Heteronormativity & Queer Relationships

So, you want to write a queer relationship. Perhaps you have two female characters you just really want to see fall madly, head over heels in love, spiting all the odds and standing up in the face of adversity to say, ‘Fuck you, world, we’re going to bone and kiss and hold hands and shit, and you can’t stop us.’

Problem is, you hit a road block.

Which one’s the man, and which one’s the woman?

Today, we’re going to talk about heteronormativity. Strap on your big-kid panties.

As a queer writer, reader, and general internet gremlin, I come across discussions and opinions on this topic a lot. Like a lot a lot. Especially considering I tend to write predominantly queer characters, follow queer writers… You get where I’m going. There’s always a recurring theme every few weeks or so on the topic of heteronormativity in the portrayal of queer couples. You’re either on the side of aggressively hating heteronormativity, or you just don’t give a shit. Me, personally, I think I fall somewhere in middle.

For a quick run-down, heteronormativity in writing is the phenomenon where a couple is assigned roles expected of heterosexual couples. The man will be the more masculine partner, the provider, the protector – the strong one. The woman will be the more feminine one. The caregiver, the lover, the one needing protection. This is a common trope in romance especially, where the male character and female character fit rigidly in their masculine and feminine roles, and staunchly supports or aggressively pushes this image that men and women have specific, defined, unwavering roles that they cannot and do not deviate from. Overt or covert, it doesn’t matter. Man provide, woman serve, Neanderthal style. From my experience, this is generally accompanied by literally every other couple following the same mold, regardless of sexuality, perhaps with one female character being a lil’ mouthy, just to spice it on up. You can see where this gets dicey in terms of queer relationships, especially when it comes to same sex couples and couples that don’t fit gender binaries.

Get out of here, 1950’s, you make everything infinitely worse.

The biggest issue I see when it’s discussed within the community boils down to this: the idea that any sort of ‘heterosexual presenting’ queer couple is an example of heteronormativity and is therefore a bad, bad, thing, and you can’t do it like that.

Let’s unpack this.

Is It a Thing?

Yes. Yes, it’s a thing. I have read, whether in fanfiction, contemporary romance, a manuscript for editing, whatever, where it’s clear that the author is looking at their queer couple in terms of ‘This one goes in the manly role and this one goes in the womanly role and they stay there. Because rules.’ Where it becomes so painfully obvious they’re trying their hardest to make this couple seem heterosexual while not actually being heterosexual – see: high-femme lesbians being paired with overtly masculine, pink-and-glitter-hating lesbians, or feminine men who ‘might as well be women’ (not my words, I promise) paired with hyper-masculine partners.

Side note: One day we’re going to talk about this, as well, but it is not this day.

Is It a Problem?

This is where it gets tricky. It’s a problem in the sense it’s often the only thing we get out of mainstream writing and contemporary romances featuring queer couples. It’s literally the only flavor I ever see out of queer characters in contemporary romance, especially when the romance is coming from an author who isn’t queer themselves.

On the other hand. When you’re writing, you should strive to make your characters interesting, yet realistic. And, realistically speaking, there are real-life queer couples who are like this. One partner will be extremely feminine and the other will be extremely masculine, and they stay that way; that’s how they are. There’s nothing inherently wrong with couples like this, whether in real life or in fiction.

One Plus One Equals…

So, if heteronormativity is a thing, but not necessarily the big problem, what is?

Perception and execution.

In romance in particular, there’s already the idea that relationships are a specific way. Especially in romances featuring heterosexual couples, the male and female character are put into boring, square, confining little boxes with no air holes and told to stay there. Indefinitely.

No, John Doe, you’re not allowed to get out of the box and cook. What are you a woman?

Similarly, in queer romances, people expect the same thing. For one character to fit into one specific box and for the other to fit in an opposite box. And then the boxes never touch. Except for when they need to fuck.

This isn’t how people work. Even in heterosexual relationships, there’s variety. Every single heterosexual couple isn’t the same; your queer couples, when you write them, shouldn’t be either, and they shouldn’t consistently be forced to follow gender norms and rules. I find in general this reflects people’s real life perceptions of couples. We look at heterosexual couples – a man, a woman, one fits this role, the other fits that – and then look towards queer couples and expect or in some cases even demand the same thing. It’s toxic. And bullshit. How many times have we heard real-life queer couples recount the dreaded ‘So which one of you is the man and which one of you is the woman?’ conversation?

Too many. Stop it.

So. Perception is a problem. Society perceives mates, couples, partners, whatever you want to call them, in a very specific way. Even with social advances made we still have issues with people having very rigid ideas of how people within a romance act. Our perceptions about life often bleed into writing. Which is where we get the second issue.

Execution.

I’ve read a lot of stories, romance or otherwise, where there are queer couples or characters. And I can tell the author is trying, but they still don’t really get it. This is where we tend to dive into tropes or questionable wording – like the mentioned femme man who ‘may as well be a woman’ and his hyper-masculine partner, for example. And it’s painfully, over the top, in your face in a way where it sort of hurts your eyes just reading it.

I also see that there tends to be an emphasis placed on these aspects and these aspects alone being the reason two characters are together, rather than factors that actually contribute to why two characters would find themselves romantically inclined to the other. The main character is such a manly, manly, man, and his saving grace is his partner, a womanly, domestic man who knows how to cook something that isn’t Hot Pockets and cup ramen. The super feminine woman who doesn’t know how to change her own oil but her beefy lady can do it for her.

And… that’s it. They’re in love because of that. Somehow… There’s literally nothing else going for them.

Execution is where the perception and in some cases lack of understanding an author has of certain people shows through. And people think, that if these roles are fulfilled then that’s it. That’s all they have to do. The writing tends to err on the side of being woefully fixated on emphasizing these points, and results in a lack of substance while seeming to try and push a misguided heterosexual perception onto a queer romance (I also find this in stories where it doesn’t seem like writers understand how relationships work in general. Correlation, perhaps?)

It might not even be intentionally malicious. It might just be an author just doesn’t know or doesn’t get it. I also think that, largely, people writing queer relationships are often afraid of getting it wrong, whether because they simply don’t know how to go about it or they aren’t aware of how easy it actually is to write queer characters in general. And that’s okay. Writing is a learning process.

Fixing the Thing

So, there’s the problem, and the cause. Logical step is the solution, which is obviously going to be a series complex algorithms and equations because this is complex shit.

Nope.

The solution boils down to – perception and execution. Keeping it simple.

Evaluating how couples are perceived versus how they actually are, is a good place to start when applying it to your treatment of your queer characters. You should be treating your characters like people. Would you or literally anyone else you know appreciate having someone else’s relationship standards foisted upon you like some contagious disease? No. Your readers, especially your queer readers, will appreciate you giving them characters that actually read like people, rather than cardboard cut outs of Mary and Gary Sue.

It’s also good to remember that sometimes these aren’t even conscious choices. Sometimes you don’t even realize you have built up preconceived notions until someone’s handing you back your manuscript, full of red ink, asking you ‘Why though?’ And that’s fine. If you’re new to writing queer relationships, or you’ve written them for a while now but perhaps fall into the habit of writing your queer couples in a box, there’s always room for improvement.

Execution boils down to keeping some simple things in mind:

  • Erase the ‘which is the man and which is the woman’ thinking from your plotting and writing entirely. Don’t even make it a part of your writing process. It no longer exists.
  • Remember that even masculine or feminine people in real life have cross over traits. Give these to your characters. Make them balanced. Make them believable. They will be far more interesting because of it, and will make the relationships you craft around them more dynamic.
  • Do not let the phrase ‘may as well be a -insert opposite gender here-’ in reference to how a character acts cross your screen. Just. Please, from a desperate queer to you. Stop it.
  • Having a queer couple where one partner is the more masculine and the other is the more feminine isn’t inherently bad – it’s how you present it. If the focus is always on how manly one is while the other is the opposite, you might need to sit back down at the drawing board.
  • Being masculine or feminine doesn’t necessarily equate hating literally everything associated with the opposite. Please don’t let your queer characters fall into this trap. It’s redundant. And silly.

I hope this was somewhat insightful and perhaps semi-helpful. Now it’s time to forth and queer up your writing, as the fiction gods intended.

 

 

Dear Writers: Feedback is not Censorship

When you decide to become an author or a writer or whatever ‘free spirited creative thinker’ title you call yourself, you knowingly enter into a pack with the writing gods of old, accepting the fact that anything, everything, and all of the things you write and send out into the world will be analyzed, combed over with a microscope, shot with ultraviolet lights, and whatever else it is those CSI guys keep in the backs of their vans. Your work will be ripped apart, put in a blender, likely incinerated, and probably fed to wolves in the process.

(We call this wildebeest feedback, in laymen terms.)

Many authors welcome this passionate evisceration of their work with open arms. Much like a sadomasochistic relationship, it’s going to hurt you – but you’re going to like it. Feedback is a grueling, though essential, tool to the writer. What we don’t see in our work, others will, and where we fall short, or stand tall, others will find it, too. We need to be able to utilize all of these lovely little nuggets of information. Sometimes, something doesn’t work out quite the way we expect – it happens. Contrary to popular belief, creative types make mistakes all the time. 

So why is it so many authors seem to think we exist in a bubble, where our work cannot be touched, prodded, poked, and opened at the chest cavity to expose all the goop inside? Why, on the flip side, are there authors who go as far as to claim any sort of feedback or editing that points out vital flaws is ‘damming’ to the creative process, claiming that it’s ‘censorship?’

I don’t know. I’m not one of those authors. I actually appreciate when people tell me I’ve, for lack of my caring about propriety this morning, fucked up. 

To put it into context, an article was posted to one of the writing groups I belong to. This article, in fact. The gist of it highlights certain publishing houses hiring what they call ‘sensitivity writers,’and their utilization in the publishing process. The naming could have been done better, but we won’t talk about that. The main point of the article is highlighted at the beginning:

Before a book is published and released to the public, it’s passed through the hands (and eyes) of many people: an author’s friends and family, an agent and, of course, an editor.

These days, though, a book may get an additional check from an unusual source: a sensitivity reader, a person who, for a nominal fee, will scan the book for racist, sexist or otherwise offensive content. These readers give feedback based on self-ascribed areas of expertise such as “dealing with terminal illness,” “racial dynamics in Muslim communities within families” or “transgender issues.”

“What? There’s people that read books specifically to make sure I’m actually portraying things right? To tell me if I’ve incorrectly handled an issue I have no personal experience with? To help me better portray different kinds of people in my books without relying on tropes or insensitive content?! Sign me up! Give me all the feedback!”

^ things no one in that particular writers’ group thread said.

Instead, there were cries of outrage over the censorship of the creative process, how authors are no longer able to write what they want, how they want, how freedom of creativity trumps delicate sensibilities. All from people who claim to be writers (you know, that group of people who made the pact and – you remember, you’ve read this far.)

One woman I engaged with even likened this phenomenon with book burning. Book burning. Being told perhaps you shouldn’t refer to your trans character in a book as ‘a tranny’ is the equivalent to book burning. 

I’m going to let that sink in before I move on.

This is just one, ridiculous, example I’ve seen from people claiming any sort of negative feedback or criticism is censorship. It’s one of the more inane ones, given that these books aren’t even being censored – they are being read, by readers (not altered by editors) to give feedback (not directly change the content of) the books they are given to read. That information is then relayed to publishing companies and the author of the book. This is somehow a problem…?

I don’t think these people understand how writing or reviews work. Boy are they going to be surprised. Let’s break it down: feedback is when people give their opinion and suggestions regarding your work with the intention of improvement. Censorship is when I go through your work with an XL Sharpie and live out my fantasy of being in the FBI on your manuscript.

And I get it. Facing the daunting wall of people telling you that you suck is hard. Being a writer is hard. It’s not pretty most of the time. That’s why you suck it up, understand it comes with the territory, and if you actually give a shit about your content or your writers, you might take something away from services like that. And it’s not about blindly accepting every single piece of feedback as law – that’s just asking for a manuscript that makes no sense. But it is understanding that a lot of feedback is being given for a reason.

I have read countless stories that attempt to write marginalized characters or portray certain situations, and the author could have benefited infinitely from a reader giving them feedback on the portrayal of those characters. It’s not about censoring the creative process, it’s about the collaborative effort between writers and readers to put out good content. Why would you, as an author, want to put out work that is poorly written, with terribly conceived stereotypes? Technically you can, because as a writer you can pretty much do whatever the hell you want, but why would you honestly want to portray certain groups of people badly? Just because you want to write that way? Like… is that your gimmick? Is that just your aesthetic? Are you wanting to make trolling your full time job as an author…?

I don’t get touting mediocrity as creative freedom in these cases where people snub actual, helpful critique, because that’s what snubbing any form of feedback or constructive criticism as an author is. Mediocrity is not interesting. Mediocrity is not innovative. Mediocrity is not creative. It’s mediocre. It’s what everyone else with a computer and access to Word is doing. Mediocre, unedited, unchecked garbage. As someone who gets paid to beta read and give constructive criticism to authors for a living, I can tell you that manuscripts benefit from these kinds of services. As a reader, I wish more manuscripts had gone through it before publishing.

If, by chance, you’ve made it through this behemoth relatively unscathed, I encourage you to read the article linked in full. I’ll even link it again right here. Happy reading.

 

 

50 Shades & The Public’s Misinterpretation of the Real Problem

I hadn’t intended on writing about this particular topic. I feel like the subject of the 50 Shades of Grey series has been hit at so many different angles and beaten over the head so many times already, that I can’t really say more than what has been by others. We all by now either love it, or hate it; there’s rarely an in between, and everyone has a reason for why they do or do not support the franchise.

Every now and then, though, I come across an article, and it makes me want to say something. [This article,] for example, posted to Fight the New Drug, was one that had me squinting a bit – and that’s saying something considering I actually managed to put my glasses on this morning.

I want to start off and say, that I think the author’s heart was in the right place. 50 Shades of Grey isn’t the best portrayal of a relationship – the story is rife with stalking, abuse, and themes that, by 2017, you would think wouldn’t be so prevalent in romantic literature or even erotic literature. That being said, I think the article ultimately fails to explain the real problem with 50 Shades of Grey, and stories like it.

A large portion of the criticism that I see for 50 Shades of Grey, especially in this article, lies less in criticism that it normalizes an abusive relationship, and more in the criticism of the kind of sexual relationship that’s portrayed, and the demonization of ‘deviant’ sexual relationships by associating them only with abuse.

To break it down. Christian Grey is marketed as a sadist – a person who enjoys inflicting pain during sex. He and the main character, Ana, are written as entering a BDSM relationship – which, for those who are unaware, means bondage, discipline, domination, submission, sadism, and masochism.

Kinky sex, in laymen terms.

This, at the end of the day, wouldn’t be a problem. BDSM, while not for everyone, is a sexual and emotional relationship that requires a lot of trust and care, and most importantly, active consent from all parties involved. 50 Shades of Grey, if it were truly a story about BDSM, revolving around a Dominant and his submissive exploring their desires together in a healthy way, would actually be an interesting story, especially given BDSM is so misunderstood by mainstream society, and mainstream portrayals of it (in books, on T.V., in porn, for example) often don’t touch on the intricacies of what a real BDSM relationship entails.

Unfortunately, 50 Shades of Grey takes elements of BDSM (the sadistic Dominant, a submissive, bondage, etc.,) and wraps them around what is, inherently, an abusive relationship. 50 Shades of Grey is not an accurate portrayal of a BDSM relationship; it’s the story of a man with a slew of personal and mental issues using his desires as a justification for his actions. While BDSM is involved on the surface, yes, the problem is not inherently in BDSM, it’s in the fact that Christian Grey is a creepy scumbag. E. L. James did not do her research, for one, before setting out on her journey to write 50 Shades of Grey, and rather than deliver what could have been an eye-opening story about a BDSM relationship, instead gave something wildly different from what an actual BDSM relationship is.

What articles like the one posted to Fight the New Drug fail to realize, ultimately, is this distinction. BDSM is not inherently sexual abuse, and abuse is not inherently BDSM. What we’re left with is a distraction from the actual problem at the core of what the popularization of 50 Shades of Grey does (the normalization of abuse against women) as well as a lack of understanding the differences between consensual ‘deviant’ sex, and harmful sexual violence. People write stories like 50 Shades of Grey, or who write articles like the one linked, ultimately fail to understand BDSM at its core, and are not equipped to write informed pieces about it.

Further, while 50 Shades of Grey is a very good example of the exploitation of women, and the public’s fascination with the romanticizing of violence and abuse against women, conflating BDSM as inherently exploitative to women specifically, implies that women are the expected ‘victim’ parties, and associates submissiveness within the BDSM relationship as being abused. Submissives, whether they are women or men, or nonbinary, are not victims because they have chosen to be submissive within the realms of their personal relationships between them and their Dominants.

I could easily go into how insulting that entire notion is, not only to women as a whole, but to victims of abuse, especially those who enjoy BDSM in their relationships, but that is another topic for another day.

The bottom line is, when we discuss 50 Shades of Grey and the problems that come with it, we need to understand all aspects of the content we are critiquing. You cannot claim to be against something you do not understand, and this ultimately causes more harm than good.

An Introduction

There’s a word that scares writers – sometimes outright enrages them. It is the bane of the creative process, the soul-sucking, freedom-leeching, tale-breaking word, that runs all writing into the ground. It is the antithesis for all things good, and wholesome, about the art of novel-writing and story-weaving.

Unfortunately for Stephen King, the word is not, in fact, adverbs.

It’s diversity.

It seems to ring as foul as any other four-letter naughty word, and brings the most vehement of responses when the mere concept of diversity within writing is brought up. I’ve found, in various writing circles, whether they’re groups on Facebook, Tumblr, or speaking with people in person (yeah, that still happens,) that there’s this divide between people who genuinely like diversity in writing, and those who absolutely abhor it. There is always a reason, of course – but I’m coming to find those reasons, while abundant, tend to be rooted in a few sources, many of them from lack of understanding what diversity is, to the general harder-to-fix issues (like those people are actually just assholes.)

Personally, I like diversity in writing. I like characters, whether I’m writing them or reading them, to be as interesting and unique as the worlds they’re placed in. It’s always baffled me that there are a lot of writers and readers who balk or shun the idea of diversifying writing. And, what I mean by that ‘diversifying’ is, is including characters who might be LGBT, who are people of color, characters with mental illness or physical illness – but it’s more than that, even. It’s writing these characters engagingly, and you know, as people, since one of the problems with diversifying tends to be tokenism and tropes standing in for actual representation. It’s writing your female characters as interestingly and complex as your male characters; it’s exploring the fact that you can have characters that belong to minority or marginalized groups and not make the story surround that marginalization or the only focus that character has; it’s about tackling stigmas often associated with certain groups that constantly get hammered into writing without care.

Basically, it’s about applying the same care, attention, and detail to those characters, as you do the white, cis, heterosexual, able-bodied characters you stick to writing. I promise, it’s easier than I’m making it sound.

These are all concepts that I’ve had conversations over, though trying to address these issues in writing usually ends one of two ways: ‘agreeing to disagree,’ or accusations of trying to make writers be too ‘PC.’ (We don’t count the discussions that devolve into senseless name calling and swears; those are outliers, and will not be counted.)

Barring fixing people’s personalities, then, I wondered if there was a more effective way to open a more constructive discussion about diversifying writing, and tackling the misconceptions, fears, and questions a lot of writers whether new to the game or already deep in it may have. Looking at these conversations and seeing the feedback, I knew that it was something that I wanted to do in more than one post – there are so many angles and so many kinds of ‘diversity,’ not to mention issues within diversifying itself, I didn’t feel one catch-all would work.

This series, then, seeks to do just that. What can’t be done in one conversation will be done in many, with the aim being to provide the insight and tools to people who want to diversify their writing but don’t know how, and perhaps show people that doing so isn’t the big bad monster that they think it is.

Avoiding the ‘Money Isn’t Everything’ Trap

As a freelancer, you have a lot of opportunities for a lot of fun, exciting work – that you get paid for. Likely, if you’re a freelancer or you’re thinking of becoming one, it’s something that you’re interested in or really enjoy; that tends to be why people turn to freelancing to begin with, aside from the freedom of not working in an office setting or having to answer to The Man. One of the problems with this, however, tends to be clients or potential clients that try to bank on the fact that you’re doing what you do because you love it. And, because you love it, that means you’ll do the work for whatever minuscule amount of pay they want to give you.

It’s not about the money, it’s about enjoying your work.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that line in job postings since I became a freelancer. Clients asking for large amounts of work or in-depth jobs for pennies on the dollar, claiming they want to work with freelancers who, quote “aren’t in it for the money, they just want to do this work because they like it.”

Basically, they want your creativity, your time, your talents, but they aren’t willing to pay the money that comes with creativity, time, and talent, so they try to play up the old platitudes of if you like it, you’ll do it regardless, or you don’t actually like your craft.

This tends to be what’s told to people in artistic professions – artists, writers, musicians. I personally am a ghost writer and editor. Most people looking for editors don’t use this line, but a lot of people looking for writers, plot creators, or content creators do. Because, of course, if you’re writing you don’t want to be able to pay your bills – you’re just writing because you love it. Cut the water off, you don’t care.

Suffering is art. Obviously.

Now, I’m not saying you can’t do your work because you love it. I love writing; I’ve been doing so since middle school and making up stories since before computers were portable and I could save them all in one place. That being said, I also like food, shelter, basic amenities. I can’t do that being paid with “the joy of something I love.” You can have both.

As a new freelancer, or someone who is thinking about becoming a freelancer, I think it’s important to understand that you deserve to be compensated for your efforts – fairly compensated. Whether you write, or you create art or music, your talents are not there for other people to take advantage of. At the end of the day, if you’re wanting to make this a career or even if you’re doing it as a part time gig or an occasional bid for extra cash, your work is a part of your livelihood. It’s very tempting when you start out to buy into these sorts of jobs. You want the experience, you want to be able to get your foot in the door – but there are better ways than selling your work for nothing. Ultimately, you want to find jobs where the client respects what you do enough to pay you what you’re worth.

One of the ways to avoid this trap, is to totally avoid applying to jobs like this to begin with. Obvious, I know, but it’s the easiest snag to tackle. They’re usually pretty transparent, and what you want to look for is:

  1. Job postings with very low budgets for high-budget jobs. If a person is only willing to pay five dollars for a fifty-thousand-word piece, for example, don’t bother. They might not tell you that you should be doing your work because you like it and not for the money, but the implication is there in the fact they don’t feel like paying anywhere close to industry standard for the kind of work they’re asking for.
  2. If a job posting contains phrases like “work for experience,” “creative minds in it for the love of the craft,” “money is not a motivator,” or has similar wording basically saying you don’t care how little you’re paid for your job, don’t bother.
  3. Jobs that offer under the industry standard – steeply under the industry standard. It’s very easy to look up the professional going rates for editing and ghost writing, for example, and I tend to compare those industry standards to what clients offer in relation to (1) how much experience and education I have in comparison to those working professionally in my industry and (2) how much time and how many resources it takes to complete this job. While I generally work below the industry standard of pay for ghost writers and editors, I factor in my experience level and education, and it tends to even out with the clients I choose to work for. If a client is offering the equivalent of less than minimum wage in your industry, you probably don’t want to bother with them.
  4. Other job postings or listings by that same client, and feedback from other freelancers regarding that client, if available. It’ll give you a good idea on how that client operates, how much they’re willing to spend, and how they treat freelancers that they’ve hired in the past. Upwork, where I get my freelance contracts, for example, gives you client ratings as well as the feedback that other freelancers have given that same client, the amount of money that client has spent in total on paying their freelancers, as well as other open jobs posted by that client. It’s a lot of useful information, and if the site or agency that you’re contracting your work from provides that information openly, use it.

Sometimes, however, potential clients aren’t quite so transparent, and you realize after you’ve applied and been accepted that your client was, for lack of a better term, bullshitting you. A job might seem like it takes into consideration your experience, the time it takes to complete the work, as well as the difficulty of the work, but a client will try to weasel out of paying you properly, usually with post-hire catches or stipulations that weren’t lined out in the original job posting.

I haven’t had that happen to me yet, but it’s unfortunately something that does happen to freelancers. A lot of times, freelancers will accept this, because work is work. However, you’re putting your time, talent, and resources into a job. When you’re not properly compensated, all that does is waste those sources, and at the end of the day, you’re the one that has to shoulder that, especially when you could have been using that time to do something that actually gets you paid decently.

Usually, you’re able to dispute this. Sites and agencies often have protections in place for their freelancers so that they can’t be cheated out of their work or be hit with unexpected stipulations of a contract. In some cases, you’re not. If you’re able to resolve the issue with the original contract terms, then you should – it’s work, after all, and sometimes we have to play ball even when we don’t want to. However, if your client continues to try impose sudden stipulations that are unfair and change the agreed rate of your pay, it’s generally better to terminate the contract and cut your losses – you’re always able to give feedback for potential future freelancers looking into the same client.

Knowing all of this, what to look for before you apply to a job or how to handle the situation post-hiring, can save a lot of the undue scraping together pennies while doing your freelancing work, and feeling like that’s how it has to be simply because you’re a freelancer doing the kind of work that you enjoy and want to do.

No, it’s not always about the money – but it is nice to be able to do what you love while also supporting yourself in something better than a gutter.

Freelancing For Newbies: Don’t Give Up!

I think a lot of people have a misconception about freelancing. It feels like, for many, the idea is that you completely chuck your regular 9-5 aside, hop on the internet, slap together a profile, and then BAM, you have ten potential clients lined up, vying for your otherworldly talents, praising you for how amazing you are, scrambling to give you their money.

If only. 

The reality of freelancing is that it is just as hard, if not harder, to land jobs with potential clients as it is applying for ‘regular’ jobs, say like in retail or sales. More often than not, you will be rejected, for whatever reason. Perhaps another applicant has more experience than you, or their application was more impressive. It can be a number of things. And it’s very easy to feel, after the first, second, third, rejection, that you’re never going to get work, or you’re never going to be hired. The questions that arise are, am I even good enough? What was I thinking? 

The only way to get passed and get on with these feelings, is to keep on trying. Which, sounds very cliche in the grand scheme of things, but is entirely, one hundred percent, true. Freelancing is not a career choice where one rejection means the end of the world; it means that you have the chance to move on and seek more, perhaps even learn why you didn’t land the job you wanted in the first place, and then have the tools and knowledge to potentially land the next job you apply for.

To put things in perspective, I’ve been freelancing since February of this year. Not very long, but long enough. I have held steady jobs with several clients, and currently have three that I’m working with long-term. That, in my opinion, is pretty good, considering before now, I had never professionally freelanced, nor did I have ‘professional’ experience writing for companies or with publishing houses editing. I simply had writing under my belt, and have had experience proof reading and editing others’ work (for free.)

Here’s what my hiring history from February to this month looks like, which includes jobs that I initiated by applying to them on my own, as well as jobs that interested clients invited me to apply to:

2016-09-28-12016-09-28

That’s four hires out of nineteen applications sent in, with ten of those applications being declined by potential clients, three being withdrawn by myself, and two applications that expired because a client simply didn’t respond to the activity on that job. I’ll admit, it looks somewhat discouraging.

What you’ll notice,  however, is that there’s a lot of application activity, regardless of the fact that there are so many declines (ten remember? That’s more than half.) The very first job that I ever applied to through Upwork, was declined by the client. Ten days later, I was hired on by another client for ghost writing, which turned out to be a good experience for me, because I was able to work with an established author on their work, and I gained a lot of feedback on my writing that went on to help not only my own writing, but other ghost writing projects as well.

You’ll then see that my next four applications were declined before I was hired again, and that it was another three applications before I was taken on by another client. Had I given up after the first, second, even third rejection, I wouldn’t be where I am now, which is working with a team of clients that I truly, honestly enjoy working for.

Now, keep in mind that all of these contracts are, or were, on-going contracts, meaning that they weren’t one-time projects. My first client has offered me work since our initial contract concluded (a project I declined because of creative differences) and subsequent contracts have given me numerous projects that I’ve completed. Large gaps (April-May) where I have no application activity, is where I was working steadily with one or two clients, and when worked dropped off, applications picked back up as I began to look for more work, and more often than when I originally started freelancing, I would be hired.

The point that I’m trying to make here, for anyone who is looking to freelance through writing, or editing – or even blogging, copy writing, whatever it is you’re doing, etc. – is that to get jobs you have to apply to jobs. You have to apply to them even when your last ten applications have been declined. You have to apply to them even when you’re asking yourself why you’re even bothering – because the answer is simple: it’s what you want to do! And starting out, unless you already have established experience, is likely going to be slow. It’s going to feel like a lot of uphill walking. But those four landed jobs are invaluable in comparison to the ten that you didn’t get, and the more you work and the better the reputation you build up, the more you’ll (1) be accepted for jobs and (2) the more likely it is for clients to approach you because of their interest in having you as their freelancer.

Just keep in mind that it’s something that takes time. It takes perseverance, and a willingness to trudge past all of the potential rejections until you get someone that wants to hire you.

 

Freelancing For Newbies: Before You Freelance

I want to preface this by saying that I am in no way an expert in freelancing. I’m relatively new myself (I’ve been officially freelance editing and writing for a little under a year currently) but in the eight months that I’ve been doing so, I’ve learned a lot of valuable information, especially when it comes to what you should know before you start up.

A lot of this will be taken from my experiences with Upwork, Outsource, and Freelancer, as well as what I researched when I originally started doing freelance work.

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Benefits of Role Playing

I’ve been role playing, or RPing, for about three years now. For anyone who’s not familiar, it’s a type of collaborative writing, where one person writes the point of view of one character or set of characters, and another person writes the point of view of another character or set of characters. The writing is done in a back-and-forth way, with each reply being a reaction and furtherance of the last.

A lot of times, role playing is like another form of fan fiction (self explanatory, fiction written by fans of a published work, using the original characters in stories either set in canon or alternate universes. Fun stuff.) It’s relaxing, it’s a great way to engage in fandom, and most of all, it’s a wonderful tool to help budding writers.

  1. Learning to Write on the Fly 
    I don’t know about anyone else, but I have a terrible habit of editing while I write. Now, a general re-read of previously written material is good when you’re picking back up from the previous day’s writing. Doing complete editing and re-writing when you’ve barely gotten out of the first chapter? You don’t really get anywhere with habits like that (trust me, I know.) One of the great things about role playing, is that it teaches you to just write. Get it on the paper. Push it out. The story can’t continue until you do, after all, considering your partner won’t have any material to go off of if you sit at your desk staring at a document. Forever.
  2. Plotting 
    Plotting is something that I struggle with sometimes, because I’m always sure of where I want a story to go, but rarely ever certain of how I’m going to get there. What will be interesting? What twists and turns will/should the story take? What struggles should I give my characters and how will they develop from beginning to end?Role playing, being a collaborative effort, forces you to actively think about your character’s actions, the setting, the other characters, and how those interact to get from point A to B — and then C, D, and E. I’ve plotted out… I’d say a decent sixty plus role plays, some with original characters and some not. It’s made it exceedingly easier for me to plot in my own solo writing, especially now that I ghost write and have to pop out a new short story or two every week.
    And speaking of original characters-
  3. Role Playing Encourages Character Creation
    I had never been more enthusiastic about writing my own characters than after I had gotten used to writing other people’s characters. Which… sounds strange when you think about it, but it’s true. A lot of times a role play requires an original character, whether for plot reasons or simply because you need a character that the others don’t necessarily fit. The more you toy with original characters, the more you just get used to it and start enjoying – eventually getting to a point where creating your own characters with their own backgrounds and stories becomes second nature.
  4. Practice!
    Let’s face it. As with traditional fan fiction, we can’t get our role plays (unless they’re original in their entirety) published. Aside from those few lucky people who’ve managed to turn their fan fiction into best sellers – no matter how… questionably – it’s not likely. But, that doesn’t mean that role playing is entirely useless. It’s still writing, and one of the cardinal things about being a writer is that you have to, you know, write. Practice makes improvement, and role playing is a great way to improve. The more you write, the more you see what works within your writing and what doesn’t. It also gives you consistent insight to other people’s writing – what things work for your partner’s writing and what doesn’t? What about their writing do you want to have in your own? Is there anything you notice you’re doing that they’re not that makes the difference between ‘well that was ok’ and ‘wow, I’d read that again?’ and vice versa?
  5. Exploration
    I have written so many genres role playing it’s hard to keep track. Anything from pure self-indulgent smut to things about sirens and dragons, to science fiction, to vampire stories, to slice of life to slow-burn angsty romance… The list goes on (and continues to grow.) It’s all sitting on my computer in neat little files, written all pretty and ready either for revisions or replies or to be re-worked elsewhere. There are very few genres I haven’t written for or at least tried yet (pretty sure I haven’t tackled historical fiction, but there’s always a first time for everything.)
    Point is, role playing is a good way to test the waters and see what genres you like, which ones you’re good at, and which ones you want to improve in. I’ve come to find that I’m not all that great at western-themed writing, but I excel at fantasy.
    It’s all about getting your hands in, well, anything and everything and see how you do.