I wrote my first unprompted creative masterpiece while in the fourth grade. It stood out from my previous writing in that it was long enough to have separate chapters, first of all. Secondly, it featured as a central plot point the fact that the house the main characters lived in had a large hole in the ceiling of the family room which they’d somehow never noticed before.
(See? Twenty-six years of practice and I’m no less verbose, but at least my stories tend to make a little more sense, now. This is why I like to stick to reality; my lies tend to have large plot holes.)
It took me a long time to decide that I really wanted to stop working crappy jobs for other people and instead be an independent. Now I can work crappy jobs for other people and have no vacation and no benefits!
There are many, many things I love about being a freelancer. Although I work a lot of hours, I’m more or less my own boss. My schedule is somewhat flexible. I meet a lot of really interesting people. Some of my gigs are really awesome. I am rarely bored.
There are a few pesky little things I’ve not enjoyed quite so much, like that whole lack of benefits thing. When I had the flu and I still had to, you know, WORK, that kind of sucked. But that’s how it is when you’re a contractor.
What is happening more and more, though, and is starting to invoke my ire, is this delightful little thing I like to call Let Me Pat You On The Head.
There are several different forms this can take.
Form 1: Let Me Tell You About Me While I Pretend I Read You
Both Liz and Jenn wrote about this phenomenon recently (though I am too lazy to go back and find the specific posts; just trust me) and probably in a much more eloquent way than I will. Basically this approach sounds something like this:
Dear WOULDA COULDA SHOULDA,
I am a huge fan of your blog and read it absolutely all the time even though I clearly don’t know your name! I just know that you are going to be really excited about my latest gadget for busy working moms. The Olivator traps common household pests and then quickly and easily stuffs them into cocktail olives for a beautiful and protein-laden snack. It kills two birds with one stone and I think that your readers would really like to hear all about it, particularly from you, because you are such an industry leader and smart and pretty and the very bestest person in the world ever!
I look forward to your post about the Olivator, WOULDA COULDA SHOULDA. And this is totally not a form letter.
I dislike these sorts of emails because they’re both patronizing and stupid. Do people really think that if they say “I read you!” or “I’m a big fan!” that it won’t be patently obvious that they found me on a Google search and have never read me before in their lives? Also, the suggestion that they’re doing me a favor by “letting” me give them some free press causes my eyeballs to roll far, far back in my head and get stuck that way. Ouch.
Oh my gosh, THANK YOU! All this time, I mean, for over three years I’ve been blogging about nothing, just waiting for some really worthy material. Thank goodness you emailed me in time to save me from another pointless post about my children!
Form 2: Let Me Ask You For Advice While Making It Obvious That I Think Any Monkey Could Perform Your Job
Periodically I get email from someone who reads me who has decided that they, too, want to try their hand at freelancing. I actually don’t mind this sort of mail, because lord knows I asked people for guidance when I was starting. It doesn’t bother me to get mail from someone who has a grip on reality, genuine interest/drive, and some manners. Actually, I love that kind of mail.
What I really sort of can’t stand is mail that reads more like this:
I been done readin your there blog for a while and I been thinkin I could do the same thing. So. Tell me how. I want to make piles of money do you make piles of money> Tell me how much moneyz you make and then how I can do it two. Like do you get paid to blog, cuz I has a blog and my mom reads it says its rilly rilly good. So I”m a gunna be just like you. Right back and tell me what to do okay.
I know that this sort of thing shouldn’t bother me, because clearly it’s more a reflection of that person’s world view than on me in particular, but it does irk me slightly when I get something that basically reads, “What you do must be really easy, and now I’d like your secret.” Come a little closer. Closer. Okay. Now DON’T TELL ANYONE, but here’s my secret (and indeed, I suspect, the secret of most freelance writers): I work hard at what I do. I write all the damn time (blogging, yes, and other stuff, too) to keep those writing muscles limber AND I market myself like a shameless hussy AND I actively network with everyone possible because of that whole six degrees of Get Me a Job thing.
I’m happy to talk about my career. I just get a little testy when you suggest that I have a magic wand. Believe me, if I had one, I’d have a much better response to those questions….
Form 3: Let Me Offer You The Exciting Opportunity to Work For Free
The most aggravating of all forms of Let Me Pat You On The Head is the people who assume that all bloggers must feel the burning need to write for other people out of the goodness of their hearts.
I’ve noticed that your blog seems sort of popular, and that’s why I know that you’re going to want to write for my semi-popular site for absolutely no money whatsoever. You’ll get exposure and the satisfaction of having your work appear someplace else, because that should totally thrill you. Really, although it may SOUND like I’m hoping to leverage your popularity to promote my site, this is a totally altruistic offer designed to help YOU. Because we are all about the sharing and caring, here at the supposedly well-trafficked site you’ve never heard of.
I look forward to your submissions. Supplication is optional but highly recommended.
I’ve taken to ignoring such emails—mentally filing them alongside the generous offers I receive to make me thicker, harder, and longer-lasting—but recently I’ve gotten several that aren’t quite so clear-cut. It turns out, of course, that they want me to write for free. But the initial email seems legit and says they’d like me to do some writing, and it takes a bit of prodding to get them to admit that I won’t be paid.
Does this happen in other professions? My dad’s an architect; do you suppose people walk up to him on the street and say, “Hey, you know, I’ve been thinking of designing a house. I bet you’d be great at that. And I’d tell everyone you did it, too, which would be AWESOME for you. So, could you have those plans to me by next week? Great, thanks!”
Here’s a little secret I’d love to share with the world. Despite my love of a good bargain, for the most part in life, you get what you pay for.
This is not to say that I NEVER do work that doesn’t pay or pays poorly, but I have to have a vested interest to do so. A random email from someone I don’t know is probably never going to translate into that sort of vested interest.
I got a slew of these sorts of email in the past week, prompting me to develop several appealing fantasies.
In the first, I merely respond to all egregious emails with “NO SOUP FOR YOU!”
In the second, I trash the product I’m supposed to tout; I tell the wannabe-writer that I slept my way to the top (which is entertaining on two levels, both because I certainly hope this isn’t the top, and because, well, just no); and I write a truly horrible piece for the site that’s promised to send me all three of its readers.
In the third, I write back a detailed treatise on why their query is inappropriate and insulting, and they see the error of their ways and go forth and never sin in that way again.
And then large piles of money fall out of that hole in the ceiling which I never noticed before. Yay!