Keep Your Head Down, Do As You’re Told — Until You No Longer Have To

There is a time and place for standing up for your own worth.

22 months.

That is how long I lasted as a freelance “content creator.”

It was a worthwhile, necessary experience.

The day it ended, I cried tears of joy.

For the final 7 months of my freelancing career, I was also balancing my first full-time job as a writer. And I very quickly discovered the vast differences between writing on behalf of a client and belonging to a team of writers dedicated to the company they are a part of.

Suddenly, I was given a clear set of expectations and guidelines to follow. I was allowed to experiment (within reason) and blend creativity with good, informative writing. I worked under a manager who was trained to not only teach me the most effective way to do my job, but also to help me capitalize on my strengths while constructively addressing my weaknesses.

Seemingly all at once, it hit me that I’d spent nearly two years miserable not because freelance writing is a terrible job, but instead because I somehow found myself working underneath clients who were very good at demanding, criticizing, and taking advantage of my skills — and not very good at much of anything else.

All writers follow a different path when they’re starting out. I started freelancing with the intention of transitioning into a full-time staff writing job, which I eventually earned.

If you’re determined to follow a similar path, or you’re heading in the opposite direction — leaving your day job to pursue a full-time career in freelancing — don’t mistake my anecdote for a warning against the profession. Everyone’s experiences are different. Even I found a few gems among the stones.

But you do have to go into this with the understanding that in the beginning, writing in any capacity, especially for another person, will not always be easy, or fun, or seemingly worthwhile.

For almost two years, I had three goals: publish as many quality articles under my name as possible, save as many dollars as I could, and build the relationships and reputation necessary to appeal to any publication that might consider me a prospective, full-time asset to their company.

While I did build up a dare I say impressive online portfolio of work, pay off my student loans, and form a few long-term relationships with clients, toward the end, it all fell apart. It wasn’t just that I got tired of it. Over half my clients dropped me because they could not afford to pay me (or so they said). In my opinion, their lack of leadership capability and internal editorial structure became their downfall.

Through many tears (not joyful ones), much scolding (“This was terribly written, I expected you to give me something better written exactly the way I would have written it”) and the unpleasant realization that I was not in control of anything I produced, I finally accepted what life as a freelancer meant for me.

Ir meant back up. Keep your head down. Do as you’re told — until you no longer have to.

I got everything out of freelancing I needed to. And then I moved on to something better.

Building a name for yourself in your chosen career does not always mean everything will always go your way. I am naturally a bit headstrong — plus I kind of know a lot about editing and writing, and don’t hesitate to offer to share that knowledge with those I’m working for — but many of my clients saw me only as a tool that could produce revenue-generating content, and nothing more. There was nothing I could say or do that was going to change that.

So I did what I had to do, until I no longer had to. And that taught me everything I needed to know to move to my next level, career-wise.

Be strong and assertive, but know your place. Keep your goals in mind and do what needs to be done in order to reach them. People generally don’t see the value in a writer until you prove, through your work, that you’re worth valuing. Do good work, and you’ll find your way to where you really want to be.

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 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

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