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5 Universal Annoyances That Test Your Patience as a Freelancer

By Sarah Miller March 22nd, 2017

There are tons of different freelance writers. Some specialize in comedy. Some are straight journalists. Some are more focused on content marketing or technical writing. Some do all of the above! I’m not judging.

All of these kinds of freelance writers do very different things. Josh the guy who specializes in hastily written hot-takes to daily news events has a very different life than Judy the girl who writes website copy for Big Business Firm, Inc. That doesn’t mean there aren’t some universal truths across freelancing—not least of which is the fact that freelancing is a veritable obstacle course of annoyances.

Fortunately, these annoyances are entirely predictable. You do not just have to throw up your hands and surrender to misery. Just as every cloud has a silver lining, every problem has a coping strategy. Here they are.

1. An editor wants you to change your perfect prose

You turned something in. Your three closest friends agreed it was genius. But your editor wants you to “rework” things, so now you’re fuming with righteous anger. What kind of world do we live in where this person does not see the perfection of this great work?

First, try not to take it personally. Editors are busy. Also, they have bosses. Their bosses have bosses. So maybe your editor got a memo this week reading “NO MORE (INSERT WHAT YOUR PIECE IS LIKE HERE) OF THIS CRAP.” You don’t know! You will never know!

Weirdly, whether the editor is “wrong” or “right,” and no matter how angry their comments make you, I guarantee that if you do what they say, you will be pleased with the result nine times out of 10. Putting more time and thought into your work generally makes it better.

Even if you think the feedback is stupid, take the editor’s stupid ideas and start molding it into your slightly better idea. The piece will miraculously improve. Before you know it, you’ll turn in the draft and be at an afternoon Inferno Hot Pilates class.

2. An editor asks for too many rewrites

Every assignment has a threshold of diminishing returns. Eventually, rewriting a piece doesn’t make it any better. At this point, you are allowed to speak up.

Remember, your editors (probably) aren’t trying to make your life hell. They have a lot of pressure to hit a certain tone, and then, according to that whole boss/bosses’ boss chain referenced above, that certain tone changes.

So be polite. Say something like “I think we’ve approached this from a couple different angles, and I don’t really see how we can try another one.” Then, against your best instincts, try to be complimentary: “I loved your suggestion about going into possible motivations for the closing of the fish hatchery before launching into an analysis of its board of directors, and I think that draft was best.” Then suggest a way to wrap everything up: “So are there any tweaks we can make to that draft to bring it home?”

Do not feel shy about your right to call it a day if your hourly rate drops from something vaguely acceptable to the 1987 minimum wage. The free in freelancer is about your freedom, not doing things for free.

3. People aren’t paying you on time

This is the worst part of being a freelancer. It’s extremely frustrating to do a job for people—particularly people who get a nice check every two weeks—and feel like they don’t care whether you get paid (or, in some cases, don’t actually want to pay you).

Step one: Calm down and remember that it’s very unlikely people are sitting around trying to screw you over. Most money hold-ups are logistical. So write polite notes to those involved. If you don’t hear from them, call. Be direct to find out your expected payday.

Sadly, you might have to wait two weeks or two months for the situation to untangle itself, which is awful, but also Just The Deal™. You will get paid. Resist the temptation to be rude, even though the temptation of rage is your only alternative to feeling pathetic.

If the organization is truly trying to weasel out of paying you, contact the Freelancers Union. The organization recently passed legislation in New York City to help with this very issue. Even if you don’t live there, someone can recommend relevant resources.

4. Someone steals your idea

I have a friend who wrote an entire piece, only to find out that someone more famous than her (as in, possessing any fame at all) wanted to write on that topic. So her piece was killed. Bye! Another friend of mine got halfway through a piece and then found out someone she met at a party was publishing a piece on the very same topic.

I wish I had some good news or advice for you here. I mean, the first friend got a kill fee, but that was cold comfort after all that work. As for the second friend… for every 30 great conversations you have with fellow writers, expect one person to steal your ideas. What are you gonna do, stop having drinks with other writers?

Ideas are a dime a dozen. Your job isn’t to jealously guard the ones you have, it’s just to have more. Yeah, I know. Ugh.

5. People you wrote about are not happy

Part of the reason one becomes a writer—aside from the massive income, endless accolades, and glamour of spending one’s days in bed wearing sweats—is to tell the truth.

You might write that a restaurant is bad or a TV show should be cancelled. You might even make the case that someone is a murderer. Telling the truth, or your version of it, will upset people. (People will get mad at you even when you write nice things. Why? Because no good deed goes unpunished.)

Angry people will leave angry voicemails or write nasty emails. They might insult you on social media. If they do something illegal or harass you, you can contact the authorities or the authorities at Twitter, as reporter Lauren Duca did recently when Pharma Bro Martin Shkreli conducted targeted harassment against her.

Fortunately, most people aren’t Martin Shkreli. They’re just angry. And you know what you do with angry people? Ignore them.

Ignoring someone is hard, but it’s not as hard as feeling bad about the impact of your work. It’s not easy having a job that can affect other people’s lives. At the same time, someone needs to alert mankind to the reality it inhabits. Every writer thinks they’re uniquely qualified to tell the truth about the world, or they would have done something else. So do what you’re supposed to do.

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