Tag Archives: freelancing

Interpreting ‘lancing ads, and introducing ABSS

If you’ve ever been a ‘lancer, you’ve looked at the ads. If you are curious, head to your local Craigslist. Look under Jobs: Writing & Editing and Gigs: Writing. That’ll give you a fair sample of the usual offerings.

Don’t get me wrong; it is quite possible to get good writing gigs off Craigslist. It just means kissing a lot of toads along the way, and translating from adbullshitspeak to common English. In adbullshitspeak (ABSS), all faddish business jargon is in play. The ‘Lancer is here to help you parse the ABSS:

Academic writing: Professional cheating.

Best practices: Whatever makes the company the most money without giving you any extra.

Branding: Shoving stuff in front of people who would rather not see it; thus, fancy word for advertising.

Creating positive content: Writing fake glowing reviews for businesses whose business practices get them blowing reviews, trying to drown out the truth in lies.

Exposure: No pay.

Friendly environment: Chaotic environment, typically with a couple of half-nutso co-workers who can’t be fired for whatever reason.

Ghost writer: Person expected to accept minimal pay and maximum intervention/micromanagement. Will be lied to by client.

Other duties as assigned: Expect to be shunted into something else. Your opinion of it will not really matter.

SEO: You’re writing to game Google. Expect to be required to stick irrelevant HTML tags into your stuff for this purpose. Put another way, your job is to make the Internet worse.

Serious writers only: Yeah, in a buyer’s market, we have to advertise on Craigslist to get anyone interested.

Social media experience: Welcome to the world of comment trolls!

SME: Person who knows everything you will be required to document, but is incapable of conveying it to an uninitiated Philistine like yourself.

Top earning potential: This is the number you will never approach no matter what you do.

(we are not providing our company name): We don’t want you researching us until we get our pitch in.

Commentary on “42 Dos and Don’ts from a Dick”, and a dirty little secret

First comes the original e-mail, a rejection letter sent to some 900+ applicants who didn’t get an online writing gig.  Read it within this Gawker article impaling it as “42 dos and don’ts from a dick.”  You can then read the original author’s logic and rebuttal at Salon.

When I look at the anger Shea’s long list of advice has generated, my thoughts include:

  • Wow.  No good deed does go unpunished.
  • These people are not cut out to be writers at all.  They cannot take constructive criticism.  I wouldn’t have hired them either.
  • This is a perfect manifestation of the “I’m So Awesome” generation that got a trophy just for deigning to show up.
  • What part of ‘follow the directions’ is so complicated?

I find this all very revelatory.  It’s helpful to me, because there are a couple of errors mentioned that I can easily see myself making, and would rather not make them.  (Thanks, Shea!)  What it reveals to me is that I haven’t been wrong about the Amazing Ego Based Upon Few Results mentality so common today.  Anything that sounds like negative feedback:  “That’s disrespecting me!”  Respect is earned, sorry.  Advice offered:  “How arrogant to think you know better than me!”  Uh, he does; he’s in a position to hire, and you are not.

Think on it.  They would rather have been ignored than receive help.  They would rather flounder in ignorance and mediocrity than take a bruise, suck it up and grow.  Anything less than “You’re so awesome!” is a boot in the groin.

How did we wind up raising young adults this way? Is this a young adult thing, or a writer thing, or a young adult writer thing? Feel free to educate me.  Because when I get a list of 42 things I might be doing wrong, I want to bless the sender.  That’s 42 things I should never do wrong again.

I promised you a dirty little secret, and you shall have it.  Truth:  I didn’t succeed as a ‘lancer because of busting my butt, nor by being a brilliant writer. That isn’t self-deprecation; I’m not saying I didn’t work hard, nor that I’m untalented.  I succeeded at freelancing because most of my competition took a look at its path ahead, sowed as many mines as possible in its path, concealed them carefully, went away for a while to forget where they were, then just waltzed on through the self-made minefield.  Over, and over, and over.  Most of my competition suicided on the way to the finish line.

I didn’t have to beat them.  They beat themselves.

Laura Miller on Spamazon

Here’s her article.

The emptor must caveat real well these days.  While I think that the advent of e-readers has a lot of benefits (though I don’t currently plan to obtain one), any new technology signals that it has become popular and mainstream when it is invaded by crooks, garbage and advertising.  (Okay, sorry, that was triply repetitive.)  Anyway, do keep an eye out when buying, so you don’t get sucked into the Great Internet E-Trash Vortex of these sorts of books.

Trolling Craigslist for work

This is what ‘lancers do, troll around for assignments.  But how to winnow out all the crap from the legitimate opportunities? The former outnumbers the latter.

First, you can throw away anything where they don’t even give you a hint of what they want you to write, nor who for.  They aren’t professional.  The less they tell you, and the more hype, the more likely it’s spam.  For example:

Do you love writing???
Do you love making money???
Then this is the opportunity for you!
Internet companies are looking for fresh, new writers to create original content for their websites, blogs, and newsletters. The more articles you write, the more money you earn.
Write about almost and topic or subject you want. Write from the office, from home, or wherever…

This is obviously crap.  No specifics, no idea who it’s for.  Just ignore these.

If you are willing/desperate enough to write search engine optimized stuff, a lot of online writing leads there.  SEO essentially means marketing writing, which is probably the largest market out there for online writing.  What you are doing is writing something, but you are following some rules to work in the right keywords.  This will help the article float to the top of Google (and the other 15 search engines no one uses).  Companies get a big wood when their marketing floats to the top of Google.  If you are at all a competent writer and present yourself well, you can probably find SEO work (if you learn what it is and how it works).

Is there anything wrong with the literary prostitution of SEO? You’re asking me, the literary mercenary? The only things I won’t write for money are those which I a) am too incompetent at to even understand much less write, b) find too morally disgusting even for my rather unconventional moral code, or c) don’t get paid enough.  Most of what I turn down, that’s the reason.  The work sounds fine, but $3 an hour doesn’t cut it.  A lot of opportunity out there is designed to attract those desperate for exposure, which I am not.  I like to work with professionals who have high standards and clear expectations, with reasonable compensation for quality work promptly done.

However, I confess I got my start writing marketing stuff.

I don’t believe in ‘writer’s block’

Honestly.  I do not believe in it, and I believe giving it a name makes it a bugaboo, like a syndrome or disorder that comes to be the attribution for counterproductive behaviors.  “Why I can’t I write? Augh!  I have ‘writer’s block!'”

If you truly want to write, you will.  About something, anything.  Why am I currently writing this blog entry? Because I want to write.  When I am not writing, it’s because I am doing something I want or need to do other than writing.  Might be mowing the yard, might be playing Alpha Centauri, might be watching Looney Tunes DVDs, might be making something to eat.  Right now I want to write, and I’m doing so.

“But what do you do when you sit down to write and nothing comes?” I so often hear.  Well, here’s the usual dialogue:

“Here’s what I do.  I go to my filing cabinet.”

“Your filing cabinet? Is that where you keep your file of ideas?”

“No, it’s where I keep my file copies of contracts.  I pull out the most recent one and skip down to the part where the para begins ‘You will write…’  I read that paragraph carefully, as it delineates what I agreed to do.  Then I skip down to the paragraph that says ‘You will be compensated…’  I take careful note of the parts that point out, in short, that if I don’t do my work I won’t get paid, and if it sucks, I also won’t get paid.”

“And how the hell does that help you feel inspired to write?”

“It doesn’t help me feel inspired.  Inspiration is for creating art, and my writing is my job, not my art.  It does help me feel motivated.  As in, ‘you better sit your butt down there and get it done.’  I rarely even need this, because I like to write.  Nearly all the time when I have work to do, I like it and want to do it.  And when I don’t, tough; it’s a job.  I accepted it.  Time to knock it out, get ‘er done.”

“Okay, fine, but I’m working on my science fiction novel and I don’t have any contract at all to read, and I’m not getting paid any time soon.  I’m stuck!  How do I get unstuck?”

This part is hard.  “If you can’t figure out where to take your story, you need to do some thinking.  But if you know where you want it to go, and can’t put it on paper, then you don’t want to write badly enough right then.  If you did, you’d just start writing whatever part of it you thought of first, and fix it later.”

“Uh…but….” They taper off into silence.  I just dropped a bomb.  I said the thing you can’t say.  I may just have blown their supposed ‘writer’s block’ to gravel (I was certainly trying my level best), but it’ll take time to process that.  I just challenged their basic desire to write, the unchallengeable.  They look at me like I’m the kind of cold S.O.B. that just isn’t supposed to exist in the “Oh, for a muse…” world of Writer’s Digest.  Well, yeah.  I’m a freelancer, a literary mercenary.  If you want feelgood advice that will reinforce all your existing perceptions, I’m the worst person to ask.  However, I don’t get jollies from the fact of jolting eager psyches, so I soften it…

“It’s true.  If you think about it, you aren’t sure where to start with what you want to say, and you don’t want to redo it all later.  Sorry, more bad news:  you will anyway, so just embrace that.  Start with something, anything, even if you have to throw 90% of it away later.  Any writing at all is progress, and not writing is zero progress.  If you clearly understood and absorbed this, you will now desire to go immediately to your computer and begin banging keys.”

“(various confused and noncommittal responses)”

Now, none of this bothers me.  I’m used to it, it’s part of what I do, like a hardware store owner being asked by his brother-in-law about caulking.  Only two things bother me:

  • Arguing with me, trying to tell me how wrong I am.  Maybe I am, but you aren’t paying me for this advice, so if you don’t like it, or find it an annoyance, debating me is useless to you.  You gain nothing except that you can be sure that you’ll never have to worry about getting free advice from me again.  Do I mind healthy disagreement? Not at all–but something I am doing is working, so what I say can’t be too totally incredible.  And if what someone is doing is not working, then where is the knowledge basis for debating me? This blog began purely because my favorite author gave me some stern, kind, wise advice:  “You must start a blog.  People who like your writing want more of it, often, and you need to learn to think in terms of giving it to them.  They want to know the mundane stuff you can’t imagine anyone would care about.  You must have your own domain.  You must learn to present yourself in your profession.”  Did I argue with her? Hell’s bells, no.  I went and did it, within two days.
  • Ignoring what I said, and continuing to seek approval for the dysfunctional methods they’re currently using.  If you wanted to know, why did you just ignore everything I said? Surely you can understand that if I think you’re doing it wrong, I gain no happiness from having to break that to you.  It’s a service.  Freely given, but please think of what it’s like to be simply ignored and have the same thing thrown back at you.  It feels ineffectual for me.  It makes me want to stop.  I don’t fundamentally want to stop.  I like to help people.  I hope what I say will help them write more productively and happily.  If I’m not perceived as an authority, why ever ask me?

This has wandered afield from the topic a bit, I acknowledge, but it does all pertain (if tangentially) to the busting of this mythical ‘writer’s block.’  If you stopped believing in the concept, and started writing–something–anything–even a piece on abuse of the em dash, like someone on Salon recently did–the concept would go away.  Bang out 300 words about how frustrated you are.  Describe your beer can opener.  Rhapsodize about five hairs on your arm.  Write a scathing rebuttal to this, telling me I’m full of baloney.  You will be writing.  That’s the idea, is it not?

Writers want to write.  Non-writers want to talk about how cool it would be to write, or why they can’t write.

And if writers know they should blog, and have no idea at all what to write about some night, you can see what happens.

Dashing through the text…

A writer on Slate decided to have a little fun with hyperdependence upon dashes in writing.  I recommend the read.

My own besetting literary sin is the semicolon, though my guilt in the dash sector is more than it should be.  I’ve learned that, the longer it takes to edit a paragraph for clarity and flow–the more you have to move stuff around to remove this dash or that semicolon–the stronger your signal to rewrite it afresh.

If you fooled with it for fifteen minutes, you already wasted more time rewriting it than you spent writing it.  It’s fourth down; if you aren’t past midfield, punt.

You aren’t the whole process

I was compiling a list of the articles I authored for Myths & Misconceptions today for a friend, listening to Rex Navarrette (Pinoy comic, really funny) in the background.  Looking at my originals compared to what the editors published, it got me to thinking about the sentence I hear the most from people who say ‘I want to write’:

“Oh, I don’t think I could handle being edited.”

If you can’t handle being edited, you are writing for personal enjoyment only, because not only will you be edited, you need to be edited.  The author is not the whole process, nor even necessarily the most important aspect of the process.  Nearly all published work has aspects of collaboration.  I am not saying that one must never argue with an editor; I can and I have.  You can argue for a usage or a phrase or a description if you can justify its stet (‘let stand as set’…the term for canceling an edit) in terms of making the writing better, provided you have taken into consideration the space issues the publication faces.  ‘Because this turn of phrase sets up a joke later’ is a good one.  ‘Because this descriptive bit will orphan a later paragraph if nerfed’ is another.

What is not a good one:  ‘Because my ego is bound up in my cleverness.’

A good example would be the piece I authored for Armchair Reader:  World War II on the Warsaw Ghetto Rising of 1943.  It was a very difficult and painful piece for me for several reasons, difficult enough there is only one person who has ever heard the full tale, haunting even to see on the page in the printed book.  I suggested two titles:  Masada 1943 and “Juden Haben Waffen!” (this being what the SS cutthroats yelled out when the Jewish fighters opened up with their very limited supply of firearms).  I thought the first title was brilliant, evocative, and incorporated a bit of my own soul’s blood that poured that terrible day and night of my career.  I offered the second in case they didn’t like the first, knowing I was emotionally bound up in the piece.

The publisher used the second title, as I learned when I got my comps.  A part of me was crushed–but that was so me!  Obviously, it would have been entirely too late to complain; perhaps less obviously, it would have been very unwise of me to lobby real hard beforehand.  The editors make those decisions and the author needs to either be okay with it, or get okay with it, because my emotional problems are not something the editors can be expected to own.  Plus, if I really really wanted them to use my pet title, it was very foolish of me to present an alternative which they might take.

Do I still think my first title was much better? Oh, hell yes.  But that is because I am emotionally bound up with it, and my judgment is deeply biased.  My editors’ judgment was not.

I am not the whole process.  And if I try to assert myself as though I am, I will no longer even have a place in the process.