After many years of blogging, and consistent with my desire to move toward retirement, we have ended the Insights blog. Thanks to Doug Bedell for his years of blog support.

‘No Thank You’

Posted on January 29, 2010
Filed Under The Writing Life | Leave a Comment

I’ve been a contract technical writer for over 20 years, so I’m used to the ebb and flow of new clients and new projects.  I say that, but I have to acknowledge the rumbling in the gut that arises when the phone isn’t ringing and the email in-box contains little more than the Viagra solicitations that made it past the spam filter.

Those dry spells suddenly loom large as you forget all the interesting and lucrative projects you’ve enjoyed, and instead watch the number in the lower right corner of the corporation’s QuickBooks Cash Account ledger drift downward.  It’s usually about that time, with prospects looking dim, that the phone rings and you hear something like the following:

•  “My Master’s thesis is due at the end of the month and I need some writing and editing help.”

•  “Do you do resumes?”

•  “I’ve finished the first few chapters of my book and I think I need an editor.”

•  “I need help with my business plan… uh, my budget is tight so can I pay part now and the balance when I land my start-up funding?’

Your mind instantly does the calculation.  What the hell, I’m not very busy.  This guy surely can’t pay my hourly rate, but if I cut the rate he might go for it, and at least I’d be billing a little.  Yes, my last writing project was a six-month stint at GE writing about laser-induced isotope separation, and while this guy’s project isn’t technical I’d be helping someone… and remember, even Steve Jobs needed startup help at some point.

I laugh (no make that shudder) now when I think about how many times I went down that path early in my career.  Only once, as I’ll explain below, have those calls ever been worth the ensuing headaches of handholding and 60 day late payments.  Now when those calls come in I say “No thank you” but in my own way.  I hear out the caller and ask a few questions.  I explain that my business is highly technical writing and then I tell them my hourly rate.  Most promise to think about it and call back.  Knowing they won’t, I also turn to my list of local novice writers and resume services and offer a few names.  I’m invariably polite and thank them for contacting ENCORE (Christian kindness is free and maybe they’ll remember me when that crazy business plan lands VC funding).

The one time it worked?  A woman called in the middle of a very bad dry spell wanting help writing an award acceptance speech she had to make at a national fraternal organization’s convention.  We went through the usual conversation and she promised to think about it and call back, and darned if the next day she did.  I interviewed her for the speech, and over coffee in her living room I met a wonderful, kind, and accomplished woman.  I prepared the draft, we tweaked it together, I emailed her the final, and I had a check two days later.  She called to say the speech was a success, and son of a gun if she didn’t call me two months later to write another.

You’re a technical writer.  Stick to your knitting and learn to say “No thank you.”  But be alert for that rare and delightful exception to the rule. – Dennis Owen


Leave a Comment

If you would like to make a comment, please fill out the form below.

Name (required)

Email (required)



Email Subscribe