• The What and the Why

    I can’t read minds.

    I lead with this, because I’m fairly sure you can’t read minds, either. You have no idea that I was recently hired by a parent to write a cover letter, for the purpose of gaining a company internship for a young student.

    In presenting my first draft, I was met with the criticism that certain intentions of the student were missing, and that she ‘thought my services as a professional writer would fix this.’

    The first component of my confusion stemmed from this: she hadn’t seen my message from the previous day, asking for specific information.

    The second, this: the information I had been given lacked this element entirely, and my goal was to complete that area once it had been reviewed. That’s why it was a draft.

    Here’s a recurring problem I face as a freelance writer. I see my job as a conveyor of messages. You tell me what message you want to send, and I will craft a way to share it. What many don’t understand is that I can’t read minds. It’s not my place or responsibility to figure out what your message is; you need to tell me, if not what you’re trying to say, at least what you think you’re trying to say. At least a very vague description of the ballpark of what you’re trying to say. Otherwise, I should be paid a lot more than what I’m asking.

    I can’t (and don’t) blame people entirely; it’s a lot like when I go to the doctor for something and am told they’ll have to run tests, or we’ll have to wait and see how I am in a few days…my first thought is to ask, “Can’t you just give me something to fix this?” because I have no medical knowledge, pharmaceutical schooling or awareness of how the human body works.

    The lesson I’ve learned is that now, with any project, I need to ask for guidance with the message-bearer’s intention(s). I’ve been remiss in not doing that when the message hasn’t been inherently clear, and in a few instances have found myself laboring over trying to guess. So let’s clear the air, once and for all, with two simple questions:

    First, What is the object of the game?

    Second, Why do you want this to happen?

    If you can’t give me answers, what you don’t need is a writer, what you need is a life coach. And believe me, you don’t want me as a life coach.

    I’m much nicer as a writer.

  • Easy credit rip-offs

    For someone who considers himself jaded, it’s alarming how often I’m appalled at human behavior. And believe me, I’m no saint.

    I run an ad for my professional writing services on craigslist, and a few weeks ago I received a text message at 5:30 a.m.

    Hi! I am a usc student in need of essay help! I have an 2,000-3,000 word philosphy essay due Sunday (tomorrow) at 5pm and I have not even started. Is it possible you'd be able to write it for me and have it completed by the deadline?

    Oh, come on. I went to USC, too. Great school with many pluses, but I took grand advantage of its party-every-night atmosphere (at least back then), slept through my morning lectures and opted for a pass/fail math course; I may have been a worse student overall thirty-five years ago than this twenty-first-century cheater is now. With one significant difference, not counting the horrifying spelling and grammar errors: I did my own work.

    This was my response:

    Hello! I am so sorry, that won’t be possible — sounds like something that would require extensive research and at least a couple days of drafting — plus an academic knowledge of philosophy. Thank you for reaching out! But that’s something for an expert in the subject.

    And I immediately regretted it. I was so taken aback by this kid’s brazen request (I’m assuming he or she was a kid), I actually apologized (!) for not being able to meet the task. I wince now, looking back at my simpering, people-pleasing response. What I should have done is read the kid the riot act for sidestepping the responsibility of actual work.

    I admit, I hadn’t even thought of morality or ethics when I first considered the request. That came about a half-hour later – I’m always a better person after a few minutes of introspection. At the time, I only thought of the money I could have made, if I’d had the guts, time and nerve to “fake” it.

    I guess that’s why so many people do it.

    I scanned craigslist (that's how they write it -- I’m not just being negligent) and am now wiser to the fact that not only will people pay to have their assigned coursework done for them, there are plenty of writers who enthuse over how well they do it.

    One enterprising soul boasts:

    -Fast turnaround, including same-day!
    -No payment upfront! 
    -Guaranteed to be plagiarism-free! 

    Thank goodness, no plagiarism. Another claims writing talent that nearly approaches shape-shifting:

    I can successfully write for almost any class, at any university in the English-speaking world. All clients receive "A" level, money-back guarantees.

    I find this upsetting. I don’t want to be part of a world that cheats, and with bravado. There’s enough of that going around. So I’m not going to do it.

    I’ve even added this to my home page:

    Students, I'm happy to help you with your assigned work -- but I can't flat-out write it. I can edit, proof, polish and revise your draft material but any work to be graded must be your own. Thank you!

    I realize my saying “I will not write other people’s term papers” might not cause a stir. It’s a lot like me saying “I refuse to do nude scenes” – there’s little call for it and even less demand. But I think it’s important to draw a line somewhere, guided by some sort of moral compass, when one is fortunate enough to be paid for a desirable skill.

    You can read more about that whole journey here.

  • Pushing forward

    Pushing forward

    I’ll limit my use of the word “journey”…but this is quite a ride. 

    Starting my own business as a freelance writer is, by turns, exciting, terrifying and rewarding.

    • There’s excitement in finding clients.
    • There’s terror in struggling to make ends meet.
    • There’s great reward in helping others communicate.

    When I started this whole thing – prompted by a very depressing job loss (I annoyed everyone around me, came down with the shingles and gained 15 lbs.) – my biggest hurdle was pushing forward through the fear that nobody would care. However, I’ve learned that pushing forward is the greatest career move anyone can make, and any point scored along the way is a victory in itself.

    For one of my first jobs, a friend needed her resume proofed and edited and a cover letter written. I think that took me an hour, she paid me immediately (thanks, Venmo) and I heard from her a week or so later. She got the job.

    That is rewarding. I’m not saying I got her that job; my friend's terrific work and presence speak for her more than I do, but I was able to help her get her message across. Sure, I’m a little bummed she’s moving away for this excellent opportunity, but I couldn’t be happier for her.

    On my own career side, retooling my (formerly creative but rambling, unfocused) website to highlight my professional services has been a terrific investment. I'm not the most tech-savvy person you'll ever meet but my website is simple, costs me ten dollars a month, and was instrumental in landing my largest client yet, a beloved gourmet goods brand.

    Writing their holiday catalog and working with them on various other projects has been my most exciting professional development yet, especially for someone who grew up reading catalogs for recreation. (True story, I may have learned to read from Sunset House and Lillian Vernon.)

    I'm also proofing and editing technical material for an Internet security company, working with contacts all over the world. I mean, I'm just some guy in Glendale with a popcorn ceiling. Now I'm international? Who am I, Jason Bourne?

    Of course, I’m still terrified. I wouldn’t be me if I wasn’t. Finally recognizing a career (it's taken decades) is like finally falling in love – ‘you don’t deserve it if you’re not willing to suffer for it,’ or something like that. And even though I’m still delivering food and taking temp jobs to make ends meet, I can say I’m a professional writer.

    Knowing who you are is more than a relief, it’s your freedom to push forward. And fortunately, forward is always only one step ahead.

    Push. Puuuuushhh...