Prostituting Your Art: Freelance Writer Remorse

Have you ever done work you were sorry about afterwards? I’m afraid to say, I have. When I started this blog, I declared a list of things I won’t do, but it’s a list of things I had to learn to avoid through experience. What terrible things could a writer do to warrant a complete revulsion of feeling that makes him or her say “Never again”?

Academic Writing

Yes, I know there’s a whole industry out there that focuses on academic writing. I was in it. If you thought it was just a matter of editing dissertations, think again. Editing, I think, is perfectly fair. The students have done their research, and you just help them to present it properly.

Fact: most of the work is for students who are too lazy or lack the confidence to do their own work! Here’s where I really start to writhe with guilt with a pinch of pride. Despite having a lousy bachelor’s degree, I’ve scored B+ for masters’ dissertations. I’ve taken it through from research proposal to final product. The money is good. Will I do it again? No!

Students are meant to learn, but if they won’t do their own work, and possibly fail, how will they ever learn? Apart from the highly questionable ethics involved in doing  students’ work for them, there’s the undeniable fact that they could qualify without having earned the qualification. Is this good for them? What have they learned?

All I can think is that they’ve learned they can buy whatever they want in life, and life doesn’t actually work like that. Withdrawing from this industry won’t end it. But at least I can have the pleasure of knowing I don’t contribute to it any more.

My advice to freelancers? Stay away. It’s highly demanding work, and you don’t feel good about yourself for doing it.

Online Pharmacies

When I first started out, I’d do just about any kind of writing for money. That included the very dubious and possibly dangerous online pharmacies industry. I’m not talking about the ones that sell mainstream stuff to people with prescriptions. It’s mainly the erectile dysfunction drug market, and I know for a fact that much of the product is sold for “recreational use”.

Oh, I used to pack my copy with warnings about expired drugs, fake drugs, side-effects and advice to see a doctor, but we all know that most people don’t read the copy. It’s just there for SEO. My clients used to accept my work, but one presented me with the final straw. I was asked to remove all warnings and make it “more salesey”.

This is totally inappropriate. We are talking about medicines here. You do not “sell” medicines with false claims. “It will make you bigger, harder, and you will last longer.” I’m not going to write that (oops! I just did), because these are false claims. This was the final straw. I dug in my heels.

Adult Content

I didn’t do much here. The sex toys job was quite amusing and fair enough, but there’s no way I’m going to write a review on sites like “Girlschoke”. At one point, I did write some SEO oriented content, and it’s probably the most respectable adult content ever written. I tackled topics such as “Should you show your girlfriend your porn?” (Probably not!), and “10 things you see online that you should definitely NOT try in real life” (Easily done!)

It’s all very well being open-minded, but packing my work with… uh… maybe I won’t quote the words as such… is simply out of the question. Result? No more adult content. OK, I’m 47, and that means I’m an adult, but that also means having the maturity to know what you absolutely will not do, no matter how much you prostitute your art.

Misleading Sales Content

Oh, you’ll have seen the type of pieces I’m talking about. They’re the ones that make outrageous claims, offer a money-back guarantee and a download. One of my “get rich quick” clients was so disgusted with the relative honesty of my content, that he didn’t even comment. I didn’t get paid. I don’t care.

Things like Binary Options Trading are straightforward gambles. And as for lottery tickets online, let the buyer beware! Ten, ten and never again. Online Casinos? A sensible person would avoid them. You’ll start off by winning, perhaps, but sooner or later, someone has to make a profit, and it won’t be you!

Fake News

I’m happy to say that I’ve done very little of this, but here’s the formula:

  • Write a click bait headline
  • Write a first paragraph that seems to reinforce the headline
  • Then somewhere further down, tell the truth (no-one reads that far)

I can do it, but I won’t. I sneer at click bait these days, and I deliberately DON’T click, because I know the game. If I do click, someone gets paid for advertising. I’m not going to feed them!

Fake Reviews

The fake reviews industry is real. When I did these pieces, I’d research via Amazon and report in an “online reviews agree” context. But even that isn’t honest enough. I soon noticed a pattern in many Amazon reviews for certain products. They were structured along the same lines. I’m betting one person wrote them. Could I be wrong? I’d like to think so, but I’m not a fool. I’m a writer. I spot things like recurring errors, similar structure and similar style.

My advice? Don’t believe reviews you read online. Even TripAdvisor has surprised me. A very mediocre restaurant in my town has a five-star rating. How did that happen? It has no ambiance, and the food is nice rather than brilliant. There are much better places, but they’re only ranked at four stars. How did the spot with the plastic chairs, plastic tablecloths and pleasant yet unexciting cuisine get the best rating in town? It doesn’t bear thinking of.

The internet can be a nasty, nasty place

But you knew that didn’t you? I’m not contributing to that any more. Give me an honest piece to write, and I’ll fall in love with it. Offer me $100 to write a piece of sh**, and I’ll say “No thanks.” I feel better now that I’ve decided that, but I still suffer from writers’ remorse for the times I wrote for businesses I dislike. I used to rationalize. “If I don’t, someone else will,” I  would tell myself. I won’t do that again. It’s been years, but I still feel it. If you’re a writer, don’t go there.

Sure, someone else will write it if you don’t, but at least you have the pleasure of knowing IT WASN’T YOU!

Write about things you can believe in, even if it’s just a carpet cleaning company. Clean carpets? How nice. Your world is now a pleasanter place. You want 1,200 words? No problem! Did you know that skin flakes and dust mites accumulate even when you vacuum? Ah! And carpets get smelly, and…




About andreadurrheim

I'm an ex-horticulturist turned horticultural journalist turned radio broadcaster and general freelance writer. I'm hoping to promote my work through my blog and find out more about other writers too!
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