Friday, September 17, 2010

I am MacGyver

No, I'm not talking about the mullet I wore back in the late 1980s. I'm talking about the fact that, as a freelance writer, there are going to be times when you're given a piece of dental floss, a stick of gum, and a Bic lighter, and you're expected to create a nuclear weapon a brochure or ad campaign or website out of it.

Earlier this week, I started work on a project for a longtime client. He's a great guy, funny as hell, and I know exactly how he works: It starts with a kind of fuzzy, two-sentence email about what he wants the project to be. That's followed up by me giving him a call to find out the details...only to find out that there really aren't any yet, just kind of a big picture this-is-what-I-want-it-to-be. Next, he sends a couple of links to websites that kinda do what he wants to do, but not quite. Similar, but different.

Day two, he sends me a follow-up email to find out how it's going. Which prompts another call from me to say I need more information. Now, I click on the digital tape recorder, and play Mr. Reporter for a while, asking as many questions as I can, grasping at threads. The conversation ends, I transcribe the file, and I'm marginally farther along.

I start writing babble-style, then suddenly the piece starts to take form. Hmmm, not half bad. I shoot him the draft, he shoots a bunch of holes in it (as I mutter to myself, "Why didn't you tell me that earlier?), and I give it a rework. In the end, he's happy, I'm relieved, it's all good, another one's in the books.

The reality is, I wouldn't put up with these antics if I didn't genuinely like him and know that it's just the way he is. It wouldn't do me any good to try to change his style, either. I simply accept it, and I know I'll provide him a product that does what he needs it to do.

And the other reality is, it's kind of a kick to strap on my MacGyver mullet-wig, and create something explosive out of damn near nothing.

Now, where the heck did I put my Bic?


  1. Dude, I've had to wear my McGyver mullet SO many times. But I'm used to it. My husband is the same way about some things: super vague. But then I'm the same way about meals and he always comes through. Imagine if you asked someone what they wanted to eat and they replied "Um, I want it to be warm and fit a bowl but no soups or peas. And cheese is fine." I do that to him all the time.

    But when it comes to clients, I've noticed that while some of them know exactly what they want and how to they want you to do it, so many others don't. I take it as a part of the gig to be 27% mind reader. Of course, I also charge a mind reading fee but that's just business of course.

  2. P.S., I am sure you look fab in a mullet :) Mind reading doesn't appear as a specific line item on my estimates, but it's definitely in there — maybe under "meetings and communications."

  3. Wow, that is a perfect analogy for some of my writing projects. Somehow I feel better about them now! Thanks for reminding freelance writers just how resourceful we can be. :-)

  4. I had to look up "mullet," and it's gonna take me a few days to recover...

    It's a rare client that knows exactly what they want, and yes, filling in the blanks is part of the freelancer challenge. That said, sometimes you have to walk away. You're no good to anyone if you don't protect your sanity and self-respect. Which is another good reason not to get a mullet!!

    Always enjoy your posts, Jake, thanks.

  5. Stephanie, always happy to turn a "challenge" into an "area of opportunity," hahaha!

    Mark, yes, there are countless reasons not to get a mullet, and self respect is right up there. Thanks for the kind words.

  6. I think you just described about half my clients. :) Nice post.