Here’s a confession: I don’t have enough writing friends. Believe it or not, pals with whom I can lament over the joys and stresses of freelance writing are a rarity in my life, which leaves me partaking in way too many one-sided conversations with the hubs about bylines, pitches and how I should handle my latest #BBHMM moment when yet another janky client decides they can’t be bothered with paying me.
Since I feel guilty about constantly bombarding him with information he couldn’t care less about and because my constant social media lurking tells me that there are other writers who could actually benefit from this info, I’ve compiled a list of ways that freelance writers can avoid playing themselves. This list comes from some of my mistakes as well as some that I’ve observed from fellow professional scribes, so if you feel slightly embarrassed while reading, realize that you’re not the only writer who’s engaged in some of this face-palmy behavior.
Refusing to help other writers:
When I first got into freelancing, a businessman referred me to the editor of a small local newspaper who refused to help me. She dismissed me because she was too busy, plus she didn’t already know me from the work she’d done on my college campus as a part of the National Association of Black Journalists. I didn’t get a chance to tell her that while in school, I worked full-time and had a magazine internship, which didn’t leave me much time for NABJ or anything else, but it’s all good because clearly, I dodged a bullet.
Since then, I’ve heard numerous stories about established writers who flatly refuse to help other writers with simple information such as sharing contact info or answering a question about their experience writing for a particular publication. I do realize there are some instances where sharing an editor’s contact info may not be appropriate, but I’m referring to blatant byline blocking, wherein the writer ain’t trying to help because they fear that assisting someone else will hinder their progress. But guess what: Helping another writer get a leg up isn’t going to take away from your opportunities. With all the paid writing jobs I see every single day, there’s enough room for everyone to get a piece of the pie and to be quite honest, one writer’s byline ain’t gon’ stop my hustle.
Spamming other writers on social media:
In my humble opinion, I’m not even on the freelance writer who warrants spamming level (not that any writer does, but lil’ ole me?). Still, that doesn’t stop random bloggers/writers who haven’t even bothered to say hello to me online from sending me links to their work or DMing me to share their posts. It’s pushy, annoying and most importantly ignored by me. Why not introduce yourself and engage in authentic conversation with folk and develop a relationship first, then naturally work your writing in?
Also, that tit-for-tat business doesn’t work very well either, at least not for me. I tried that “you share mine, I share yours” arrangement, but that grew old really quick, and it just doesn’t feel genuine. Like, why am I sharing your piece on the horticultural interests of 17th century Spanish aristocracy when that topic doesn’t interest me, the piece is not well-written and/or I only did it because you retweeted my article on Christina Aguilera’s “Hurt” video?
Repeatedly doing business with people or publications that have burned you:
OK, so opinions may vary on whether writers should permanently sever ties with a publication that wronged them, but I’m of the “Oh, hell no, not again,” mindset. In my experience, when given the opportunity to redeem themselves, my list (yes, list) of repeat offender pubs failed miserably. Bottom line is I’ve been there, done that, got multiple burns to prove it and I’m done.
Not having an accountability partner:
God bless Andrea, my writing partner and the other half of Un-Edited. She’s dope as hell, has helped me minimize my writing-related backsliding and holds me to my words (even when I forget them). Honestly, if it wasn’t for her, I would’ve probably beat a hasty, yet regret-filled retreat back to cubicle life by now. If you don’t have a writing accountability partner in your life, I suggest you get one ASAP.
Underestimating the value of your time: So, now it’s my turn to face-palm. I once spent several hours writing and sourcing photos for an article that I earned $15 for just because I thought writing for so-and-so would put me on the map, but it wasn’t worth the hassle. By the time I submitted the story, I was in the hole. You’ve been warned…
Writing strictly for pay: I believe in dabbling in a little bit of everything because you may find that you’re interested in previously unexplored topics that a publication asks you to cover. But don’t let writing to pay the bills become your sole motivation for pitching or targeting certain clients because that’s the fastest route to burn out.
Welp, by now you’re either cringing with embarrassment or feeling aptly prepped to go forth into freelancing.
In between licking your wounds or penning the next greatest pitch, make sure to stop by for How Not to Play Yourself as a Freelance Writer Part 2, coming next week. (Yes, there is more.)