How to Screw Up Your Freelance Writing Career in One Move

What I’m listening to: Get Out by Frightened Rabbit

very-little-screw-1197001-639x504This re-entry into work is getting ridiculous.

I’ve had a relatively slow week so far, and I’m thankful for it. My clock won’t reset — I’m still five hours ahead, which means I’m barely awake at 8 pm and wide awake at 3 am. I plan to force myself to stay up later each night just to see if that helps.

I finished one project yesterday and researched some on another. The latter is taking a bit more digging than I had hoped, but I have some ideas that could speed things up.

I took ten minutes and traveled around the blogs yesterday. It didn’t take much reading of LinkedIn forums to realize something.

People are well-positioned to screw up their freelance writing careers.

It’s not that writers are necessarily striving to be bad at what they do. But man, there sure is enough lousy advice out there to help them do just that.  Want to screw up your freelance writing career? Then do this:

Follow lousy advice verbatim.

Ah, but how do I know it’s lousy, you ask? It’s a good question. Here are a few ways to tell if the person giving you advice knows their stuff or is full of, well, stuff:

Generalizing. It’s a dead giveaway when an “expert” lumps you in with all other writers or worse, with his or her own personal experience. You’re not all other writers, and you’re definitely not that person. Not all writers will respond to the same set of criteria, stimuli, or schedules.

Dishing out absolutes. To me, nothing screams “I’m making this up on the spot” like a “must”, “always” or “never” statement. If you should always always do it, chances are your expert is a windbag know-it-all.  In ridiculously few cases will such absolutes apply (as in you should always market — but notice the “should” in front of that — marketing is up to you, not your guru).

Dangling the carrot. This one just pisses me off. That guru will pal around with you, spoon feed you a few drops of info, then toss in the casual “It’s all covered in my e-book/e-course” or just blatantly comment with links to their crap.

Knowing everything about everything. Jeezuz, how do these people fit their egos inside their skin? In one case, I saw a comment from some guru that gave the worst possible advice — the wrong advice. It was an area the guru clearly knew nothing about — insurance. Unfortunately for that “expert”, I did. I had to counter every bit of it, and I didn’t enjoy it (I don’t like publicly disagreeing with someone I don’t know). Still, I couldn’t let people go off and buy the wrong insurance based on some idiot’s ramblings. If the person giving advice is often giving advice on nearly every topic, there’s your red flag.

Complimenting you endlessly. Come on, no one is that cheerful. The false praise, the buddy-buddy banter, the “free” advice that falls just short of what they offer in their e-book or e-course… you’re being used. That new bestie of yours is setting up your dependence on his/her help… and product offerings.


Writers, what types of bad advice have you encountered?

What advice do you have for writers who are attempting to vet advice?


About the author




  • Michael LaRocca August 18, 2016 at 8:12 am

    The first one to jump out at me, years ago, is one you mentioned right here in this fine post. The things you MUST do. No, sorry, my experience says that people just plain don’t look for their business editors and proofreaders on Facebook, so I’m not setting up a page over there no matter how many times I hear that I must. The bottom line is that I do, or should, know my own particular business better than any particular expert. So folks, get to know your own business that well. I hope you do already. Consider all advice, certainly, and in many cases be grateful for it, but feel free to disagree with it.

    • lwidmer August 18, 2016 at 8:29 am

      There’s the thing right there, Michael — we should know our own businesses best. Yet too many freelance writers are still thinking in terms of “freelance” and not “business.” We run a business. We should be protecting that business like it’s a loved one (it is).

      I like this thought: “…feel free to disagree with it.” There are far too many people following blindly the words of self-professed gurus or pseudo-experts. Here’s the thing — we’re experts (or at least should be) in our own spheres. That doesn’t make us experts in all aspects, nor should we assume we know what’s right or wrong for other writers.

      It’s a tough line to walk. You want to help when you see someone who’s clearly screwing up, but you don’t want to impose your will on them. The best you can do is offer ideas and “Here’s what worked for me” commentary.

    • Cathy Miller August 18, 2016 at 3:15 pm

      Michael, I am so happy you brought up that bit of MUST do about Facebook. I admit, I originally signed up for Facebook at the beginning of my freelancing career, thinking I would use it for business. I hated the format and business practices.

      I never did set up that business page (thank goodness) and am only on it to share family photos and such. The only somewhat work-related activity I have is an automated post when I create a new blog posts (because friends requested it).

      Like you, Michael, this was a MUST I could live without. ☺

      • lwidmer August 18, 2016 at 5:00 pm

        Same here, Cathy and Michael. I think Facebook isn’t the right medium. I know people use it successfully, but it’s not conducive to what I do necessarily.

  • Paula Hendrickson August 18, 2016 at 12:01 pm

    When I first joined LinkedIn, who I presumed as a fellow freelancer and I followed each other and exchanged a handful of direct messages. It was clear she was fairly new to freelancing despite boasting about all of her “mentees” (which for some reason I always read as “manatees”). She was trying to get info about a couple of my clients, too, which was funny since she claimed to have written for one of them a few years earlier. I think she asked who my editor was, but of course it wasn’t the same one she worked for. I decided to check the publication’s online database which archives pretty much everything, and her name didn’t come up anywhere. Sure, I’ve written things for round ups that have a collective “staff” byline, but they typically won’t assign those to people who haven’t already written for them. When I told her I’d looked for her articles but didn’t find any, she suddenly said, “Oh, it must have been XYZ instead of ABC. It’s so long ago I can’t remember.”

    Right. What writer do you know who “forgets” which major market publications they’ve written for?

    That was the last time I heard from her personally. But I was included in one of her mass LinkedIn messages touting her coaching services. I replied asking to be removed from the list since I had far more experience and credits than she did.

    Within a couple of years that same person was a very prominent “self professed gurus.” Pity her “mentees.” (Yep. Still picturing manatees.)

    • Paula Hendrickson August 18, 2016 at 12:03 pm

      Could I have included my typos if I tried? Yikes!

    • lwidmer August 18, 2016 at 12:40 pm

      Manatees — that’s funny!

      I had similar experiences with so-called experts, Paula, as you well know. In fact, I saw more than one of my blog posts revised and reposted on one popular blog. This was from a writer who’s said openly and often that the “mashup” articles are perfectly legit. No, it’s called theft.

      Oddly, I have said “I wrote for them? I don’t remember!” But I wouldn’t claim it if I wasn’t sure.

      • Jennifer Mattern August 18, 2016 at 3:36 pm

        Given that we know exactly who she’s talking about Lori, I move to permanently adopt the “manatee” title for her mentees / followers / minions.

        • lwidmer August 18, 2016 at 5:00 pm

          LOL Since I’ll never be able to separate it now, I second the motion.

          • p August 19, 2016 at 4:23 pm

            I feel honored.

  • Jennifer Mattern August 18, 2016 at 3:44 pm

    Now Lori, don’t go scaring them off just because someone’s willing to be buddy-buddy with them. Some of us do (you too I reckon) simply because we’re not assholes. As long as it’s not followed by the sales pitch, you’re probably good.

    And better to find colleagues willing to engage in a bit of banter than ones who aren’t willing to acknowledge your existence until you pay up.

    We’re not all greedy, conniving, louses that thrive on our own self-importance. Some actually care about helping. Promise. It’s just a shame the bad ones have gotten so good at wearing their “mentor” masks.

    • lwidmer August 18, 2016 at 5:01 pm

      Thank you for clarifying the distinction, Jenn. I didn’t mean everyone who’s being nice is a louse. I’m saying people who are nice to further their own causes.