelligence”) who see it as an easy way to generate their “content” (meaning clusters of words that have the appearance of being substantive).

    I found IWOC through a friend who worked at a Sun-Times suburban newspaper and became one of the many casualties of the post-recession newspaper economy. She saw an ad for a freelance bootcamp by this Chicago writers organization, and she wanted to go but not alone. So I took a day off from my newspaper job, and we went. What I found was people who had made a successful living from freelance writing for years. Not too long after that, when the idiocy at my corporation grew beyond my tolerance, I remembered IWOC and thought, “If they can do it, so can I.” 

    I’ll miss trips downtown for IWOC meetings, too, because downtown is downtown and always stimulating and interesting. I haven’t attended in person recently because, pandemic aside, I moved from southeastern Wisconsin to Madison where my wife has a job with an actual office. (I was walking to the train station with George Becht one night soon after joining IWOC, and he told me that after a few years of freelancing I wouldn’t want to return to an office job. He was right.) Reaching downtown Chicago is now a minor expedition — driving to Milwaukee to catch Amtrak to Union Station — instead of an easy ride on the Metra North Line. 

    You may be curious to know what my retirement plans are, other than watching birds. Well, my plan is to figure out tomorrow when tomorrow arrives. It’s another lesson learned from freelancing: adaptability. If something doesn’t work, no big deal; you do something else. It’s time for me to find something else. 

    I hope you all fare well. 

    -- David Steinkraus


  • 26 Nov 2023 9:53 AM | Laura Stigler (Administrator)

     As is my custom, I’m taking December off. But I thought it might be a good idea to end this roller coaster of year on an up note, with a repeat of a posting bearing thoughts – and a song -- to carry us through the holiday season. And beyond.

    _______________________ 

    As I sit here in lotus position upon my mountain top (remind me to bring a pillow next time), I’ve come to contemplate something no great philosopher has ever thought of before: The Secret to Happiness. What brings happiness? Living in a country where each is free to pursuit their own, it’s no doubt different for everyone. For me, it’s being productive – especially when it has to do with creation. Whether it’s a project I just finished for a client, or having written a song – that’s the absolute best. Where I get most of my “highs.” It can also come from being productive in other ways. Making a particularly succulent beef bourguignon, for instance. (Ask me for the recipe.) Or finally cleaning up my office. (I can breathe better!) Anything, big or small, that I can accomplish to my own personal satisfaction makes me happy. Temporarily, at least. And that’s the catch.

    Creativity. Productivity. As with anything in life that isn’t permanent, it ebbs and flows, often influencing my moods. So what can sustain us in between? Keep us buoyed during the down times? Or all the time? In light of all this heavy pondering, I’d like to share the lyrics of a song I wrote recently that might provide at least one answer. 

    Picture it being sung by a guy. A real character with a twinkle in his eye. Not a spring chicken, he’s been around the block several times and after experiencing life’s ups and downs and witnessing much, has gained this bit of wisdom...

    THANKS TO GRATITUDE

    Written by Laura Stigler-Marier

    Well I may never get to Easy Street

    But I walk to town with shoes on my feet

    No, that ain’t my McMansion on the hill

    But my four walls keep out the evening chill

    And my job may not be what dreams are made of

    But at least...I ain’t been laid off


    Yeah, compared to most my troubles are few

    And the ones I got 

    With the help of God 

    I manage to get through

    Yeah happiness ain’t nothing but an attitude

    And I am one

    Happy son-of-a-gun

    Thanks to gratitude


    Ya know, Easy Street has got its share of potholes

    And what’s behind them mansion doors, God knows

    As perfect as that other side may seem

    Up close, the grass ain’t always all that green

    Rich or poor, we all got our problems

    If you’re alive...you got ‘em


    Ah, but compared to most my troubles are few

    And the ones I got 

    With the help of God 

    I manage to get through

    Yeah happiness ain’t nothing but an attitude

    And I am one

    Happy son-of-a-gun

    Thanks to gratitude


    Thankful for my friends

    For my simple life

    And thank you Lord for sending me

    My saint of a wife


    Ohhh, happiness ain’t nothing but an attitude

    And I am one 

    Happy son-of-a gun

    Yeah I am one 

    Lucky son-of-a-gun

    Thanks to gratitude

    It’s all about gratitude

    Thank you, gratitude

    Merry Christmas, Happy Chanukah everyone!

    --Laura Stigler

    P.S. If you would like to hear the melody, contact me and I could send the scratch track. Trigger warning: I’m singing it acapella. 

    “Thanks to Gratitude” ã2021 Laura Stigler-Marier & Ken Marier

    -

  • 10 Nov 2023 10:50 AM | Laura Stigler (Administrator)

    When I think of the TV show "Friends," I recall the witty writing and the six talented actors who brought the script to life. Especially Matthew Perry, with his comedic timing and animated facial expressions in his portrayal of Chandler Bing. 

    "Friends" originally aired from 1994-2004, and I worked in the corporate world then. I often stayed late at the office to finish projects. One night a week, three of my coworkers would gather in a cubicle nearby at around 6pm, and spend the next hour laughing loudly.

    What were they talking about? "Friends." They were discussing, analyzing and dissecting every scene of the previous night's episode. Week after week this went on. I'd try to work, but overhear them, and find myself unable to stop laughing at the "Friends" episode all over again. 

    What might not be known, is that Perry would drop into the writers' room and contribute by pitching jokes and helping craft the scripts that we enjoyed so much. After the show ended, he harbored ambitions to write. In 2016, he wrote a dark comedy play called “The End of Longing” which premiered in London. His memoir “Friends, Lovers and the Big Terrible Thing” was published in 2022 in which he shared his struggles with addiction, with the aim of helping others. 

    Thank you for the laughs, Matthew, and for your big heart. The world needs both. Please rest in peace.

    -- Sarah Klose

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