How Companies Sabotage Freelance Writers

{Etsy card by Nicola Clare}
{Etsy card by Nicola Clare}

Businesses hire freelance writers all the time. That’s a great thing for us! And for them. Freelance writers are flexible, come with a variety of skills and companies don’t have to pay us benefits (though it’d be nice wouldn’t it?).

One of the tricky things about working with companies, particularly small businesses with little experience hiring freelance writers, is that you’ve got to help them along the way. As someone who’s worked almost exclusively with small companies and start-ups, I have a few lessons I’ve learned. Here are a few parcels of wisdom for freelance writers applying for writing gigs and companies wanting to hire a freelance writer:

  1. Be clear. One of the things I’ve had to learn over and over again is that you can’t be successful if you’re not clear about your vision and intentions. In fact, you’re guaranteed to disappoint your client if you don’t understand what they need and/or want. Also a lot of companies may not know what they’re looking for. But don’t settle for that as an answer. Ask them to be specific, to provide examples of text they like, and to spend the time figuring out what style/type/format of writing will help their business.
  2. Be realistic. Writing involves a lot of right-brain thinking. It’s hard to put freelance writers on the same schedule as another worker doing something less creative because creativity takes time. Expect too much and a) they might not be able to deliver b) they might deliver with less than adequate results. Furthermore, if writers and small businesses are not on the same page when it comes to deadlines, it will cause dissatisfaction on both sides. I tried meeting the demands of a start-up once and ended up with flaky copy. Instead, I should have been honest about what I thought were realistic expectation. You might fear disappointing your client. But be dishonest and you’ll disappoint them even more when you turn in half-baked writing.

Are there any pearls you’ve learned in the writing industry? Share the wealth with us here.

 

Be the Writer Every Editor Wants to Work With

Talent can take you far in life. But hard work will push you further than talent alone.

{Etsy photo by TheLovelyGreenWall }
{Etsy photo by TheLovelyGreenWall }

What I’ve learned in the last 6 years I’ve been freelance writing is there are other skills besides writing that can benefit the successful freelance writer. And that’s a good thing! This means that I don’t need to be as creative as Young House Lovers John and Sherry, funny as Martha Beck or as pushy as some go-getter writers to be successful.

Talk about a load off of my back. If I had to be naturally talented like the authors I drool over, I would have given up on this business several lousy paychecks ago.

What I’ve learned has been key to finding more jobs irrespective of where I live, how much experience I have or what I’ve done in the past. It’s helped me overcome and even make use of a degree and work experience that have no relationship to my career as a writer. It’s also given me confidence to pursue different directions in my writing. So here it is. It’s all the work that I’ve compiled from making tons of mistakes and learning in the process. It’s how you will become the writer editors seek out.

Take yourself seriously no matter what stage you’re at.

When I first decided to quit job hopping to finally pursue a freelance writing career, I was scared silly. I didn’t know what I was doing and was sure I would mess up. And I did. But I’m glad I did. It forced me to work hard. I threw myself in my work. I signed up for classes. I called people and asked them for advice, suggestions, help. I bought books, dogearing and highlighting as I went along. I joined and then started my own writing group. I did everything I could to learn as much as I could because if I was going to do this, I was going to give it my all. That’s what I also found inspiring when watching Jiro Dreams of Sushi, a 2011 documentary about a Japanese man who makes sushi making an art. Here’s what he says about success and hard work:

“Once you decide on your occupation… you must immerse yourself in your work. You have to fall in love with your work. Never complain about your job. You must dedicate your life to mastering your skill. That’s the secret of success… and is the key to being regarded honorably.”

Be honest.

There have been many times at the start of my career where I felt like a fraud. I was amazed people gave me jobs and believed that they would eventually see how inexperienced I was and fire me. So I hid my insecurities and pretended I knew what I was doing when I didn’t. This backfired on me big time and I learned it’s much better to be honest about what was expected of me. In two words, be transparent. It’s how you build trust with any potential editors and how you work with integrity. If you can’t finish an article on time, let an editor know right away. If you’re not clear about the assignment, ask. It’s simple things like these that make you much easier to work with and be the type of writer editors will contact again and again.

Be flexible.

I’m no writer diva. My belief is that every writing gig that comes my way is an opportunity and I like to bend in the wind of all opportunities. This means that for the most part, I’m going to get up real early, drive far, or write fast if it will make my client happy. I will deliver quality content and I will change pieces, organize them differently and do so happily. As long as I am treated well, my aim is to be a client-pleaser.

These are just a few tips I’ve learned that can make working with editors and clients easy-peasy. It not only makes the relationship work better for the current assignment, but it makes me more likely to gain future ones too. Basically to stand out from the millions of other writers out there (some who have more impressive portfolios than you), you need to treat your clients as people, think about what would make them happy, work hard and deliver quality content. Those are the things that have and continue to help me. What’s helped you?

5 Less Travelled Paths Toward More Freelance Work

As the holiday approaches, you may be winding down your freelance writing business. Or you may be reaping the benefits of less saturation in the market. More writers taking a holiday means more work for you!

If you’re looking for fresh ways to add more work to your portfolio, here are a few tried and true methods that have worked for me in the past and is sure to work for you:

1. Peruse your local pubs.

I get about 5 free local publications sent to my address every few months. They’re like hidden job ads for writers sent straight to my front door. No money necessary. Just read, research and apply.

2. Take advantage of social media.

I never thought this would work in a million years. But it did. I searched for editors in my area and contacted one who’s work impressed me. I didn’t just hear back, but I scored my first assignment for their magazine. And it’s not just LinkedIn that can help you, but Twitter, Facebook and your blog too. Send it out there that you’re looking for new freelance writing gigs and you never know who may respond back.

3. Be opened to lesser paying gigs.

Yes I’m quite sure there are a lot of writing gurus out there who would disagree with me. But I have a good reason to risk selling out. It can open future doors for you. The more work you’ve got to show for, the more evidence you have that you’re an experienced writer. That adds up to higher pay in the long run.

4. Think outside the box.

You may flock to online writing job ads and your local newspaper to find freelance writing work, but if you want to travel the less travelled path, you need to think outside the box. This means being open and curious to every opportunity you’re given. For example, I often research the people who comment on my blog. You know that the people you’re attracting to your blog share your similar interests and passion as your own. They may own an organization you would love to write for or may be able to use a writer like yourself. You never know so make sure to ask!

5. Seek to be a solution solver.

If you’re out there searching for more work, chances are you’ll meet people who need website help, newsletter content or copywriting. It’s the reason why business cards are so important. But don’t just email a contact and ask if they need writing help. Check out their website first. Find out what it’s missing and how your skills can help make it that much better. The more specific you are about what you can offer, the more likely they will be to hire you. Besides that, it’s a whole lot easier for potential clients when you come to them offering help solve their latest problems. No need for busy entrepreneurs to go on a hunt to find the best writer. You’re right there, a qualified writer willing to help and ready to work.

What less travelled path did you venture on to score your latest writing gig?

Why Daydreaming is Good for Your Writing

{flickr photo by Colton Witt Photography}

 

Hurray for daydreaming! It’s the thing you loved to do in school, but what you were most likely to get punished for. Well now there’s legitimate reason to zone off when bored.

Yes, according to author Jonah Lehrer’s book Imagine: How Creativity Works, it’s those moments when you’re dazing out the window that your getting the most work done. Perhaps all of us writers knew this intuitively. But Lehrer’s book provides actual research to back that statement up. In it, he describes the work of psychologist Jonathan Schooler and his research on daydreams and their benefits.

And what did Schooler find?

“His [Jonathan Schooler’s] lab has demonstrated that people who consistently engage in more daydreaming score significantly higher on measures of creativity.”

Go Daydreamers!

So how do you reap the best benefits of daydreaming?

The process is two-fold. First you need to daydream, of course. And then you need to be aware of the fact that you’re doing it. People who can interrupt their thoughts when they’ve hit a solution to a problem are the ones that are going to benefit from creative insight.

How to Use Daydreaming to Write Better

Schooler increases the chances of creative insight in his own life by prioritizing mind-wandering activities like hiking. And you should too.

It may feel like getting away from your computer is the worst possible thing you can do when you’re stuck on what to write next, but it could do wonders for your writing. The more you can leave the actual problem where it is and zoom in on something else, the more likely you’ll be able to solve that debilitating blockage.

It’s not only a great excuse to take a break, but it’s a smart one too!

 

Quick Editing Exercises You Can Do Now to Prevent Writer’s Remorse Later

5 rules of editing
{flickr photo}

I’ve been struggling with the editing process for awhile. A part of that is psychological. I would rather pretend that my piece looks good enough instead of deal with the agonizing reality that it’s far from perfection.

But if you want to be a successful writer, this won’t bode well for a long-term career.

That’s why I’ve developed a quick system to insure I won’t make a fool out of myself by submitting less than par prose. It’s easy as 1-2-3.

After you’ve worked on the final draft of your latest endeavor take a breather. In a day or two, try this:

1. Read your words out loud, preferably facing a mirror with emphasis as if you were Oprah. That’s the way you catch weird phrases, grammatical errors and unnecessary sentences.

2. Read your words slowly and pay attention to how you feel about each word. Use your intuition to help pull out words that don’t fit. It’s the reason why I eventually threw away the word “saccharin,” in an essay I recently submitted. It bugged me so I gave it a heave-ho and moved on with it.

3. Read it as if you were a reader. It’s easy to get lost in your own perspective. You’re reading it as the writer. But one way to make sure you’re being clear and relevant is to put yourself in the shoes of a potential reader. The best is if you can even imagine who they are, what they look like, what they could obtain from your words.

*Extra credit: Get a friend to read your work. It always helps to get a pair of fresh eyes to give you feedback.

Final thoughts: I realized that sometimes my right brain likes to mess with my left. My creative ego loves to have the last word. That’s why I need to be extra vigilant and continually ask myself if what I’m writing has a purpose in the entirety of the prose. If it doesn’t, it’s hasta la vista baby. There’s better words out there.

Writer Tip: How to Deal With Rejection

I don’t know if you’re a big Something’s Gotta Give fan like me. But if you are, you know every single line, every heartbreaking sentence and LOL phrase that made Diane Keaton and Jack Nicholson sing on-screen together.

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways (the writing, the setting, the fact that Diane played a screenwriter). One of my favorites, however is her genuine vulnerability reflected when she’s with Jack’s character Harry. There’s one scene that does it for me every time. Harry and Erica are in New York when she catches having dinner with a younger woman. She runs out of the restaurant and Harry follows her. She tells him how heartbroken she is, looks at him and says, “What am I gonna do? What am I gonna do with all of this?”

The reason why I bring up this particular line is that it perfectly captures the emotion engendered from rejection. It feels as devastating as a heartbreak. No matter how many times we’ve been rejected, it’s still a bitter pill to swallow.

After you’ve been rejected, after you put hundreds of hours in your work, after you allowed yourself to be vulnerable by showing off your work, what do you with all of this?

In Toxic Criticism, Eric Maisel says one way to soothe your wounded ego is to write yourself a “Dear critic” letter. It’s not to be sent or even shown. It’s a way to release the hurt, pain, and anguish that often accompanies rejection. For that reason, feel free to let your emotions go. Tell your editor how disappointed you were. Explain to that potential agent how dumb they were to pass up your book. Let them have it and when you’re through, rip it up and release those demons. And when you’re ready, get back on the writing saddle again. We’ll be waiting for you.

Quick Creative Writing Exercises

{iPhone photo using my sunglasses as a filter.}

A few weekends ago, I headed out to my first ever writing retreat class. It was great to gab with writers and nosh on good eats while taking in the view of the breathtaking mountains on the Windward side of Oahu. Besides all of that, I got a lot of practical tips to get the writing flowing. I thought I’d share a few things I’ve learned with you.

Inspiration from Music

The first one’s pretty fun. Just turn on something instrumental, grab a notebook and a writing utensil, close your eyes and let the music direct your pen. The point isn’t to draw something or have an intention. It’s just to really feel the music. Something about the process releases the fear of writing within you. Try it.

Fun Writing Prompt

Choose three random objects in your vision. Now try to incorporate a story based on what you picked. Our teacher chose toothpick, clouds and elephant. We had to free write on these three topics without pausing. Surprisingly, I came up with a story about a man chewing a toothpick, reflecting on the elephant shaped clouds about his deceased wife. Who knew right?

There is something about the process of writing with wild abandon that frees your mind. It stifles your inner critic long enough to let yourself go. Sometimes that’s all you need to get started; a little push, a little inspiration to get your writing flowing.

What writing exercises work for you?

How Bad Do You Want to Be a Writer?

 

{via Real Simple}

That’s the questions I have been asking myself these last 6 weeks since I officially and finally moved back to Hawaii.

Why?

I know that’s the question most of the world would be asking. Why would a writer have a difficult time writing amongst turquoise hued skies, pearly white sand and a “you could get lost in it” ocean.

Lots of room for inspiration right?

Yes. It’s true. I’ve been writing more for my fiction piece than I did when I lived in California. But on the other hand, finding new writing gigs have turned out to be pretty dismal.

I know it’s only been a month since I started looking, but I learned fast that my usual writing gigs finding route (searching the web) just wasn’t going to cut it this time. In fact, what made it harder was that in the time that I’ve been here, I’ve been getting call after call from recruiters trying to fill writing jobs up there. {*Sigh.}

What I learned is that every state may have a different protocol for finding writers. While I was lucky to have been a freelance writer for the last 5-years in Silicon Valley, where everything is basically online, I now knew that if I wanted to avoid being a starving writer, I needed to put myself out there. Hence my recent transition from shy, introverted work-at-home writer, to pretend extrovert. I’ve been attending networking events like nobody’s business. Not an easy feat for someone who’d rather stay at home with a good book than talk shop and hand out business cards.

But it’s been worth it.

I’ve had one job offer, and a handful of leads since I started networking. It’s not easy, but I think the more you practice your elevator speech, the more comfortable you’ll feel connecting with others. And not in a car salesman sort of way, but in a way that genuinely depicts who you are, what you’re passionate about and what you want to do.

If you do that, you’ll find just what you’re looking for in no time.

What Inspires You to Write?

{photo by Brandi-Ann Uyemura}

Some authors claim certain writing instruments do it. Others insist on a severely quiet room. Then there are those that require the opposite. Equipment and environment, however, does not ensure writing success. Each writer has to find what works for them.

Yet, aren’t we chomping at the bit to know what it is that works for J.K. Rowling, for example? Or what it took for Julia Cameron to consistently pump out book after book?

That’s why we attend author’s talks and listen to webinars because we’re all desperate to discover the secret recipe to writing success.

It’s what drew me into the Professional Women Network’s luncheon. I ate up the thirty bucks it took to attend and chalked it up to an educational experience-one that would help me understand how a first-time novelist went from one book author to author who gets a role in a movie based on her book The Descendants. Did I mention it starred George Clooney?

Anyway, while I enjoyed the lunch, the connections I made and the chance to hear Kaui Hart Hemmings talk, I was even more intrigued with what she had to say about her writing process.

Why?

It sounded so normal.

Hemmings says as a kid she adored books and reading. And although she didn’t know quite what she wanted to be when she grew up, she knew what she didn’t want to do.

Is it just me or does that sound like you too?

And in response to writing itself she said:

“You need to practice. The hardest thing about being a writer is that you don’t have a boss. It’s all about self-discipline.”

Any other writers want to yell out a, “Hallelujah”? 

Yes it’s an arduous process. But one most writers say they can’t imagine not doing. It’s what makes us wake up in the wee hours of the morning or until late at night. Just for the purpose of getting our pages in so we can feel somewhat “normal.”

As for Hemmings, she says she tries to make a three pages a day quota. I love that she added: “And it’s not good pages. But there will be three more pages after that. The art is in the rewriting.”

That it is.

For more information on author Kaui Hart Hemmings, check out this article by writer Jerry Garrett.