Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Revelations in Freelance Writing

So I'm working on this freelance project and I'm finding the process to be very interesting.

I had a hunch that the project was going to be a little bit like having a newly engaged couple hire you to pick out a china pattern for their wedding registry. They don't know much about china, which is why they're hiring you, but they tell you a little bit about themselves to help you pick something for them. They are traditional, classic. They have a vague idea of what they like, say, something with silver--not gold. Other than that, they tell you to just go with your gut.

So you spend hours picking out china patterns and you come back and show them five different ones and the couple looks at them and immediately tells you why they don't like any of the patterns you picked out. Basically, they didn't know what they liked until you showed them something they didn't like.

I decided to play it safe and not spend too long browsing the china selection before showing the company what I'd picked out--or rather, the writing I had done so far.

I think we can move on without the china metaphor, yes?


So today I had a phone chat with the head of the company (we'll call him The Big Guy) to discuss my work-in-progress. Originally my contact, another employee, had encouraged me to make the writing approachable and friendly. During this phone conversation, I realized that this wasn't what The Big Guy wanted. He was nice about it, but he had specific ideas about the project.

I thought, "He wants it to be more direct, more to-the-point."

Then I thought, "No, he wants it to be more masculine."

I said this to my other contact, who reassured me that my first draft had been gender neutral. And you know what I told him? I suggested he get off the computer and get to the mall to buy a bra to conceal those man titties he's been flaunting around.

Okay, I didn't say that. You know, not like that. I just said, "Hey, there's a sale at Victoria's Secret this week," and let him figure it out for himself because that's the sneaky, backhanded feminine way to tell someone something.

Anyway, about an hour later I revised my thinking again and thought, "No, he wants it to sound like HIM."

I mean, it's his company. He helped found it. He is The Big Guy. There's no reason why he shouldn't want it to sound like him. I told myself that this is what being a freelance writer is--doing the grunt work for busy people who would otherwise have done it themselves.

But THEN I realized that this wasn't quite right either. Have you ever heard yourself on an answering machine? People almost always cringe and say, "I don't really sound like that, do I?"

And I think maybe THIS is what a freelance writer (in this situation, anyway), really does: Make The Big Guy sound the way he thinks he sounds--the way he wants his voice to sound when he hears the voicemail playback.


  1. hmm, do i detect carefully concealed seething frustration underlying this post at all? nah, i didn't think so.

    did i ever tell you about that time i did some freelance writing for a country music star?

  2. Haha no, no seething frustration here. Honest! I hope I didn't come off that way. I really am finding this to be a fascinating process. It's making me think a lot about voice and how people communicate what they want--which can be true of a freelance project or a novel they're reading.

    And no you didn't and it sounds like an awesome story so please share!!!

  3. oh, it's SO freakin good. i'll save it until there are at least two beers between us.

  4. I should keep a list of all the stories you have to tell me once we're catching up over drinks one of these days...