If you have been on the freelancing battleground for quite some time and haven’t made much headway, it might be a sign that something is amiss. It could be something that you are doing wrong (which is actually very good news because you can always fix it with a little effort), or it could be something more serious, i.e. you are in the wrong place and freelance writing really isn’t the career for you.
Now, this article in no way intends to demean or discourage anyone who wants to make a living out of writing, but after having worked with a large number of writers at my firm (Pixie Dust Writing Studio) and having hosted a blogging contest on my blog (which received 83 entries, mostly by people who call themselves professional writers), I feel compelled to share my observations. To top this, I receive AT LEAST ten unsolicited emails everyday from writers of all kinds, which has given me a fair idea of what goes around in the market. So, here is my (very well-meaning) list of things that I believe are a recipe for disaster.
You can’t write to save your life
At the risk of sounding rude, I have to say that I am seriously appalled at the number of people who can’t frame a straight sentence and are out to make a career as a freelance writer. I recently worked with an ‘experienced’ freelance writer on a project at PDWS but all I got was copy riddled with spelling and grammatical errors (not the kind that a quick edit would fix). The funny thing was that the initial samples sent with the application looked perfectly fine, which is why I took her on board in the first place. When I sent her a feedback on the articles, she coolly replied that “grammar was not her forte”! You would think that I’m making this up, but sadly, I’m not. If language and grammar are not a writer’s forte, pray tell me what is?
You are not very intelligent
To be successful (in ANY profession) a certain level of intelligence is a prerequisite. Do you often lose clients because despite repeated instructions, you couldn’t understand what was required of you? As a writer and an entrepreneur, I have been on both ends of the spectrum and I would run out of fingertips if I began to count writers who just cannot comprehend and follow a rather simple project brief. Yes it could be possible that the brief is ambiguous and confusing, but that could be once or twice – not EVERY FREAKING TIME! And that is just the start. Most projects will require you to exercise common sense, creativity and meticulous research. How do plan to get around those?
You want everything served to you on a platter
Freelance writers who are successful have spent years building their business and establishing a clientele. What makes you think they will pass on their contacts to someone they don’t know (or someone who has sent them a shabbily written mail asking for work)? If you want work, get off your ass and start looking for it in the right places. Spamming other writers with vague mails like “please tell me how to become a writer” ain’t going to get you anywhere. If anything, it portrays you as someone who is looking for shortcuts and is not willing to put in any efforts of their own.
You are not really serious about the whole thing
This may have to do with your perception of the profession or your attitude in general. You may think of writing as a glamorous career or something that you can do in your spare time to earn some quick money – both of which are far from reality. I receive more than a handful of applications every month from writers who are keen to join PDWS, and some of them indeed show promise. Their covering letter is professional and their samples are impeccable, but sadly, they are unable to deliver. They constantly miss deadlines for this reason or that, and their consistency is just about as predictable as a lottery ticket. They make themselves unavailable every now and then because you know, there is a wedding, a festival, a PTA meeting, an ailing child, relatives visiting, holiday season ….you get the drift. The point is that we all work on flexible schedules – that is one of the best things this profession bestows on us – but a certain level of professionalism is definitely called for if you want clients to take you seriously.
You are lazy as hell
As self-employed people, writers have to bear the additional responsibility of keeping themselves focused, driven and disciplined. While some people handle this wonderfully, others may just not be cut out for it. There is a category of people who constantly need someone else to push them to perform or guide them at every step. If you are one of those, the freelancing life is not for you. Also, since you are a lone worker, with no one above or below you, YOU are solely responsible for the quality of services that go out of your stable and that my dear, is a weight that not everyone can bear.
You cannot handle criticism
In a service-driven industry like writing, bouquets and brickbats are all part of the game and every writer you meet will have their own “rejection stories” (yes, they are mostly in the plural) to tell. I have plenty too. A smart writer will however take a cue from rejections and try to turn them into a learning opportunity, but a non-smart one will immediately get super-defensive about their work and try to put the blame back onto the client/editor for not being clear with instructions, not providing enough information etc. In my 7-year long career as a writer and editor, I have come across many writers who get rude, if not downright abusive, when faced with negative feedback. Remember, every time you do this, you are losing a learning opportunity, and possibly an earning opportunity too. I know, sometimes clients can be unreasonable and finicky, but that is usually an exception, not the norm.
Shuchi Singh Kalra is a freelance writer, editor and blogger based in India. She has worked with several popular magazines, corporations and publishing houses. Shuchi is also the founder of the Pixie Dust Writing Studio, a quaint little writing and editing firm that services a global clientele. She also enjoys mentoring and connecting with other writers through the Indian Freelance Writers Blog. You can find out more about her work at www.shuchikalra.com. To connect with her and get tips/updates on writers and writing, join her Facebook page.