My coauthor, colleague, and friend Charity Singleton Craig was the first person to share with me the three things Neil Gaiman says freelancers need to keep working:
- They need to be good writers
- They need to be easy to get along with
- They need to deliver their work on time
Gaiman mentioned these in his keynote address at The University of the Arts 2012 commencement. Ideally, in my opinion you’ll have all three traits or at least be working on them. But Gaiman claims you don’t even need all three. He says:
Two out of three is fine. People will tolerate how unpleasant you are if your work is good and you deliver it on time. They’ll forgive the lateness of the work if it’s good, and if they like you. And you don’t have to be as good as the others if you’re on time and it’s always a pleasure to hear from you.
I like his relaxed approach, but I think if you settle for two out of three, it’s best to be a really good writer and then have one of the other two. I’m not sure simply being easy to get along with and delivering your work on time will keep you in business.
To maximize your freelance writing opportunities, I urge you to aim for all three as much as possible.
- Be a good writer
- Be easy to get along with
- Deliver your work on time
Starting with that first trait, consider taking it to the next level: be a good writer who’s getting better all the time. Look for ways to invest in professional development. For example, you could take a course or workshop, listen to lectures and podcasts, work through books with writing exercises, or seek out a writing partner, coach, or mentor.
In fact, if you can get writing feedback from somebody with experience who can provide thoughtful notes on form, technique, organization, character development, plot, and themes, you’ll be able to identify where to improve and where your greatest strengths lie, and create a plan to grow stronger as a writer.
As for being easy to get along with…with editors and peers, be pleasant in every interaction, never burn bridges, and try not to fight every single change. Stay open when an editor requests a revision. This can be hard when you feel the editor is adapting so much of the piece you’re losing your voice and stylistic choices, but the editor knows his or her readers well. So review through the piece several times with the suggested changes and see if they make it tighter and clearer or if the changes seem to transform the article into a length or style that fits the publisher’s target reader.
Practice humility, maybe giving up some of your individuality at times. And if, after reviewing, you feel strongly that the changes need to be reconsidered, approach the editor with respect, gently making your argument for how you think your version strengthens the piece.
As for meeting deadlines, do everything you can to manage your time and ship the manuscript on or before the promised due date. That editor is counting on you to deliver your article in order to meet her own deadlines with her managing editor or publisher.
When an editor entrusts you to write an article, she’s responsible for some segment of the magazine or website. Make her look good. Surprise her with quality work in her inbox on or before the deadline. And then? Don’t be surprised if she asks you to write for her again.
Keep growing as a writer so you consistently produce good work.
Be positive, upbeat, and supportive to work with.
And meet deadlines.
You might get by with two out of three, but when you nail all three, you’ll be irresistible.
Click on the podcast player above or use subscription options below to listen to the full episode.
- Get to know Charity Singleton Craig
- Neil Gaiman’s keynote address transcription (or watch it below and enjoy his mesmerizing voice)
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Featured image by Ann Kroeker.
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