5 Ways Freelancing is Like an Elementary School Bully

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This post was originally for my column, “Freelance by Lauren,” on the now defunct DIY Writing: A Writer’s Bucket List.

Illustration by Ramiro Roman
Illustration by Ramiro Roman

You’re probably already aware that freelance writing clients can sometimes be bullies. There are endless stories online of poor, unfortunate freelancers getting bossed around by unreasonable clients. It’s practically an epidemic!

But, did you know freelancing itself can be a bully, too?

It’s true! Freelancing can bully the hell outta you. But it doesn’t bully you quite the same way abusive clients do. Freelancing bullies “old school” style – it bullies you like the toughest kid on the elementary school playground.

Let me explain…

1. It Gives You a Nickname

After an elementary school bully chooses his or her victim, they tend to give them a nickname. Like “spaz” or “freak” or “four-eyes.” The nickname I was given in elementary school was “Scarecrow” – I was tall for my age, skinny, and had straw-like hair that stuck out at odd angles. Or at least it did the day I received the nickname (it was windy!)

Freelancing gave me a nickname too: LittleZotz. My business name.

When you become a freelancer, there’s a good chance you’ll be given a “nickname” too.

How to Deal:

If you’re a ghostwriter, your “nickname” will often be chosen for you. But that’s okay – no one will know it’s you. But, when you’re you, try to choose your own brand name. Make it a good one. One you’re proud to be known for.

Or, you can always tell freelancing to shove it and stick with using your real name for everything. But you have to be firm! Using your real name as a freelancer is a fantastic option, but it can sometimes be harder to market (especially if you have the same name as a lot of other people). But, if you keep getting your real name “out there,” eventually people will take notice.

2. It Exposes You to the World

Pantsing. It’s a classic elementary school bully technique. They sneak up behind you, yank down your pants, and relish as the rest of the playground crowd laughs.

Freelance writing online exposes you in a different but equally terrifying way: You go from being an online “nobody” to an online “somebody.”

Even if you have a small following of readers, you still have a following. And that can feel pretty weird. Good weird, usually; but weird nonetheless.

Your readers will see your good days and bad. They might chuckle at your typos or flame your opinions. Or they might downright love you. Either way, it can take some getting used to.

How to Deal:

It’s a little crude, but a deceased friend of mine once said, “One time I got pants’d, underwear and all, and no one laughed. That’s when I knew I had a big ****.” I can’t confirm the validity of that statement, but the spirit of it is right on the money.

Even if the initial exposure makes you feel vulnerable and strange… Eventually you’re going to get your “Hey! I have a big ****!” moment. (Yes, even if you’re a lady). You’re going to embrace the exposure and let your, er, writing talents flap proudly in the breeze. Don’t be afraid to market yourself!

3. It Kicks You When You’re Down

When I was in sixth grade, a group of my peers tied me to a tree and threw rocks at me. And, just when I thought they were done, they took out a bucket of dirt and poured it down my pants into my underwear. It wasn’t my finest moment.

Freelancing can also be a real butthead at times. It is more than willing to kick you when you’re down. Usually, just when things are starting to feel all right.

Ever hear of the Feast or Famine Cycle? The basic principle is this: Every freelancer will experience a lull in their income at some point. For writers, it usually happens around December (clients tend to focus more on the holiday madness than on buying fresh content). And, if you’re new to freelancing, you’re bound to run into this lull around the time you’re already starting to run out of money.

How to Deal:

Once I knew a pack of bullies were waiting around to dump dirt down my pants, I stopped wearing pants with elastic waistbands (it was the early 90s…leggings were in!).

You can do the same thing to Freelancing. Once you know it’s out to ruin your day with a lack of work, stop it in its tracks by setting some of your money aside. Prepare ahead of time for its inevitable attack and, with any luck, you should be able to dodge its blows.

4. It Expects Reimbursement

For several months in elementary school, I had a female bully come up to me each day and steal my milk money out of my Keroppi coin purse. Typical bully move, right? And, worst of all, she said it was “the price of friendship.”

Freelancing also expects reimbursement for its “friendship.” It’s a total thug like that.

Most, if not all, of your initial freelance writing profits are going to go straight back into your freelance writing business.

How to Deal:

What my bully didn’t know was, even at that age I’d been receiving martial arts training. I knew how to defend myself, I just didn’t bother. I knew that if I beat the snot out of her, I’d get in trouble. I also knew that, if she kept taking my milk money, she would get in trouble. And she did. At which point, I went back to happily buying milk to go with my brown bag lunches.

Eventually Freelancing will get called out as well. In the meantime, keep giving it your money. Buy its “friendship.” And wait it out until the day comes that you can start using some of your profits on yourself.

5. Sometimes You Have to Tattle to Teacher

Sometimes a bully will do something so outrageous you’re left with no choice but to be a tattletale. Like when they find a book of matches and start setting things on fire! Or when they start really beating the crap out of you.

Yeah, no one wants to be “that” kid, but sometimes it’s necessary. Sometimes you need someone more experienced to swoop in and save the day.

Sometimes Freelancing will be that unbeatable bully that leaves you no recourse. You’ve tried everything to get along with it and its still annihilating you on a daily basis! You’re losing your money – and your hope.

How to Deal:

If some aspect of freelance writing is getting your goat and you have absolutely no clue how to deal – Tattle to teacher. Meaning: Get some help!

Take a class, hire a coach, buy some books, or read relevant blogs. With classes and coaching in particular, you can get real-time answers for your most pressing freelancing questions.

With any luck, you and that Freelancing bully may become unlikely friends someday!

Have you been beaten and bullied by Freelancing? Share your stories and tips in the comments!

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