This post comes with the caveat that I think freelancers who live off of writing income hate some of these more, and that “hate” as used herein is not the white-hot hate of a million suns but closer to the disgusted or frustrated “oh I hate it when that happens.” Also, that this post was not created in reaction to any particular situation; it’s more in the nature of a few thoughts after twenty plus years of being a writer, and having been a publisher and editor. Note that this doesn’t address those things that publishers/editors/other entities “hate” about writers–that’s a post for next week (although I think you can see what those might be from the flip side of the points below).
(AND: What do YOU hate, writers out there?)
1 – Having to ask for payments that are due. I hate having to ask for what I am owed. It is just an extra ‘orrible thing to have to remember–that nudge, along with “hey, my apologies for asking, but where’s the dosh?” It adds stress and becomes just another item on the mental horizon that you know you have to deal with. Any publisher or other entity who regularly pays without that nudge gets extra props in my book, because it’s actually not an industry standard.
2 – Late payment without communication. Some people think that if they ignore a problem, it will go away. A freelancer owed money doesn’t go away. But neither do I ever have a problem with an honest conversation about the when’s and why’s and what-for’s connected to payment. What I cannot stomach is communication in which the other party tries to will the issue away by just not facing up to their responsibilities.
3 – Lack of Honesty. Especially in this era when face-to-face communication is rare, trust can be precarious. Emails strip out a lot of the data by which we decide whether we trust someone or not. All that’s really left is saying what you mean and doing what you say you’re going to do. As the disconnect between what you say and what you do grows, so too does my distrust, and ultimately that connection is corrupted.
4 – Assumptions about what the writer already knows. There’s very little institutional knowledge in publishing. Too many people in the business do not understand that the knowledge in their heads, especially info particular to their institution or entity, does not automatically go by way of Vulcan mindmeld into the head of the person they’re dealing with. Thus, a lot of time is wasted because of assumptions made to the contrary. Being able to either see things from the other person’s point of view or to document your process (and the writer’s responsibilities within that process) goes a long way toward preventing communication breakdowns and stress during the lifecycle of a relationship.
5 – Being either too rigid or too fluid. This is lowest on the list because it’s harder to specifically define what the terms mean. But here’s an attempt at a general level. Having a timeline, a plan, and deadlines are all good things, elements of any successful project. But because writing is a process of discovery, any such structure should allow for variation and exploration along the way (change management, in the business world)–for flexibility. If it doesn’t, then creative opportunities that might enhance the quality of your product may be snuffed out before they can be implemented–and the writers involved will probably be unhappy. At the same time, a project management structure that is too hazily defined and defers too much to the creative process risks the diminishment of product quality, or even the lack of a product at all. Finding that balance is key to the sanity of everyone involved, but especially the writer, who flourishes when able to clearly define the objective while also indulging fully his or her sense of play and imagination. (Which, in this context, is not a frivolous thing, but essential to success.)
As for the number one thing an institution or person can do to make a writer their friend for life: send a card or little gift if it’s a job well-done– or, in select cases, add a little extra to the payment. But even a very small gesture creates enormous goodwill, because they are so infrequent across the industry.