I learn something new every day and sometime those lessons leave me shaking my head; I got one of those lessons recently. I discovered that as a writer, I am also expected to be a therapist. I don’t want to be a therapist…I want to be a writer. Here is the rub though…often times, if you refuse to be a therapist you could lose money freelancing. Doesn’t make sense? Here let me explain…
Recently I took on a ghost writing job. It was an interesting job. The guy, our want-to-be-writer, was your average older gentleman who’d had an interesting life and now wanted to pen about it. I respect that…in fact my motto is, if you have a story…tell it. I have had many ghosting jobs where I spent hours with the client listening to their tales and then transferring them into book form…it is, after all…what I do.
Every now and again though, this scenario goes hilariously wrong. Case in point…this particular client not only wanted to write a book, he wanted a friend. And not just any friend…he wanted a writer whom he could hold hostage twice a week while he repeated the same stories over and over. I became that hostage. Four weeks into the work it became very clear that this guy wasn’t interested so much in the book but in talking. I explained that I would need some actual time to write the actual book but he insisted…no, you have to come to my house twice a week so we can talk for several hours. When I realized that he wasn’t actually adding any more information to the book I cut the visits off. I explained that I now needed to write the book…he…a month into the work, after countless hours of interviewing and tons of notes…said come visit me or I quit. I refused, he quit and I lost all that time and money. Sadly, his book will probably never get written.
This particular freelance job made no sense at all but it isn’t the first time it has happened to me. There is a certain type of guy (and it is always a guy) who needs to control the writer and make them their slave of attention. It is a waste of time and money for the writer. These folks need so badly to “talk” that they never let you finish the job. AND when you realize that you are in that type of job, it is often too late to recoup your losses.
So how do you know? First off, if the client is more interested in the visits than the work, run the other direction. If the client insists on weekly visits, run the other direction. If the client appears lonely and insists that you pet his cat or dog and continues to offer you a sandwich every time you work…run the other direction. These guys are lonely and that is what your visit is about to them. Make things clear in your contract in terms of visits and interviews and be ready to cut things off if they get odd. You have to make a living too and you can’t do that if you are stuck being some lonely person’s therapist. Often nothing in freelancing employs common sense so you have to create it yourself. Let them down as easy as you can, see it for what it is and try and stay in control…otherwise you will find yourself in a room with a cat on your lap, sandwich in hand listening to how his mother hates peanuts.
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