Whatever You Say by Joanna Michal Hoyt

Joanna Michal Hoyt is a freelance writer who works on Upwork.

 October 1

Thea closed her laptop and strolled out to the henhouse, whistling.  Finding work online wasn’t so hard after all. Sure, the first week had been a misery of scrolling through sites full of students wanting their homework done for them. (While she did need more money coming in to keep the farm afloat and pay the loan back, Thea had her principles and wasn’t going to plagiarize.) But then her niece had recommended Upwork. They vetted their job requests–well, sort of—at least, there were plenty of jobs that did look legit. They had an escrow system, so nobody got shafted.  They had tests you could take to show proficiency, fortunately for Thea, who only had a high school diploma, although she thought she wrote better than certain college graduates she could name. She’d passed the tests with flying colors, and she’d landed a job within two days. A peach of a job. She’d ghostwrite short articles on mindfulness, gratitude, and positive thought. They’d pay two hundred dollars a week for twenty thousand words of content. Two hundred dollars a week was a nice round amount, and she’d always been good at generating words and ideas. The first article on gratitude practically wrote itself in her head as she collected eggs.


October 8

Thea slammed the window to shut out the blatting of the goats. She knew perfectly well that they were miserable with the flies, but she didn’t have time to go out and spray them. She was four thousand words short for the week and had three hours left before the deadline. She hadn’t meant to get so far behind, but things kept happening.  Judy stopped in for supper one night and stayed to talk about her miseries, and Thea hadn’t the heart—or the gall–to turn her away in order to finish writing “The Gift Of Your Presence.” Then Thea snapped up the fifty-dollar proofreading assignment, which took an unexpectedly long time because some of the sentences were so strangely constructed that a complete rewrite was required. Still, she wanted the fifty, because when she thought she was getting two hundred dollars a week she had forgotten to account for the twenty per cent fee that went to the site. She knew better than to overlook things like that; she wasn’t stupid, really; she just wanted to think she had what she needed… what she wanted… which was stupid, when it meant ignoring the facts.

Thea shook her head to clear it, looked back at the words she had typed. “Don’t give in to the energy drain of negative self-talk!” That was stupidly worded…


November 1

Thea sat up groggily, tried to hit the snooze button, remembered that she’d set the alarm clock out of reach precisely so she couldn’t do that.  This was one of the Tips for Efficient Living she had described in yesterday’s article. Thea was now making an extra sixty dollars a week nominal, forty-eight actual, writing for the Life Management magazine put out by the same company that wanted the pieces on mindfulness and gratitude.  At least, she thought as she set her bare feet on the cold floor, her pieces were all pseudonymous; nobody who’d taken her advice could send her hate mail.  Anyway, maybe the sort of people who read columns on Life Management didn’t have to wake themselves up at four-fifteen.

She woke her laptop and looked unenthusiastically at the title of the piece she’d set herself to write before milking: “Take Responsibility!”


December 1

Thea stared at the empty Word document in front of her, trying to think of ten new topics for the week. She needed three articles on gratitude. What else was there to say about that? She’d covered Spiritual Benefits of Gratitude, Relational Benefits of Gratitude, Health Benefits of Gratitude, Remembering to Say Thank You (To Loved Ones; To Strangers: Instead of Apologizing), and even Gratitude for Blessings in Disguise—she’d been smart enough to make that a three-part series. But what else? How To Act Grateful When You’re Not might be a useful piece, but she doubted her clients would think it suited their tone.

            Gratitude later, then. What about Presence? What about Simple Joys?
Thea snorted, minimized the blank document, opened her browser and began looking for other jobs.

king fuschia drawing - cropped.jpgDecember 6

Thea glared at the latest message from her client. Yes, she was very well aware that two of her entries for the week so far had been very nearly rewrites of earlier pieces. No, she didn’t see how to take ‘a fresher approach,” she was fresh out of ideas. What she wanted to do was quit before her writing became derivative enough to earn her bad feedback.  What she didn’t want to do was quit without having something else lined up. She shouldn’t have been foolish enough to buy the new baler at the auction on the strength of the additional income she thought she had… while that had prompted an Efficient Living piece on avoiding impulse buying, it wasn’t worth it. (Not that it was really an impulse buy, she needed a baler, and the one she’d had was falling to bits, and she was sick of wire-and-twine fixes, and anyway she wouldn’t have time for them come summer if she was still writing as well as farming…) She’d stayed up late to browse jobs and place other bids. “Edit Children’s Books” still hadn’t replied, and more than fifty freelancers had bid on it. “Write ESL Tutorial Materials” had inquired about her credentials and dropped her upon learning she hadn’t any. “Ghostwrite Haunted House Fiction” wanted a free sample written for them even though that was obviously against the rules; after she explained that to them they hired someone else, presumably less scrupulous.  She’d gotten “Proofread Short Article” but that was a one-and-done…

She refreshed the job search window and laughed aloud. “Snarky Blogger Wanted for Satirical Content on Positive Thinking” had posted an offer of ongoing work five minutes ago.  She sent in a heartfelt proposal.


December 7

Looking at the Snarky Blogger contract in her inbox, Thea had a fresh idea for an article on Gratitude and Serendipity. She wrote a good lead paragraph before remembering that that contract was ended.


December 21

It was ten p.m. when Thea closed the laptop and hurried to the basement for the Christmas-tree lights. She was tired; she’d pushed a bit to finish the last assignment—Snarky Blogger required 2000 words a week in two distinct voices, and paid one hundred and eighty dollars, so she was picking up other work around the edges–but now she could let it all go and step back into the Christmas magic. She opened the box, inhaled the fragrance of the balsam needles stuck in the cord from last year…

“that smell that takes us back to the childhood Christmases we are supposed to remember so fondly, to the chortling uncles asking if we had been good, to their children who tortured us while the uncles weren’t looking and then acted surprised and sweetly concerned when we screamed loudly enough for the uncles to hear, to the frantic disappointment among the piles of wrapping paper while the uncles expected us to smile…”

She’d written that as a Snarky Blogger, in her more long-winded and old-fashioned persona. She’d thought it rather clever at the time. What kind of a soulless jerk would write that?

What kind of a sentimental idiot would object?

Thea sat down on the basement stairs and cried. She thought of looking for a client who wanted articles on ambivalence, or exhaustion, or maybe depression. Then she thought again.


You can read more of Joanna’s writing at https://joannamichalhoyt.com/