I think there is a certain dichotomy in people's opinions on freelancers and freelance work. People who are decidedly not freelancers seem to either have a highly romanticized theory of what it means to be one, or jump toward the other end of the spectrum and view freelancing as a bad decision that is one step above attempting to shave a rabid polar bear with a Lady Bic.
I've been a "freelancer" for a few months now. I've been selling artwork for months, and picked up a reporter-type-gig for an online newspaper site. So hey, I'm writing.
Here's some general viewpoints I've seen expressed remotely and in person, in juxtaposition of each other:
“They must not need money.”
I’m not even really sure how to explain how backward this theory is, but it seems it’s not quite the majority’s opinion, just a large one. (I’m not sure if I could say people are "half and half" on it since my polling skills are few.) Those who come up with this opinion are generally under the idea that anyone deciding to freelance is just doing it as a side-job, and not as their sole-means of income, and that whatever they earn doing will go toward purchasing things like a gumball machine and bags personalized of M&Ms.
While it's true that, ideally, freelancing remains a side-job, many people rely on it solely as a means of income. In that case they need the money. Very much so. Especially because they may have to pay into their own private health insurance plan.
"I know [such and such] and they make tons of money doing it."
That's completely rare and field-relative. A freelance web designer has a better chance of eating well than a freelance contractor, who often needs insurance policies and licenses to back themselves up in order to be taken seriously. Basing one's opinion on freelancing because you know ONE person who does well on it isn't entirely a good idea.
"They must have been fired from their last job."
This comment makes me laugh, because unemployment generally pays better than those just getting into freelancing.
"They're so lucky not to have a 9-5 schedule."
Yes and no. True, there is generally no 9-5 schedule unless you so entirely stacked up with work that you need to create one for fear of collapsing in on yourself. For the most part, though, freelancers are pawns of everyone else's schedule -- so you might not have to work a steady 8 hours, but sporiadically over the course of a day. It's much more difficult to go out, do what you need to do, come home, relax, then restart that entire process one more time than it is to go out, come back, and not have to work again until morning.
"They must be awful with people."
This could be entirely true, I can't argue with it too much.
"They'd rather be their own boss."
"They are free to do as much work as they want."
..Yes, after they make enough money for inconsequential things like rent and gas. Then yes. Though most freelancers sign themselves up for contracts in order to guarantee a somewhat steady income, so that's not always the case. And freelancers who aren't completely established in their field are generally looking for work just as much as they are doing it, so the idea of "as much work as they want" goes out the window.
"They must be good at networking."
Not always, but you kind of learn. Or have to be. I'm on my way.
Anything else to add? Feel free!