How to Deal with Bizarre Content Requests as a Freelance Writer

While writers are often stereotyped as being antisocial and bizarre, sometimes the work writers are assigned is even more so.

As a writer, offbeat requests can include interviewing artists nonstop at a concert without any scheduled breaks, being asked to change a write-up of an interviewee just to keep the peace, writing about an uncomfortable topic, or writing about something you’ve never even heard of.

Still, if you are going to make a career of writing (and it can indeed be rewarding), you will need to be able to navigate the prickly, exhausting, and down-right ridiculous.

Here’s some tips for how to handle those odd and offbeat client requests.

Establish Your Parameters

Depending on what type of topics you write about, you may find that a client is asking to cover some pretty risky or uncomfortable subjects. An uncomfortable task may involve being asked to do an expose on the neighborhood restaurant where everyone knows your name (but the food isn’t so good). Maybe you’re asked to write about a controversial issue like abortion. If these types of assignments make you bristle, a simple conversation with the editor may clear the air.

However, rather than coming off as unprofessional or inflexible, create a list specifying what types of topics you aren’t willing to cover. Most employers will be open to your specifications and gladly funnel work to you that’s within your boundaries. For example, your list could say that you won’t take work that forces you to travel. Or, if you are a hard news writer, perhaps you’d point out that you aren’t willing to take up anymore beauty stories that gush about this season’s popular lipstick color. And so that you don’t come off as overwhelmingly negative, also provide a list of topics or circumstances you are willing to try as new experiences. This could balance the overall message and create a positive tone.

Vet Your Clients

Even though freelance work can sometimes be hard to come by, this doesn’t mean that you should work for any old client that pays. Participate in freelance groups, forums and websites–these outlets can reveal employers and clients who have bad reputations for asking too much of their writers or just treating them unfairly. An even quicker tactic is to google the employer-to-be. Just as the employer’s website is sure to rank, it is highly likely that any negative press or publicity will rank also. Use this information to weed out possible bad clients or outrageous assignments.

For example, what if you are being asked to write a hot-button feature in a very short window of time and your client isn’t willing to listen to your requests to extend the deadline? If you find that this is happening repeatedly, you may not be alone. Google the client’s name and see what comes up. You may find out that other writers are having similar problems. Take time to read other writers’ comments–it may help you to decide if you want to continue working with that client.

Nurture Your Relationships

Whether you write for newspapers, magazines or online, taking the time to meet with clients is important. The more your employer can put a face and personality to your byline, the more likely he or she will be able to give you work that is more aligned to both your tastes and stipulations. So even if you find out that your client is based in Idaho, finding out if he or she is ever in your area (or flying out to their location) is a worthwhile investment. Getting awkward writing assignments usually means that your skill set and focus aren’t properly understood. A quick lunch is the perfect opportunity to hash all those details out.

Be Flexible

Okay, so maybe blogging about a pet chimpanzee that you don’t actually own is a bit extreme, but hey, if you really think about it, what harm could it do? Sometimes that odd request can turn into a new and interesting experience. Obviously, it could also, well, suck. The bottom line here, though, is to try it out. As long as you are being properly compensated, sometimes just completing the assignment will open up doors to other opportunities. In the least, your client will realize that you are a keeper who is willing to go the extra mile–and that should translate in to future work. So blog for Bubbles this one last time. Hey, you never know.

Just for reference, here are some topics that I’ve had to just be flexible and “power through” to write about:

  • Defending a company that has a less-than-perfect page on the Better Business Bureau
  • Writing 50 articles about poker when I didn’t know the first thing about it (research, research, research)
  • Writing about “How to Choose the Best Maxi Pads”

And hey, I’m still doing ok.

What About You?

What about you? What’s the wierdest (clean) topic you’ve been asked to write about?

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