The Perils of Sharing Work in Progress
Why transparency isn’t everything when it comes to your freelance writing clients
The other day I caught myself slipping into a bad habit with a freelance client. It’s the sort of thing that can sabotage a working relationship. It took a while, back when I was starting out, to identify the culprit: over-sharing.
Most of the successful writers I know are process-based in their approach. Very few of us sit down and pen perfect drafts. When we use a word processor, we do our best to forget about the backspace key for a while. The idea is to get down some initial concepts before focusing on the minutia. It’s a generally revered process that represents much of the real work of writing.
And I think the less your clients see of it, the better.
Sound a little shady? Maybe in theory. There’s a lot of emphasis on transparency in the online workplace, and for good reason. It stands to reason that if someone pays you for a job, they want to know that you’re putting in an honest effort.
This is where writers run the risk of over-sharing. Say a client contracts you to deliver a piece of long-form content, such as a blog post, or a piece of direct response marketing. A process-oriented writer — once the project parameters and research have been hashed out — will sit down and sketch a rough outline or draft. The piece develops a sense of direction, and that’s where the trouble starts.
See, the writer understands that at this early point in the process, the piece of writing is like wet clay — much easier to repurpose earlier than later. They want to know that the general shape of their work aligns with the client’s expectations before adding any more texture. The writer doesn’t want to waste time and energy on details the client might not want. So they reach out and share their nascent work.
Therein lies the problem. Because what the client expects to see is not an amorphous lump of clay. They want a finely-finished sculpture. And why shouldn’t they? It’s what they’re paying for.
A writer should never assume that the client will share their vision for a piece of content. Show them something unfinished, and that’s likely all they’ll see. That’s when they start to lose confidence in you. They may think that you’re trying to pass off unfinished work. They may become miffed that they have to offer further guidance when all you really wanted was an affirmation to stay the course. Worst of all, they may decide that a sculpture wasn’t right for them in the first place. Maybe what they’re really looking for is a watercolor.
It’s natural to seek validation. But you’re a professional, and neediness can cost you the job as readily as any other misstep.
Remember that writing isn’t middle school Algebra. You don’t have to show your work, as long as you can deliver a solution. And if your client does want to check in, then show them the most complete iteration of your work at the current stage. Most clients won’t even feel the need to look over your shoulder if you offer them work for a flat fee or a series of well-defined deliverables. Odds are they’ll be glad to forget about you for a while. After all, they’re busy too.