A Writer Is Not Sherlock Holmes: When Clue-Filled Instructions Are Under or Overdone

Welcome to Writer Rants–where every Friday a writer just lets loose on whatever the heck is bugging them this week. Enjoy.

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All content writers acknowledge that content writing jobs come with instructions. They’re a vital part of the job, helping writers tailor their work to what the clients want. But, and there’s always a but, there are instructions and there are (dun dun dun) instructions.

The usual process for a content writer is to log into the system and reserve orders that are of interest. But that interest gets instantly sapped away upon viewing a page of instructions that are longer than the order itself. Or, alternatively, the instructions are so thin and vague that the writer has to take a guess at what the client desires. It is at this moment that a sense of clarity hits the writer: all of her efforts to snag the delicious order has turned into a trip into the danger zone.

It’s enough to make a writers brain go into melt down and for good reason — time is money, and a freelance writer values their time the same as any Fortune 500 company. In fact, it could be argued that a freelance writer works harder than a corporation because she has to wear many hats in her daily quest to find enough work to keep her bills paid and food on the table.

Just why are overly long or vague instructions such a problem? Because a writer isn’t Sherlock Holmes. She can only do so much to deduce the client’s wishes in her quest to deliver copy that suits her client’s needs. Seeing a great wall of text or wispy sentences wastes her time, makes her second-guess the order, and wonder if she should take it anyway, only to risk a rejection or “Did Not Meet” rating.

There is no arguing the fact that instructions are necessary. It’s not as if a writer can take an order title and ideate something into existence without knowing what the client wants. To that end, concise instructions are ideal. But orders that require spending an hour of reading in order to understand what the client requires are a bummer. It stifles creativity and makes the work a drudgery, since it requires constant references back to the instructions to make sure the work is correct. After all, who wants to spend their time writing, only to have to go back over it fifty-umpteen times to make sure it’s right? Maybe it’s not a big deal when being paid by the hour, but it’s a major one when being paid by the word.

Then there comes the moment of dread: clicking on the submit button. It’s the moment where the anxiety starts, wondering if every last instruction was interpreted correctly, or if the end product is satisfactory to the client. Silent questions are asked: “Did I do what the client wanted?” “Is the work going to get bounced back?” “Is this going to be a job that kills my income?” The stress mounts and increases steadily until the client receives the work and grades the work. In the meantime, the writer wonders if it was all worth it, even when the work is accepted with a satisfactory rating.

Michele G is


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