09 December 2010

"no" is my new mantra

Really, I don’t mean to be a bitch, but, I need to get this rant off my chest. I’ve been freelancing fulltime for 12+ years. I did not attend journalism school and I learned everything I’ve needed to know to support myself solely off a writing career by making every mistake in the book. Yes, I had a few big serendipitous breaks, but I did not have a mentor or a whole lot of guidance to show me the way.  I just jumped in, did it, worked my ass off and made it work, because I fell hard and fast in love with writing and knew nothing else in the world would fill my soul quite the same way.

So, when I get nearly three dozen emails a week asking me how to become food writer, a travel writer, an author, a ghostwriter, a blogger or a social media expert, I cringe, and now, more times than not (there are a few exceptions), politely decline help and say “no.”  For one, I simply don’t have time to dole out career advice, especially while engaged in this year long volunteering tour de force. Secondly, a “small” favor inevitably turns into a never-ending string of questions and pseudo-mentoring that I didn’t sign up for and then I find myself in an awkward cyber break-up situation.  Lastly, the percentage of people seeking help who actually thank me is ridiculously small.  (I’m a stickler for giving thanks.) 

Don’t get me wrong. I want to encourage people to write and follow their dreams – I just don’t want to hold their hands or be a go-to source for career advice and information. At least not for the 100 or so people who hit my inbox each month seeking a “short” phone conversation or a “small” favor.  No thanks.  If I’m going to spend time inspiring budding writers, I’m more inclined to guest speak at a high school or university class or share insights in a blog comment or engage in back-and-forth banter on Twitter. This friend-of-a-friend email referral situation, though, is driving me batshit crazy.  It’s like asking my dentist, lawyer, veterinarian how I can do their job and expecting a quick, all insightful answer.  It’s impossible to sum up a decade plus of experience into a short and sweet email.  Creating a successful freelance writing career is not easy, but if I can do it, I’m guessing there are other passionate people out there who can do it too – without my help. The influx of outreach is flattering (thank you), but I'm afraid “no” is my new mantra. All of my charitible resources are maxxed out for the time being. Well, at least through June 2011.


elise said...

Sometimes I point them to a good networking group or blog, but No, I already have too much on my plate is often my answer. It is often followed by, you can't just take two seconds to do it? And I say, no, I really cannot.

Andrea said...

I read a great newspaper article last week about how many successful people just don't respond to emails. It made a lot of sense. The author was saying that email has become standard and takes less time to compose and send. So people just shoot them off, expecting a response that may take you hours to research and respond to. There's nothing wrong with saying no if you just don't have time.

Charyn Pfeuffer said...

Thank you for your comments! Andrea, I'd love to read that article if you could point me in the right direction. I like to respond to as many emails as possible, so it goes against everything in my body to say "no" to those seeking help. I guess we all need to pick and choose how and where we decide to give help. I wish I had the time, but I don't and it never fails that every single day I wake up and there is someone in my inbox asking me for career advice in the form of a "small" favor. Sigh.

Carbzilla said...

You go, sister. I ranted on my blog already this week so it must be the season!

Charyn Pfeuffer said...

'Tis the season, T. I should note I do have a super rock star support system of food and travel writers, but we all GIVE and take. Those relationships are a two-way street and everyone benefits from helping one another. A much different dynamic than being asked for favors from strangers who just want you to give. My life is an open Rolodex for my trusted peers.

Anonymous said...

I would only add the suggestion to create a standard response template that explains why you can not assist them and has links to other sites and then you can just send that auto response with one click. The formal response template also sends the message that you really seriously don't have time to respond in a more personal way.

Charyn Pfeuffer said...

Great idea, Sharon! I need to do something. So far, two requests today. One was a fellow peer who has been very helpful in the past, so I took a minute to properly respond. The other was from a newbie, so I declined. If people were asking about volunteer opportunities, I'd be more than happy to help, but this "Can I pick your brain for a few minutes?" business is getting old.

Valentina Vitols said...

So this is exactly what happens to me on almost a weekly basis. Examples (hold your GRRRSS here) of emails sent to me:

Email #1: "Like you, I'm an aspiring photographer. That's why I need help and support, and I know you understand me when I say this."

Me: NO, I don't. Besides, I'm NOT an aspiring photographer, I'm a professional. First of all, I have a Graduate Degree in Photography + years of other academic work + years of experience teaching college / all ages.

Email #2: "I don't intented to go to school like you did. In a way, I'm being a little smarter because I'll get to spend time and learn from you but without breaking my pocket on classes or college"

Me: ??

Email #3: "I'm a professional photographer but can definitely benefit from your experience."

Me: "What kind of camera you have? Where can I see your professional portfolio?"

Reply: "I don't have a camera...yet. And I need to put my photos up soon in Flickr".

Me: "Right."

Email #4: "I thought you provided your services for free."

Me: "No, this is my business and this is what pays the bills. Would you ever give me hours of your consulting business for free?"

Reply: "No. I have a serious job" (She was a life coach).

Email #5: "I'm putting this out to all my friends "into" photography. I need to know what you think I need to have a successful photography business. ALL of it. Cameras, lights, software, hardware, flash, marketing."

Reply: Sorry, but I don't make recommendations. And again, I'm NOT into photography. 7-years of hardcore, sleepless, I-am-sweating-it work is NOT being "into" photography.

(I once mentioned there is a full-frame camera for less than $2K in a workshop WITHOUT endorsing it. Some big foodie bought it and then publicly attacked me on Twitter for "not telling him how to make it work" with his software. His FAIL and uniformed purchase ON me...Never again).

So my dear, I feel you. Sorry for the long rant, but this is to show you you're not alone in this!


Charyn Pfeuffer said...

Valentina - Can I give you a hug right this second? Thank you for taking the time to post this comment. I love, love, love the examples. I know how hard you work, and like myself, did not achieve success withour working your ass off. It pisses me off when people dismiss creative skills ("Are you actually able to support yourself freelancing?" and "What else do you do to pay the bills?" are my faves), then have the nerves to ask me to take a look at and pony up an opinion on their editorial projects. For free, natch. There were two help requests in my inbox today before I even woke up. I'm averaging close to 100 per month, which is absolutely ridiculous. Your Email #1 is my fave. Nine times out of ten when I tell someone I'm a writer, they launch into how they're a writer too which quickly turns into how they haven't actually been published but really want to be, and oh, can I help them? Ugh. Finding solace in knowing that I'm not alone...

Ryan McGovern said...

I deal with this all the time because I am a software developer. People think off the top of my head without looking at their computer that I know what's wrong with it. I don't know, I probably don't care, and if I do know it's because I just googled it. I don't have special access to google, anyone can use it. My stock answer now is either, google it, or that's what you get for not owning a mac.

Charyn Pfeuffer said...

Ryan, Thanks for your comment. I'm sure people in all specialized fields (where people typically pay for services, like doctors, vets, dentists, auto mechanics, etc.) are subjected to this nonsense. I can't believe you don't have some all-knowing Spidey sense to diagnose and fix computer problems? Sheesh. Just kidding. Maybe "Google it" should be my new mantra?

mle said...

Charyn! This post was so, so needed.

I'm constantly annoyed by phrases like "Oh I'm totally gonna quit my job and start freelance writing. I need a break from hard work. I've always loved to write."

I also love the "It would be so great not to have a boss."
It sure would! But as a freelancer, I have a rotating cast of bosses, and typically manage three or more at a time. (cue crickets)

And why do I want to help someone figure out how to succeed in this biz? So I can create more competition for myself? Ummmm, yah. And by that I mean no.

Here's a link you can use when the questions come via email: http://lmgtfy.com/?q=how+do+i+become+a+freelancer%3F

Have a great holiday season. You've earned it and then some!

Emily R

Charyn Pfeuffer said...

Oh, I love this one: "I need a break from hard work." Uh huh. Anyone who has freelanced (in any creative field) knows that there is nothing easy about taking this career route.
Thanks for taking the time to comment and here's wishing you happy holidays!