This guest post, Lessons Learned From My First Freelance Writing Job, is from Dave Eagle. Dave is a writer, photographer, and member of the nDash Content Community.
It was only 15 minutes after I’d nailed down the first freelance writing gig that I received another email from this new client. I deflated a little bit upon reading the opening two words—Sorry, Dave—but soon realized that my assumed un-hiring wasn’t the case. The email alerted me to a minor administrative snafu. “It looks like the bondage/sex-slave niche isn’t available. Can you do interracial sugar daddy instead?”
So, yes, confession time: My first gig was ghostwriting erotic fiction.
During the initial few weeks of trying to find clients for my nascent freelance practice, finding quality jobs was difficult. I’d set up shop on oDesk and quickly learned that the people who were willing to pay a living wage for work in my areas of expertise weren’t going to hire a contractor with zero experience. And the ones who didn’t mind if you were just starting out were offering rates that amounted to under a dollar an hour. Then I discovered the middle ground: erotic fiction.
The experience wasn’t nearly as important as talent. And by “talent,” I mean “a large enough vocabulary to avoid using the same terms for body parts over and over.” This wasn’t where I wanted to take my career, but I learned that—on oDesk—the experience was currency. I needed at least one person to rate me highly so that other prospects could take me seriously—and there was an offer of enough money to make it worth my time.
For me, the job was to finish the thing on time and use the notch on my belt to line up other, more legitimate work. I hadn’t intended to learn much from the experience. This was my first time, and I was having what you might call “performance anxiety.” I wasn’t really thinking about the mechanics of a freelance practice at this point. I just wanted to do well. But buried within the 22,000 words I’d been contracted to write, a few lessons surfaced that have informed every other job I’ve since taken. Given the tawdry nature of what I was writing, these lessons presented themselves in strange ways.
Be aware of your body.
I’m talking about the body of work you’ve already done. Even when it’s your first time getting paid to write, it’s not the first time you’ve written something. How do you go about the task of writing?
Some people are word machines, cranking out first drafts at an alarming pace. They finish quickly without regard to quality, knowing that they’ll eventually satisfy their client on the second go. Others, like myself, move more slowly, lingering over words and phrases and gently massaging them until they achieve a good flow.
I hadn’t thought about it at the time I agreed to the job, but it turned out to be a great thing that it was a fixed-price gig instead of hourly. Not having to worry about taking too long (and upsetting someone with a large invoice), I was free to relax and have fun with it. Now, as a general rule, I don’t bid on or accept hourly gigs. I know how I do my best work and only take the jobs that fit my criteria.
Know what gives you pleasure.
If you don’t love what you’re writing about, it’s much more difficult to get motivated enough to even start. Yes, we all need money, but don’t go bidding on every gig that pays well. You’ll be miserable while you’re doing it, and the quality will suffer. Though I wasn’t looking to make a career in erotic fiction, I knew that I would still enjoy this project. I was excited to sit down to work each day (truth be told, I was often pretty excited while working, too).
Be attentive to your partner’s needs.
In this case, your partner is your client—it takes two parties to consummate a working relationship, and you need to please the other party. This means committing to yourself to put everything you have into the project.
I could’ve probably put in a more minimal effort and gotten away with it. The client provided a plot outline, which was essentially a Disney princess love story, only with sex scenes every 3,000 words or so. I could’ve given them something that fulfilled the basic requirements. Who reads porn for character development? But the client also needed to sell this story to its target audience, so I took care to shape the story in ways that would appeal to the target. I played with linear time to create suspense and added humor and some backstory to the lead characters. None of this was necessary, but it was noted and appreciated by the client, who gave me a five-star review.
Learn from my lessons
My first time was also my last time writing erotica, and my freelance writing practice is centered mainly on tech—hardware and software and the miracle of cloud computing—and I earn a living doing it. It couldn’t be any further from where I got my start. But the first time doing anything is bound to be a learning experience; you just need to be open to receiving the lessons. That goes for the second and every other time after that, too. As you continue to grow as a writer, your business will grow, too.
To learn more about Dave’s writing or to hire him to contribute to your content, check out his writer profile.