In freelance writing there are many goals to aim for: jobs that are fun and jobs that bring you fame. But the holy grail is repeat work. it means knowing your bills are taken care of for months and you won’t be sitting in front of the bus station with a piece of cardboard reading:
“Will write SEO for a sandwich.”
Of course clients know this. So most repeat jobs are dull or poorly paid and are replete with mission creep: “Yes I know I hired you to write web copy, but walking my dog is really part of that job, even if I live on a different continent from you”
As for poorly paid, well some jobs pay so little you could starve to death whilst trying to earn the cost of a sandwich. But every now and then you hit the mother lode: the reasonably paid, reliable and of course legal repeat job (more on legality in another blog).
One day I was invited by a Russian company to write wind up phone messages for an app. It was designed to wait till your mate’s mobile is turned off and then sends them a message like “Your cars been towed” or “You’ve won the lottery”. Hilarious stuff.
But like most apps they needed hundreds of the messages. They were only a couple of hundred words each, easy to write 4 an hour. I suggested my hourly rate and they agreed without haggling (this is a very good thing). Of course they wanted 3 things: originality, funniness and a nasty twist.
The first hundred were fine, the second hundred were a little tougher and then, well they wanted more. Were there more than 200 windups in the world? I was about to find out, as over the next months I was to write 753 of them.
It wasn’t just the money. My Russian client’s avatar had serious 1960’s KGB, Russian Bond girl looks. The thought of her elegant, black nail polished fingers typing in overly perfect English at speed…. When you find the act of typing sensuous, then you really are a writing geek.
Round about wind up 473 I developed an obsession that I had in fact been hired by the FSB to write them. At the time Russia and England were having a spat and I had visions that Vladimir Putin was sitting, shirtless in his bunker, glass of Vodka in hand phoning David Cameron.
“Hello is that the imperialist weakling, David Cameron, your farts are malodorous….”
an enraged Cameron reaches for the nuclear button and has to be wrestled off by Nick Clegg.
We could all be living in an apocalyptic, nuclear wilderness thanks to my windups. They got more deranged “This is London Zoo. Your mother was assaulted by a gorilla 20 years, your father is a gorilla and he wants to see you“ “You failed your GCSEs and must now repeat the last 10 years of school even though you are 40“ “ you’re so ugly if you don’t wear a bag on your head you are going to prison.”
Towards the end of my very own Heart of Darkness they rejected a few. I’d been slightly desperate and had written a dozen about dogs. The UK had just passed a law that all dogs had to have a microchip with identifying information placed under its skin, in case it got lost.
This led to “Your dog’s chip has been found in the lions poo at London zoo”, “The chip has been found in the bins of a restaurant where there was a food poisoning outbreak”.
My client refused to believe that we English were so weak and sentimental that we chipped our dogs. Wouldn’t we just accept that the police would shoot them if they got lost? I sent articles on both dog chipping and how our police were unarmed.
The response was roughly “Fine we will accept your jokes about your weak sentimental attachment to your hounds” before emailing Putin ,“Mr President we have found the perfect way to smuggle our secrets out of the pitiful UK. In their chipped dogs.”
Shortly after that the job finished. They had had all they needed from me.