5 Lessons Freelance Writers Can Learn from Ted Williams

Carol Tice

outer space backdrop with a woman facing away holding her arms out with the words believe in yourselfBy Alan Kravitz

By now, pretty much the entire planet has heard the story of Ted Williams, who, in a matter of days, has gone from Homeless in Ohio to Media Sensation Everywhere.

He’s The Man With the Golden Voice. The New Susan Boyle. Don’t be surprised if he starts dating one of the Kardashian sisters.

Though we’re just days into the new year, it’s going to be mighty hard to top this as the Feel Good Story of 2011. I have to admit, I’m addicted to it.

Why? Well, I like happy endings as much as anyone. But there’s more to it than that.

I’ve been freelancing for six years now. Thank goodness, I’ve never been as down on my luck as Ted was. Still, I’ve hit some rocky patches. I used to get by on my reputation alone.

In the past year, I’ve learned the hard way that I must market myself like crazy. That’s why I think Ted’s story holds valuable lessons for us freelancers, such as:

1) Be optimistic. Yes, it is true – dire situations are not permanent. I still have periods where I think I’ll never get another writing assignment. Still, I don’t give up. Neither should you.

2) Be sure of your talent. Ted did more than hold up a sign on the side of the road – he let people know what he could do. That’s what piqued the videographer’s interest (“Hey, let’s hear that voice”) – and the rest is history. We can’t afford hide our own God-given talents. We need to, as the Sondheim song says, “Bump it like a trumpet.”

3) Be confident in your abilities. When the videographer asked Ted to speak for the camera, Ted didn’t flinch. He just went for it. Freelancers must always be prepared to demonstrate talent on a moment’s notice, but it’s hard to do that without confidence.

4) Be visionary. Certainly, Ted wants an announcer’s job, but he wants more than that. A music lover, he really wants a job in music radio or broadcasting. As freelancers, we must have a vision. Otherwise, we can fall into the “I’ll take anything” trap. Which leads me to:

5) Be picky – even in tough times. Here’s what impresses me most about Ted. He could easily just grab at the tons of offers coming his way, but he doesn’t seem to be doing that. He’s not taking anything that doesn’t feel right to him. As freelancers, we must be true to ourselves. Taking a gig that’s not a good fit – even for the money – almost never leads to anything positive.

Have you gone through your own tough times as a freelancer? How did you overcome them? Tell us about it in the comments.

Alan Kravitz is a freelancer copywriter and editor at The Infinite Inkwell. He helps nonprofit and socially conscious for-profit organizations with their writing needs.

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  1. Hajra

    I entered the freelance writing scene fairly recent. I was a freelance content writer for a year and I had a rough ride. I was paid way too less and the pressure was too much for me to take. I was studying then, so they took me way too easy..kept telling me “you are still a kid….”. When I realized all this, I quit…started being picky like you say!

    Nice post! Looking forward to more of your work!

  2. Alan Kravitz

    Thanks, Hajra – and good for you for standing up for yourself! Stick with it and you will find clients who respect you (and pay you well.)

  3. WritingItRightForYou

    Great post. As you may know by now, Mr. Williams had a difficult time handling sudden fame and fortune and checked himself into rehab. I am sure that we all wish him a quick recovery and all the best. I know that I do.
    However, Lesson #6 could be: make sure your foundation (support system) is very strong and pace yourself. If you have everything it takes for success like Mr. Williams, you’ll get there eventually without crashing and burning right out the gate first.

  4. Alan Kravitz

    So true, WritingitRightForYou. The post was written before Ted got into rehab, and I definitely agree that #6 is another great lesson.

  5. Alice

    Yes, a happy ending is always welcome. You make some great points here but the theater major in me has to step up and call out your Sondheim reference. The line is “bump it with a trumpet” from “You Gotta Have a Gimmick” in the Broadway musical ‘Gypsy.’ The line refers to the fact that the strippers in the number tell the new girl on the block how they have NO talent and therefore you “gotta have a gimmick” to have any success.


    • Alan Kravitz

      Alice, I do stand corrected. Sorry about that!

  6. Katherine Swarts

    Point #5 (“be picky in tough times”) is a big issue in my career right now. I’d rather like to see a whole MALW post on the topic “Desperate for Work?”

    • Carol Tice

      Hi Katherine — meaning, what to do when you’re desperate for work? I could definitely do that…will add it to my idea pile!

  7. Angela Joseph

    I too started out as a content writer and while I was overworked and underpaid it did give me some credits to add to my portfolio, but like you said, after a while we have to get picky.

  8. Alan Kravitz

    Angela, you bring up a great point when you mention portfolio credits. Depending on what you want to accomplish, an enhanced portfolio can be just as important – if not more so – than what you get paid for a piece. I have certainly taken on lesser paying work if I knew that the finished piece would ad some gravitas to my portfolio. I look at that as an investment in the future.

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