Rules for freelance writers … can be broken. Sometimes.

This is a story with a moral. Call it an idiom; a Tiffany’s Fable. Whatever. (Clue: It’s about breaking one of my own stringent rules for freelance writers, and really learning from the experience.)


I can be a bit of a brass. I’ve been freelancing a long, long time so I have my rules. I love my processes. And I’m known to be pretty inflexible about changing them, amending them or putting them to one side.

There are procedures to follow. Briefs to get. Quotes to send. Deposits to receive. And then, only then, there is good, solid work to do. That’s the way I’ve always done it, and that’s the way I like it.

My mother-in-law told me, in the early years of my relationship with her son, that I had “more rules than G-d”. She’s right.

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But I did something once that shocked even me. So out of character was it that it more or less rocked my world. And it gave me pause to think about the good that comes from abandoning your strictures occasionally.

You see, I’d been on holiday. A working holiday, yes, but still: a beachside vacation. (Back when those were a thing.) It had ended and my husband and I were driving back to Johannesburg from the Garden Route.

It’s a 12-hour drive.

A client of mine, for whom I had created some ad copy, had been unable to review it until that morning, and needed to get it to the publishers the following day.

He wanted a few extra headline options, a couple of new lines, a few tweaks. Nothing major if I’d been at home. Nothing major if we’d still been on solid ground, back at the beach.

But I was in the car, sharing 12 hours of driving.


Under normal circumstances I’d apologise, explain that the day was an out-of-office for me and leave the tweaks up to the client, in his own wisdom.

But not this time. This time I figured, Bugger it. Let’s help the guy. He’s nice. I did a good job on the copy and I’d hate it to get messed up now, at the last minute.

I put the client on speaker-phone and over 30 kilometres and several short conversations, we got the job done. No pens, no paper. No comfort zone. And a completely weird copywriting experience for rules-crazed me.

I may even, should the situation and potential outcome dictate, consider doing it again.

Moral: Most of the time, rules for freelance writers are great. They keep things neat and tidy and ensure that your back (and the crucial bit just below it) is covered. But sometimes, when the situation warrants it, you can do great work in an off-the-wall way, space, place or vehicle. Even when you have to break your rules to get it out into the world.

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