Friday, September 05, 2014

The Worst Client Ever

I've been freelance writing for several years, slowly building a client base and increasing my pay as I went. During this time, I've been lucky to have worked with some amazing people. Clients who know how to treat a writer.

Let's face it--that isn't an easy thing. Writers need lots of this:



Or, at the very least, not this:



99.99999% of all clients seem to realize that when you yell at a creative person, you tend to block the very creativity you need. But there's always that tiny percentage who love making people miserable. They're like the mean newspaper editor in a movie.



My worst client ever was like that. When I started working with him (for him, in his case), I was genuinely excited. The per-article rate was extremely high and he didn't seem to have very many writers, despite his many ads searching for them.



I noticed right away that his tone was quite a bit harsher than usual. But I'm a Southern girl. We're a bit...sensitive to that.



It only got worse. He'd fire hateful, threatening group emails out over small things. He'd reject countless articles, calling them, "a mess." Finally, it occurred to me that his cruel rejections were causing me to lock up at the keyboard. With every sentence, I'd hear his mean voice in my head, telling me I suck. Then it started seeping into my other writing, including my fiction. That was when it was ON!



As writers, we will be forced to deal with criticism. We'll grow from it. But when we find ourselves dealing with a toxic critic...and that critic harms our creative spirit...it's time to walk away.

Or, if you're Mary Poppins, open your umbrella and fly away.

Have you ever dealt with a toxic critic?

72 comments:

  1. I had a female boss who was just a mean, miserable person. She criticized everything anyone did. When I turned in my resignation letter to her superior, she did an about face, which shocked me at the time. Now I realize she was worried about my exit interview with HR!

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  2. I have dealt with a few at work, the worst thing about them is that they are so miserable that all they want to do is make other people feel the same way. Walking away is the best thing to do... if you can.

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  3. Toxic people are out there and come in all forms. If you can get away from them, you have to, or they'll suck you down as well.
    That saying about Southern Gentility is so true. Like the saying 'Bless your heart.' What some people don't realize is the whole saying is 'Bless your heart, you stupid fool.'

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  4. he probably has a small.... well, you know what me means :)

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  5. toxic people ...ugh...do not walk, but RUN, far away from them!

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  6. Toxic people suck. I've worked with a few and boy do they know how to make the work day miserable. I miss the big $ but not the attitude.

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  7. Toxic people don't only crush creativity, they suck the life out of their victims. They are miserable creatures. I've has a few in my life time and I learned at an early age to walk away.
    Hugs,
    JB

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  8. I haven't dealt with anything so severe as a writer, thankfully. But I have experienced the boss from hell, and trust me. She was a doozy.

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  9. I think I need to work for this guy! I send out drafts and practically beg people for critique and all I ever get back is, "I loved it!"

    THAT IS NOT HELPFUL!!!

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  10. Yeah, Renee, I love feedback and I do get plenty of that. But "This is a mess" isn't really constructive feedback. Or you'd get an email that said, "We had to do a LOT of work on this one" and not say what the work was. I never had that problem from any other client, so it was always a complete puzzle what on earth I was doing wrong with him. When I ended it, life was much better.

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  11. This is why I could never be an author. It's one thing to say this report is wrong, please check your numbers, quite another when it's your ideas suck. Writing is such a personal thing, that there's really no right or wrong way to do it because it's all a matter of opinion & perception.

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  12. My worst critics have been fans of Stephen King. When my first novel Drowned Sorrow got published, many reviewers called me the female version of Stephen King. Some of King's fans didn't like it and have toured the Internet to insult me :-s

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  13. :-)

    There is definitely a line between critique and just mean, I agree.

    I just know my work is far from perfect, so when all I get is positive feedback, I have to rely on my own perception to help myself improve and that isn't easy.

    I was mostly joking. I don't want mean or useless criticism. :-)

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  14. I've been lucky and have never had to deal with people like that very much. I agree though, it's best to walk away from that kind of environment. No good can ever come out of it. I actually feel sorry for people like that though--they have to be extremely miserable to behave that way.

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  15. I LOVE this post. This is precisely why I'm having so much trouble getting started in freelancing. I'm terrified of THAT guy (or girl--I've had some terrible female bosses).

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  16. That's when it's time to fire your boss!

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  17. That's the best thing about freelancing--you CAN fire your boss, as Jay said! Megan, I can say that in three years, I've only had one client that behaved that way. I always do one trial assignment now and if I see red flags, I decline to do additional work. But there are few instances where that happens. I have had to get used to the fact that when you're working with someone for whom English is not their first language, their emails can come through as very harsh. It is AMAZING, though, the difference between the way professional editors at publishing houses treat authors and the way business professionals treat authors. Professional editors have a much more delicate way and they're helpful, not hurtful. Marketing firms are also kind like that, generally. They know to treat writers like professionals and not condescend or sound harsh.

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  18. Encountered a toxic critic? Nope...can't say that I have - though I hope I never do!

    I'll sing this for him as I fly away:
    SUPERCALIFRAGILISTICEXPIALIDOCIOUS!
    you are quite the boss from hell -
    I think you are ATROCIOUS!

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  19. I've dealt with toxic people. They are all the same. They are miserable, superior and hateful people. They want you to be as miserable as they are. I too refuse.

    Have a fabulous day. ☺

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  20. Oooh. Someone delivered some criticism on a serial story I wrote for the A-to-Z challenge. They came in at letter M, plopped down their honesty, and left. It took me a moment to recover from the slap. I ended up getting an email from a different blogger telling me that she was ticked off on my behalf. :)

    I suppose it's one of those things where you can't please everyone.

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  21. Yes I worked with toxic people but why Im so slow to noticed that??
    After a time I think omy why I was so many time working with this person???

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  22. Yikes, he sounds like a nightmare. I've never had that, luckily.

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  23. I used to have a toxic boss - until someone suggested that the next time I was subjected to her vitriole I said sweetly: 'Can you tell me what it is you're so afraid of?' That shut her up!

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  24. My present work situation is pretty toxic; I'm glad I work at home and I try not to let the emails get to me (sent either corporately to all or by supervisor to our group). Options are few and far between out there for what I do so I am learning to suck it up and just do the best I can with what I have to work with :)

    betty

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  25. Hi Stephanie! I wonder what the heck he expects? Doesn't it occur to him that he has no writers because he's so miserable?
    Good for you, you should walk away. I'm sure it was hard because the pay was so good, but honestly, who needs the aggravation? Especially if he's messing with your muse. That is BAD.
    You have a gift to share. If it's not recognized there, it will be somewhere else.
    Blessings,
    Ceil

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  26. Wow, what a horror story, Stephanie. I'm so glad you got out of there, and you clearly stopped hearing him in your head! I wonder what he's up to now.

    I never worked with someone that critical. However, in a creative writing course I took in college, one guy was continually harsh when people shared their writing, even after several comments from the teacher. Then he shared his writing, which was abysmal. Our feedback was less critical than his. He still didn't get the hint. Then after sharing his second piece and getting constructive criticism, he dropped out. It was a much nicer class after that!

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  27. This is so true and I'm glad you walked away in time. It is difficult when the money is good, but so necessary. Good for you and thanks for stopping by again.

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  28. I had a boss once tell me that my work sucked. It wasn't a writing project, but it was still enough to make me not want to do anything for him, let alone do it well.

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  29. Ugg, those people need to go play in the road and get hit by a bus, just a little bit, nothing life threatening lol they get their kicks out of being mean. I've dealt with a few, told them to pound sand up their umm bum and went on my way.

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  30. When I was a reporter, I worked with an assistant editor who had to leave her fingerprints on everything. When she "corrected" our articles, she added errors. I sneaked down to the graphics department and repaired them. She never said a word. She was not a nice person, though. No one has really affected my writing, except to help me make it better.

    Love,
    Janie

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  31. My most toxic critic is myself. Which is sad, bad and true. There have been others but I can outdo them. I do outdo them.

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  32. I'm not a writer, so I can't say that I have ever had a toxic critic. But man, that guy you worked for sounds mean! I can't believe you stayed on as long as you did! Good for you for quitting when you did though!

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  33. Great post! I had a toxic boss once who would literally growl at us. I wanted to laugh. I thought she was a lunatic. At first I felt bad when she growled at me, but after I thought about it I realized that the problem was her own doing. Not mine. I didn't stress out about her, but she really stressed out my co-worker in a bad way.

    I think those toxic people have mental issues or really messed up lives. I just pray that karma catches up to them real quick and they learn.

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  34. I had a boss who had to read and correct everything I wrote including simple memos. His corrections always were worse than what I wrote, but it made him feel bossily (it is too a word.)

    Oh yeah, and he was an idiot!

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  35. Critic? Not toxic....but I'm not a writer either. My one boss, I'll love him forever...after I made a huge error in a brochure for the Chamber of Commerce,. he told me "Anni...100 years from now it'll make no difference". I tend to be reminded of that from him very often in my life.

    As for mini-series on TV...we don't have TV anymore. And I love it.

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  36. I've worked for some pretty mean-spirited lowlifes.

    My dad used to tell me to focus on the day when you can walk into some dirtbag's office and say "I quit!"

    And that's why I'm not writing this from a prison cell...

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  37. I think all writers have those clients. I know I have. But I've found that life is too short to spend quality time with people who try to make me feel inferior.

    Run away!!!!
    R

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  38. I think every type of work I've ever done has had many toxic critics. Some people you just can't make happy.

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  39. I once had a toxic boss who got angry when people called in sick. Not faking sick, actual sick. I actually went to work once when I felt miserable just so he wouldn't yell at me, but he yelled at me anyway.

    That company had awful managers...

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  40. Good for you for firing him! Mean hateful people tend to be caustic to everyone in order to hide their own inadequacy. It’s obvious that he is jealousy of talented writers. I bet he couldn’t write a creative sentence to save his soul. He sounds like an all-around wretched human being—bless his miserable little heart.

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  41. Good for you for realizing it was time to get away from that guy! Toxic people are not good to be around- especially when they get inside our heads. If we let them stay too long it can do some serious damage!

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  42. Years ago I worked in a toxic workplace. So many people were nasty that they affected my self-esteem and productivity. Once I left, boom, my life changed.

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  43. The most toxic critic I have ever had was my mother -- and I had to finally just walk away. It was the right decision.

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  44. I haven't yet. But I did love your Southern Gentility quote. As a Southern girl myself, I do appreciate that quote! :)

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  45. I have dealt with toxic (or just ill-mannered) people and honestly, criticisms can come off as helpful but nobody needs exhaust fumes. I'm glad you walked away!

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  46. I'm a freelance writer myself and had my articles published on YCN while it was still around and while most of the editors over there were really nice if I strayed from my animal niche, I would get a different editor and at times they would reject my article for things that weren't even wrong. I found out later that they were new and just getting trained and didn't know what they were doing so that explained a lot.

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  47. I also have worked for toxic people some time ago..
    please visit me in free time:)
    http://mesmerize87.blogspot.com/

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  48. Life's too short to put up with a toxic critic or gloomy Gus. Not only do they mess with our heads and creativity, but there's always the risk of their poisonous outlook becoming contagious.

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  49. Sorry that your client was so nasty. Some of my worst critics used to be family members, but they've mellowed a bit over the years.

    Julie

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  50. Hi Stephanie,
    Seen you at my place a few times and at Betsy's and other bloggy pals' blogs. You seem to have a divine characteristic of omnipresence!
    So thought I'd drop in to say Hi - but can't find the coffee anywhere, where have you hidden it? !!! . . lol
    That guy you worked for sounds a right little Hitler to me - they pop up all over the place, don't they. They are there own worst enemies because if they did the opposite and encouraged writers, like all good managers should do, they would enjoy the benefits themselves as well as having some happy bunnies working for them.

    Loved your little notice about the gentile southern bell. . . lol.
    Love your blog and I have signed up as your latest buddy, an eccentric ex-ambulanceman - definitely non-toxic I hasten to add . . . lol
    Cheers ~ Eddie

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  51. . . . . and a Brit with a great sense of humour (spelled properly lol) . . . I forgot to say that. I believe you like the way we talk !! . . . lol

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  52. Oh Stephanie what good advice. But not just for writing/creativity. I think really for anyone in your life who leans more this way. It's not always easy but removing them from your life can be such an important step.

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  53. Truthfully? I've been pretty lucky in that regard, or overly careful about where I place my art. There are definitely some reviewers who get off on being mean and nasty, even if deep down they love what they've read. I had one that gave a book a 1 star scathing review, but she was one of the first people to add the next book on Goodreads. Go fig. People are weird. :)

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  54. Isn't it sad that these people exist and some have power! They must eat only spam and haggis (sorry to all the Scots out there). If one can fly away-fly and be free and if one can't, tune them out as best as one can because these toxic people can not change the way you think. They are lonely creatures who probably have some freaky obsession like pretending they are still a baby. I don't know why that crept into my head but seeing them in a crib with a diaper and a nookie just makes me giggle

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  55. Fortunately, I have not dealt with a toxic critique, but I'd be the first to grab my umbrella and fly away if I ever met one!

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  56. Once, and that was way too much. And you are right about the sensitivity. I think 'thin skin' is part of a writer's DNA.

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  57. awful--I never had anything like that with my writing but I've had a few teachers in random subjects (science and math mainly lol) that made me feel terrible. My sixth grade science teacher flat-out said to me "what are you, stupid?" when I couldn't figure out the ventricles of the heart. :\

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  58. People like these are worse for creativity. Get away from him...fast as you can!

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  59. The creative work versus someone else paying you for it is so hard!
    Missie @ A Flurry of Ponderings

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  60. Beth Ellyn--I had a contractor call me stupid when I couldn't hang drywall well during the flood. I figure he couldn't write a book, so it didn't bother me at all!

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  61. The flipster mantra is that "we won't put up with other people's junk." You're too talented to put up with it.

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  62. Mean bosses are awful. I've endured a few tyrants over the years. If you're lucky, though, you survive them and learn from them.

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  63. As comforting as it is to have a job, it's just not worth it to have to deal with toxic day after day. I worked with evil once. Totally fake kindness and interest, but evil backstabbing and politics was his real MO. It was such a relief to leave that environment.

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  64. NOT cool! Doesn't he know that it is better to nurture, and not be a butt!?

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  65. Hateful criticism without a solution does the reverse, instead of motivating someone to be better, it disables creativity. We have a newly appointed boss who was quick to offer insulting comments and was very controlling there was too much micro-management. It wasn't very constructive and it was very demoralizing. I left because I felt mentorship was missing and I will never grow as a designer with someone like that.

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  66. I have never run into one in my professional life or personal life. But I do tend to run into them on internet forums and in blog comments. And I have learned to ignore and just move on.

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  67. I am just glad you were able to walk away while you still remember you are a writer and he is poison. (I had stronger words, but I am keeping it all G rated).

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  68. I've been lucky not to have to deal with toxic critics as a writer. I've heard many beta reader horror stories, but all mine have been terrific.

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  69. Once I was trying to be creative with my program code and I messed something up and my boss at the time did one of these.

    *head tilted forward*
    *looking over reading glasses*
    *serious look on face*

    I'm telling you. All creativity was gone from my system for about six months! lol

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  70. For sure. In almost every job I've had.

    Which is why I'm now back to being very happily self-employed.

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