10 Brutally Honest Confessions From a Freelance Content Writer
What do you know about freelance content writers?
Here are 10 brutally honest truths about what it's like to always have content on the brain.
1. Content writing is not "romantic"
I write marketing and communications content (think website copy, blogs, case studies and the like) for businesses and non-profits.
A lot of people think I spend my writing days like this...
...but in reality, the way I look when I write is really more like this:
I wear a lot of yoga pants and sweats. And there are days I've barely run a brush through my hair.
Sometimes, those are my best writing days. :)
2. Some people believe they can do my job as well as I can
There are always people who look down their nose at writers. They think that surely, "putting a few words together" can't be that difficult!
What they don't realize is that it takes YEARS of expertise to be a good content writer. As in years of hours upon hours upon hours of writing. (I have almost 20 years of expertise...this skill didn't happen overnight!)
And I'm not talking about spending hours on general writing. Not the stuff that we all do in our everyday lives, like emails and social media posts and texts.
I'm talking about strategic writing. Writing with purpose. Writing for a specific audience and with a specific goal in mind. For a specific client. In a specific industry. For a specific type of media.
So sure, you may have learned the mechanics of how to write in school. But that doesn't mean everyone can do my job (or do it well).
3. "Good writing" is subjective (explaining why so-called "writers" make money off horrendous content)
This should be obvious, but not everyone understands what makes "good content" when they hire a writer.
Language is not cut-and-dry. It's not like math, where there are right answers and wrong answers.
Everyone brings their own biases into how they receive content. Therefore, some people may love the way something is written...and some people may hate it. (The Da Vinci Code or 50 Shades of Grey, anyone?)
For example, you may think that a piece of content is "good writing," simply because it is technically and grammatically correct.
But what about consistency of tone, flow of ideas, and overall clarity? What about whether it's actually written for the audience?
What I'm trying to say is that "good content" is in the eye of the beholder. Unfortunately, sometimes that means businesses spend hundreds if not thousands of dollars on sloppy writers who produce horrendous content.
4. Your own writing might not be that terrible
A lot of my clients come to me, saying "OMG, my writing is awful; I am so embarrassed to have you read my stuff!"
Honestly though? Often, the people who say that are relatively decent writers! They just might not be super strategic in what they're writing about, and/or how they're saying it.
That's why I ended up deciding to provide a content coaching/consulting service.
In as little as 90 minutes, I can provide expert guidance and confidence that these (not-at-all terrible!) writers need to keep writing their own content.
5. Sometimes, the smartest people are the worst writers
According to Harvard linguist Steven Pinkerton, the more you know about something, the less clearly you write about it.
This finding shouldn't surprise anyone. Personally, I've reviewed and revised a ton of content written by incredibly intelligent people (including academics).
And don't get me wrong: these folks frequently have the most impressive ideas and out-of-the-box thoughts on any number of topics.
The problem is that they too often get "stuck in their head" and forget that there is a world outside their own.
I've seen this so many times: smart people who incorrectly assume that everyone will be able to understand what they're writing about. And so, they write their content, forgetting to explain important terms, and erroneously leaving out pertinent information.
Yes, when they read it back, it makes sense...to them. Unfortunately, when they don't consider their audience, the ideas and messages they want to communicate often go waaaay over everyone's heads.
Sometimes, smart people's writing can make other people feel dumb. Don't forget your audience!
6. A lot of business people really, really hate writing content
It can take a lot of time to put together a good piece of content...especially when strategic writing is something you don't do everyday!
And so, I frequently get requests for content from people who simply don't. Want. To. Write. Anymore.
They'd rather leave that task to an expert. And I don't blame them.
Moreover, from a business perspective, it totally makes sense to hire a writer.
After all, why should a marketing director need to write a less-than-stellar piece of content, when she can invest in a writer AND redirect her hours toward something she excels in (and that benefits her organization)?
If this looks like your computer screen, it may be time to hire a writer.
7. Writing can be emotionally and physically draining
Some days, I can churn out 4-5 articles in a row.
Other days, I sit in front of a blank screen for what feels like hours. (Don't worry if you're my client, though; I don't charge for writer's block!)
Honestly, sometimes writing can be exhausting.
Why? It requires a lot of thinking (and rethinking), researching of keywords and subject matter, finding out what types of marketing have worked for the client as well as their competitors, and staying on top of industry trends.
Essentially, with every new client or project I have, I need to become a mini-expert on the topic at hand...and quickly. (Just check out this monstrous, ever-evolving list of topics I've written about.)
And when I'm not writing, I'm thinking about writing. About how I'm going to word that perfect tagline. Or whether the headline I created for my client's blog is strong enough.
(As a result, I tend to have a hard time falling asleep at night sometimes.)
The writer's brain never shuts down.
8. Sometimes, writers hurt their clients' feelings
Occasionally, I've had clients who get a bit defensive when I edit their content.
Here's why: writing can be a very personal thing to some people.
And you know what? I totally get it.
I went to journalism school. The professors and TAs could be BRUTAL with the stuff we wrote. It was awful. Their comments and red-pen deletions made me question everything about myself. (I spent many nights crying in the bathroom as a result.)
Me in first-year journalism school. It wasn't pretty.
The good news is, I grew a pretty thick skin where criticism is concerned.
But that's not the case with clients. Many of them have been told their writing is quite good (and in some cases, it actually is!). So when an outsider (me, a freelance writer) provides constructive criticism, it can hurt - no matter how kindly I've communicated it.
The lesson: if you ever hire a strategic writer, be prepared to sometimes hear things you don't want to hear.
But you should also realize that a writer's intentions are pure: we really want you to have the best content ever!
9. The best writers don't charge enough for what you get
Think about it: a professional writer saves you a lot of time AND headaches.
Through the power of carefully-chosen words and strategic phrasing, writers can:
transform the way potential customers perceive your products, services and/or brand;
increase people's understanding of what you do and what you offer;
create excitement around your business, and inspire people to take action; and
improve the likelihood of conversions and sales!
And yet, despite everything we offer, we often undersell ourselves.
I once read somewhere that writers likely undercharge because it's been ingrained in us that "everyone can write."
But, as I mentioned above, there is a difference between being able to technically write, and being able to write strategically.
And not only that: content is reusable, and it's yours once you pay for it! For example, that content I wrote for your entire website could be revamped into a brochure, a news release and a sales piece (among many other things).
So, if you're ever trying to get a discount from a professional writer, just remember that they're likely already charging far less for their services than what you ultimately end up getting.
BTW, I wouldn't actually snub you if you asked for a discount. I just really love this llama gif.
10. Despite the challenges of being a freelance writer, I still love what I do
It's how I identify myself. I feel great when I write. And I know I'm good at it.
When I sit at my laptop, writing something for a client, it just feels right. This is what I was meant to do with my professional life.
So, despite some of the brutal truths I mentioned above, I've gotta say...I still love this job!
Lindsey McCaffrey: Writer, Editor, Content Strategist (no yoga pants, hair brushed...and happy)
Have you ever hired a professional writer for your business? How was your experience? Do any of the "brutal truths" above surprise you?
"Freelance writer for hire" Lindsey McCaffrey is an award-winning writer, editor and content strategist for businesses and non-profit organizations. Learn more about Lindsey here. Or, contact her today to discuss your content needs!