The Dark Side of Freelance Writing: Other Freelance Writers

Welcome to our latest installment on the Dark Side of Freelance Writing, where we discuss some of the negative aspects of freelancing. Past installments in this series featured freelance writing burnout and when clients rip us off.

Today we’re going to discuss negativity from other freelance writers. This is something I’ve had on my mind for years but don’t like to talk about because of the delicate subject matter. Sometimes talking about these things bring out heated emotions and I’m an avoidance kind of gal. After a conversation last week with my friend Anne Wayman, I thought I’d toss it out for discussion.

When I first began freelance writing, mentors, books and website articles helped me pick up pointers. As I discovered forums, I started participating in those as well. It wasn’t long before I learned that sometimes forum discussions could get heated. So much so that battles lines are drawn. This doesn’t make for a positive social experience. Sometimes freelance writers in forums will even make up several different personalities in order to attack another writer. Some of that carries over to blogs and social networks. In other words, major drama.

In the virtual world what strangers do shouldn’t bother us, but I know many freelancers who are hurt by forum or blog drama.

In the ten years I’ve been freelancing I’ve come across:

  • A “pile on” mentality by forum cliques directed at freelance writers who have a different point of view.
  • Freelance writers who send notes to freelance writing bloggers in hopes that said bloggers will name names and discredit competitors.
  • Editors who won’t hire freelance writers simply because they like a competitor.
  • Freelance writers who send other writers venomous notes telling them they have no business writing for a living.
  • Whole blogs created solely to discredit other freelance writers
  • Lines drawn across the low/high paying great divide
  • A freelance writer who I mentored in  my home used my laptop to troll blogs and forums. ( I believe Allena Tapia had a similar situation)
  • Freelance writers who wrote to editors in order to get other freelancers fired.
  • Freelancers who research years of another freelance writer’s blog posts in order to find stuff to throw in their face. (or send it to me to discredit those writers which I won’t do.)

We don’t often think that other freelance writers would do anything to hurt us, but sometimes it happens. Sometimes it’s harmless trolling, other times it can turn to bullying and harassment. That’s rare though. It rarely carries offline as most freelance writing bullies are only courageous online.

If it happens to you…

If another freelancer is attacking you. Ignore it. If it turns into bullying, there are organizations that deal with it. If certain blogs or forums are causing a negative experience, stop visiting. At this point in the game, there are so many blogs, forums and social networks available to freelance writers that you’re sure to find one suiting your needs, with the vibe you’re looking for.

Mostly, people who are acting in a negative manner are doing so for the reaction. If you don’t give it them, they’ll probably go away. Really, the best solution is to ignore the negativity. Speaking from experience, I can tell you that to engage will escalate the drama and blow the entire situation out of proportion. I’m happy to say the majority of freelance writes I know and talk to every day are very helpful and encouraging. It’s those negative few who can cause a freelance writer to become disheartened.

So now it’s out in the open. While most freelance writers are very helpful, sometimes the claws come out. Do you come across this in your online travels? If so, how do you deal with it? Have you ever been the victim of another freelance writer’s anger.


40 responses
  1. Andy Hayes Avatar

    It’s a shame people can’t just get along. Aren’t there more interesting things to do be doing with your time than trying to take down other people?

    .-= Andy Hayes´s last blog ..Inspire your Business, your website, and your Marketing =-.

    1. Deb Ng Avatar

      Perhaps this sort of thing is interesting to others? Maybe it’s how they entertain themselves?

  2. jessica Avatar

    Seriously?! If a freelance writer is good, won’t he or she instead focus on more work, increasing skills, even administrative stuff instead of bullying other freelance writers? Who has the time or the energy to do these things? It seems like such a waste of creativity to pick on others like this. Jessica

    1. Deb Ng Avatar

      Agreed, Jessica. Why not just live and let live. So you don’t like another writer, ignore him. Baiting him or attacking him only means he becomes a bigger part of your life.

  3. J.B. Greene Avatar
    J.B. Greene

    I have found most of the freelance writers I rub elbows with in the virtual world are helpful, supportive and inspiring. When other writers consistently bash another group of writers or style of writers, they lose credibility. If a writer can’t promote one style or outlet of writing without resorting to bashing others, I don’t consider them completely reliable sources of information. If we all focus on the positive aspects of our craft and accept that there is more than one way to make a living freelancing, the online writing world would be a better place.

    1. Deb Ng Avatar

      I feel that most writers are supportive of others and are sincerely interested in helping them succeed. I also think passion can cloud judgment and cause certain freelancers to make poor choices? Maybe they act as they do in hopes of getting a point across. It’s the wrong approach but perhaps in their minds they think their right.

  4. Deb Ng Avatar

    The more I think about it, the more I feel these situations mimic the real world. I spent 20 years working office jobs and there were always people who would sabotage another workers attempts or spread vicious gossip or backstab. Of course this wasn’t the majority of the workplace, but just a few. I always felt those workers should try harder to succeed on their own merit instead of working so hard to discredit or dishearten others.

    1. Zoë Kirk-Robinson Avatar

      I sometimes get the feeling that people who spend their days stirring up trouble for others actually *can’t* work harder and succeed in their chosen profession. It’s likely this jealousy combined with an all-pervading feeling of inadequacy that causes them to be spiteful, vindictive bullies.

      Pity them, and move on. Don’t let them drag you down to their level.
      .-= Zoë Kirk-Robinson´s last blog ..The Importance of Backgrounds =-.

  5. Roberta Rosenberg Avatar

    Maybe this is a generalist writer thing, but in the 25+ years I’ve been working in the advertising copywriting space, I’ve NEVER seen this kind of behavior from freelance or employed colleagues. In fact, I’ve actually written and spoken about this seeming lack of competition. Maybe because we feel there’s plenty of work for everyone? I have no answers, just questions as to why this is.

    1. Deb Ng Avatar

      I have lots of ideas about why this is, Roberta, just no concrete answers. I stopped visiting certain forums and even blocked some freelancers from my Twitter stream because of their negativity. I personally think there’s room for all of out there. By attacking other freelancers we’re missing out on someone wonderful opportunity to collaborate or receive recommendations. (Not to mention Scrabble invites.)

  6. Jodee Avatar

    I agree with you, Deb. Bullying and harassment exists in the brick and mortar world, and it happens online, too. I can always choose not to visit blogs or participate in forums where I don’t like the tone or the subject matter being discussed, and I can do so without spreading poison by attacking other people.

    I haven’t been attacked all that often, but I have learned not to let someone else’s comments ruin my day. I figure that they drop the words like a bomb and don’t sit around waiting for the fall-out, so why give some person who I don’t know the power to affect me in that way?
    .-= Jodee´s last blog ..Are You Trying to be a Big Deal or the Real Deal? =-.

    1. Deb Ng Avatar

      I’m the type of person who takes negativity to heart. When someone leaves a negative comment I dwell on it for days. I think some people know this and use it to their advantage – which is why I stopped visiting forums in favor of Twitter or Facebook where there’s a better vibe and I only follow the people who give a positive experiece.

  7. Roberta Rosenberg Avatar

    Wow, you have gotten pounded but in the blogosphere, but would you have outside the virtual world? I dunno. I’ve seen all sorts of competitive nastiness from other sorts, just not my copywriter colleagues. (Speaking of Scrabble, I have an opening in my schedule. I have just 2 games going right now.) 🙂
    .-= Roberta Rosenberg´s last blog ..Links for 2006-07-29 [] =-.

    1. Deb Ng Avatar

      This post mostly wasn’t about me though. Last week I saw another writer attacked on a popular writing newsletter. It was a matter that should have been handled in private but the author of the newsletter was looking for drama. Who needs it?

  8. Jeanne Avatar

    That’s awful. I am grateful that most of the writers and editors in my circle are kind and supportive. I have had some negativity (mostly someone posting nasty comments on my articles – suspiciously sounding like the same person) but the writers? Good people, all.

    1. Deb Ng Avatar

      Jeanne, the good thing about nasty comments is that we can delete them.

  9. Nick Daws Avatar

    I’ve experienced this from time to time. In my view, jealousy is usually at the root of it. These people have typically failed to achieve the success they think they deserve, so they take out their frustration on others they perceive as being “unfairly” successful. At one time I used to try to engage constructively with such individuals, but now I accept that ignoring them is usually the best policy. “Don’t Feed The Trolls” is very sensible advice!
    .-= Nick Daws´s last blog ..Website Flipping: A Great Sideline for Freelance Writers =-.

    1. Deb Ng Avatar

      Jealousy, anger…regardless of the reasons, it seems counterproductive to me. Why not use that anger to write the Great American Novel or something?

  10. Mary Jo Avatar

    I hope there is a special hell for internet trolls (right next to the spammers and scrapers). It’s one thing to have a professional discussion on a topic, and where various positions can be debated. It’s quite another to inject personal vitriol and ugly cheap shots into a conversation — whether online or off.

    Fortunately, my experience has generally been with people who can respectfully disagree, have discussions from varying points of view, and we all learn from one another. Early on, though, I made the mistake of engaging with trolls (silliness in thinking a rational discussion would turn things around). Now, I can’t be bothered.
    .-= Mary Jo´s last blog ..Shopping at the Rose Bowl Flea Market =-.

    1. Deb Ng Avatar

      Hi MaryJo!

      I don’t see you enough, so thanks for stopping by. You’re right, the biggest mistake is in engaging in all that tit for tat. I did it too and all it does is offer up more negativity. I was laughed at for taking a vow of positivity this year, but you know what, it worked wonders for my outlook, my blog and my career.

  11. Erik Hare Avatar

    I have to admit, I never really “got” this profession (bad grammar deliberate).

    The pay is terrible in part because supply exceeds demand, but also in part because of a gross inability to form a credible guild or union. Many people appear to write for nothing more than the thrills that they get by seeing their name in print, a thrill that I frankly do not understand.

    I write because I’m good at it, and I really wish that there was a decent living to be made on this craft. I would gladly join a union and I would love to see an appreciation for professional behavior grow gradually. After all, we constantly hear that when it comes to traffic generation on the ‘net, “content is king”.

    Well. What I see are a lot of people that “write because they have to”, which is to say a kind of cheap therapy. In a world where that’s “king”, a guy like me who values the craft (and has zero problem ghosting work sans byline) has to simply fend for himself. Any of you who want to set up a website dissing me for trying to make a living – or any of the other childish things described here – are welcome to it.

    I wish that St Paul Central Library wasn’t out of its only copy of Auden’s “Age of Anxiety” because I need to re-read it.
    .-= Erik Hare´s last blog ..Formaldehyde =-.

  12. Lindsay Avatar

    I think that the comment about jealousy is dead on the money.

    The professional freelance writers I’ve met are wonderful, supportive people. It’s the ‘wannabes’ who tend to take the time to slam others (maybe because they’re not working and they’re bored?). The one I’ve heard often is that I’m not qualified to be a writer – specifically because I did an English degree then ten years as an agency copywriter, but didn’t go to school in the widely-accepted communications diploma program in my city. It’s bizarre, but I’ve heard it *so* many times.

  13. allena Avatar

    this is so funny, my niece (she’s 12) was on my email and Facebook THIS MORNING…sigh…Nothing bad happened except snooping, but I’m god knows what “I” could have said.
    .-= allena´s last blog ..Freelance Writing Blogs: Cream of the Crop Posts =-.

  14. Donna Avatar

    First of all, I’m new here. I’ve been following this blog for a couple of weeks and I want to say that it’s a wonderful resource and I thank you very much for providing it.

    I’ve been on the receiving end of the bullying 4 times now – all 4 in the same forum. This last time it happened the bully was able to get several helpers involved and it ended up costing me almost a month’s worth of time AND business to straighten it out. I handled my part of the situation in private messages – off the forum – but this person chose to create a panic and involve several of my clients in the process – ON the forum, which just added to the panic. Had I spoken out on the forum I think the situation would have been much worse. As it was I just had to do a lot of hand holding for a month to calm everybody back down. And I managed to retain all but one client – who was helping stir the pot anyway so no great loss.

    I’ve since left that forum and that’s why I usually stay away from them. There’s too much drama and too many “Chiefs”. Not worth the aggravation.
    .-= Donna´s last blog ..97 Dollar Ebooks – Why I’m Trying To Sell The Battledome =-.

    1. Deb Ng Avatar

      I stopped visiting forums because I had to walk on eggs rather than risk upsetting people by speaking my mind. I never liked the “us against them” mentality. We’re all freelance writers and should work together to help each other out and get along. Even when we don’t agree.

  15. Mokibobolink Avatar

    I’m still a relative newbie and so far, my experience with other freelancers has been positive. But I will say that I recently had a bad experience with another writer taking credit for work not her own (the work was another friend of ours). Even after it all came into the open, I was shocked to find out how long I was duped and how well this girl hid the fact that a fiction story she posted on an open forum (to rave reviews) was not her own. It made me sick to my stomach, even after she admitted it to some of us. I just can’t imagine doing that to another writer, but I guess if there are people like that out there, there are also people like the ones described above. It has taught me to keep out a watchful eye, that’s for sure.

  16. Carson Brackney Avatar

    The negativity doesn’t bother me if it’s accompanied by a decent argument and the person venting is willing to actually defend his/her position subsequent to a response.

    Unfortunately, that rarely happens. I’ve been everything from a “blowhard” to a “know-it-all” to a “cheeseball bottom feeder”. Most of the time the basher is unable or unwilling to defend his or her argument beyond that (if at all).

    The other problem is the way so many people are unable to distinguish between a disagreement and a lifelong hatred justifying perpetual ugliness. I don’t have a problem getting into a row about something with someone and still liking/respecting them at the same time. Some people don’t handle that well, though. Everything becomes very, very personal and that leads to all kinds of extended weirdness. Some folks are more than a little oversensitive and have a very hard time differentiating substantive disagreements from personal attacks.

    Lest anyone think Deb is among the oversensitive, that’s not the case. We got to know one another in the course of being on different sides of an argument and I’m sure I had more than a few smart-assed things to say throughout those discussions. It *is* possible to have debates that don’t devolve into petty sniping and grudges.

    I think we see more of this online because so many of us operate blogs or sites that discuss matters relevant to the freelance writing biz. We’re “out there” advancing positions publicly, which is something that doesn’t happen in quite the same way in the non-‘Net world.
    .-= Carson Brackney´s last blog ..Weekly Post at FWJ–Freelance Writers and Preparing for Change =-.

    1. Rachel Rueben Avatar

      I agree with Carson nothing wrong with negative statements as long as there’s a debate involved. I’ve had someone insult me a few times on a forum, but I just ignored them and guess what? They moved on to someone else. I’m like Deb though, I do take it to heart. It took all my energy not to fire back. The only thing that kept me from sounding-off was a friend who told me: “Fighting on the internet is like The Special Olympics, even if you win, you’re still retarded!” Very basic, but helpful advice.
      .-= Rachel Rueben´s last blog ..Who’s a Pimp? You Are! =-.

    2. Deb Ng Avatar

      Thank you, Carson. I sort of miss the golden days of blogging – when we were both just starting out. Even on days you and I disagreed (read: every day that eneded in y) we did so respectfully.

      Personally, I like to see opposing points of view. I appreciate it when others take the time to present an opposing side or an argument I didn’t consider. Life is boring when everyone agrees. Unfortunately there are plenty of people who feel disagreement is “You’re wrong.” or “This proves you’re an ass” without actually explaining why.

      As writers, we should all know how to be respectful in our disagreement and not call names, threaten or bully. Carson and I have been doing it for….how many years now?

      1. Carson Brackney Avatar

        Yeah, it *has* been a while, hasn’t it. I’m not going to think too hard about that because I’m already struggling with the onset of a mid-life crisis, though.

        You’re right, though… We were able to duke it out without getting creepy, sneaky and (too) snotty. Wish I could always manage that!

        .-= Carson Brackney´s last blog ..Weekly Post at FWJ–Freelance Writers and Preparing for Change =-.

  17. Jodee Avatar

    @ Rachel: While I appreciate where you are coming from with your comment, as the mother of a daughter with special needs who has participated in the Special Olympics, I have to tell you that there are worse things that someone can be than “retarded.” I find that word offensive, frankly.
    .-= Jodee´s last blog ..Are You Trying to be a Big Deal or the Real Deal? =-.

  18. CD Avatar

    I had left a few comments on an’s guide page where I saw some incorrect facts, and he responded by trolling my personal journal for months until a tragedy struck, and suddenly leaping to the attack.

    While I reported this behavior to the higher ups, nothing was done about it, and this inept write still stumbles along delivering things that are just wrong.

  19. Nancy Avatar

    When I first began full-time freelancing about three years ago, I was shocked at the venom from some other freelancers — aimed not just at me (I’ve had that once but that was on a “private forum”) but at many brand new journalists that asked some basic (and legitimate!) questions.

    For that reason, I generally stay out of the forums. That’s too bad because I think we could all help each other but it’s not worth the time, emotion that it wrings from you (or at least from me!).

    The other thing I’ve noticed is that while I’ve always been open about my clients/contacts/rates and been glad to refer other freelancers, that’s rare. Maybe I’m naive, but I think there’s enough work out there for everyone. Candidly, having colleagues write for the same publication that I do has paid off for me in many ways. When I was snowed in (literally) one week this winter a friend/colleague traveled/wrote for a client of mine. She earned great money and I earned the respect of the client for having a back-up plan.

    Of course those that wrote this sort of backstabbing happens in newsrooms/offices are correct. That’s one reason I was happy to leave the newsroom and become full-time freelance. I’m just sorry it’s so rampant in this environment, too.

  20. Daisy Peasblossom Avatar

    I’ve been writing online for about two years. At first, I didn’t pay much attention to the forums because I was busy building a body of work. Then, I finally realized you must read and comment on many websites in order to pull in readers. I dipped into the forums a couple of times, but mostly found them to be full of silly, social chat that wasn’t terribly relevant to writing. It seemed to me to bear a strong resemblance to the kind of adolescent nonsense found on the trade channel in World of Warcraft. I’ve noted that several younger writers have gotten their feelings hurt in forums arenas. It is a shame that some folks can’t keep their mind on the business of writing and positively supporting each other (I might add that at this time, I have several online writing “friends” whom I can count on for honest comments and to be a mutual cheering squad.) Words can hurt, but we must move on, let it go and keep writing. Let’s say that last part again: Just keep on writing and submitting.

  21. Steve Amoia Avatar

    Deb, in terms of forums and other online comment sites, if everyone were required to post with their real names, we might see far fewer attacks. This debate, while focused on freelance writers, also points to a decline in civility and manners in other areas of society.

    One piece of advice that I try to take and would suggest to others is the example of Jackie Robinson. The former American baseball player and civil rights advocate endured the most vile abuse during his first year (1947) in Major League Baseball. He was the first African-American to play in the big leagues. He had to promise his boss, Branch Rickey, not to retaliate to verbal or physical abuse during that first year with Brooklyn. Mr. Robinson’s sterling example opened the doors for many others.
    .-= Steve Amoia´s last blog ..Week/Giornata 34 of the Italian Serie A: It’s a Two-Horse Race =-.

    1. Deb Ng Avatar

      Ah yes, Steve, I call it keyboard courage. I don’t mind anonymous comments if they’re respectful, especially because some freelancers are afraid to speak their mind for being attacked.

      I like your Jackie Robinson analogy.

  22. Mira Temkin Avatar
    Mira Temkin

    Actually, I was kind of surprised to read this article. Having been a freelance writer for more than 25 years, I’ve never experienced this first hand. I’ve seen writers gang up on another writer for a comment they made on some board. I’ve seen writers make comments about other writers they feel are not as good. But I’ve never seen writers waste their valuable time trying to sabotage another writer. This was most informative.

    1. Deb Ng Avatar

      It’s happened, Mira. I’m not sure I understand the anger directed at other freelancers. I think if we put that passion into our writing we could probably produce some awesome stuff.

  23. Darlene Bishop Avatar

    I’ve been writing online since 1998 and I’ve found the freelance writing community to be the WORST for flaming I’ve come across – seconded only by the Internet marketing “gurus.” I agree with Nancy that the venom displayed is shocking, and I, too, stay away from the forums and comment on very few blogs. It’s really sad, the help and interaction with other writers would be great, but it’s not worth the tension to me.


  24. Antony Hayes Avatar


    I can appreciate this article. Only recently I advertised my writing services on Warrior Forums; unfortunately someone had to call $12 an article expensive and under 5 days a slow turn around. I really wish some people would rather not speak if they dont have anything constructive to say.

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