Writers Worth: My A-ha Moment

What’s on the iPod: Texas Flood by Stevie Ray Vaughan


TGIF in a big way. I’ve spent a somewhat frustrating week trying to clear up a rather large outstanding invoice. The project is on hold, the money is nowhere to be seen, my emails haven’t been answered, and this writer is getting pissed. I get that we’re busy sometimes, but two notes later and no response regarding the absent money? That smells like a game of dodge to me, and I’m not playing. Worse, it’s a client I’ve worked with regularly. Time to get on the phone.

The good news is I started working with a new client this week, and I’m handling two fun projects. While the money won’t be there right away, I’ve little doubt they’ll pay.

Last month we had plenty of contributions for Writers Worth Month. So many, in fact, that today I’m featuring one more. When Tracy Spangler signed up for my e-newsletter, we struck up a conversation (if you sign up, you don’t get automated — you get me). I invited Tracy to guest post if she wanted.

She wanted. And her story is a great lesson in how to persevere while facing down whatever obstacles are getting in the way. Tracy is working while shoveling a ton of personal stuff at the same time. Yet she keeps going. I’ve no doubt she’ll go far in freelancing — she has pluck.

Thank you, Tracy. I know your story will inspire others. It’s inspired me, too.



Three A-Ha Moments at
Once
By Tracy Spangler
I have been a writer since my late teens. However, it has
only been the last two years that I’ve moved on from the many journals
hidden-in-the-closest containing my worst fears and worry writing to freelance
writing.
Prior to writing I was an editor for nearly four years. My
many years of mystery shopping for nearly 40 different companies combined with
my abhorrence of misspelled words and incorrect grammar qualified me to become
an editor of other mystery shopper’s reports. I enjoyed this work immensely.
However once my health worsened, and I began what has been three long years of
multiple failed surgeries, nerve blocks and Botox injections, I was given the
option of taking a hiatus from editing until I could keep up with the 25 hours
a week minimum work from home requirement. I appreciated the vague offer that I
could return to work at some point in the future, but after a change in
management I no longer wanted to continue with this company.
The first freelance site I came across while trying to find
new work was Odesk, now Upwork. I was completely naïve and rather desperate to
find any freelance editing or writing work—in other words, I was the perfect
target. Not all of my experience with Odesk was negative. I have one client who
hired me after I sent her my proposal, and I’m delighted to have ongoing
editing and writing to do for her website. I wrote a few Amazon reviews after
receiving free products, and worked for nearly a year helping a woman sell furniture
through her eBay store.
The moment I realized my skills as a freelancer –primarily
as a writer and editor –were worth more than the pay I was receiving, occurred
when three incidents happened on the same day. I had applied for 11 different
writing jobs that I was overqualified for, but did not receive, due to raising
my rate from the prior $2 an hour to $5 an hour. I figured I was still asking
well below minimum wage, so even with the lowest-bid-gets-the-job atmosphere on
Odesk, I was not asking too much.
Apparently I was. Only one client responded. They requested
a sample article of 200 words, which I quickly wrote and sent to them. Their
response an hour later was, “While it seems you have halfway decent writing
skills, you made two grammatical errors, so our offer is 5 cents per 1000
words.”
I felt so insulted. At this rate I would need to write 20
words to make one cent! Additionally the grammar errors that were pointed out
were actually two names of apartment complexes, with unique, purposeful
misspellings. That was the first slap in the face.
The second came when I picked up my mail that day and
discovered two thin, large envelopes. The outside of each had a paper attached,
underneath a sealed plastic cover. The outside of the paper read, “READ THIS
LETTER BEFORE OPENING THIS PARCEL.”
My first thought was that one of the herbal companies I buy
from once in awhile had gone rogue, and were now shipping illegal herbs instead
of chamomile. When I opened the letter I saw that the U.S. Postal Inspection
Service was warning that envelopes like I had received were often scams,
related to work at home jobs. They outlined the all-too-common scheme of
receiving a too-good-to-be-true check or money order, with instructions to
deposit a portion of the money in your bank and wire the rest to someone else.
Indeed, when I opened both envelopes I was told this was my
first and second mystery shopping assignment. (Big red flag, since I’m signed
up with every legitimate mystery shopping company in the country!) I was
instructed to put $200 from each check into my bank account, and wire the rest
to four names provided on the letter. Of course I’ve heard about this scam
often, as I believe everyone has, until I read of some poor soul who thought
their dreams had come true and follow the instructions, only to have their bank
account drained by the following day.
I laughed, because at the low pay I was receiving for my
freelance writing there wasn’t more than $5 in my account most days. It was
rather sobering though, to be holding two checks for $2,780.99, and have the
sinking realization that if I continued accepting less than pennies for words
on Odesk I was never going to make enough to make the time it took to write
worthwhile. At that point I could make more selling books on eBay, or clothes
my kids have grown out of to a resell store.
That day I began searching for other places that would pay
at least minimum wage for freelance writing. I found many sites saying
freelance writers should never accept less than $35, $50 or $100 an article. I
couldn’t imagine ever getting paid that much. I did find other companies that
needed freelance writers, and eventually found some excellent sites explaining
the content mills, like Odesk, and how to earn more than their ludicrously low
pay, doing the same writing, but for companies that pay a fair price. I felt
foolish for having toiled so long at Odesk, receiving so many refusals, simply
by asking for a measly $5 an hour.
That evening before dinner, I did some writing and editing
for the one solid client I found on Odesk. I rewrote several how-to type
articles, and switched sentences and words around so that each of the 16
articles read better, was more engaging, and captured the tone of the site and
my client. Afterwards I mentioned my concern that I had not heard from my
client for over a month, and I was beginning to worry that she too, was too
good to be true. I voiced concern that I had spent two weeks writing, rewriting
and editing articles I’d never see any money for. My husband responded,” Well,
you have been slopping through your writing lately. Your writing isn’t that
great. You probably won’t be paid.”
This was my a-ha moment.

I’ll be the first to admit I have little confidence and less self-worth. I’m
nice and I enable, especially to those that don’t deserve it – my first
physically abusive partner, my first husband and my current husband. As I child
I learned to be polite, agreeable, accommodating and always kind. I also
learned money buys love. This has been the recipe for poverty and a great deal
of suffering in my life. My low self-esteem, putting other’s needs before my
own, buying their love (even if it meant using my student loan to buy my first
husband an old 1952 Mercury, which I wasn’t allowed to drive) and supporting my
current husband with disability and my freelance writing have been what I do,
in every single relationship.

Until the day I was offered next to nothing for my writing,
I held checks in my hands that I knew I would never actually be able to earn
realistically at the rate I was being paid. I knew I needed to be able to make
more to care for my children. I was insulted that my writing was worth so
little. I’m not the best writer in the world. That’s okay. I am a skilled
writer. How do I know? I practice, every day. I write, I take online courses on
how to improve my writing, I read and then I write some more.

Still, these three events were the reasons I finally opened my eyes to reality.
I do deserve to be paid more for my freelance writing. I love to write! Even if
I am typing up a answer to a inquiry on how to remove ticks from your dog, or
ten ideas for date-night, I give 100%.

From that day, I decided to make some major changes. I only
accept jobs that pay a fair amount. I don’t expect to be rich, and I don’t know
that I’ll see $100 for one article anytime soon, but $10, $25, occasionally
$40? Yes. Also, no one is allowed to insult my writing, especially if it is my
words painstakingly typed into the computer that put dinner on the table and a
roof over their head.

My a-ha moment was recent, just a couple weeks ago, but now I know, without any
doubt that I can succeed, despite over two decades of time given to ungrateful
partners, and feeling lousy about myself. If can write when my legs spasm in
pain and it feels like an invisible hand is relentlessly stabbing my right ear,
over and over, each minute for the last three years, that anyone can. Don’t
give up, and please don’t waste your talent on content mills or to support
people who don’t love you and your writing! 

Writers, do you remember your a-ha moment?

About the author

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Comments

  • Cathy Miller June 5, 2015 at 1:26 pm

    Wow,Tracy, thank you for such an honest sharing of your journey. This post alone shows what a gifted writer you are. And anyone who can survive a triple-whammy of A-Ha moments is stronger than you think.

    Hang in there and keep on writing, You are worth it.

    Reply
  • Paula June 5, 2015 at 2:12 pm

    Welcome to our tribe, Tracy! Not just as a fellow freelancer, but as a part of our little tribe here in the homey little community Lori created.

    Read through some of the prior Writers Worth posts (or almost any post since day one) and you'll soon be turning the $35/article assignments into $350/article. With the determination you have, it will happen. Soon.

    When I read how the one content mill moron belittled your skills and felt the need to point out what he thought were spelling errors (and thereby proved he really was a moron), it underscored how part of the classic content mill strategy is to denigrate writers into thinking they're worthless. I'm so glad you knew better.

    Reply
  • Lori Widmer June 5, 2015 at 2:32 pm

    Tracy, once again, thank you. I agree with Cathy and Paula — your writing here and your experience shows you have the guts and talent to do this writing thing. 🙂

    Reply
  • Cheryl Bryan June 5, 2015 at 3:04 pm

    That was an unusually long post, I thought. And I read every word. That must tell you something, Tracy. For one, you have the gift of telling a story, which in my opinion really valuable. Thanks for being such a good example of perseverance and of moving on, no matter what the circumstances.

    Reply
  • Tracy Spangler June 5, 2015 at 4:14 pm

    Thank you Lori, for sharing my story and Cathy, Paula, Cheryl and Lori as well for your kind words and encouragement! I'll admit I woke up feeling nervous. Lori has been kind enough to offer her friendship and wise words as well as publishing my first piece! It's both exciting and a tad scary to have been so honest. Your warmth and support means so much to me, both as a writer and a woman fighting through each day! I'm so glad to be a part of this unique, wonderful community Lori has created, and I'm looking forward to writing more and being published, anywhere but on content mills! Thanks again ladies!

    Reply
  • Eileen Coale June 5, 2015 at 5:02 pm

    Tracy, thanks for sharing your story. You don't have to be an A+++ writer to succeed. You can be a "B" quality writer and make a very good living as long as you know how to market and sell yourself. Lori has tons of great marketing advice on her blog, so if you haven't yet explored it all, I urge you to do so.

    Occasionally I outsource first drafts and research. I don't have an immediate need and don't know when I'll need help, but if that's something that interests you, email me. Lori can give you my contact info. Or if I did it right, you can click on my name, it will take you to my website, and you can email me through that. 🙂

    Reply
  • Tracy Spangler June 5, 2015 at 5:43 pm

    Eileen,

    Hi! Thank you for your kind offer for possible future editing and research work. I'm thrilled to see we both share a passion for natural health! I just emailed you.

    Lori has been a tremendous support, and I agree, her site has a wealth of information I have spent reading and learning from!

    Thank you for your advice and support!

    Tracy Spangler
    anewrue@yahoo.com

    Reply
  • Gloria Rich June 6, 2015 at 2:53 am

    Tracy,

    I am biased; but, also recognize true talent. You have an amazing gift. Your words captivate your audience and keep them interested. Never stop writing, nor believing in yourself.

    I know there is someone out there who will truly appreciate what you have to offer in both words and deeds. Continue that quest and never stop.

    I love you with all my heart!!!
    Mom

    Reply
  • Paula June 6, 2015 at 4:01 pm

    This morning I was thinking about Tracy and some other freelancers I know – the freelancers who can never seem to find work on their own, but are able to land assignments when they follow through with a suggestion to contact a specific editor – and the difference is clear. The others simply don't have the discipline and tenacity to make it as freelancers. But judging from Tracy's post, she does.

    About the same time that old saying "Show, don't tell" came into my head (I never liked it, since the logical part of my brain says any time you put words on a page you're telling a story, otherwise you'd be an artist), and I thought the freelancer's version of that should be, "Don't talk about writing, just write."

    Tracy – where can we follow you on social media? LinkedIn? Twitter? Google+? Facebook? (Okay, not being on Facebook myself, I tossed that in for those who are. I think we'd all like to follow your progress!)

    Reply
  • Tracy Spangler June 8, 2015 at 1:11 am

    Paula,

    Hi! Thank you for your kind words! My motivation to work hard is simple. I want to be sure my daughters have all they need. We're poor, but they don't need to know that. I receive disability, but it's not enough to cover the bills. I am lucky that I get paid to do what I love!

    I'm so happy you'd like to keep in touch and track my progress! Currently my launch date for my blog is the end of June. I'll be blogging about freelance writing (of course!), work at or near home gigs, natural healing, simple living. Likely I should just concentrate on freelancing, but my goal is to earn some money from the blog once I start selling natural products I enjoy making.

    It would be fantastic to follow one another on social media sites! I'm active on Twitter and Pinterest. My Twitter url is: https://twitter.com/MzRueAnn, and my Pinterest is: https://www.pinterest.com/rueannwrites. I dislike Facebook, but plan on adding my blog profile to Google+ and LinkedIn soon!

    Again, thank you for your encouragement! I never felt like a worthy writer until Lori was kind enough to offer me her friendship, advice and a chance to publish my first piece here! The support from everyone here has made me feel much more confident about my writing.
    Thanks so much!

    Reply
  • Tracy Spangler June 8, 2015 at 1:12 am

    Paula,

    Hi! Thank you for your kind words! My motivation to work hard is simple. I want to be sure my daughters have all they need. We're poor, but they don't need to know that. I receive disability, but it's not enough to cover the bills. I am lucky that I get paid to do what I love!

    I'm so happy you'd like to keep in touch and track my progress! Currently my launch date for my blog is the end of June. I'll be blogging about freelance writing (of course!), work at or near home gigs, natural healing, simple living. Likely I should just concentrate on freelancing, but my goal is to earn some money from the blog once I start selling natural products I enjoy making.

    It would be fantastic to follow one another on social media sites! I'm active on Twitter and Pinterest. My Twitter url is: https://twitter.com/MzRueAnn, and my Pinterest is: https://www.pinterest.com/rueannwrites. I dislike Facebook, but plan on adding my blog profile to Google+ and LinkedIn soon!

    Again, thank you for your encouragement! I never felt like a worthy writer until Lori was kind enough to offer me her friendship, advice and a chance to publish my first piece here! The support from everyone here has made me feel much more confident about my writing.
    Thanks so much!

    Reply
  • Friender June 8, 2015 at 3:44 pm

    Tracy, Have you considered advertising copywriting? It pays much better and there are plenty of outlets who need copywriting help. I'm currently on a 3-month, part-time contract with a local company as a contract copywriter, making $50/hour. I have 13 years of experience as a freelance copywriter and more than 20 years of experience as a writer, but you should definitely expect more than what you are getting. Best of luck to you. Jen

    Reply
  • Tracy Spangler June 8, 2015 at 3:56 pm

    Jen,

    Hi! I've not considered advertising copywriting, only because I'm not sure how to get started. I'll look online today and see what I can find. Do you mind telling me how you got started, or where to look for companies that need advertising copywriters? It's fantastic that you're making $50/hour! I got shut down by previous clients when I increased my rate to $5/hour. Thanks for your great suggestion! If you have a chance, I'd love to know more about where to start. Thank you for writing, Jen. Have a great day!

    Tracy

    Reply
  • Gabriella F. June 8, 2015 at 4:41 pm

    Wow! Just read this, and I gasped twice at the appalling incivility you've encountered. You're a good writer, and you're right not to tolerate that from anybody. Holy mackerel!

    Thanks for sharing your story, and thanks for realizing you're worth way more than you'll get at those websites for businesspeople who have no clue the value of good writing.

    I have every confidence you'll be earning more and more all the time!

    Reply
  • Paula June 9, 2015 at 2:51 pm

    I just followed you on Twitter and Pinterest, Tracy. And once you're on LinkedIn and Google+ I'll follow you there, too!

    Reply
  • Tracy Spangler June 10, 2015 at 7:33 pm

    Thank you Gabriella for your vote of confidence, and for sharing my shock at how horribly some content mills and people have treated me, and my writing. Paula- thanks for the follow! I'm following you as well!

    All of your comments have been so empowering!

    I'm so happy to be a part of this amazing, supportive group Lori has created!

    Tracy

    Reply