Should You Write Your First Draft By Hand?

We’re in a love-hate relationship with handwriting. Some studies claim that writing by hand makes us smarter than keyboarding; others insist that while handwriting remains a relevant skill in general, teaching cursive handwriting has become a waste of students’ time. Still others think handwriting is already obsolete.

Writers are split as well. Some insist that writing by hand is a waste of time, particularly in a world where easy connectivity means you can type or tap out any note at any time and have it instantly stored in a centralized (typically, cloud-based) location. Others, like me, say that you can pry my pen from my cold dead hands.

I write all my fiction first drafts by hand. Here’s why.

Leave The Office ASAP

Writing is Personal

There’s no consensus as to who first penned (pun intended) the image of writing as “sitting down and bleeding,” but that image keeps being invoked because it’s so illustrative of the process.

Fiction writing is intensely personal. Its intimacy can intimidate beginners into never starting, and it can stall veterans who decide to open a vein rather than simply write to deadline.

Since I also make my living by writing copy, sitting at the computer feels public to me. I draft most of the work I do for clients on the computer; when I’m sitting at it, I’m in People Mode, even when there’s no one else in my house. People Mode is necessary in order for me to occupy the same space as my audience, which I have to do in order to ensure I’m writing a piece that will make sense to them.

I cannot, however, both write fiction and be in People Mode. I can edit that way, but forming ideas into words is, for me, incompatible with performative extroversion.

In my notebook, I’m free to write the worst crap in the world. I can fill five pages with crappy false starts. I can doodle until I figure out what I came to say. None of it matters, since nobody but me will ever see it. I’m alone with my thoughts, which is exactly where I need to be in order to tell a story.

Handwriting is More Secure

Sure, I can’t password-protect a notebook. But I’ve never lost a notebook because I failed to hit “save” or had one eaten by the Blue Screen of Death.

I lost my first round of typed fiction drafts in 1998, when my mother’s Gateway 2000 crashed. I lost another round, including two full and three partial novel drafts, in 2004 when my then-boyfriend botched a backup job.

Even files I haven’t technically lost, I’ve lost due to advances in technology and/or the degradation of digital media. I have zip disks from the late 1990s with my work stored on them, but neither I nor anyone I know owns a zip drive any longer. The floppy disks containing my earliest work, from the late 1980s, are probably corrupt – even if I had an Apple IIGS that could read them.

My notebooks from the 1980s, however, are still entirely readable. Embarrassing, but readable.

The problem with preserving digital works and the degradation of media hasn’t pinged only my radar, either. Check out, for example, the 2015 art project that printed 106 volumes of Wikipedia in English – of nearly 7,500 total volumes.

Speaking of Wikipedia….

Ever hop online to check just one little thing, and suddenly you have 83 tabs open, are reading about the social life of aardvarks, and it’s Tuesday?

Falling down the Wikipedia rabbit hole is really easy to do, and it’s even easier when you have ADHD. But I can’t fall down the research hole or get wrapped up in a social media argument when I don’t have access to the Internet.

The notebook prevents me from getting sidetracked by the Intertubes. It removes the quick-hit solution to intermittent boredom. And since boredom appears to be essential to creativity, it may also make me a better writer.

I’m Old

I also like the notebook for deeply personal, even idiosyncratic reasons.

For instance, writing by hand angers my arthritis far less than typing on my phone. I like being in less pain.

I also like notebooks because they’re an old habit: I grew up at a time in which computers weren’t a standard household object. My dad bought an Apple IIGS not long after they hit the market, but he was very much in the minority (even my school hadn’t sprung for the IIGS, preferring to stick with the IIe when anybody used a computer at all). My mother was gifted a Commodore 64, but it had no word-processing program.

My computer time was limited until I was in high school, but I was allowed to have all the notebooks and writing utensils I wanted. Today, when I think, “I want to write,” my brain spits out images of notebooks, not of my laptop, tablet or phone.

…And I Used to Be a Smug Little Snot

I also (major confession time) used to love being smug. Loved it. I was one of those college kids who carried around a Moleskine and said “I’m writing a novel” with just the right elitist inflection.

Notebooks let you be smug in a way laptops simply don’t. Look around your local coffee shop: Chances are you’ll see half a dozen people on laptops or tablets. What are they doing? Are they writing, checking Facebook, making dinosaur porn?

There’s no way to know. Everybody buried in a device looks exactly the same, which is how we get endless smug Boomer memes about phone use instead of acknowledging that half the people on their phones in public at any given time are probably doing some kind of business, especially in a world where people think that just because you can answer the phone any moment of the day or night means you should.

But write in a notebook, and everybody knows you are writing. More importantly, everyone knows you are serious about your art. Otherwise you’d bang it out on a keyboard like a Philistine.

(Philistines had keyboards, right? I’m pretty sure they had keyboards.)

Smugness lost its appeal right around the end of my sophomore year of college. That’s when I realized I was filling a Moleskine every month, and that my habit of carrying it everywhere was making it look…no longer smug. Plus my favorite pens are Pilot V5s, which are not smug.

Besides, I almost never write in coffee shops.

Notebook vs. Laptop: Which Should You Use?

Honestly? I don’t know. I’m not you.

Some folks struggle with handwriting for various reasons, or can’t do it at all, making the keyboard their only realistic choice for writing in a manner that can even begin to keep up with their brains. The ability to store things in the cloud is great if you’re constantly losing your notes. And someone, somewhere, probably possesses the self-restraint (or the Internet restriction apps) to write without getting sidetracked by Instagram.

The best method for writing is the one that lets you finish. Everything else is window dressing.

Advertisements

The Joy of Writing

“Why do writers always talk about how hard writing is?” lamented an anonymous query in my inbox recently. “Can’t you all talk about the good stuff for a change?”

Sure. Let’s talk about the joy of writing.

thesushiplace

Why Do We Talk About the Hard Stuff, Anyway?

Anonymous Commenter isn’t wrong here: a lot of writing advice on the Internet is about how dang hard writing is. The percentage of “how dang hard writing is” advice appears to be even higher on sites like Quora. And there’s a reason for this.

A lot of people who seek out writing advice want two things:

  • Shortcuts to the hard work, and/or
  • To skip the work altogether and get to the luxurious utopia of Having Written.

The replies, then, are aimed at bursting this double bubble. Because there aren’t any shortcuts, and nobody reaches the halcyon shores of Having Written without first braving the turbulent seas of Doing Writing.

And Doing Writing is hard. If The Odyssey wasn’t an allegory about writing The Odyssey, it should be.

If Writing Is That Hard, Why Does Anyone Do It?

My high school band handbook included the promise that participation in band would teach us “the joy (as opposed to the “fun”) of hard work.” Like most of the high achievers in the room, however, I didn’t learn that joy in band. I enjoyed band because I already knew how hard work paid off.

I learned it by writing.

Writing is…not that fun, actually. At least not for me. Having written is fun. Turning things in ahead of deadline and watching them get published without a single editorial change is fun. Hearing people tell me how much they liked my novel is fun.

Writing is not fun. Writing is joy.

I used to share a rink with several Olympic champions, hopefuls, and hopefuls-turned-champions. I knew from watching them that they skated on a totally different level than I did, and I’m not talking about technical skill. They were driven to excel at every aspect of figure skating in a way that I simply wasn’t. I was content to be good. They weren’t even content to be great.

Writing is my Olympic sport. I’m not content to be good at it, and the moment I achieve “great,” I guarantee I’ll be looking past it asking, “What’s next?”

That kind of joy is tough to explain. Most people look at drudgery and see drudgery. Those of us who look at the same drudgery and see the deepest desires of our hearts seem weird, if not downright insane.

A handful of recent “joy moments” I found in writing:

  • Tossing my manuscript across the room and yelling, “I am sick of finding plot holes in this damn thing!”, while being proud of myself for finding them because it means I can send a stronger book out the door.
  • Realizing why my B plot felt contrived while in the middle of a wind symphony rehearsal and scribbling notes on how to fix it on the back the first clarinet part of Grainger’s Themes From “Green Bushes” (it was a photocopy) instead of actually playing Themes from “Green Bushes.”
  • Reading four cases on expert witness evidentiary standards in order to write one clean, concise, accurate paragraph.
  • Typing up 5000 words of revisions and realizing, hey, these actually aren’t terrible.

But there’s something more important than joy.

Writing isn’t merely joyful for me. Writing is my Hedgehog Concept.

Your Hedgehog Concept, as Jim Collins explains in Good to Great (2001), is the idea, process, or goal that fits into all three of the following categories:

  • You can become better than anyone in the world at it.
  • You’re passionate about it.
  • People will pay you to do it.

Most companies and even more individuals never find their Hedgehog Concept. Some never find the thing they have the skills, character or talent to become the best in the world at. Some never find their passion. Some never figure out how to get paid for what they do even if it meets the first two criteria.

My Hedgehog Concept is writing.

I’m not the best in the world at it, but I have the education, talent, character and drive to become so, if I choose. I’m passionate about it, and I have been since I understood what books were. And people have been paying me to do it ever since I started submitting work to places that paid for it.

Yes, writing is hard. It’s not “fun.” It’s deeper than fun. It’s my Hedgehog Concept, and having realized that, I’d be a fool to abandon it.

Worldbuilding: How Much Do You Need? How Much Do You Use?

Worldbuilding_(2).png

Once in a while, I get a Quora question that I just don’t know how to answer. I try to answer it anyway. It turns into a blog post.

This one, for instance: What percentage of your overall worldbuilding ends up in your story?

tumblr_m4n9isvhoz1r71pe8o1_500

…But I also have no idea how to leave exam questions blank, so here goes.

Answer One: Less than 10 percent.

Probably less than one percent.

If you saw my post on what I keep in my writing notebook, you probably deduced that I’ve done a lot of worldbuilding. A lot. My worldbuilding currently runs to several books’ worth of content, if we combine all the notes in various notebooks, the content of my OneNote worldbuilding file, the Excel spreadsheet slash Niralanes dictionary, and the actual book I wrote just so I could cite it in other books.

That last book alone is longer than my first novel. The OneNote file probably contains more pages than my last novel. The Excel spreadsheet runs to over a thousand entries. My pages upon pages of notebook scribbles probably amount to more pages than the entire trilogy will combined.

The page counts get even longer when we start adding texts that are part of the world I’m building, but that I didn’t write. An example that is also a spoiler: like The US Book, which features prominently in Nahara

There’s a reason the OneNote file has a tab called “Library.”

How much of that ends up on the pages of the published books? Not a lot, and to be honest, more than I’d like. I don’t like exposition-dumping, even when there’s a plot- or character-based reason it’s happening.

Suffice it to say that what I’ve published is a mere fraction of what I actually know about the spacetime in which the Non-Compliant Space series is set. And what I know expands daily, since I constantly have to contextualize characters, places, and events. Every day I write, I have to find answers to questions I didn’t know I had.

aliens1-5ad5062f3037130037462d1c.jpg

Answer Two: All of it.

“But wait!” said my brain, as I labored to calculate the exact quantity of worldbuilding that appears in my final drafts. “Without all those years of plotting and planning, none of the words in this story would exist at all. So isn’t all of our worldbuilding actually in this book?”

…My brain has a point.

There are a lot of things that aren’t explicitly laid out in the books. For instance, Nantais tells you, the reader, that the Jemison is a research vessel owned and operated by a massive and somewhat shadowy corporation called Interstellar Science, but it never explains exactly what Interstellar Science is or how it came to be. The Ambassador includes several opening scenes that reveal some key negotiations between another massive, shadowy corporation, Amalgamated Logistics, and various governments on a planet called Viida, without giving you one second of the millennia that led to Viida’s current configuration of nation-states. Characters in Nahara jump to conclusions about a Viidan character based on what they can deduce from the languages he speaks, without stopping to lecture on ethnopolitical minutiae.

And every piece I’ve written so far contains a sliver of the puzzle regarding who, what, and why the La’Isshai are, but nobody ever tells the whole story even though at least one character in every piece knows the whole story.

None of these things can happen without all the worldbuilding I’ve done. They just wouldn’t exist. If I hadn’t bothered to think through things like interplanetary politics, what happens when corporations have all the rights of natural persons, or just how it is humans can distinguish the English from the Irish by their accents, the novel universe would be hokey as heck. I’d be a poster child for Terrible Writing Advice.

Yes, I know exactly how the quest launched in Nantais ends. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be able to give you, the reader, the pieces you need at the right moments in order to make that conclusion seem realistic, let alone interesting. So all that worldbuilding is ending up in the story; it’s just ending up there in pieces, instead of as an infodump.

veruca-salt-edit

Answer Three: As Much As I Need

How much worldbuilding do you really need?

As much as it takes to tell the story well.

And how much of it ends up in the finished work? All of it, if you’re using your worldbuilding time efficiently, but almost none of that appears as an exposition or infodump.

Instead, it appears as:

Character descriptions that tell us something about the character.

She wore battered standard-issue coveralls and a pair of fingerless gloves that covered her palms. Tools bristled from the pockets at her sides.

In my notes, Dar’s use of work to avoid dealing with monumental life changes is laid out across several pages. Here, all we see is what she’s wearing. By combining this image with later revelations about her rank and her impending divorce, I can show without saying that burying herself in work is how she avoids her problems, I can show without saying that burying herself in work is how she avoids her problems.

Revelations that the problem is more complicated – and thus the stakes are higher – than we thought.

“Wait,” Molloy said, as the first half of this sentence registered. “Five species in one system? Sentient species?”

“Yes.”

She’d never heard of such a thing. “And forty languages? In the system?”

“Forty in the Syndicate,” Nantais corrected. “There are over ten thousand in the system.”

I could just say “This universe is very politically, culturally, and linguistically complex. I am definitely not introducing you to species after species that are defined by one particular character trait.” Or I can let readers experience what it feels like to learn how big the universe is for the first time.

Plot drivers.

“Those two are regulars, and regular assholes if they get drunk enough. But they keep to themselves. Usually.”

“Usually?” Molloy asked.

“Don’t worry about it,” Cordry said. “They’re fine as long as they’re sober and everyone keeps their mouths shut about their precious empire.”

...You see it coming, don’t you?

After this scene, I’ll never have to waste time describing the Viidan imperial military as a breeding ground for knee-jerk patriotism and xenophobia ever again. You already know, and when it costs someone their life, you’ll have seen it coming from five books away.

Symbolism.

“I’m afraid I don’t know much about espionage. Mostly, all I do is talk.”

The waxberries were actually cranberries. Maz flicked one onto the desk in disgust.

Presented without comment.

I find it easiest to worldbuild-as-needed. I make myself notes in the margins, which I then add to the OneNote or Excel files at a later date. If a particularly interesting idea arises, I make a note of it, then do research later, when I’m not trying to write. My worldbuilding files have increased in size over time, as I’ve added finished stories and novels to the published universe.


See the world: help me keep publishing! Buy me a coffee or share this post.

 

 

Reasons Your Novel Manuscript Got Rejected by a Publisher (Even When You Got the Basics Right)

Your novel manuscript is formatted correctly. It doesn’t contain a single typo (okay, maybe one). It’s a coherent, interesting story that’s appropriate for the age range and interests of your intended audience. And you submitted it to a publisher or imprint based on detailed research that targeted this publisher/imprint as the ideal place for a book like yours. You even spelled the editor’s name right.

….And you’re still staring at a rejection.

Often, an editor who rejects an otherwise publishable and appropriate novel will tell you why they’ve kicked it to the curb. Whether or not you’re looking at this feedback, here are some “beyond the basics” reasons your novel may have been rejected:

rjection

1.  It’s too long (or too short).

Every genre has a conventional word count. This isn’t The Man trying to keep you down; it’s a function of (a) the audience’s expectations (and attention span), (b) the conventions of certain genres, and (c) printing costs.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix could be a YA novel and still clock in north of 250,000 words because, by the time it came out, the publisher knew that Harry Potter fans would read a novel of any length and pay just about anything to get it. If Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone had been that long, it’d still be sitting in Rowling’s unheated flat: Sorcerer’s Stone contains about 76,000 words, a respectable length for a YA novel.

Know the conventions for novel lengths in your genre and stick to them – at least until you’re an international household name.

2. It’s too similar to another book that’s already on the market (which may or may not have come from this publisher).

About 350,000 books are published in the United States each year. While the Big Five account for most of those, scores of smaller presses put out books too – as do intrepid self-publishers.

Given that half of U.S. adults read fewer than five books a year, every book is broadly in competition with every other. The “real” competition, however, is between books in particular genres or on particular subjects – which means that small presses in particular are keenly aware of which books like your books have been published in the past five years, which are currently “frontlisted” in other publishers’ catalogs, and which are the subject of the most aggressive marketing campaigns.

Very few publishers will publish a book that is substantially similar to another book that’s already out there, whether or not they were the press to publish the first book. Marketing books is already a tough game: If your book is “just like [insert other book here],” that tough game becomes one neither you nor your publisher can win.

3. The book is great, but its author is a pill.

You don’t just need to find the right publisher. You also need to find the right editor.

If you’re going to harass your editor every other week about the status of your book, demand proprietary details as to the publishing process, or nitpick every detail of the contract, you need an editor with the patience to deal with that. Most editors do not have that patience.

It’s not always easy to know which questions are and are not reasonable to ask, especially if you’re new to book publishing. When in doubt, hedge the question: “I don’t know if this is a reasonable question, but….” Admitting your limits rather than demanding answers may (may) improve your editor’s patience, especially if you really are new to publishing.

Like your doctor, lawyer, or babysitter, your editor needs to be someone you can communicate with and trust. Pay attention to how your editor communicates. If you’re getting terse answers, no answers, or being told to sit down, your editor might be ready to cut you loose – or they might be so busy and/or bad at communicating that your best course of action is to choose another publisher.


I publish as well as write – and I am fueled by coffee and adoration. Help me work by buying me a coffee, signing up for the newsletter, or sharing links on social media.

Three Ways to Become A Writer

Disclaimer: Despite having become a writer, I’m still not sure I know how to become a writer.

That said, here’s the stuff I did that, in hindsight, was the most helpful in getting me to the point where my first book is a Real Thing That Exists in the World, my second book is in editing, and I have lost count of the number of non-book things I have published and where I have published them.

3ways

1. Read obsessively.

Forget reading like it’s your job: Read like it’s the only thing standing between you and the gaping abyss of death. Read like your brain needs words and not oxygen molecules to survive. Read in bed. Read on the toilet. Read in the shower. Read while walking the dog. Read while standing in line at the grocery store.

It matters what you read…kind of. An understanding of novel structure and character development, for instance, is hard to get from Washington Post articles or the back of shampoo bottles. So if you want to write in a particular genre, keep a good mix of that genre in your reading.

But read other things too. Restricting yourself to one type of reading material will burn you out and limit your vision. Read ALL THE THINGS. You’d be amazed at how often my reading of technical articles on blockchain management, treatises on late 17th-century sailing, or academic tomes featuring modernist interpretations of child psychology appear in my neuroqueer sci-fi.

2. Write even when you’re not supposed to be writing.

First: write when you’re supposed to be writing. Pick a time every day you will sit down with your writing tools of choice, and then BE THERE ON TIME READY TO WORK. Hiss angrily and throw things at anyone who tries to distract you. Be there even if you feel like you have no ideas and never will have any ideas. Be there especially if you feel like you have no ideas and never will have any ideas.

But: also write even when you’re not supposed to be writing. Taking a class where the lecturer repeats things you’ve already learned? Write instead of taking notes. Boring meeting? Write. Have six loads of laundry to fold? Write. Kids have a recital or soccer game? Write. (Okay, this one might be kind of mean. Don’t be mean to your kids.)

Over the course of my tenth-grade history class alone, I wrote over 300 pages of fiction. It’s all terrible fan fiction and I will never let anyone read it, but I wrote it. And it taught me a lot about how to write.

3. Practice courage.

Courage isn’t a character stat. It’s not an inherent quality that some people are born with “enough” of and the rest of us are doomed to deficiency in.

Courage is an act. Courage is what you are doing when you say, “Hey, I’m scared of this thing, but accomplishing X by doing the thing is more important to me than my fear,” and then you pursue the more important thing.

I didn’t link this one to writing until I started my first novel. But by that time, I’d been practicing courage for years as a figure skater, a colorguard performer, a litigation attorney, and a teacher. I’m still scared every time I submit a piece of writing to an editor, even if that piece was specifically commissioned and I know they won’t reject it. I submit it because getting the work out there is more important to me than indulging my fear of criticism.

There are lots of ways to practice courage, and courage is an essential skill. You can write for years (I did), but putting your work out there is what makes you A Writer.


4. Drink a lot of coffee. Buy it for friends. Friends like me.

If You Like It Then You Shoulda Put a Paycheck On It: My Real Problem With The Mighty (#CrippingTheMighty)

The Mighty, a content site catering to parents and families of disabled and chronically ill people, has been criticized repeatedly in the disability community for its continuous publication of mocking, demeaning, or “inspiration porn”-y stories that are, like so many things about disability, about us without us.

This time, the outcry addressed a piece by a parent of an autistic child, called “Introducing: Meltdown Bingo.”  The piece mocked the acute distress that autistic people express during meltdowns.

The Mighty later removed the piece (a cached version is available courtesy of Un-Boxed Brain here). The site also issued an apology of sorts.

Many bloggers in the disability community have called out The Mighty both on this particular misstep and on missteps in the past.  I agree with the way in which posts like these have gone to the heart of the matter, and I see no reason to repeat their many excellent points.

Instead, as a professional writer and an editor who works with a press specializing in disability-related texts, I want to point out a deeper problem The Mighty has: it does not pay its writers.  Specifically, it does not pay its disabled writers – members of the very population it claims to support.

The Mighty actively solicits submissions from its readers, with a large yellow “Submit a Story” link placed front and center on its main page.  Many of the writers who submit pieces to The Mighty are disabled.  In its apology for the “Meltdown Bingo” fiasco, The Mighty specifically asked for more disabled writers to step forward – and the site’s Twitter account, @TheMightySite, “followed” just about every disabled writer and activist whose name was recommended to them in the #CrippingTheMighty hashtag (including yours truly).

The Mighty’s tagline is “we face disability, disease, and mental illness together.”  The stated goal of its founder, Mike Porath, was to “build a media company that actually helps people.”  Boasting hits in the tens of millions each year, the site could be a force to be reckoned with in the battle to end disability discrimination and demand the full respect of disabled people as people.

It could.  But it’s not.  And not paying its contributors – especially not paying its disabled contributors – has everything to do with that.

Disabled people are notoriously unemployed and underemployed.  According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 17.1 percent of disabled U.S. adults were employed in 2014.  17.1 percent.  Employed.  Not “employed full-time”; employed at all.

(By contrast, 64.6 percent of non-disabled U.S. adults were employed in 2014.)

When disabled adults are employed, it is frequently “under”employment: employment for fewer hours per week, or at less challenging tasks, than the individual is willing and able to do.  We are one of the few populations in the United States to which it is legal to pay only a handful of pennies per hour, under Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).  It’s no secret that undergraduate programs do not want to accommodate us, graduate programs do not want to admit us, and employers do not want to hire us – and that when we are “let in,” we are under-utilized, under-respected, under-retained, and underpaid.

If this sounds like exploitation, that’s because it is.  And The Mighty is participating in it.

Despite being a site dedicated to the topic of disability, The Mighty has yet to hire a single disabled editor.  Despite being a site that actively solicits the writing of disabled authors, The Mighty does not pay these writers – or rather, it claims to pay with “exposure.”

As I said in another blog post earlier this week, a site that offers to pay you with “exposure” falls into one of two categories.  Either it’s too small for the “exposure” to be worthwhile to you, or it’s big enough to make the “exposure” worthwhile – and therefore is big enough to pay you.

The Mighty, with  a claimed 80 million visitors, falls into the second category.  It’s got enough clout to make the “exposure” worthwhile.  And with a seed round of $2.5 million, a claimed 300 non-profit partners, and paid advertising landing in front of the eyes of every one of those 80 million visitors, it has enough money to pay its writers, as well.

Instead, The Mighty does what every “for exposure” outlet does: it begs for charity from its readers by asking them to submit the results of their labor, to generate ad revenue clicks, without compensation for their work.  The Mighty claims to have the backs of one of the most unemployed, unpaid, and exploited populations in the United States – and IT asks THEM for charity.  Proudly.  When asked for compensation, The Mighty pays out – to a non-profit instead of to the writer whose labor pads The Mighty’s bottom line.

In a recent blog post, David Perry proposed two possible ethical futures for The Mighty.  One was to incorporate itself into the community it purports to support; the other was to “be professional” and pay its writers.

I propose that these two futures are actually one future: that The Mighty cannot be an ethical participant in the disability community without compensating the disabled writers from whose work the site generates its revenue.  We are, as I mentioned, an exploited community.

To those who object “But how is The Mighty supposed to pay writers?”, I point back to two facts:

  1.  The Mighty started with $2.5 million in seed money,
  2. Autonomous Press exists.

Autonomous Press, founded in 2015, has published only one book containing the works of disabled writers who were not paid cash money for their contributions.  The writers were, however, compensated with at least one physical printed copy of the book apiece (to my knowledge, The Mighty does not print copies of contributors’ submissions for distribution).  Contributors to the press’s second compilation, The Real Experts, were paid with contributor copies and cash; contributors to its third, The Spoon Knife Anthology, will be paid in similar form.  Every single-author book Autonomous Press has produced to date is also paying royalties to its respective author.

(Incidentally, AutPress’s payment to me for my own contribution to Spoon Knife is the most any publisher has ever paid me for a single piece of short fiction.)

If AutPress can produce physical, printed books with a four-figure startup budget and compensate its contributors, The Mighty has no excuse for running a digital-only realm on a seven-figure startup budget and not paying its writers.  And a print publication outranks a digital one on a CV every time – which means that, in at least one sense, AutPress is offering better “exposure” as well.

As David Perry put it, “I don’t actually think [The Mighty’s goal is to] “give people a platform to share their stories.” It’s to make money while feeling good about themselves.”

And, I might add, while exploiting the very population they claim to help.

This is my problem with The Mighty.  This, as I see it, is a bigger problem than inspiration porn, bigger than all the stories that broadcast the personal details of disabled children’s lives in order to mock them.  As long as The Mighty continues to exploit us by demanding our unpaid labor to pad their egos and their bottom line, the site will do damage to the disabled community that no quantity of good writing from disabled contributors to the site can ever hope to repair.

Want to prove you value the lives of disabled people, The Mighty?  Value our labor.  Pay us.

How You, the Client, Can Get Fired by Your Freelancer

Sometimes freelance writers and artists just have to fire a client. Here are some of the easiest ways to find yourself searching for a new contractor.

So you want to hire a freelance writer. Or an artist. Or a graphic designer. Or a web developer. Or a drill writer. Or a “consultant.”

There are plenty of articles out there about how to hire a freelancer. This isn’t one of them. This article is about how to get the freelancer you hired to say, “Sorry, I won’t accept any more work from you.”

I’ve been freelancing for nearly a decade now, and in that time, I’ve had outstanding clients, terrible clients, and everything in between. I have been fired by a client exactly twice (both times for the same reason–see below), and I have fired more clients than I can count (every time, for one of the reasons below).

Here’s how to make sure that all the time, money, and energy you put into advertising for freelancers, screening candidates, and developing creative briefs goes entirely to waste:

how to get fired by your_a guide for clients

1. Don’t say what you want up front.

I asked a community of freelancers what it takes for them to fire a client, and some version of this problem came up in every single answer.

To send your freelancer packing, don’t say what you want up front. Provide just enough detail for your freelancer to think they understand the project–but when they turn it in, send it back with demands you never made in the original ask.

Do you want your freelancer to fire you, but you aren’t sure this method will do it quickly enough? Do you want your freelancer to fire you and to call you out publicly at every opportunity, making it even harder to find qualified freelancers in the future (and yes, we network too)?  Then I recommend….

2.  Blame your freelancer for not reading your mind.

Not telling us what you wanted is provoking, but it’s not insurmountable. Provide a reasonable amount of time to make the fix and clarify whether or not you’re going to need the same thing going forward, and generally speaking, we’re happy to do the work (assuming it’s covered by our contract).

However, if you want to torpedo any chance that your freelancer will roll with the punches, blame your freelancer for failing to read your mind the first time.

Both clients who have fired me as a freelancer did so because they blamed me for something that they messed up. The most memorable one was in 2013 or so. The client had asked me to do an extended project that required me to contact their end client and get some information.

I tried. I tried contacting the end client for months, via every avenue my client would allow me to use: email, telephone, you name it. I got nothing. The end client would not communicate with me.

Eventually, I told my client about this, and was told “Okay, I’ll take care of it.” When I emailed a few days later, asking “Do you have anything else you need me to do?”, I was assigned another project. Every time asked if they had anything else they wanted done, I was assigned another project.

Fast-forward a few months. Suddenly, Silent End-Client’s project is coming due, and my client is emailing me in a panic, wanting to know where their copy is.

Excuse me?

Last I heard, client, you were going to take care of it, and every time I asked if there was something I should be working on, you directed me to another task (at one point, to another editor!) instead of asking how this client’s website is coming. I am not the one who dropped the ball on this.

Nevertheless, I got fired. My client found it easier to cut me loose than to admit their own mistake.

I fired a different client some years later for utterly failing to articulate their expectations for copy.: everything from basic organization to what counts as “personality” in tone to when to use a serial comma. When I asked for clarification, the answer was always: “Oh, there are no hard and fast rules….”

So I’d send in the project–and get personally berated for failing to follow some “rule” the editor had chosen not to tell me was a rule when the project began.

Needless to say, I dumped that client pretty quickly.

Definitely blame your freelancer for failing to read your mind. If you don’t want to work with freelancers anymore. Or you could….

3. Presume you’re entitled to your freelancer’s time.

In truth, treating your freelancer like an employee in any way is a great way to get us to walk out. We’re professionals and this is a B2B service, not an employer-employee relationship.

But one of the best ways to treat us like employees so that we’ll walk on you is to act as if you’re entitled to our time when you want it, whenever you want it, for no additional pay.

I fired a client just a few months ago for this exact problem. I warned this client up front that I do not do the sort of copy the client sought with fewer than seven business days’ lead time (now, thanks to this client, that’s a month’s lead time). The client decided that “seven business days’ lead time” meant “three to five calendar days’ lead time, always over a weekend” and threw a complete fit when I refused to turn work around in that time frame.

Oh, and of course this client never offered to pay me extra for the rush job. Which reminds me: you will find yourself out on your freelancer’s curb posthaste if you…

4. Screw with payment terms.

Early in my career, I did $1500 of web copy once for a client and was immediately ghosted by not one but two editors on the project. Attempts to contact them were unsuccessful. I never saw that money. Meanwhile, I know the end client used the copy because I saw it on their website.

The second client who ever fired me only got the title because I was lazy about firing them. I was planning to walk because they were a stellar example of Point the First (don’t articulate what you want), but they sent the Dear John email first.

Honestly, that’s fine. It wasn’t working out, and had that email been the end of it, this client would not have made my Wall of Shame.

But they’re on the Wall of Shame now because, after firing me, they then decided to announce they were only going to pay me about 2/3 of what they had initially agreed to, based on terms they made up as they were writing the email and that had never appeared in the original contract.

Thanks for confirming my decision to stop working with you, former client!

Wait! What If I Don’t Want To Be Fired?

Naturally, the inverse of this post is also true: if you want to keep a freelancer around (and save yourself the time, money, and hassle of hiring a new one), clarify your expectations from the start, take your share of the responsibility for errors or miscommunications, respect our time like you would any other business you do business with, and pay promptly and fully according to the agreed-upon terms.

For every client I’ve fired, I have one in my portfolio who has been there for years and for whom my work is practically magic. They tell me what they want, I send it to them. Voilá. You, too, can have outstanding relationships with your freelancers–if you treat them right.

Freelancers love coffee. Buy me one.