Whatever Works for You

What’s on the iPod: How To Save a Life by The Fray

Yesterday it rained, it was cooler, and the car was getting its inspection – a perfect day for me to get some work done. I managed a great deal of research and writing on my article, which barring major writing catastrophes elsewhere, I hope to finish today. It’ll be a few weeks ahead of schedule, but better that than late, I say.

Scored another new client, which came about in an email conversation with another writer. I pitched an idea and within an hour I was getting a contract. Love those kinds of leads!

I decided to join a professional organization because a few writers had mentioned it, and mostly because the price wasn’t prohibitive. If I hated it, I didn’t spend much to find that out. True to my nature, I headed for the forums first.

Tell me why some writers find it necessary to scoff at or belittle another writer’s process. This particular case was one where a writer had stated in a conversation that too much time spent digging for sources was wasted freelance time/money. The response from one writer – I would never think like that and you need to be educated on the right way to do things.

Not the best first impression by this group.

What bothered me about the exchange was that Writer A was explaining the real-life issues with trying to do the best job possible without belaboring the point. Writer B took the “time is money” thinking to mean there were corners being cut and that this writer needed a dressing down about it.

I can’t speak personally for either of these writers, but I can say that doing the best job possible and not wasting unnecessary time on it is my approach. I can do a great job for a client whether it takes me five minutes or five hours to find sources. I prefer five minutes. That works for me.

I have a writer friend who over-researches every article and delivers twice what the editors ask for. That works for her.

I know a writer who can work off one-word assignments and turn in brilliance. That works for him.

I know a writer who has to be given not just the story assignment blurb, but sources, phone numbers, and sometimes even the questions. That works for her.

The thing is if it takes you minutes, hours, or days, it’s your process. If whittling down your time researching will affect your final product, no suggestion or prompting to do so will fit you. Likewise getting sources. If you can deliver the same level of excellence using an online media source service than digging up sources organically, do it.

Because we charge hourly, time really is money for us freelancers. Anyone who scoffs that notion either doesn’t work full time at freelancing or doesn’t quite make that connection yet between time and money.

I guess this relates to what we were talking about yesterday. If your expert or some self-appointed Lord of the Written Word tells you your methods don’t work, think about whether that’s actually true or if it’s the words of someone who enjoys pontificating.

Writers, what’s the worst piece of advice you’ve ever received? Why didn’t it work for you? What’s the best advice you’ve received? How has that helped you?

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  • Jenn Mattern April 13, 2011 at 1:00 pm

    Before anyone jumps in trying to say we don't "charge hourly…"

    Even if we don't technically charge hourly, it still breaks down that way. No matter what method we use for billing — hourly, per word, per project, etc. — we still only have a set number of working hours each day, week, or month. This is another of those "we can't be Walmart" issues. Service-based businesses are inherently time-based, and all rate structures break down into an hourly model in the end.

    Finding a good balance that lets us maximize what we earn during each billable hour and still provide high quality work to clients is just a part of the job.

  • Lori April 13, 2011 at 1:10 pm

    Thank you, Jenn. I did figure I'd get argument on it, but yes, we do have to figure an hourly rate if we intend to hit our targets.

  • Devon Ellington April 13, 2011 at 2:12 pm

    Jenn said it perfectly. Even when we charge by project, how we get to that price better reflect the time and work put in, or we're paying to work, and that's not right.

    I think the longer you work, the more you learn to streamline the process. And part of the reason a lot of people hire us is that we are resource-FULL — we don't need to be spoon-fed each step, we know how to go out there, figure it out and get it done.

    We can always find a way to work smarter without cutting corners. Again, the cutting corners aspect is how content mills drag down the profession in general — you can't generate that much content that quickly and fully explore each topic.

    Worst piece of advice: "Research isn't necessary in fiction, because you're just making it up anyway."

    As spmeone who loves to research and can spot many unresearched, careless mistakes in books, I knew enough from the get-go not to listen to that.

    Best piece: "As long as what happens fits the consistent logic of your own world, you can create anything you imagine."

  • Lori April 13, 2011 at 3:11 pm

    That's pretty bad advice. Of course research is necessary in fiction! How ridiculous.

    I think you may be right on where the idea of time savings became synonymous with cutting corners. The SEO crap jobs will continue to plague perceptions long after (God willing) they're dead and buried.

  • Paula April 14, 2011 at 5:13 pm

    Most of my assignments tend to have per-word rates, but oddly enough, the very day of this post I got a quick-turnaround editing job…with an hourly rate.

    Like the others said, you have to break per-word jobs down in order to figure how much you're really making per hour.

    There is at least one self-proclaimed writing expert in cyberspace who tells people to never work for less than 50-cents a word. Sure, I prefer assignments that are way more than 50-cents a word, but it's not so cut and dried. I've done some intensive pieces for more higher rates that took so much time that my hourly rate broke down to be quite low, while I've written some 25-cents/word pieces so quickly that my hourly rate wound up much higher than the complicated assignment at a higher per-word rate.