Research Writer Interview With George
Staying Enthusiastic About The Freelance Writing Job
What are the most important strategies you've learned from bidding on projects?
The most important strategy is to bid on everything possible. I don't worry about whether I'll get overloaded with work because if I get more projects than I need I just refer to a friend (who then owes me a favor) or ask the person/company that offered me the "excess" project if another writer could take it. By bidding on as many projects as possible, I show how versatile I am, which gives me potential to be assigned more projects.
What about when the client needs revision?
If it's of something I did wrong, I quickly fix it. I don't play games and pass blame. If I make a mistake and dodge the opportunity to correct it, the customer or contracting company will think I am a risky bet. But I don't often overlook requirements. Usually when revision is necessary it is because the client has more instructions and it is treated as a new project. In such cases, I am glad to immediately tell a bid and also the deadline I can meet for revision. That saves a step for everyone. I don't take it personally when a client is not satisfied the first time. Many people are eccentric. I am glad when they want revision because if I don't take it personally I can get paid for spending an extra hour (or part of an hour) tinkering with the paper some more.
What do you do when a project takes much longer than you expected?
Sometimes that happens. But sometimes I get through a project much more quickly than expected, so it balances off. For all projects, I like to give myself a time limit for each part. So, for example if I am writing 10 pages of a literature review, I might challenge myself to complete it within 3 hours. That way, even if it takes 4 or 5 hours I'm still doing okay. But if I don't set a time limit, my mind wanders and the work goes on all day!
I try to average 2.5 pages per hour. That's not always possible, but sometimes I get lucky and fly through something like 3.5 pages in an hour. I know there are writers who can do even better than that, or at least they say they do, but how is that possible without compromising quality! And anyway, I get paid per project as an independent contractor (not by the hour). When I think of it that way, it cheers me up and I feel a sense of enthusiasm about getting from point A to point B.
Writing in the morning is best. Some people say that they are "not morning people" but morning is part of life, and if you go to the ocean and catch the wave when it starts to rise, it carries you. Notice how older people often tend to be morning people? Age has weakened them, and they can't afford not to catch the wave. No matter what my age is, in a hurting, competitive capitalist economy I can't afford not to catch the wave of morning. I have to be as competitive and focused as possible.
Are there any types of projects you prefer to avoid?
I used to avoid working on material that is very important and personal, like writing a professional bio, editing someone's college application essay, ghostwriting a book, etc. These projects are so important that the client is likely to "never be satisfied." However, I am more experienced, now, and I no longer avoid any type of project. Instead, I bid high enough to cover a large amount of time so that I'm safe. By doing that, I increase my "perceived value" as customers and others notice that I have very high rates sometimes. And this way, if I get through in a reasonable amount of time it's more profit for me. I always give a high bid instead of dodging a project.
Thoughts about how to best talk to customers?
I try not to tell customers things that would make them lose confidence in my ability to write a good paper. If I accidentally say something that makes the customer expect that maybe the work will be low quality, it's likely that they'll decide they don't like it before they even see it, and when they do see it, they'll be looking for problems.
For example, I won't say, "You'll never believe how I got stuck in the city for nine hours and now I have to try to write your paper quickly in order to finish on time." That may seem obvious, but it's just an example. A subtler mistake is like this: "I was so sick yesterday, and if you knew how sick I was you'd understand. I'm feeling better now, and your project has my full attention." Even that is sort of obvious as an example of a statement that might make a customer lose confidence.
First, I write in a way that reflects that I am "totally confident and also interested in the project." I put those two together because confidence without curiosity is sort of offensive. I stay focused on projecting confidence and interest in the whole project, and the result is that the client is not so worried that he threw away money so that an idiot could write something useless.
Then, there is "eager to please." I am so lucky I have met people who are "eager to please." I have met some people who really, truly enjoy working hard to make someone happy. It often happens at a print shop or Best Buy or some other place where people have special skill or knowledge that they're using to provide a service to others. They really find enjoyment in producing quality that really exceeds expectations.
If I combine "eager to please" with "interested in the topic," I have a personality in email correspondence that really seems like someone who is going to produce an excellent piece of writing. This is the type of person who is very good at what s/he does and as a result really enjoys impressing customers by going the extra mile.
If the customer expects a satisfactory piece of writing, it's likely that they'll decide they like it before they even see it, and when they do see it they'll be looking for confirmation of their expectations.
Are there times when you have "writer's block" or get overwhelmed with work?
I try not to perceive it as working. It's reading and writing, both of which I rather enjoy. Being able to read and write for work instead of being someone's employee… it's so great. I just need to escape from all my loved ones who would distract me and enjoy reading for a while.
Also, I use what I call "reading until I'm writing." When I have trouble getting focused or when I feel "blocked" I tell myself not to worry about doing any writing. No writing necessary! All I do is sit down and enjoy reading something. If I let my mind resist the writing, I can't even understand what I am reading. So I sit down to read, and that is all. But the reading straightens out my state of mind, and soon I catch an idea in the reading.
What does it mean to catch an idea in the reading? Whenever I get to a place where the author tells me something remotely interesting, I might hear a sentence in my mind. It's a sentence I am supposed to type. So, I do it even though I told myself there would be no writing.
So now I am typing a sentence about this idea. That's how I "catch" the idea. And any idea worth catching requires a little explanation, so I quickly type a few more sentences to explain it and give an example, etc. Now the idea has become a paragraph.
A paragraph = approximately 100 words, so I need to catch five ideas to write 500 words. But that is not really true because the conclusion paragraph and intro paragraph each take up 100 words, too. So really, I can think of a 10 page paper as 30 paragraphs with maybe 28 ideas.
Also, a whole article that I find in my research might consist of only one main idea. I can find it in the abstract. Sometimes the whole article is not available online, but the abstract usually is. Even if the only thing I can find is a review of the article, I'll still find out that main idea. That idea is enough to enable me to write 100 words or more.
So how long should it take to write a 10 page paper? When we were students, it was something that might take weeks. But as professionals we know that all we need to do is find out the main idea of 20 articles and explain them in a paragraph each, and then write an intro and conclusion… and at that point we might be at 8 or 9 pages. After that, we can add several paragraphs while we proofread and revise. A 10 page paper can be written in just a few hours if the writer is efficient.
I never start by writing an outline of my paper! Why should I commit to an outline? That is the sort of thing that makes people think it takes a long time to write a paper. Students write an outline and then begin a "scavenger hunt" for articles that will support their ideas. This is wrong. An experienced writer can put together a brilliant research paper very quickly as long as they use this approach:
Start by reading a relevant article. Write a paragraph about it. Read another article. Write a paragraph about it.
Continuing this process, and sometimes I find an article that contradicts or affirms what was said in a different article; sometimes I find an article that makes a point that seems related to the articles about which I have already written paragraphs, and when that happens it's possible to write a few paragraphs with analysis and comparison of them.
How about some final "words of wisdom" you would offer from your experience as a freelance essay writer?
One very important lesson I learned involves staying in good communication with the client. Sometimes they get carried away and want me to email them every day. The clients think it takes me several weeks to write a paper, just like it takes them several weeks. They don't realize I can write 20+ pages per day if I have to. They think quality will be lacking if I don't work a little each day for a damn month. BUT I still reply to their emails. Rather than getting no reply, it's better for clients to get something like this:
I can only discuss the direction the paper is taking when it is near completion. It's a work in progress, and I hope you trust that I'm going to do my best.
Thanks for these ideas. I'm adding them to my notes so I can see them while I work on the project. I don't have anything new to tell you right now because I'm still collecting sources and planning the paper.
It doesn't matter what I say, really. They do not even know what they are expecting me to say. However, I can make them feel good if I apply the principles of neurolinguistic programming (google it!). When I include the words "feel good" in a sentence, it actually makes people feel good. It's called an "embedded command" i.e. a command embedded in the sentence. "It's getting late. Do you feel okay about letting me send at noon tomorrow so that I can do one last revision and make sure it's exactly right?" Here, the embedded command "feel okay" affects the reader's mind, and the suggestion that it will be exactly right puts them at ease. They absolutely do want to give me an extension until morning! The mind wants to be put at ease, so I use subtle suggestions that invite it to do so.
The most important point is: I'll never ignore the customer's emails, even when the client is unhappy or unreasonable. In fact, that's when it is most important because a prompt reply counteracts the negative beliefs their mind is trying to form. Sometimes I want to ignore them because I haven't even thought about beginning their paper yet! But I'll just be blunt if necessary and tell them professional writers do not write papers little-by-little in the agonizing process students typically use. We prepare for several weeks sometimes, and then we write up the report. If I ignore the emails, they will get an idea that I am a slacker, and they'll have a self-fulfilling prophecy that they will not like the paper.
Random writer: /2/writer-carl