I’ve been writing for more than 20 years, and in that time I’ve seen some pretty crazy sales pitches.
“This book will get you out of the rat race and into a hammock.”
“These tips can turn an aspiring writer into a hammock-swinging success.”
“Take my class and before you know it your novel will be earning hammock money!” The ones I see always feature hammocks for some reason, along with that tall glass of sweet tea.
I’ve tried a few, avoided the majority, and am still working daily from a chair like some kind of failure, but one recent change has made a big difference.
What if I was to tell you about a writing boot camp that boosts your speed, expands your focus and helps you get more organized than you’ve ever been?
Sounds crazy, right?
Now what if I told you this boot camp pays you to join?
A lot of naysayers are going to tell you to walk on by, but this maligned corner of the freelance world has a lot to offer if you know how to approach it correctly. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the content mill, the P90X of freelancing.
I know. Everyone hates content mills.
As you probably know, there are plenty of downsides to writing for word factories. The pay is atrocious, often as low as one to two cents per word.
Anything you might do to game the system, like typing extra fast, comes back to drag your time down when you’re presented with a suite of complex edits to address.
And there’s an assumption built into the structure of the job itself that writing doesn’t matter; it’s not treated as a skill of any value whatsoever. Your work is just another splat of fake dog doo passing by on the assembly line.
This view can be disheartening, and the repetitive grind of the work doesn’t brighten the view at all.
Content mills can help you learn as you earn
And yet — here is where the techno music starts building softly in the background — content mills have much to offer seasoned pros and new writers alike.
Most require a grammar test. Take it! You’ll probably ace it, but if you don’t, it will show you any blind spots that may be compromising your professionalism.
When you get accepted, take the training as seriously as if you were in medical school. Take notes. Print, save, and reread information.
If you’re new to writing, it’s valuable practice for the day you’re juggling clients who all operate with different guidelines tied to different style guides. Just laser-focus on what’s in front of you and keep circling back to it until the work is done.
For an established writer, dealing with so many new particulars offers a chance to reset and refresh those muscles, and maybe to be humbled a bit.
The content agency I recently signed up with offers outstanding training; the staff are comprehensive and unfailingly kind and supportive, even when middle-aged writers freak out about the terrible pay relative to the obsessively nit-picky level of detail they expect in 48 hours or less.
I bristled at first. I think about quitting once a week. But I’ve kept at it, and the results are noteworthy.
What I’ve learned writing for a content mill
I’ve always been a fast writer, but now I’m an absolute monster. Six articles totalling 2,150 words in less than half a day? Not a problem!
The work has to squeeze in between my regular assignments, running errands and occasionally sleeping for a minute, so there’s nothing to be gained by getting precious.
I spend more time trying to claim and deliver the assignments, which always involves roughly 25 more steps than should be necessary, than I do writing them. The work is nevertheless high quality. I am definitely more efficient now.
I’m able to balance the workload because this new addition forced me to adopt an organization system.
An online discussion thread led me to the Bullet Journal method, and it’s absolutely perfect for my needs; yours may vary. A dry-erase board above your work station may help, or a calendar nearby with deadlines posted may be all you need to stay focused. Whatever it takes, make it a priority.
Another gift from this this ostensibly crappy job is the ability to write on any topic an editor could possibly come up with, because that’s exactly what the work consists of.
Granted, writing about facial exfoliation one minute, foreclosed homes the next, then pivoting to bang out a series of blog posts for a Unitarian church can induce a kind of mental whiplash, but you do it and get through it, like a series of reps on a leg press machine.
Yes, the work is a grind, and I often look at the pay next to an assignment and spitefully calculate the rates of all my other clients in comparison (the absolute lowest pays eight times the highest rate available to me at the mill right now).
But the skills I’ve gained have changed my approach to work in ways that make it more lucrative, not less.
Prior to my time as a word miller, I neglected to answer calls for submissions if the subject was something I didn’t know about. Today? I know there’s nothing I can’t learn and report back on, and my pitching reflects it. I’m more optimistic, which often helps get a pitch to “yes.”
And it feels good to always have work! Searching for lucrative assignments can be discouraging, but plugging in quickly between paid assignments and committing to a pitch goal for the end of the week?
That’s feeling the burn in the best way possible.
Have you ever written for a content mill? What did you learn from the experience?