Writing for Others? 5 Ways to Avoid Being a Sucker for Words

If words are your bread and butter, you gotta learn how to cook. What I mean is if you write for money, anything from writing as part of your daily job function to freelancing, pinpointing the scope is paramount.

If you aren’t adept at asking the right questions to make sure at the outset you and your intended client are on the same page–there will be blood. Dramatic? Perhaps, but it’s easier to plan for a worst-case scenario upfront, or skip it altogether. That or find yourself rocking in a corner seething and crying neck-deep in a regrettable project (oh, that’s just me?). As I have, you’ll collect valuable lessons from your mistakes and be a better writer-for-hire for it. But… if some are avoidable–why not?

Ask the write questions

That’s no typo. To write well for another person, you first need to understand what and why. Whether a commentary, a blog post, a white paper, a media release, or marketing copy, you need a full understanding of what outcomes the client hopes to achieve. Collect available supplementary materials. This includes bios, earlier pieces of work, a full rundown of the event, key messages, etc. Understand the power of an actual conversation. Sometimes a quick call with the person will fill in the unspoken blanks that can trip you up later. Set up a line of communication where you can reach out for clarification as you go. No question is dumb. It’s better to understand upfront, and as you go than to receive an edit-riddled draft that requires you to burn what you’ve already done. To write in someone else’s style and voice, you need to understand them. Asking key questions will save you time, gray roots, and much-needed sodium (see above crying reference).

Set mutual expectations

Your client needs to trust you, and you need to trust them, and then you need to trust yourself. Agreeing on the outcome of a piece is the key to a successful partnership. It’ll allow you to manage expectations and produce a piece that makes everyone happy. There have been a few instances where I’ve received feedback and/or edits that turned a delightful creation into a sad sack of potatoes. You’re on the project because the client likes the way you write. If you have counter-suggestions to keep the person from appearing dull or saddled with words that won’t resonate–tell them so. Explain why you’ve made the edits or changes. It may shock you to find that once explained, the client is not only accepting but grateful that you’re looking out for their best interest.

Set a timeframe

Set a realistic timeline that accounts for feedback, edits, and rewrites. If you need more time, make a case for what you need. Be sure to track your time. Consistent tracking improves your ability to estimate project parameters. Either use your phone timer or tracking apps to help. Toggl is one of my favourites.

Determine your value–then ask for it

Come close and lend your ear (ok, I get you’re reading this, but you get the point). You are worth it. Worth what you’re charging–and likely more. Good writing translates into real value. Understand that others know the value too–but they may not always want to pay for it. It can seem gauche or downright scary to ask for more money but to succeed, you have to be unafraid to ask for what you’re worth. Remember, you’re trying to make a living, and you have a valuable skill. Many stellar resources exist to guide you through calculating what to charge and how to negotiate. It gets easier, promise.

Let go

Take your joy from writing for your own endeavours. On your personal blog, site, social channels, journalistic articles, and that novel, here, your own voice sings. Those spaces are where you get to highlight what’s uniquely you. When writing for others, best to keep it ‘church and state.’ This is what will allow you to write in many voices, genres, and forms. You’ll meet clients who aren’t sure what they want–or who have such strong opinions you’ll wonder why they didn’t just write for themselves! Exhale. You do your best to produce great work representing your client well, making them happy and returning for more. On the flip side, you’ll also learn what you’re not willing to sacrifice, such as your ethics. Become ok with letting go, and you just may find a bit of that joy finds its way in.