What To Do When A Freelance Writing Project Stalls

by Anne Wayman

stalled projectsAnne Woodman, who blogs at Writing by the Numbers, asked in comments:

I’ve had the client stop in the middle of the project–what do you advise as far as collecting the money you’re owed up to that point? There is no finished result, but the interviews may be done, or part of the writing completed. How do you handle the stop-in-the-middle dilemma.

Carrie Schmeck, who blogs at BizzWriter, answered:

I’ve got one of those stalled projects, too. We are waiting for the web design phase before I can revise copy. I just sent the client a note and asked if we could settle up for what’s been done. I told him I was shaving X hours from the initial project because I haven’t done XYZ yet but that those hours will probably reappear when we begin again. He was happy to pay and we shouldn’t have any surprises when we get going again.

Carrie’s approach of just asking often works. She realized she had no control over the designer and simply asked to be paid for what’s been done so far and it worked.


I think there’s a tendency among particularly new freelance writers to hesitate to say much of anything to the client.

Writing clients are (mostly) on your side

Look, your client hired you to do some writing because they thought you were the best they could find to do the job at the rate they were willing to pay. They need you to be successful which means in a very real way they are on your side. Oh sure, not in the way your best friend is on your side, but clients are not the enemy.

They don’t know how to write, how to do what you do. It’s up to you to communicate any problems you have and that includes letting them know you can’t afford to sit and wait for them to get a project back on track.

It’s surprising how well just talking things over with the client works; you’ll never know unless you try.

Set deposits and payment schedules to cover what you do

Another approach is to get a good deposit up front and set a payment schedule so you’re paid for what you’ve done, even if the project stalls. That way you’re covered even if the project stalls or even stops in the middle.

Which isn’t to say you shouldn’t communicate with the client about the state of the project even though you’ve been paid for what you’ve done. It’s totally okay to ask when more work will be expected or to get an update. It’s the only business-like, professional thing to do.

Sometimes you have to walk away

One of the hard truths about freelance writing is sometimes clients disappear or stop communicating about a project. I’m not sure what happens – I think maybe they run out of money and are embarrassed to tell us. Or maybe something awful happened, or perhaps they just changed their mind.


I’ve had three ghostwriting clients just stop in the middle of their books without telling me anything. Email and phone calls on my part have gone un-returned.  I have no idea what happened but after a few attempts of mine to get in touch I’ve had to let the project go and assume it will never been completed, at least by me.

When a project stalls or a client stops responding the writer can be left hanging, unsure of what to do next. Don’t waste a whole lot of time on the problem – you didn’t cause it and you can’t solve it. Move on. Be willing to re-negotiate or finish the work on your own schedule if it comes back.

The possibility of stalled projects is just one more reason that, when you’re running a writing business you simply have to keep marketing. When you keep marketing the chances are you’ll shortly have a brand new, profitable project started if another one stalls out.

How have you handled stalled projects?

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Anne Woodman February 10, 2012 at 2:23 pm

Thank you, Anne. Good advice, to just ask. Harder sometimes to execute, but I’m working on it. Good to know, too, that other writers’ clients also stall out… I appreciate all of the helpful information and camaraderie.
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annew February 13, 2012 at 12:33 pm

Anne, glad you find the site useful… you might also like the 5BuckForum (http://aboutwritingsquared.com) – that’s a bit of shameless self-promo.

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Carrie Schmeck February 10, 2012 at 11:57 am

Thanks for the mention, Anne.

I like what Cathy says, too, about the kill fee verbiage. I consider “live” copy revised copy but am still working on how to word it in the contract.
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annew February 13, 2012 at 12:30 pm

When I develop or find good kill fee language for us I’ll post it.

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WritersWritingWords (Eleni) February 10, 2012 at 5:35 am

Well, I think setting a payment schedule and including a few contract terms that will set some boundaries with clients is a good way to go.
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annew February 13, 2012 at 12:30 pm

Thinking of contracts as boundary setting makes sense to me.

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Paul February 9, 2012 at 5:48 pm

I have had similar things happen during my tenure as a freelance writer. Getting an upfront deposit usually takes care of any future issues because the client has already invested something.

Currently, I have a project that has been sitting on hold for more than a week but I wasn’t afraid of informing the client that I can’t sit around and wait for him. I politely asked him to give me some lead time when he is ready to continue and he was totally fine with it. He has paid me 50% of the total fee and I have yet to put pen to paper so I know he will come back.

The best advice is to simply communicate in as businesslike tone as possible. Clients, for the most part, understand that we freelance writers run a business and have no problem “obeying” some of our rules.

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annew February 13, 2012 at 12:26 pm

Well said, Paul and good for you.

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Cathy Miller February 9, 2012 at 5:06 pm

Just ask is a good recommendation, Anne. I have one client who I do a lot of projects for, including several white papers. Because of the nature of their business, there is often a long lag between the time I submit the initial draft to when it is reviewed by all the players – sometimes months.

I asked my contact if I could start submitting an invoice with the delivery of the 1st draft, with the understanding that I would handle edits when they completed the review. They were fine with that. Most of the time the edits are minor and they handle them, but there have been times where they were a bit more extensive and I did them after I received the final payment.

It probably helps that we have a long, ongoing relationship and we know we can trust one another.

Some other things I have done is put language in my contract, similar to a kill fee (if the project is cancelled midway) or I will include language that says if no edits are received within a certain period of time, the copy is considered final and an invoice will be sent for the final payment.
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annew February 13, 2012 at 12:11 pm

Cathy, I’d love to see the language you use that’s like a kill fee… and great story.

Actually I’ve found I don’t have to have a long relationship with a client to have simply asking working… it can happen pretty quickly I think.

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