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.

 

Get Off Your Writing Couch and Do Something!

Thank you Stephanie and Jan for reminding me about 2 things: 1) To keep up this blog! 2) To be more compassionate. 

Their comment comes on the heels of a short answer I compiled for O magazine. If you want to read my little published shpeal on compassion, it’s right here.

{Etsy art by wordwillow}
{Etsy art by wordwillow}

But the main reason I’m writing this is that I think too many of us get comfy in our writing couches and stop taking chances. Maybe we had HUGE dreams about what it would mean to be a freelance writer and since we didn’t achieve them, we kind of just gave up.

I had big dreams too. I wanted to be a self-help writer who writes about mental health issues, the environment and writes copy for cute whimsical companies on the side. On days when I have too much time to think I get down about that. Until my logical side slaps my creative side and says the following: “Doh dude, you already did that! Get back to work!”

It’s so easy to get lost in the once-in-the-lifetime dreams like writing for O magazine when your dream life is right in front of you. We think that to be successful means we need to be published in a huge publication, be known in the writing industry or be a published author. But for many of us it means making our clients happy, getting new gigs, challenging our creative muscle. Just because you’re in the latter category, doesn’t mean you’re a loser or you’re never going to get there. What it means it that you’re right now on the writing road to success. You’re just in the early stages and the only way you won’t get there is if you give up.

This quote by author Christina Katz came to me in the form of a Writer’s Digest newsletter and I’m so grateful for it. For any of you out there who feels bummed out that you haven’t “made it yet,” read this:

“Stop waiting for big success and aim for a series of small successes instead. Many writers are waiting to hit the mother lode, so to speak, of writing success. But success lies in taking aim at targets you are likely to actually hit and then hitting them one after the other. That’s how experience is gained in an otherwise complex and mysterious profession.”
~ Christina Katz

The Truth About Being a Writer

{photo by Brandi-Ann Uyemura taken on site in Serenbe, Georgia at a home designed by Ballard Designs.}

There are a lot of people who want to be writers. Some of them are friends and acquaintances I’ve met along my path. They envy me in a shameless way. My life seems as close to Carrie Bradshaw as possible without the single life and the large shoe closet. Many, I believe, think that I spend all day shopping and galavanting.

Yes it is partially that I suppose.

But the truth is, I spend more days sitting on my butt, pulling out my hair, trying to find the best words to squeeze into my prose. It’s not fun nor glamorous. Yet, it feels to me like freedom-the freedom to express myself and communicate in a way I couldn’t do verbally.

For all of you who want to be a writer, know this truth.

Writing for a living is not easy. It’s not an outpouring of soul divulging like it is in a diary. It is not about seeing your name in print (although it is fun to see it). It is not about being called an author or a writer (that you can get from simply printing out a business card).

The truth about writing is that it is hard work. My brain hurts afterwards. That’s the only excuse I have for emails I send to you with misspellings and grammatical errors or Facebook updates that sort of doesn’t make sense. It’s why I fumble over words when I talk. The process of writing words that seem effortless takes a surprising amount of effort. And that’s just the writing part.

You also have to factor in interviewing skills, transcribing, editing, and of course marketing. It’s a party hat few TV writers show you. Mostly because it’s not all fun or glamorous to do so. It’s simply work.

While the outcome, the finished product could look pretty, to me the process can be ugly and quite messy. I guess it’s like anything worth doing. Please remind me of this the next time I’m in the throes of my work.

Starting Over

{by Brandi-Ann Uyemura}

Fabulous careers in creative fields (like you writers) deserve a little more attention, motivation and flexibility than other fields. You need to roll with the punches, get your tough going (when the going gets rough) and be willing to go for the ride. [Definitely met my “trite phrases quota” for the day.]

Part of that is getting used to the up and down roller coaster ride of both inspiration and writing gigs. That means sometimes there will be lulls, sometimes there will be speed bumps. And when I’m on a high, I need to remember to stop myself from being too big for my britches, less I forget that I’m about to fall back into a valley.

I’ve recently moved to Hawaii and left the comforts of mainland writing gigs. Actually, I left during the peak of my career and had to turn down several lucrative opportunities that did not allow me to work from home. But like you, I’m met with just another writing hurdle. One that asks the question:

How do you start over again?

How do you start over if you’ve been fired from a job, quit the current one or projects have ended?

You dust yourself off and get resourceful. Contact previous clients or tell friends, acquaintances, family members that you’re looking for a new one. Join a writing club, create your own (if anyone lives in Hawaii who’s interested in attending a club, I’m about to start my own).

You remember that things take time. 

You remember how busy you were when things were going good so you use the time to rest and recoup before your next big gig.

You forget about how good it was so that you can move on to bigger and better things.

You do an inventory of skills you may need and equipment and supplies you don’t. Use the time to reorganize, take classes, and read up on your field.

Most importantly, don’t lose hope. Starting over seems scary because we get too comfortable where we are. Life is about beginnings and ends. Sometimes we forget that and believe we have control over everything in life. In Produced By Faith DeVon Franklin says we only have control over two things:

“how we prepare for what might happen, and how we respond to what just happened.”

{If passion’s what you need help with, you might want to read my latest article for The Writer magazine here.}

Reader Q&A: Advice for a Beginning Freelance Writer

{flickr photo}

Q: “I was wondering if you could direct me to your posts that are specifically about how to get started. I am currently in the stage where I feel like this is a field where I could be successful, and my main question right now is where to look for job opportunities (the real ones, not the scams!). I’ve had success with my writing on a very small scale- had some things accepted for publication in a national religious magazine for children, an article accepted for publication in the local newspaper, won a short story contest, etc. I am a stay-at-home mom so the smaller projects are more appealing to me with my busy lifestyle (and my short attention span? :-)). I also blog on my personal blog and on a group writing blog.

Anyway, if you could just point me in the right direction- maybe websites where legitimate jobs are posted, or groups I could join to help me find these kinds of jobs, that would be fantastic.”

~Kasey Tross from Mormon Mommy Writers

A: Hi Kasey. What a great question! I think there are a variety of resources beginning freelance writers can utilize when on the hunt for legitimate writing jobs. Five years ago when I scouted the writing market myself, I learned quickly where to find the good ones and the not-so-good ones. I’ll break down the places I’ve used here.

Searching Online

It’s easy to see why doing a job hunt online would be a beginning writers first line of contact. It’s fast and accessible way to find writing jobs. You may be surprised to know that a lot of the great writing gigs (some I still have currently) I got came via this route. You just need to know where to look and what to look out for. Here are the things you want to keep an eye out for. It’s all the red flags that will help you stay away from writing job scams.

  1. Craigslist. It’s still one of my most favorite ways to get a job. Surprisingly, I’ve gotten a lot of amazing jobs from big name companies this way. You just need to be careful to weed out the real jewels and the fake ones. That article above and this article on what new writers should watch out for should help.
  2. Freelance Writing Gigs. I used this website to troll decent writing gigs when I first started out and I occasionally still check out this site for potential leads. On the positive side, it lists several writing jobs in different categories and in various locations. On the downside, they usually list lower paying jobs.
  3. About Freelance Writing. Anne Wayman offers a helpful and informative guide for writers on her website. Here is her 20 potential online gigs and her job resource list for freelance writers.
  4. Problogger. In the past, I got two legitimate paying writing gigs through Problogger. It’s a great website for writers who want to get paid for blogging.
  5. JournalismJobs. I consider this to be one of the most legitimate website to find journalism jobs out there.
  6. Mediabistro. While I have yet to get a job from here, that doesn’t mean I haven’t tried or that I don’t troll their list every so often. Their list of dream jobs includes high paying gigs from mega media companies.
  7. @Writerjobs lists various writing gigs throughout the US every day.
  8. Gorkana. Sign up for Gorkana alerts and get a weekly job list sent to your email.

Aside from online resources, the best places to get new writing gigs is through networking and cold calls. I’ve been most successful when I’ve kept in touch with old and new contacts and introduced myself as a writer looking for new opportunities. Truthfully, the majority of my writing jobs have come this way. It helps when editors and hiring managers already know you (even if you’re just an acquaintance). Having a face with your resume really gets your foot in the door. You can meet potential networks through meetups, parties, and even through cold calls (via email). I’ve gotten several jobs this way and even career shadowed a reporter for a newspaper once. Contacting him was one of the best things I ever did.

Once you’ve had a successful experience with someone you’ve met, you open the door to potential future clients. And you’ll need to rely less and less on online resources and more on your contacts.

Hope that helps!

Any experienced writers out there want to share where they received their writing gigs? Please share it with Kasey below.

“If I Knew Then…”: Top Tips for Writers

{flickr photo by: greg.turner}

I just read Careerbuilder’s article, ‘If I knew then what I know now’: Advice for college graduates and found myself nodding my head in agreement. I wish I had, for example, thought long-term about my career, realized my passion sooner and pursued it with the kind of ambition and energy only someone in their twenties has.

And then I realized the same thing could be said of my writing career.

I can’t go back in time and redo my college experience nor my writing one, but I can share with you what I learned thus far in my career as a writer. Here are a few things I wish I knew when I first started freelance writing:

1. You don’t need to have a ton of experience to start writing.

I think this prevented me from not only applying to jobs I didn’t feel I was qualified for, but it also made me nervous and anxious about the jobs I did get. After 5 years being a self-employed freelance writer, I realize that I didn’t need to have a ton of experience to write. All I needed was my determination, enthusiasm and persistence. Everything else would come later. In the meantime, as I was getting better, the only thing I could do was keep writing.

2. You shouldn’t take every job that comes your way.

When you’re first starting out, any client that wants you makes you want them. To a certain extent, taking writing gigs that are not the perfect fit, but that can add to your slim portfolio is wise. On the other hand, if you’re taking jobs out of desperation, denying your inner voice that’s saying this job is going to cause you more hassle than anything else, skip it. There will be other jobs out there. Taking a volunteer or intern type position for experience purposes may even be more beneficial than accepting a job with a client who will make your working life hell.

3. Pace yourself.

When you’re first starting out, you have the kind of energy and excitement that can move mountains. And it feels like that fountain will flow forever. But it won’t. If you keep that kettle burning, you’ll drain yourself and your creativity and may even make yourself sick. Tomorrow you will always have another chance to get more work. Do what you can today and make sure to make time for play.

What do you wish you knew about writing way back when? Share it with the newbies who can benefit from your experience.

Don’t Give Up Yet

{photo by The Inspiring Bee}

I have a lot of writer friends who started out all gung ho and then let their mojo slide when the going got tough. My ego would like to say it’s the way we weed out the true writers from the pack. But I know the truth.

The truth is that writing is scary. We all have moments where we doubt whether we’re really that good or even good enough.

And this could change moment to moment, day to day. Sometimes I think I wrote the best piece ever at night, only to wake up the next morning and discover my last entry was a bunch of crap.

It happens to all of us.

But here’s what I’ve learned in the 5 years that I’ve been a freelance writer.

It doesn’t matter how good or talented you are.

What matters is that you don’t give up!

When I read some of my earlier posts and articles, I am shocked! Truly shocked!! Not because it was some amazing piece of prose. But because of how bad it was. And I’m appalled that a) I sent some of those things out to get published 2) that I ever thought I could make it as a writer with that kind of start.

I realize that every writer is a work-in-progress. Even the really good ones had to start somewhere. As long as I don’t give up, as long as I keep to it (whether in my blogs here, here, here or here) or on a project), I know I will get better.

The only thing that guarantees failure is giving up.

So if you’re in verge of tossing in the towel and hailing your white flag, don’t do it just yet. Just keep writing. You will get there. We all will if we keep on keeping on..

 

Help This Writer Out!

{flickr photo}

Fellow writer Daylin Van Zandt sent me a message over Facebook today that inspired me. He decided to quit his full-time job to fulfill a dream. I’m so excited for him! One of his dreams is to start a community magazine. While he has the networks and the know-how to get started, he wanted some tips, advice, suggestions on what steps to take to get cracking on this latest endeavor. I asked Daylin if I could post his question on my blog in the hopes that you generous and wise readers could help out. His message is below. Please leave a comment to let him know what you think.

“I was going through old emails and I actually saved the few of them that we sent back and forth last year. I took some time to read them and it really inspired me again. I recently quit my job that I had in a call center and took a part time job tutoring which is really awesome so far. I am left with about 20 extra hours a week to pursue what I am passionate about. I have been working on some film/photography projects (none are paying yet but its good experience). I’m also trying to start a community magazine and start writing and publishing. We have a local company that distributes free arts and entertainment papers (charging for advertising) but I have heard from a lot of people that for one they are too expensive to advertise in and two the articles and coverage they do isn’t a true representation of what’s really going on in the local culture. So I’m trying to find a way to make this happen. I was wondering how you think it would be best to go about creating this. Blog? Printing? I’m really excited and motivated. I have alot of really good contacts in the city and an active involvement in arts/business/music/film/access to writers. I just wanted to know what you thought.”

Who Do You Surround Yourself With?

{via pinterest from bobowoodlake.tumblr.com}

When I first started my career as a full-time freelance writer, I didn’t know what I was doing. I made a ton of mistakes. I still do. But in looking back, I realized I neglected one thing.

Myself.

I’ve been reading Julia Cameron’s classic book The Artist’s Way. It’s taught me how the decisions we make about who we bring into our lives can have a powerful impact on our creative as well as personal life.

She says:

“Whether they appear as your overbearing mothers, your manic boss, your needy friend, or your stubborn spouse, the crazymakers in your life share certain destructive patterns that make them poisonous for any sustained creative work.”

Genius! Really. It didn’t even dawn on me until now.

I realized that the negative people I surrounded myself with in the past were impinging on my writing. Not only did I need to deal with my own self-consciousness, but the external voices of those disappointed with their own lives. That’s too much for sensitive people like me. And it may be too much for you too.

What really got to me is this line from Cameron’s book:

“Not surprisingly, the most poisonous playmates for us at recovering creatives are people whose creativity is still blocked. Our recovery threatens them.”

What I’ve interpreted this to mean is that while I cannot completely remove all negative people in my life, I can choose to depersonalize what they say to me. I can decide how much time I want to spend with them and find a new positive support system that will help nurture my artistic spirit instead of one that drains it. In fact, it’s imperative.

If you are on the path of greater creative growth, you will be tested of this time and time again:

  • Every time a potential client wants to bargain you down from what you feel you truly deserve.
  • When a writer friend continuously throws cheap shots at your writing.
  • Whenever you choose to let a family member read your work, hoping for positive feedback though you know they are incapable of giving that.

 How will you meet this challenge? Will you take care or neglect yourself for somebody else?

Christmas for the Freelance Writer

{found on Pinterest}

This post was inspired by two writers.

If Cathy Miller’s post and Michelle Rafter’s post got married, then in my warped mind, they’d created this baby of a post.

I don’t know if this is a Hawaii thing, but my friends and family loved the 12 Days of Christmas (the song, not just the real thing). So this is my ode to both the holidays and freelance writers. Here we go: 

On the first day of Christmas my clients gave to me

a payment sent effortlessly

On the second day of Christmas my clients gave to me

two dollar a word assignments

and a payment sent effortlessly

On the third day of Christmas my clients gave to me

three bonus checks

two dollar a word assignments

and a payment sent effortlessly

On the fourth day of Christmas my clients gave to me

four days of rest

three bonus checks

two dollar a word assignments

and a payment sent effortlessly

On the fifth day of Christmas my clients gave to me

one big referral

four days of rest

three bonus checks

two dollar a word assignments

and a payment sent effortlessly

On the sixth day of Christmas my clients gave to me

six good reviews

one big referral

four days of rest

three bonus checks

two dollar a word assignments

and a payment sent effortlessly

On the seventh day of Christmas my clients gave to me

seven new opportunities

six good reviews

one big referral

four days of rest

three bonus checks

two dollar a word assignments

and a payment sent effortlessly

On the eighth day of Christmas my clients gave to me

eight meaningful projects

seven new opportunities

six good reviews

one big referral

four days of rest

three bonus checks

two dollar a word assignments

and a payment sent effortlessly

On the ninth day of Christmas my clients gave to me

nine positive feedbacks

eight meaningful projects

seven new opportunities

six good reviews

one big referral

four days of rest

three bonus checks

two dollar a word assignments

and a payment sent effortlessly

On the 10th day of Christmas my clients gave to me

cool new writing tools

nine positive feedbacks

eight meaningful projects

seven new opportunities

six good reviews

one big referral

four days of rest

three bonus checks

two dollar a word assignments

and a payment sent effortlessly

On the 11th day of Christmas my clients gave to me

eleven new networks

cool new writing tools

nine positive feedbacks

eight meaningful projects

seven new opportunities

six good reviews

one big referral

four days of rest

three bonus checks

two dollar a word assignments

and a payment sent effortlessly

On the twelfth day of Christmas my clients gave to me

an increase in pay rate

eleven new networks

cool new writing tools

nine positive feedbacks

eight meaningful projects

seven new opportunities

six good reviews

one big referral

four days of rest

three bonus checks

two dollar a word assignments

and a payment sent effortlessly