Writing for Companies vs. Writing for You
I’ve always used writing as a way to organize my thoughts. So it was only natural that I turned to writing when it came to self-expression. I started keeping a diary at a young age but with 4 older siblings, it proved to be very dangerous. I wrote some Harry Potter fan fiction in college, which didn’t produce the worst results. These days I’ve turned to journaling. Right now, I'm using those high-performance planners to organize my thoughts, life, and overall wellbeing. Whatever the format, writing was and will always be there for me.
When I started out as a Yoga instructor thinking that a career do-over was going to go by fast ( dead wrong btw! ). I needed a way to make extra cash because I was teaching very few classes. One of my students suggested that I try Upwork to look for some freelance jobs out there. Apart from the computer skills we learned in College like Word or Powerpoint, I didn’t have much in the ways of office skills. So the only jobs available were writing. I took whatever job I could.
Fast-forward to 4 years later, I landed a pretty sweet gig writing for Yoga teachers on Momoyoga–the simplest payment platform for wellness studios and teachers. I am forever thankful for the chance they took on me and for everything I picked up on this line of work. No ‘buts’ here. It was because of them that I got into writing for myself.
When I started the process, I noticed some distinct differences in my treatment of each piece. Maybe you do too. So Let’s talk about that!
Writing for Others
1. The Formula is clear
Most of the writing jobs on Upwork are for online magazines, e-books ( we’ll talk about that some other time ), an article for private circulation, or even a review. The bottom line is that they will always want you to write their way. If they want you to write a ‘listicle’, you do it. They want an article with a lot of bullet points, you put that in. If your contact asks for certain SEO words to be used every so often into the text, you…you know what to do. On one hand, It’s a relief that the responsibility is on someone else. The other is that SEO or writing formats, in general, get in the way of good writing. The silver lining is that you know exactly where to go when you write for a company.
“Upbeat, zen, informative, funny, snarky, it’s their vision. Your job is to interpret that image”
2. You Have Your Goals Laid Out
When you accept a writing job, Your contact will usually send you an online packet about who they are, the mission statement, target audience, etc. Sometimes they even send you a sample article of the kind of stuff they like. These companies have done their homework and have defined themselves. As a freelance writer, you have that image laid out about who your people are. This immediately sets the tone for the voice in your words. Upbeat, zen, informative, funny, snarky, it’s their vision. Your job is to interpret that image. This gives you a very good grasp of what the public wants. For me, it was a wonderful way to start building your skills.
3. Deviating is a Sin
You are a freelance employee. You have the freedom of choosing your work hours. Apart from that, not much. Most writing jobs want SEO optimization. Meaning, You have to choose words ( especially the introduction ) that search engines use to zero-in on your articles so that they will reach the top of the search page. There’s not much room for creativity here. This goes double if the job calls for a response post or an article based on a question. They will also ask for a format that readers can easily scroll down and read with their phones. Which means writing listicles, bullet form or short Paragraphs. These things are usually immovable. It could partly be because all the articles have to look uniform, or their stats say that their way gets more engagement. No matter how much it hurts or how artistically displeasing it may be for you, you have to add that in. Again take this as a lesson in demographics. It will also be easier for you once you hand it over to the company.
“If you love the blurb you wrote so much, keep a window open on your laptop for notes and put it there. Think of it as cryogenically preserving your idea for another piece.”
4. The Editor or Contact is Always Right
William Faulkner said, “In writing, you must kill all your darlings.”In freelance writing, you and your editor must cut all the things that don’t keep the article moving along. I remember having to cut 3 pages of written work simply because my editor said it was too long for the readers. It was still 3 pages of work that were gone with the wind. It’s disappointing but it is something you have to get comfortable with. This doesn’t mean that you give in all the time. You have to keep presenting new ideas. Sure most of them will get rejected but blue moons still happen. Maybe he or she will change their mind. Developing thick skin as a writer is just as important as having the drive to put your stuff out there. The next time you write a lengthy spiel on life to close your piece beautifully or an anecdote as a segue to the next paragraph, write it anyway. Don’t be surprised if they’re the first ones to go but be hopeful that maybe it’ll work. My suggestion is If you love the blurb you wrote so much, keep a window open on your laptop for notes and put it there. Think of it as cryogenically preserving your idea for another piece.
5. No Control Over Your Finished Work
Try not to get too attached to your paid works. Why? Because that’s what they pay you for–the release of your ownership. If the company’s a good environment, they’ll only add pictures but you will see your words on the site as you made it. Sadly, most companies will add pictures, edit your stuff, add elements of their own, etc. There’s a chance that you may not recognize your work until you read the byline. Just be glad the byline is there at all. That stays forever. What if the article sucks after they touch it? What good is a byline if it's not my words anymore? Firstly, It won’t. They want to look good so your article will do too. Secondly, Think of all the lessons you learned while you made your article. You learned SEO, targeting demographics, Formatting articles to make an easy read for smartphones, Client engagement, listicle writing, etc. Nobody can take that away.
Let’s Move On!
Writing For Yourself
1. You can be as creative as you want BUT…
This is the double-edged sword about having your own voice. One side says you have autonomy over what comes out of your head. The other side says YOU have autonomy over what comes out of our head. See the distinction? It means facing that scary blank page staring back at you with your vision. Making you feel exposed and vulnerable to the public. Writing about anything quickly becomes–what the F— do I write about?? My advice is, write what comes to mind at the time in the beginning. Remember, You’re just starting to find yourself in this medium. So your priority is filling your page with the material. You are lucky enough to have only a few people reading your stuff right now. So the pressure isn’t really on. You just think it is because you are really putting yourself out there for the first time.
2. It Is The Only Way to Find Your True Voice
Getting past hurdle 1 is the only way to find your true voice. So Start typing ..and not ‘Redrum’ over and over again! I remember the first piece I wrote for my site. I had to give myself a little slap in the face before I started typing. I had to keep telling myself to get over it. The worst part was hitting the publish button. Once you hit that it’s out there! replayed in the back of my head. Eventually, I got over my fears and did it. Although I constantly worried about how people will take it. Then something magical happened. The more I wrote, the less I felt the need to sound more marketable. Each article let me come out bit by bit. It wasn’t a smooth transition. It still isn’t but I knew it came from within. That’s what really matters. You’ll see that too someday.
“Remember, whatever feedback you receive is good. Pssst! It means they actually read your stuff!”
3. You are Subject to much more Criticism
When you start accumulating more articles, be ready for criticism from everyone. People will talk about you or give you their two cents whether you like it or not. So you have to learn to roll with it. Like I said earlier, grow some thicker skin, Let them know that you’re here to stay. Even if one of your pieces suck. It will get better the next time. It’s a practice, not a test. Also, I find that silence and nodding works best. Haters will get pissed off at the non-engagement, while nodding will leave a bit of mystery. This works for most of the hits you’ll have to take. Remember, whatever feedback you receive is good. Pssst! It means they actually read your stuff!
4. Finding Visual Aids Can Be Quite Pricey
More than hitting the publish button, I absolutely loathe this part! Finding royalty-free stock photos is the most tedious part of writing a blog. Thank god I chose Wix that has an ever-growing stash of photos ( just so you know this isn’t an ad for Wix). Apart from that, they work with Shuttershock for the paid ones. Looking for pictures is a chore I would rather skip so I’m happy that half my job is just to produce text. Anyhoo, try not to sign or pay up for services. Get creative with Canva or with your camera to shoot the shots you need. It’s the best excuse for a photo shoot. Lastly, try to remember that they are aids and not the main offering. You can make do with what you have. Kill your darlings to serve the story.
“You can streamline later when you have more material to work with. Besides, Your brand will evolve just as you grow as a person. So Let the tree that is you spread out.”
5. Ability to Branch Out
I wrote that my website is about mixing up my practice with other disciplines. The truth is, I only wrote one article that was related to my credo. Most blog books tell you that you have to stick to the topic otherwise you’ll confuse your readers. True but a blog or brand also celebrates YOU. You have other thoughts and passions besides your mission statement. Write about them. You can streamline later when you have more material to work with. Besides, your brand will evolve just as you grow as a person. So Let the tree that is you spread out. Share everyday thoughts, recipes, events, lessons learned, life events that happened, etc. Make it part of your story. It’s all in the details.
There you have it. The ‘ins’, ‘outs’ about writing for yourself and for companies. One gives you the vision to interpret, the other lets you come up with a vision. Very different experiences, both have pros and cons, all involve writing as you go along. You won’t be perfect the first, second, or 50th time around. Nevertheless, You will improve with every single article you finish. Whether you decide to embark on this journey or try your hand at writing for different companies, I hope this serves you well Misfit Yogis! #practicemakesbetter
Good Luck Misfit Yogis!