I’ve been a freelance writer for a year and a half now. Sometimes I think about what I wish I could tell a past version of me that’s just getting started. I have lots of online writing friends but I rarely ask them for advice even when I want to. I guess that’s because I worry a lot about bothering people. I’m from the Midwest where most babies first words are “excuse me”. So, I thought I would lay out some of what I’ve learned over the last year in hopes that it might help other budding writers who are afraid of their friends out. I also included an email at the end where you can ask me any other specific questions you might have. Ok this intro is getting a little long so I’m cutting here because…
1.) You Have To Be Your Own Quality Control
I haven’t written anything good in a while. The ability to discern the quality of your own works is both a blessing and a curse. One of the reasons I got back into writing again was a piece of advice I heard from Ira Glass. He said, “All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer.”
I had to give myself permission to be bad, or worse mediocre to be able to write. You can pop out a list of top ten cheeses you’ve had sex with every day pretty easily but is it unique? Is it entertaining? Ok, cheese fucking was a bad example because there’s obviously a very niche audience that would be really interested in that but hopefully you get my point.
You’re selling your unique voice as a freelance writer so you have to develop that voice on your own and you have to decide what you’re going to use it for. This is really hard because no one else can really help you with it, you have to figure out essentially who you are or at least who you want people to think you are before you even get started. A good editor can help shape your voice for their publication but hopefully you won’t be working for just one publication. The hardest part once you find that voice is keeping it while shifting to fit the tone of multiple publications.
2.) Don’t Be Afraid To Take Up Space (Laaaadddiiiieeeeessss)
The other day I wanted to submit to a website that I knew a writer I work with at another site does some editing on. I thought maybe I should reach out to her but then I thought no I don’t want to bother her, or for people to say I just got the job because I know her. Then I thought of an especially pushy male writer I know. He’s not a bad guy just a hustler, for brevity’s sake lets call him Craig.
Whenever I have a career opportunity now and my instinct is that it would be rude to take it I ask myself would Craig do this? Pro-tip the answer is always yes. Craig will always do the thing. Women are raised to make sure everyone else in the room is comfortable before we sit down. Kill that part of yourself. Kill it and bury it and piss on its grave. I’m not saying be an asshole. I’m saying if someone asks “who wants to…” and you want to, don’t wait and see if anyone else wants to first. Raise your hand.
Also, use your connections. Don’t make friends with people just because they work somewhere or something that’s obviously gross but if you think someone you’re friends with can help you out ask them and more often than not they’ll do whatever they can for you. Sometimes they can’t do anything and that’s fine, you’re still buds. Have you ever asked anyone for help and had them say no and then never speak to you again? This has never happened to me but I feel like it’s going to every single time I ask for help.
In my case the writer/editor I talked to was very nice, gave me great pointers, and sent my pitch directly to the editor of the appropriate section with a recommendation for me. I still got rejected! Which is the perfect transition to…
3.) Get Ready For Pain Baby
I know you know there will be rejection if you want to be a writer, I’m not telling you anything revolutionary there. Here’s what they don’t tell you about the rejection. It’s pretty much always right and that’s the hardest part. You’re not Tina Fey or Neil Gaiman, and the odds that you’re going to grow into a writing genius are on par with you becoming a time traveling Elvis impersonator.
If you’re lucky enough to get a good editor they won’t just say “no thanks” or “this doesn’t work for us.” They will systematically take every point of what you said and explain either why its wrong or how it can be better. You’re going to meet lots of people that are way better at writing than you and you have two options. You can learn from them or you can never speak to them again and quit writing forever. I’m making this sound like the choice is easy but it’s actually really not.
It’s not the no that hurts it’s the three hours of research down the drain. It’s the really good 15th century fart joke you couldn’t possibly work into another article. It’s learning that your opinion is not only wrong but it’s nuclear wrong, a kind of wrong that is more than wrong and only exists in the world of freelance writing.
4.) Also Some Incredible Earth Shattering Loneliness
I have never been so lonely in my entire goddamn life. When people say I’m lonely I always used to think that meant horny because I couldn’t even imagine the kind of loneliness I have experience the last year and a half. When I worked in HR I hated some of the morons I worked with. Now I want to pay a moron to just come be a moron at my house for a while. Please come over to my house and complain to me that the girl who sits behind you has weird feet and shouldn’t be allowed to wear sandals to work. Please.
I think a lot of people who work from home experience this but I also think it’s worse for writers because you’re so in your own head all the time. You examine your own thoughts too much and it makes you neurotic. Or, at least that’s what it’s done to me. Maybe you are a champ who can handle it without talking to your dog and then also worrying that your dog hates you. If so please tell me your secret.
For the love of God make some friends if you’re going to become a freelance writer. The tricky thing is you’re going to have to work harder than you’ve ever worked in your entire life but the work is deceptive because it feels like fun so why ever stop working? It’s good to work a lot and working is fun so why not just keep working forever? The answer is because you will eventually have a mental breakdown. You’ll feel fine, maybe even great, until all of a sudden you won’t anymore and you’ll start to feel awful really fast and if you’ve ditched all of your friends or your new true love, working yourself to death, you’ll regret it. I’ve seen this happen to multiple people all over the Internet.
5.) There Are So Many People Out To Just Straight Up Steal Your Money
The fun thing about calling yourself a writing coach is anyone can do it. It’s a title that doesn’t come with a list of qualifications but is always followed by a list of prices. For anywhere from 20 to 200 dollars per hour people whose qualifications are ???? will give you all the advice they learned from somewhere, presumably, a person they paid 20 dollars maybe? I like to imagine Internet writing advice is a long game of telephone that has become so distorted over time that what you end up getting is something like character development is a pizza shark of whining!
I took a free class once from a writing coach. It was thirty minutes of her trying to sell her inspirational book about her life story, followed by ten minutes of advice on outlining that you could learn in any high school creative writing class, then fifteen minutes of what you would get if you paid for more classes.
When I started out as a freelance writer I had a mentor, a really good mentor. I never would have stuck with it without him. I have no idea where I want my career to go now and most days when I try to picture what I should do next I end up just getting paralyzed and doing nothing which is the absolute worst thing I could possibly do.
I’m not a super successful writer but I’ve done some stuff now. I had a regular freelance gig on one site, now I have a pretty steady gig on a new and upcoming site that I absolutely love. I have a short story published in a real physical book that I didn’t pay to print, and in fact I got paid to write it! I sold a Novella to a publisher but they closed down before it was a released. I wrote a second Novella and am shopping it around now. So those are my qualifications and here is my price $0.
I set up an email account just for this purpose, Lydiagivesfreewritingadvice@gmail.com. If you’re a writer (especially a lady writer) and want to know if a certain outlet has a good reputation for paying on time or treating women well email me. If I don’t know the answer I’ll ask around. If you have a short story or an excerpt from a book that you would like a second pair of eyes on email me! (Lets keep it less than 7,000 words please). If you just want a pep talk about writing email me. I may have just made writing sound a little terrible but you probably already know why it’s great and if I can help you improve even a little that would make me very happy!