Your first instincts are generally sound. They may not always be convenient, but you are always better off honoring them.
I had recent occasion to relearn this important lesson.
One of the most important decisions a freelance writer or ghostwriter makes is screening potential clients. A lot of critical judgment goes into this decision. We can make endless lists of the pros and cons of taking on a particular client. But, let’s be honest. Most of us quickly come to gut decision about whether we can serve this client successfully.
That gut is the decision we writers need to honor. Ego may cloud the decision. The potential client is often seductive. Fear (what if I never get another assignment?) and greed (but I need a new gaming PC) cloud the decision.
But if your first instinct is to walk away, you are deceiving yourself if you stay.
The other day, I met with a retired CEO who wanted my help in writing and publishing a combination biography/business book. We met in his NYC penthouse apartment with views of Central Park. I loved the view and admired the man but immediately sensed that I would not be able to manage his expectations nor deliver the ambitious outcome he desired.
In retrospect, I should have walked away at that point, but the view was so damn alluring.
I told the CEO that I’d respond with a proposal for a more modest self-published effort. After one more meeting, however, I saw the situation was hopeless. We simply couldn’t agree on a way forward. So the next day I withdrew the proposal, saying only that I felt I was unsuitable for what he wanted to accomplish, and wished him luck.
It’s not easy for a writer to turn down an offer from a wealthy client. Nevertheless, that’s exactly what I did. Except for a twinge or two of regret, I was fine with it.
And then I got a phone call from his wife. She said how disappointed her husband was with my decision. She agreed with my take on the project and asked me to reconsider. That never happened to me before, so I was unsure about what to do.
“I’m sorry, my decision is final!” is what I should have said.
Honoring my initial judgment has always served me well. Whenever I second-guessed myself, I invariably regretted it.
I told her I would think about it. That’s the polite thing to do, right? And we now had more agreement about the deliverable. And I liked the idea of working in a penthouse with an
eagle’s eye view of Central Park. And, truth be told, I didn’t have anything else in the pipeline. Ego, greed, and fear—perhaps a touch of misbegotten benevolence—confused me.
So after thinking about it for a few days, I told her that I changed my mind and was ready to work with them. She appeared delighted and we set an appointment to meet and start the book. I was amazed that a project I had turned down was suddenly mine again.
Except it wasn’t.
A couple of days later, the wife called and said that, after more reflection, she agreed with my original decision. I was unsuitable after all. We were in agreement. Why wasn’t I feeling better about it?
I wasn’t angry with the wife. She was trying to protect her husband. I was angry at myself for allowing myself to be set up for disappointment.
The takeaways for professional writers are five:
1) Trust your thinking. When you make a decision, stick to it.
2) Work for only one client at a time. Husband and wife clients are especially deadly because if there’s any daylight between the
partners, the writer will be ground up and spit out until the only thing that’s left is the grimace.
3) Scorn Fear.
4) Eliminate Ego.
5) Banish Greed.