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Does Your Freelance Writing Career Need to Grow Up? 4 Ways to Tell

by | Jul 28, 2015

The day I quit my day job to become a full-time freelancer, I was convinced I had it made.

After all, minus the cute clothes, sassy friends, and spacious apartment, I was planning a plus-sized Carrie Bradshaw life on the isle of Manhattan, burdened only by my laptop, my brilliant ideas and an occasional deadline.

Looking back at that starry-eyed newbie, I have just two words for my naive self: Grow up!

Granted, it can be hard when you’re just starting out to know how to navigate the unwritten rules of freelancing. As a new writer, you are bound to make mistakes. That’s okay.

But if you’re doing any of these four things, you might just have some serious freelance growing up to do to get your career on track.

1. Taking edits personally

A lot of writers don’t like their work to be edited. Editors are natural nitpickers trained to ignore your thousand words of glorious prose and hone in on the fact that you made one silly mistake.

In my early days, I took edits way too personally, as if every added punctuation was a bullet right in my heart.

The truth is, as a grown-up writer, you just have to get over it. Editors are busy people. They don’t have time to deal with your tantrums because your voice was somehow wounded by their objection to your all-bolded, all-caps rant in the middle of what you claimed was a straight news piece.

Of course, there are reasons to stand up for your work and discuss changes you feel are unwarranted. Part of being a grown-up writer is knowing how to work with an editor — and what to compromise — so you can both get the best piece out there.

Throwing fits over the little stuff, though, is one of the surest ways an editor won’t want to work with you again.

2. Thinking you can make an assignment better by writing on something else

Early on in your writing career, the odds are good you’ll be asked to write about something boring, trite or just plain silly.

The worst way to tackle the assignment is to improve upon it by writing something else.

If an editor asks for 200 words of a recent news event for news-style site, they have little use for a 2,000-word editorial proclaiming your personal views on the subject or on social ills in general. Likewise, if they ask for 500 words on the toads of Israel, do not write about a frog you saw in your backyard on Long Island.

Grown-up writers realize your copy is part of a bigger puzzle at that publication.

You need to work inside the lines of your puzzle piece to make it fit.

3. Being a real jerk in the comments

Comment sections are funny places. On some sites, the no-holds bars snark is par for the course. Other publications try to encourage more friendly debate.

Either way, dealing with the inevitable trolls spewing nastiness under your prose is never easy.

As a writer, wading into the comment section can be a real blow to your ego. Even when the trolls are in full attack mode, however, resist the urge to fight back with your own vitriol.

Early in my days of editor-hat wearing, I worked with a  solid writer who used to curse people out in the comment section under his articles.

He was asked to stop because his words not only reflected badly on him, but on the website in general. Sadly, despite reminders, he never really got the memo.

When the site had to make budget cuts, he was the first to go.

Engaging in the comment section is a good thing. Healthy debate is great. But grown-up writers realize that every word they write under their article reflects not only on themselves but also the publication where their work appears.

In other words, choose your comments wisely.

4. Not showing up for work

As I write this, I am sitting on my grandmother’s couch in a pair of pajama bottoms. It is mid-afternoon. Part of the joy of freelancing is blurring the boundaries between work and home.

Working in a virtual environment, however, does not mean you can avoid showing up entirely or that standard work etiquette does not apply. If you have promised to write five articles a day, do it.

Websites need to be fed new articles on a regular basis to stay alive. When writers do not write, it often means more work for an editor somewhere who has to scramble to mend the gap your articles were supposed to fill. While print publications occasionally have a bit more flexibility, there is still no excuse for not delivering or letting someone know what is up when you absolutely can’t.

When grown-up writers can’t write for unforseen circumstances, they let their editors know in advance, not at 11 p.m. when their deadline is midnight. They also don’t take on work before seriously thinking about if they can realistically get it done.

Not keeping promises will kill your relationship with a client fast and cost you jobs.

The good news is even if you have shown some of these serious signs of freelance immaturity in the past, you are not doomed to failure forever.

Every freelancer starts somewhere. Successful writers are not those who have never made a mistake, but those who admit they have some freelance growing up to do.

So commit to the hard work of honing your craft, and learn more about your trade day after day.

What newbie mistakes did you make early in your freelance career?