The Not-We

If you should stop beating yourself up when you fail to get as much done as you planned, you should certainly pat yourself on the back for doing stuff. We don’t do that and if you want to really appreciate how important it is, how much it matters, then work with someone who fails.

Last month I did a thing that I reckoned would take me an hour’s research and up to two hours writing. No more. There are lots of reasons why I took it on, including that it was fun, but the fact that it would be swift was a big factor.

It wasn’t swift.

It required working with another writer and I thought I was ready for this. Even when they failed the first time, I shrugged: I knew what would happen. Sure enough, I got the predictable excuse email when they hadn’t done the work, the one you read going yeah, yeah, so when am I going to get it? The thing with predictable stuff is that they’re not surprising so I was narked but not surprised.

The nark/surprise ratio did not improve.

I don’t care about the excuse – if it were that someone had died, okay, but this wasn’t even at the level of pets chewing pages. I can well imagine that the writer has more important things to do. I can well agree too. She is far more important to the project than I am, far more, and she has more jobs to do in it than I ever will.

But all I see is that her job is to do what she agreed to do.

I think that’s simple and if you can’t do it, don’t agree. If you agreed but then can’t do it, say so.

I wasted a lot of time on that project and it was true waste: the waste where you are left waiting with nothing to do. It was brilliant for every other project I was working on, but I could’ve been working on those straight through if she’d just said.

All the stuff we do about being creatively productive is meant to help us, ourselves, we. You and me. We work better, we handle things better, we do more things better. But it also helps other people enormously when we do what we say we’ll do and we do it when we said we would.

And last month I was other people. I’ve left it five weeks in order to cool down about it and to make it so that I can convincingly say “no, no, it was this other project” if anyone from that gig reads this. I’m still not cool about it but no, no, it was this other project.

Write for free and you take us all down

There is a catch in your voice when someone asks you what you do and you answer that you’re a writer. And the catch is that everybody thinks they can write. Most can’t but that’s okay, I’ll never score a goal at football or successfully tie my shoelace, I don’t beat myself up about it. I also don’t go selling my services as a shoelace advisor. But enough of the not-we advertise themselves as writers that they damage what we do. And because they cannot, literally cannot, distinguish themselves in any way but price, they go hell for leather in distinguishing themselves on price. You want a 5,000 word article for 20 cents? I’ll do you 10,000 for free.

You will never find a shortage of people foolish enough to hire people for free – it’s a core tenet of how the UK government believes everyone but themselves should be volunteers – but you could ignore that. It’s harder to ignore the line you get that writing for free will be great exposure.

The Freelancer by Contently argues this week that this could be true. The full piece is centred on Lisa Earle McLeod who writes for Huffington Post for free and says that her articles there are responsible for “nearly every major sale” her company has made. But:

McLeod recognized lawyers and physicians don’t give their work away for free. But she said her business model isn’t based on writing. Writing is a means to an end, a strategy for generating more work in other areas.

“My business model is speaking and consulting. Why wouldn’t I write for free?” she said. “Now when people call me, I don’t have to establish credibility.”

Writing for Free Can Pay Off. But Only for a Select Few – Gary M Stern, (27 August 2014)

Let’s see her speak and consult for free, then.