How (and Why) I’ve Changed My Thinking Over a Decade of Freelance Writing

http://www.freelancewritinggigs.com/2009/11/how-and-why-ive-changed-my-thinking-over-a-decade-of-freelance-writing/

Debs AvatarPardon me while I reflect a bit…

2010 will mark my tenth year as a freelance writer. Though it’s a dream come true, it’s all rather surreal. I honestly thought freelancing would be a way to supplement my husband’s income until our son was in school full time. I didn’t expect I’d continue to do this full time a decade later , and I certainly didn’t think I’d have a popular, lucrative blog and booming social media business.

I read somewhere that someone attributed my success to luck and not skill. I disagree. It was a mixture of many things, but mostly hard work and the ability to adapt with my community. Though I consider myself fortunate, I wouldn’t write this all off as luck.

When I first began blogging it was only to provide job leads each day. The growing FWJ community clamored for more, and I began sharing my successes and failures as a freelance writers. My community at that time was mostly work at home moms and I felt some of them were making bad choices about their writing and I spoke up about it. Many members of the community called me on my negativity. Over the years I learned that writers take on projects for a variety of reasons. Some of them work at content sites for a hobby, some take a non-paying newspaper column because the enjoyment of sharing far outweighs the need for money, and some are having problems finding higher paying work and use lower paying opportunities as a way to supplement their income.There are also plenty of writers who are more than happy to do what they do and have no intention of seeking out other opportunities. To all of them I say, “rock on.”

I began to change my tune about the available freelance writing opportunities and the writers who accepted them. Though I never insulted writers for the choices they made there were times I was vocal about my disapproval.

So why am I telling you this?

Yesterday, I participated in a very upsetting comment thread at About Freelance Writing . In this thread, one commenter called writers for a certain content site “hacks.” After I called her on it, she took back the “hacks” comment and instead said they were demoralized and desperate. This isn’t the first time I saw someone who claims to want to help writers insult them in the process. In the past couple of months I read posts by bloggers who insist those who write for web content sites are “lazy,” a “laughingstock,” “sweatshop laborers,” and “untalented”…and those are the kind remarks. Though I did my best to be civil, I reacted emotionally and even wrote to Anne Wayman to apologize and said I wouldn’t be upset if she removed my comments. She opted to keep them.

I promise, I have a point…

Is this what it’s coming too? All of this “I’m so much better than you and if you don’t write what I tell you to write and earn what I tell you to earn you’re desperate and lazy” is upsetting. Why can’t we just live and let live? So you don’t approve of a writer’s choice, move on. All this pettiness and name calling among adults is, well, silly. I don’t know of any other career choice where supposed colleagues pick each other apart and belittle each other for their choices.

I have news for you. No one is right. None of these freelance writing gurus are experts. None of them can tell you the best thing for YOU to do because they’re not you. You’re you. We can all share what works best for us , but YOU make the ultimate decision. So for me to talk down to writers and say, “well you’re just wrong becasue you’re not doing it my way” isn’t only arrogant and unkind, it’s untrue.

Now, I don’t believe I’ve ever been what I call a “my way or the highway” blogger, but I think there are times I’ve been passionate in expressing my disagreement. Not insulting, but passionate. In ten years of writing I learned that we all make the choices that work best for our situations and not one of us is wrong. I will pass on the opportunities I don’t feel to be a good fit for me, and I will always present the best opportunities to you here. If you take on an opportunity I don’t feel is the right choice for me, I still respect your decision.

Does that mean I changed my tune about low paying opportunities?

Not quite, though I changed my tune about the way I look at each opportunity, especially since I’ve been meeting with or talking with the people behind many of these opportunities. I’ll always speak up about scams and unsavory types, but I’ll never, ever, look down on a writer for his or her choice.

Writers, if I ever made you feel bad about a decision you made, or if I ever talked down to you about a decision you made or if you ever felt insulted by anything I’ve written regarding your choice, I apologize.  I’m here to share and learn from you, not talk down to you.I removed a couple of threads I felt to be insulting and I’ll be more mindful about what I publish here in the future.

How have you changed your thinking about freelance writing and freelance writers since you started?

Comments

  1. Deb,
    When I first stumbled across your website I told myself I wasn’t going to stick around because I focus on platform building less than applying to gigs – I want to build a sustainable business.

    Then I read a post by you.

    Your personality is without a doubt more endearing and more authentic then that of 75% of the freelance writing blogosphere. I love to read your blog posts and tend to read many, many posts you’ve written about the non-pajama truth whenever I get angry. I feel the anger, I move on and I find some great business advice.

    You have created a wonderful blog.

    I realize now that I’ll be entering my 4th year of freelance writing. Yowsa :D

    Here’s to 10 more Deb!
    - Jessie Fitzgerald

    • Thank you, Jessie. Congratulations on four years of freelancing. I hope you’ll be here to share for the next ten years.

      • Deb,
        Thanks for your reply. I can tell you this – I know I’ll be around! I’m acting on all the good advice I’ve received and working toward building a platform for a sustainable business. Things are looking really dern good.

        Plus, I’m just so spoiled, I wouldn’t be able to do anything. I love / am obsessed with owning a freelance writing business.

        Best wishes,

        - Jessie

  2. Hi Deb,

    I know naught of the thread you mentioned above, but I can totally imagine how it went! I once heard a professor and published book author on a radio talk show make a slightly negative remark about writers who write about nail polish for fashion magazines. I thought it might trigger a backlash even though it wasn’t a full-on insult…and it did. Rightly so, because though it’s great that the professor found his niche — he had no business commenting on how other writers run their careers.

    It was sweet of you to apologize for possibly offending people.

    Also — it’s not just writers who engage in name-calling, personal insults, or irrational blanket statements! It happens on so many forums and comment threads. In fact, I just read an article on Kindle today that had several dozen comments. By the end, they were calling each other names and telling each other to shut the BLEEP up. It was kinda comical, how we as human beings can sink to that level so quickly. I especially get a kick out of politicians having “debates” that are worse than grade school “I know you are but what am I” fights….but I hate when it happens with me and my husband (I tend to take things too seriously, and overreact).

    Anyway, thanks for this post — very interesting.

    All best,
    Laurie

    • I think the Internet breeds negativity. It’s the anonymity factor. People who would never think of acting ugly towards others in the real world sharpen their claws online. I once had a troll here at at another writing blog I managed. She was very mean and her words stung. I later learned that she was a Christina and upstanding member of her community. I wondered what her neighbors would think of some of the things she said to me? Thank you for sharing you anecdote and your kind words. Here at FWJ we respect all writers, even the ones who write about nail polish.

  3. Deb:

    First, congrats on your decade as a freelance writer. As you know I’m sure, that’s quite a milestone, as most can’t stick (sweat :)) it out that long.

    Your sentiment is what I believe exactly, ie, “Live and let live.” All we as experienced freelance writers can do (I’ve been freelancing since 1993) is share our personal stories, our insight and let others take it for what it’s worth and adapt it to THEIR situation.

    My way of thinking is, when another writer’s mortgage/rent payment comes due, their daycare bill need paying or their cubbards need filling, they’re not looking to me to fill it — so why the heck should I be telling them which assignments they should accept.

    Anyway, keep on keeping on. You said your piece, you said it well and let’s hope everyone take it in the (helpful) spirit it was given.

    Here’s to another 10!

    • Thank you, Yuwanda. You’re one of the people who has been sharing online for some time as well. Thank you for your kind words and I look forward to more good stuff from you in the future.

  4. Deb, I have been following your blog (and checking job postings!) for the past year, almost year and a half, and I appreciate how honest you are about how you are continuing to learn and grow. I feel as if I’ve learned a lot, not just about writing, but about navigating a career in a very different social medium than that of a more traditional job. Thank you for your continued example and encouragement.

    Christi

  5. Hello Deb,

    I like your site and I like the way you run it. You manage it in a gently persuasive, almost maternal, way and I think all the writers that write for you are attracted to that.

    I think point that the person was trying to make was that some people get stuck and frustrated and have little clue how to get to the next level whilst fearing becoming typecast. Unfortunately the message was lost in the inarticulate way it was put across. I think it is a testament to your temperament that would would get upset when you values were being challenged as well as the facts. Either way, you were right to fight back and I think your points were made in fair better grace than your detractor.

    Keep doing what you’re doing.

    Simon

  6. Congrats on 10 years Deb, no small milestone believe me.

    Yeah, the thread in question is over at my blog, http://www.aboutfreelancewriting.com and a couple of folks got close to nasty. I debated deleting one post but found you had already responded in a totally classy manner so I let things go… it’s been interesting.

    Of course, I feel like I know most of the folks posting… we get that way with our communities. By far and away most of them, like maybe 99% are delightful people who might wonder why I or someone does something like take a low paying gig, but would only wonder and wouldn’t criticize.

    Back when the article sites like Demand Studios etc. started many of us were pretty horrified.

    I too have changed my tune, big time, and see them as a real opportunity for those who are just getting started to just get started. And for those who want pin money for awhile, the sites work too – not everyone wants to be full time.

    You certainly don’t owe me any apologies… I doubt you ever will – and if we differ I know we can talk about it and agree to differ if that’s how it comes out.

    Thanks for all you do,

    A

  7. If you’ve got a thousand people on one side calling you a “hack” or that you got your work “through luck”, well, then you just have to turn your head to see the thousand people on the other side who either want that hack job or wish they had your luck. Simple as that. You are blessed. I am blessed. Any work any of us gets in this economy is a blessing (or the result of loooong hours and haaard work), and I will not thumb my nose at any of it. And I like your attitude, Deb, and am going to try to emulate it.

  8. I just don’t get why everyone feels the need to bicker about who works what job. if it’s legal and moral, may we should be saying, “That’s great that you are doing what you can to support your family.” I’d love to find higher paying work, but right now I’m too busy making a living to look. For that matter, I’m too busy making a living to criticize (or care) how someone else makes theirs. Maybe that’s the problem. Maybe these critics need to get a job and have something else to do other than be hateful.

  9. Hey Deb,

    First of all, congrats on reaching the 10 Year Mark!

    Wow – there certainly are some big egos walking around in the freelance writing world! (And no, I don’t mean you.) I don’t understand the mental process people who put down other people’s choices go through to decide that their comments are appropriate or would be welcomed by the recipient.

    You may have expressed yourself passionately on occasion, but that didn’t mean you have ever been disrespectful. Your passion is what makes you good at what you do. Please don’t let one person’s choice about what they thought was an appropriate comment affect what you decide to say on your own blog.

  10. Deb,

    Thank you for posting this. I’ve just recently started to freelance write two months ago. I’ve always loved to review restaurants and I told myself that if I could do this as a full time job, I would. With my husband’s blessing, I quit my dead end job and began to write. I’m just getting my feet wet but I’m excited to see where this road will take me. Thank you for the encouragement!

  11. You should definitely get yourself a tin or alumninum gift in honor of your tenth anniversary. :) Seriously, congrats. It’s hard to do anything for ten years, let alone flourish in a career that is as rocky as freelancing!

  12. Er, that should read “aluminum.” I promise that I am more careful about spelling in my professional work.

  13. I don’t understand the vitriol against prolific writers. The ability to produce large amounts of content is a talent, one that is (I think) completely separate from the ability to produce quality content. It also takes practice; I’m fairly new at freelancing and still marvel at people who write 10 or 20 articles every day, but I can write five with no problem when that used to be an absurdly high goal for me. I suppose that’s where the idea that content writers must write 80 hours a week comes from: if one isn’t a fast writer, one can’t fathom how anyone would be able to produce large amounts of content in a reasonable work week.

    You are absolutely right, Deb, that opportunities really depend on the individual writer. If I knew I could only write one article a day, I would spend more of my time looking for high-paying opportunities, and the average would work out to a good hourly wage. But if the opportunities are there and I am capable of doing them and making a good hourly wage working, I have no good reason not to take them.

  14. As a newspaper journalist who was just notified Wednesday that our company wants us to take ANOTHER week off without pay in the first quarter of 2010, I’m pretty happy with the money I make part-time doing freelance writing. We were asked to take off three weeks off without pay in 2009 and they laid off 35 percent of our workforce.

    Through freelance writing, I don’t have to depend fully on a changing newspaper industry and I can determine my own destiny. I’m very grateful for the things I’ve learned through your website, because that has helped me quite a bit in my freelance writing career that I hope within the next year can become full time.

  15. Deb,

    First let me say congratulations on 10 years and a hearty “thank you.” I began freelancing in 1988, wrote a lot for free and low pay on the side to establish my byline while working full time as an advertising copywriter and then a marketing manager, and stopped writing in 1997 to focus on my marketing career. Since returning to writing in 2007, your website has been a Godsend to help me get up to speed on new markets, new ways of querying, and all things Internet related. I now have two wonderful regular clients thanks to your website, and have found many other good paying gigs too.

    For those people who call writers who write for content sites and other lower paying or revenue sharing gigs – my byline has appeared in nearly 50 magazines and foundation journals. I’m an editor for a major website and have my own weekly gardening column. I’ve written three non fiction books and ghost written one book for a client. I have ghostwritten materials for two state governors, and written marketing copy you’ve likely read.

    And I write for content sites, and revenue sites, and I love it – and am proud of the work I do for them!

    It’s rewarding, fun, and sometimes lucrative.

    It’s enjoyable. I sandwich it in between higher paying gigs and have great fun sharing my hobbies and passions for organic gardening, vegetarian foods and healthy living.

    Anyone who dares call such writers “hacks” should look at my credentials and those of hundreds of other writers (many who have wonderful credentials!)….I’ve been published in magazines, my name is on the spine of a book staring at me in my office; please, go right ahead and call me a hack.

    But what have you written lately?

  16. Deb,

    First let me say congratulations on 10 years and a hearty “thank you.” Since returning to writing in 2007 after taking time off to focus on my marketing career, your website has been a Godsend to help me get up to speed on new markets, new ways of querying, and all things Internet related. I now have two wonderful regular clients thanks to your website, and have found many other good paying gigs too.

    For those people who call writers who write for content sites and other lower paying or revenue sharing gigs – I write for content sites, and revenue sites, and I love it – and am proud of the work I do for them! It’s rewarding, fun, and sometimes lucrative.

    It’s enjoyable. I sandwich it in between higher paying gigs and have great fun sharing my hobbies and passions for organic gardening, vegetarian foods and healthy living.

    My byline has appeared in about 50 print magazines and I’ve written three non fiction books, as well as ghost written a book for a client. I’m the Site Editor for a major website, a Contributing Writer for another, and write a weekly organic gardening column. I write for content sites because I enjoy it – not because I’m some sort of no talent hack. At least I hope not…my readers should weigh in on that!

    Anyone who dares call such writers “hacks” should look at the credentials of people writing for the sites. Go ahead and call us hacks.

    But what have you written lately?

  17. Deb.

    Someone once write:
    The teachers are those that show us what is possible in the order of the impossible.
    Who?
    Valéry (Paul)

    This how much you inspired me since I’ve been nourishing myself to be a freelance writer.
    Happy freelance birth-year!

  18. Karen Chaffee says:

    Given that all magazines and newspapers are struggling to survive or moving their own content to the internet, where better for a free-lancer to write these days?

    As for starting small … that works best in most career fields. It gets a writer and her work noticed, and it helps build one a good reputation.

    Karen

  19. Karen Chaffee says:

    Given that all magazines and newspapers are struggling to survive or moving their own content to the internet, where better for a free-lancer to write these days?

    As for starting small … that works best in most career fields. It gets a writer and her work noticed, and it helps build one a good reputation.

    Karen

  20. Hi Deb:

    I saw the post and the looong list of comments and added a few of my own. Like I told Anne, it boggles my mind. None of us know what situation an individual is in and what their motivations are. It’s the old adage of “walk a mile in my shoes.” So how can we judge or make comments on the actions of those individuals?

    After 30+ years in the corporate world, I am a relatively “newbie” to freelancing. I actually applied at Demand Studio because I didn’t think I had enough for my portfolio. As I researched and learned, I found I had plenty for my portfolio so I never moved forward with DS and decided I wanted to spend my time in other ways. Does that make me better than those who write for DS – hardly!

    I respect others to do what’s right for them and as I told Anne, I would rather focus on the wonderful generosity of our writing community with people like you and Anne who give so freely. Then let the individuals decide for themselves what path they want to take.

  21. Frankly, I’m disturbed by the level of ignorance that most of these so-called veteran writers display when it comes to understanding how the digital age works. I’ve actually had to curb my time browsing freelance blogs/sites anymore because all I find is post after post after post after post with such blatant ignorance in regards to content writing that I just don’t have enough extra hours in the day to prove them wrong anymore.

    If you can make 50-60k a year from a content site, I fail to see how that is in any way, shape, or form “hack” writing. A paycheck is a paycheck. The only reason I see for the “veteran” writers to bitch is because they are jealous of the paychecks us content writers are bringing in because we were smart enough to evolve with the industry, rather than stagnating and beating our chests about the “way it used to be” and “back in my day”.

    If people pay me for my work, ask me to write more for them, and keep coming back to me for more work, I’d say that’s credible and shows I have talent. Enough said.

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