The Manic Freelancer (and why you really shouldn’t be one)

What I’m listening to: Kinda Fuzzy by Eels

I was reading through Twitter feeds, LinkedIn groups, and blog feeds last week, and I saw it.

There are a lot of freelance writers out there just throwing it together.

Hey, I’m not one for a hyper-organized life either, but there are limits, you know? Having a plan and sticking with it actually works. Having a plan, then another, then another, then yet another? Much harder to stick with.

Take the writer who thinks she should write just like her favorite blogger. She follows her blogger’s advice verbatim.

For one week.

Then she sees another blogger with a different idea.

A week later, she’s looking again. And another week later, again.

Nothing works. Why? Because she’s not considering what she wants. She’s only parroting the next thing she hears.


While that’s bad, it’s not as bad as a writer who knows better and still drops everything to chase whatever passes in front of him.

Someone says he can’t do X (because in actuality, he never has). So he drops everything and pours all his energy into proving the naysayers wrong. Changes his business model, upends his client base, revives his focus. (One of the “Neds” in my life was someone who’d swiped my content, then put up dummy sales pages and courses to validate his argument to me.)

A week later, he’s proving someone else wrong.


While these two examples show people at opposite ends of the freelance spectrum, they’re both suffering from the same problem:

Freelance Mania.

Our first writer — let’s call her Maddie — is just so desperate to make a living freelance writing that she’ll follow anyone who convinces her they’re successful. She’s the one who will plunk down money for course after course, who will ask the same question year upon year, and who will find herself in the same state three, four, five years later. Pretty scary.

But she can fix her own behavior.

The second writer is more challenging. Ned, as we’ll call him, is convinced he’s the authority on Every Damn Thing There Is To Be An Authority On. He’ll argue in public forums about how he has a better answer. He’ll go out of his way to get a little dig in wherever he can (and he’s going to condescend, that’s a given). He’ll make pronouncements and unleash on those foolish enough to correct, even politely, any misconception. He will argue until someone just begs him to agree to disagree.

Ned can be fixed too, but he’s going to need to recognize his own penchant for being a know-it-all. I know. I’ve had conversations with a few Neds. They’ll concede if you don’t force it, but inherently, you can’t fix their underlying insecurities.

So how does any freelancer fix either of these behaviors in themselves? You have to accept these facts:

No one writer has all the answers.

Maddie is already going faint at the notion that she might have to do this herself. But she’s capable. If she’s capable of spending any length of time trying someone else’s method, she’s capable of tweaking it or recognizing that it just doesn’t fit with who she is. She’s also capable of taking all these ideas and seeing what about each one appeals, thus building her own approach.

Ned is thinking I’m totally full of it. He doesn’t need fixing, and he really does know everything there is to know about everything. That’s too bad. Ned is missing out on learning something new, and something that may make him a much better writher (and definitely a much better person to be around). Neds of the world, you don’t have to know everything. No one cares if you don’t because the rest of us don’t. It’s okay to let someone else show you how they do something. It could transform how you do things.

Your own way is best — for you.

That first part is for Maddie. She needs the confidence to know that it’s okay to try something you thought of — it could be just the right thing for her. The second part is for Ned. Ned, you really need to stop the “Here’s how you do it the right way” stuff. Your own business isn’t exactly breaking sales records (not that we care unless you make it a point of debate), and plenty of us have managed quite decent incomes without your advice.

Shifting gears constantly confuses your clients.

That’s why both Maddie and Ned need to get their shit together and stick with something a lot more consistently. Yes, it’s fine to try new methods, but not if you haven’t given the first one time to take root. And spinning your wheels in all those forums proving everyone wrong — Ned, your clients can see you. That conversation you and I had where you became instantly condescending to my polite responses begging to differ didn’t make me look foolish. No Ned, you wear that crown. 

Writers, when have you been like Maddie?
How many Neds have you come across?
What manic tendencies have you overcome, and how did you do it?

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