How Long is a Piece of String Questions

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a writing coach and owner of a writing forum I get all sorts of questions from freelance writers. Some are fairly easy, like:

  • I really need a contract with every client?
  • Should I write for free?
  • What is a ‘letter of introduction’?

These questions have a fairly specific answer:

  • Yes, you need some sort of written contract with each client to protect yourself and get paid, even if it’s a simple email that sums up what you’re doing and how and when you get paid.
  • You should only write for free if you’re willing to be unpaid for that piece of work.
  • A letter of introduction introduces you to a potential client and shows your writing skills and ability to satisfy a client.

I also get questions I call ‘how long is a piece of string’ questions. I could also call them ‘how high is up’ questions and probably several other things as well. These are the questions for which there are no specific correct answers, unless it’s an answer that says one way or another, ‘it depends.’

Some industries at least appear to have specific rules or measurements that work in at least most cases. Engineering might be one. If you want a bridge to span a river say, you need to know certain things, like who is the bridge for, pedestrians, cars, heavy equipment, etc. You also need to know how wide the river is both normally and in flood conditions. Knowing those things is a good start on knowing what you need to do to create the right bridge.

Come to think about it, ‘can I build a bridge?’ could be consider a how long is a piece of string question, at least until you get come answers. Maybe the need for some answers first is true in every instance or, more likely, many instances.

In writing the questions I call how long is a piece of string tend to be like these:

  • How much should I charge for my writing?
  • What’s the market rate for writing say a 1,000 word essay for a blog?
  • I’m a writer, should I write a blog?
  • How do I become a writer?

The first two qualify. I truly have no idea what you should charge. It depends on oh so many factors like ‘how good are you?’, ‘how bold are you?’, ‘does the prospective client have a budget that allows you to be paid, poorly or well?’. No way can I know those things. Plus there’s no ‘regular fee’ for a 1,000 word blog, only what a willing seller, you, and a willing buyer, the client agree on.

As far as how you’ll become a writer, I can suggest certain things that may help, but there’s only one thing that’s absolute; you’ve simply got to write, write, and write some more. Unless you get lucky like my grand daughter did. She won $1,000 for an essay she wrote in high school.

Why do I think you need to know about the how long is a piece of string questions? Two reasons:

First, I get frustrated when I’m asked this kind of question and the questioner thinks I should have a specific answer. Yes, I’m blowing off a bit of steam here.

Secondly, if you want or need specific answers it’s going to be up to you to frame your question so the person you’re asking has a chance of answering you specifically. This often means you first have to get clear on what it is you really want to know.

Make sense? It does to me.

Write well and often,

Writer, life and writing coach, book ghostwriter, Grandmother, Buddhist. Liberal who listens to the other side, political

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