The worst advice I’ve ever received about writing was and occasionally still is “don’t.”
You probably recognize most of these – any one of which could qualify as the worst advice:
- Don’t count on writing paying the bills
- You need a regular job
- Writing is so insecure
- You’ll never make any money writing
The list could go on.
Nay-sayers give the worst advice
Nay-sayers give the worst advice, always telling people that whatever their idea is it’s no good. However, those who always discourage people are pretty up front – their pessimism for themselves and others is straight forward. If your Uncle Joe is a true nay-sayer he’s always going to say don’t do it, whatever it is. Saying you want to be a writer is bound to elicit his worst advice. One way or another he’ll tell you don’t risk it.
I have some problems with my poor attention to detail. I’ve known this roughly forever. It shows up in a variety of ways.
Apparently I was either born with or developed early my ability not to see things like a messy house, or car, or tottering stack of papers until suddenly I do. I’m often surprised and even though I recognize the mess as mine feel surprised by it when I do spot it.
Although I learned to varnish the brightwork (woodwork) on boats, it required mastering a certain focus that doesn’t come to me easily. And I’ve not found a way to transfer that focus to other situations.
This lack of attention to detail also shows up in my writing. Those of you who’ve followed me for a long time know I’m prone to typos. I often don’t see them, although I find them easier to spot on my desktop monitor than on my so-called smartphone.
Dictating changes, but doesn’t eliminate the errors
I watch my men friends type on that tiny mythical keyboard with some amazing accuracy that my smaller fingers just can’t seem to get.
Your mental transition to freelancing is the true key to your success.
You can have the 6 months income saved, what you consider the perfect computer and home or other office space. You can even have one or two clients already paying you, and still your attitude can get in the way.
In fact, if you don’t believe in yourself and your writing you’re unlikely to be successful as a freelance writer.
What is the right stuff for the mental transition to freelancing?
First of all, there’s no certain formula, or criteria that will guarantee you’ll make the transition to freelancing successfully. What worked for one person will not always work for another. That said, it is possible to point out a direction for your thoughts and feelings that may be helpful. Here are what I consider the three most important: A strong desire to freelance; some comfort with uncertainty, and self-knowledge and self confidence.
Strong desire to freelance
Look, in some ways having a regular job is mentally easier than freelancing, particularly in the beginning. The regular job is predictable, and so is the paycheck. Switching to freelancing is hard. If you’re a writer, you’ll need a different skill-set to build your freelance writing business. You’ll need dedication and discipline.
Can you write when you’re suddenly in a bad mood? While I can force myself to get a few words on the page, it’s way harder than it needs to be and I know I’ll have to rewrite everything. It’s tempting to quit and go to bed and eat cookies for the rest of the day.
Over time, I’ve come to realize that I’m the one responsible for all my emotions, good, bad, and indifferent. Sometimes I wish I didn’t know this and would rather blame you, someone else, or something else. But a truth is I can change whatever emotions I’m feeling right now into some other emotion if I’m willing.
In other words, it is possible to change your bad mode into if not a good mood, to something more up tone that will let you not only write but get on with the rest of your life in a positive way.
That includes moving from happy to sad as well as the other way around. Here are some of the things I’ve learned along the way.
Emotions are often a habit
How I feel is often habit. That is, I’m likely to have a certain reaction to almost any event that causes me to feel anger, boredom, love, joy, etc. For example, I’ve deliberately formed the habit of smiling at babies and letting that lighten whatever mood I’m experiencing. But many of my feelings are the result of unconscious habits.
Invoicing seems to baffle more than a few freelance writers. I know because I get questions. Not only that, my article Sample Invoice for Writing & Editing Work continues to get a high number of visits every week even though it was written ages ago.
My hunch is it’s not the mechanics about invoicing or even setting up a reliable process for making sure it’s done on a regular basis that’s the problem. Both of those invoicing procedures are important in running your freelance writing business or any freelance business.
No, I think something else is going on about invoicing
When freelance writers have trouble invoicing I strongly suspect it’s because they have money issues. These issues tend to fall into three areas:
If you follow this blog you may realize I love flat fees.
Like so many things in life, flat fees do have some potential problems.
The biggest, in my opinion, is that you may end up charging your client less, sometimes significantly less than you would have if you were charging them by the hour.
This came up in a comment to the article 4 Reasons Freelance Writers Should Always Insist on a Deposit, when Claudia, whom I know to be a dynamite editor, said “… The difficulty comes from not being certain, even though I have established decent measures of how many pages per hour, for instance, how much work and time I’ll actually expend, because the manuscript given me to edit is still incomplete.”
Do most of your writing clients really know what they want? Of course, mileage will vary. If you’re working with managers who often hire freelance writers, the chances are those clients really know what they want.
On the other hand, someone who has worked with few or no freelance writers often has lots of misunderstanding s.
For example, those who want books ghostwritten are classic for not knowing what they want. They know they want a book, but they have little idea how a book actually goes together and what’s actually required in terms of time and effort. The same is true of the executive of a small business who suddenly decides she wants a blog. Unrealistic expectations abound. They are sure they can get rich or increase their sales with ease.
Vague assumptions are perhaps the first clue they have no idea how to define or spec a writing job. They think they do, but because they don’t understand how writing actually gets done or what the writer needs, they can be difficult to work with. These seven questions will help your client know what they want and you to get crystal clear on your assignment.
1 – What is the writing for?
Every piece of writing has a purpose, and that should be made clear. Why do they want you to write it in the first place? Knowing this will help you understand your client’s goals.
2 – What does your client want it to accomplish?
Is this an advertising or direct mail piece that’s supposed to sell a product or service? Or perhaps it’s to get the firm or someone in the firm publicity. Is it to provide background information of something tighter and more specific? Is it to be a ghostwritten piece, and if so, whose voice should the writer use?
Insisting on a hefty deposit or up front payment, if you can’t get totally paid in advance, is an absolute must for freelance writers for at least four reasons.
If the client can’t or won’t pay you get something
Not long ago I wrote about what you can do if a client can’t pay. When you insist on payment up front or at least a large deposit, if the client flakes or otherwise defaults you’ll have at least earned something for the portion of the project you completed.
How large a deposit? That’s subject to negotiation, but I generally insist on 50 percent up front unless it’s a project that would pay me thousands. Then I may take a third or a quarter up in advance.
Refusal to pay a deposit or an advance is a huge red flag
If the potential client refuses to pay a deposit, they usually claim it’s because they have no idea how well you’ll perform. This isn’t too surprising the first time they hired you. Your samples, and testimonials on your website or in your portfolio, should convince them. If not, their stated fear may be cover for not wanting or not being able to pay you. It’s a huge red flag.
Sometimes a client simply can’t pay you. It almost doesn’t matter why, except I’d rather know the non-paying client has no choice than deliberately stiffed me.
Businesses go south all the time. It may be the owners or the CEO, depending on the size of the organization, did something stupid or failed to do something necessary. Chances are when they contracted with you for some writing they fully expected to pay you on time; instead they do not have the money, don’t know where to get it and literally can’t pay you. Oh sure, there are a few real crooks out there, but they are pretty rare.
What can you do if they can’t pay?
Although a few businesses will let you know as soon as they know that you won’t be getting paid, mostly you find out after trying to collect over a period of time. If they truly don’t have the money to pay you there’s not a whole lot you can do.
It’s probably time to raise your writing rates.
How do I know? I’m betting you haven’t looked hard at how much you’re charging in over a year. It seems the decision to raise your rates is often a difficult one for many freelance writers.
The considerations seem to fall into roughly two groups. The first is “Am I, and my writing, good enough to charge more?”
The second is “How can I get my existing clients to accept the price increase?” Let’s look at both.
Am I good enough to charge more?
My hunch is you’re probably a better writer than you know. That seems to be true for most people who have sold at least some writing services for at least a year or longer. Take an honest look at your writing and compare it with one or two others in the same field who you suspect are earning about what you are. Chances are you’ll discover your writing is at least as good as theirs, maybe even better. Sure, it’s a subjective judgment, but it can help you see that you’re actually doing a pretty good job.