To All the People-Pleasers Trying to Write for a Living

You deserve better.

There’s something you need to know.

Whether you’re a seasoned writer or you’re just starting out, sometimes one of the most difficult parts of the job is something completely unexpected.

It’s not the actual writing. It’s not accepting critiques, making changes, doing what’s asked of you.

Actually, it’s something internal.

It’s having the self-respect to assert your needs as a writer.

I’ve written probably one too many times here about how writers are treated by other people (most of the time, it’s not well). I don’t write often enough about how we treat ourselves.

Sometimes I think we forget that, even though all we do is sit in a chair and type stuff all day, things happen. We need to ask for things from others. And we’re often either made to feel like we shouldn’t, or don’t believe we deserve to.

There are many things we cannot change about ourselves. Our attitudes and behaviors do not fall into that category.

In my personal life, I’m not good at being assertive. It’s hard for me to express to others what I want and need. I am a people-pleaser. I would rather sacrifice my happiness to keep someone I love happy. I have been that way my whole life.

But when I started taking my writing more seriously in college, I learned very quickly that trying to make other people happy and not having the courage to speak your mind is the best way to never make it anywhere as a writer. And I think this is an important lesson for everyone who’s just starting out to keep in mind.

In my professional life, I stand up for my rights. When I am frustrated, I speak with my clients about it. When something isn’t working at my job, I work with the people around me to fix it. I am very clear about what I want and need. Especially when it comes to negotiating terms as a freelance writer. It is not because I enjoy demanding things from other people. It is because writing is a business — and it is my lifeline.

People WILL try to pay you as little as they possibly can. People WILL try to get more work out of you than you originally agreed to. Even very nice, well-meaning people. There are people who will not want to give you credit; people who do not respect your time; people who never give you the opportunity to ask questions, or demand a single thing.

This is how the other side works, sometimes. Especially those who are not writers themselves, who legitimately don’t know how our side works.

But the only way we can teach the other side that writers need their demands respected, is by demanding things unapologetically.

In the case of negotiating rates, if they cannot pay me what I need in order to do the work, we do not work together. If my time is continuously wasted, if I am not treated how I should be, I leave. I did not start my freelance writing career out that way, but I let one of my first clients take advantage of me — and to this day, I wish I hadn’t. I should have known better. And I want you to know better.

So keep some things in mind for me:

  • It never hurts to ask. If they say no, you have the right to also say no.
  • Be very strategic about your rates, obviously. Experience level is a major factor. But if you ask for the price you deserve, and they aren’t willing to pay that — walk away.
  • If something in the process isn’t working, say so. Many times, no one else will ever know, unless you bring it to their attention.
  • Most people will not think you are “entitled” if you ask for something completely reasonable. And if they do, well, they’re probably not the best person to work with.
  • Also, asking for what you legitimately deserve is a very powerful thing. One of your goals as a writer should be to work with people who respect you, your profession, your experience/credentials, and your thoughts/opinions. If you’ve earned it, stand tall.
  • Be firm, but be nice. You are much more likely to get/keep writing jobs if you are easy and enjoyable to work with. it’s not about bossing people around, it’s about having what you need to do the best work you possibly can.
  • Respect yourself. You don’t have to walk around telling anyone who will listen about how good you are — but you shouldn’t let people walk all over you, either.

I also understand that, sometimes, you don’t have a choice. You can’t just say no or quit, because money and experience are all things we need so we can adult and move up and figure everything out.

To you, I say this: please hang in there. Do not give up on writing just because making a living is hard and people are mean and it’s not fair. I started out writing for free. I then worked 20 hours a week for a year as an editor, making less than a livable wage. Near the end of that experience, I spent two hours composing an email to my boss, expressing my concerns about the situation. It did not go well. (It’s fine, it’s all behind me now.)

But that experience was extremely important for someone like me — someone who worries about not being able to please people. I loved the work I was doing, but I could not continue doing it under those conditions. Out of respect for myself, I tried my best to do something about it. And even though it didn’t work out, I gained confidence knowing the world did not end when I hit send.

I am now in a position that pays, working with people who want me to succeed, who treat me as part of a much bigger whole. And that’s just the 40 hours a week I spend at one job. I went from working for nothing to working more than full-time as a paid writer. It took five years. It is not fun in the beginning, but if you stick with it, it does get better. I promise.

Writers are often in very tough spots. We’re looked down on a lot. But I want to drill this idea into your heads: If you do not respect your work, no one else will. If you do not demand what you need, no one will give it to you. Don’t ever let anyone think you’re not worth what you’re asking for. Unless of course you’ve been writing for a month and you want the salary of someone with five years of experience. Then you’re on your own, dude.

Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

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8 thoughts on “To All the People-Pleasers Trying to Write for a Living

  1. reminds me of a snippet of an interview by Harlan Ellison, where he was talking about “doing it for exposure” vs. “needing to get paid” for his work. When I have doubts (because I’m just starting out), I’ve saved that youtube video to refer back to, to remind myself that if I want to be a writer, I’m going to have to learn to be assertive and go after what I want. I’m shooting myself in the foot every day that I don’t. This is the clip (warning: foul language zone):

    1. Really great stuff here. Love it. Starting out is tough. The first year is tough. Even the first half of the second year is tough. But the only way to gain confidence and do what you need to do is to “do.” That doesn’t sound like much, but actively pursuing what you want is the only way to progress. Slow progression isn’t always fun, but it pays off. I promise.

  2. Yet another brilliant post! Making mistakes is part of the process, but the sooner freelancers learn to be assertive and recognise their worth, the better. Like you said, it’s not about being bossy, it’s about being professional. Freelancers who want their clients to treat them like business owners need to act like business owners. Sometimes that means saying no, and there’s nothing wrong with that! One of my very first clients refused to pay me for 4 articles — and there wasn’t a thing I could do about it because he didn’t put money in escrow before assigning work. Long story short, lesson learned — but people will try to screw us over. I wish I’d found your blog back when I was a newbie — perhaps I’d have avoided some of those mistakes!

    1. Haha depending on when you first started out, this blog might not have been all that helpful. :P But I’m glad you found it now and it’s of use to you, haha.

  3. I really enjoy your blog. It is one of the best blogs about writing I have read, and I have read quite a few. It is insightful, no bullshit, and your love for writing shines on every post. To me your work ethic and dedication to your craft seem incredible. And this is why I felt the need to comment because I want for you to get published. I have read all the free samples available for the novellas you’ve written for charity on Amazon. You don ‘t have to listen to anything I write next because honestly I might be just full of shit. As I’ve read your samples I’ve noticed that in your writing you seem (and I’m probably just projecting here) afraid that your readers will get bored with your story, so you keep the pace really really fast. There is almost no descripting to lubricate the passage of events, so it feels like the writing has no atmosphere. This is just a personal opinion by the way. I’m just mentioning this because I’m afraid that if this is present in your novels, publishers and editors would not look kindly on it. I just don’t want for you to write for years without getting anywhere. I would also like to add that your writing style is engaging and enjoyable to read. So please keep writing and hustling. And please be more confident in your style, and that the reader will still be with you if you slow things down a nouch. I’m only making these assumptions about style based on the available free samples so I might be completely wrong. I know how painful it is to have any aspect of writing criticized, so I apologize. I just wrote what I did simply because I am trying to help. You don’t have to listen to anything I wrote.

    1. Haha don’t worry about it, this is a lovely piece of feedback. I can tell you’ve given plenty (because it’s well-structured), and it’s not at all hurtful. And I completely agree with your observations, too. I’m not sure how much you know about The Novella Concept stories, but I spent about 3 weeks total on each one (that’s writing and editing combined). So really what you’re reading is a polished rough draft. I tend to write quickly and get everything down, then go back and fill in details, descriptions, “atmosphere” etc. later. So that’s why I definitely agree — I have to keep up with my brain to get the story out, then go back and fill it out. Part of the reason I stopped writing them was because I knew they weren’t my best work, even though they were for charity. Your comment really made me want to go write some fiction! haha.

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