On Top of It #15 by Lisa Martens

Freelance Growing Pains

I now have two jobs, neither of which really have to do with creative writing—I do customer support for a dating site, and manage reservations for a belly dancing school. I’ve seen lots of dick pics and shimmies.

While in grad school, I attempted freelance writing work to support myself. It worked about as well as milking a turnip with a magnet. Here is what I learned about trying to charge for writing:

Even if you have a Masters, people expect you to work for free.

No one expects you to work in a fast food restaurant for free. No one expects someone to cut their lawn for “experience.” They may pay shit, but they know they have to pay something. Not so with writing. I was offered “exposure” and “the potential for future work.” Yay?

Fight for your writing. Ask for some money upfront, and, if the work is long or time-consuming, hand over most of it and withhold some until you get your final payment. Let clients go if they’re not willing to pay you. Those aren’t clients. They’re moochers.

Will you lose opportunities? They may want you to think that, but think about how much sludge and content is on the Internet. You creating someone’s content for free is not going to be your golden ticket. Working for free is an opportunity for them, not you. Also, every person I let go for not paying me eventually came back offering money.

There’s a lot of money in ghostwriting Literotica.

If you don’t mind slapping another name on your work, you can make a pretty penny. I tried; I really tried. But when the proposal was to write a series about a woman sitting on faces in public, I couldn’t help but laugh. I couldn’t write about that and take it seriously. The story would be laden with farts.

If you can suck it up, or even enjoy it, then do it.

Make templates for SEO-style corporate blog posts.

When creating shitty listicles and blog posts for corporations, it helps to have a template that you just drop buzz words and random facts from the Internet into. It saves you time and gives a kind of uniformity to your content. It’s not good or innovative writing, but if you think about it, how often do you read “24 Child Stars Who Are Ugly Now” and expect an innovative style?

Don’t spend too much time on it.

Do not spend two hours on a 300-word blog post. Do not overthink. Do not put five hours of work into something you’re getting $10 to do. Always do the math and make sure you’re making at least minimum wage. If you’re not, then you either have to charge more, or make better use of your time.

Minimum wage is the ruler I used to use. If you’re making less than that, what the hell is the point of what you’re doing? Go apply to Starbucks.

Niches are nice.

When working freelance, a lot of work is one and done. This means you have to be strategic in your portfolio and build up your own niche. No one is going to promote you or offer you more money. You have to show that you deserve more money. So instead of applying for every low-paying gig under the sun, start with your niche and search for work related to it. You can build a name for yourself as the SEO monster, the Amazon indie literotica mogul, or the celebrity list-creator. But not all of the above.

Give up and get a remote full time job.

This is what I did. My job lets me work anywhere where there’s Internet access, which was the main reason why I wanted to do freelance. I set my own hours now and work from a number of coffee houses, buses and trains. For me, the whole appeal of freelance was not having to go somewhere at a set time, and have more free time to pursue my writing and other hobbies (belly dancing).

Has anyone here done freelance work? What have you learned and how has it gone?


Lisa Martens

Lisa Martens (Episode 22) currently lives in Harlem. In her past 10 years in New York, she has lived in a garage on Long Island, a living room in Hell’s Kitchen, the architecture building of CCNY, and on the couch of a startup. She grew up in New York, Costa Rica and Texas, and she’s still not sure which of these is home. She completed her MFA in Creative Writing from CCNY. Her thesis, What Grows in Heavy Rain, is available on Amazon. Check out her website here. Follow her on Instagram here.