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Chronicles of freelance writers: Why 2023 was a bad year for writers.

November 30, 2022, Chat GPT was unleashed to the public. At the time, I didn’t think much about the new technology. Why would I? We get thousands of apps released on the App Store and Google Play Store. This could as well be just another new tech but boy was I wrong. In this article, we will see how the rise of AI impacted writers in 2023.


Skale Money Key Takeaways

  • AI detection tools emerged as a challenge for freelance writers in 2023, requiring adaptation and caution when using writing assistance tools.
  • Maintaining a private professional life can be beneficial, as public sharing of multiple client relationships may be viewed negatively by some clients.
  • Freelance writing work is often seasonal, with the last quarter typically being the busiest and most lucrative.
  • Diversifying into less popular niches can provide opportunities during slow periods in your primary writing niche.
  • Despite challenges, maintaining a growth mindset and perseverance are crucial for success as a freelance writer in a changing industry landscape.

Working successfully as a freelancer is a dream come true. You get to work when you want, avoid work commutes, earn a higher income and get to build professional relationships. I have been a freelance writer since 2020 and believed Chat Gpt was just another hype. 

Fast forward to 12, January 2023. I am busy writing an article for an agency and I see an email notification. At the time I thought it was another article assignment so I didn’t check the email till I was done with the article. A few hours go by then I decide to check the new assignment.

The email subject reads: Termination of agreement with (Company name).  I opened the email and it reads:

Dear Cosmas, 

your services are no longer required at xx. Please forward your invoice to x and x  for your January briefs. 

I am no HR professional but I think the email could have been sent more humanely and professionally. I tell myself all is well all is well like in the Indian movie The 3 Idiots. The next action was to inquire why my services were terminated abruptly. 

This makes me wonder, as freelance writers we usually sign “Contracts.” However, I don’t believe they are binding especially if you work in a different timezone. Let me know what you think.

Weirdly enough, instead of getting feedback via email, the person in charge ranted online about how writers are using AI to write content. They share a link to a tool they use to check for AI. They didn’t mention anyone in particular but this was no coincidence and you always know when a message is directed to you indirectly. We see it all the time on WhatsApp statuses.

I message them and tell them I saw the post. I let them know that I didn’t use AI to write the article and I shared a screenshot of the tool they used and other popular tools at the time. 

I have redeemed my reputation, I thought. I eagerly wait for their feedback. I honestly didn’t use AI to write the article. Tools I use are Grammarly and Google Docs. A few minutes later I got an email. It reads:

Bombshell! Reality dawns on me. They mean business and their decision is final. I start fretting. What’s happening? Why me? Why now? I immediately realize the “Contract is just a piece of paper” I have been wrongfully terminated and there’s nothing I can do about it. This was one of my best clients to work with for the past year. They had a great team and company culture. But unfortunately, all good things come to an end.

Back to the drawing board. Why did this happen and how do I avoid this from happening again? After going through the five stages of grief and receiving my payment. I analyzed the dreadful email again. I got to learn a few things: 

Rise of AI content detection tools

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In the first quarter of 2023 as Chat GPT and other AI tools gained popularity so did AI detection tools. Before this the most popular tool was Copyscape: I was now a victim of an AI detection tool. The email read: I have a tool that’s stronger, check your article in the tool I shared.

Why are agencies using AI detection tools? Well, because ‘writers’ are using AI to write articles. Depending on your company policies this develops a conflict of interest: 

  • AI is here and it’s here to stay. Do marketers and writers embrace AI? 
  • How should AI be used in content writing? 
  • How reliable are these AI detection tools? Different tools give different scores. This begs the question of why we are relying on tools instead of reading the article. 
  • Grammarly has become a must-use tool for all writers. However, it’s AI-based. Does this affect these AI detection tools? 
  • Why are AI detection tools detecting pre-AI error (Before 2020) content as AI written?

As you can see there are many questions to answer. My findings and personal opinion as a freelance writer were: 

  • Quality before all: I believe as a writer you need to do your research, understand your client’s brand and if possible schedule interviews. 
  • Don’t use AI to write content: AI hallucinates a lot and doesn’t know what a brand’s goal is. How will AI know about a start-up when there’s no information about the start-up on the web? 
  • Don’t be a loner: Have someone check your work. An editor is ideal but you can also share the article with fellow writers if it’s a personal article. 
  • Use Grammarly with a grain of salt: Grammarly is an AI tool used for checking grammar. However, accepting all of its suggestions leads to your content being detected as AI content. 
  • Don’t rely on AI detection tools: It has been proven that these tools are problematic. Instead, as an editor or publisher read the article to see if it’s valuable to your readers. 

Private life always wins

This was a bitter pill to swallow. I learnt it the hard way. Prior to 2023, I saw prominent writers on LinkedIn posting how they had clients and they had an opening for two or three clients. I wondered if this was true or if it was a marketing tactic to get new clients. 

Clients want people with experience and as a freelance writer, you can’t depend on one source of income. You need to have at least three clients to ensure your monthly income does not run dry.

I decided to try this and start posting often about my success stories as a freelance writer. Little did I know on the other side of the world this was viewed negatively. Part of the termination email read:

You’re also posting online about all the different clients you have and you’ve literally written one article per day, that’s pristine.

Two issues to note: 

  • Some clients don’t want you to have multiple clients yet they won’t employ you or pay you a retainer fee. 
  • Some clients have no idea what it takes to make ends meet as a freelance writer. Writing a 1500-word article per day is not impossible. Assuming other clients send articles every day is also not right. 

Lesson learnt: When you build in private people don’t know what to attack!

Freelance writing is seasonal

I already knew writing work was seasonal. However, 2023 was different. It got dry and dry. Companies were testing AI to produce content and were cutting costs by laying off content writers. I wasn’t the only one affected. I could see how AI was trending on Linkedin and self-proclaimed AI gurus sprouted from thin air. 

From my experience, The first quarter of the year is usually dry. From January to March. April to June is much better and the majority of work is in the last quarter October to December. This varies from writer to writer but it’s a trend I have noticed.

Later on in the year, I had some of the best experiences like attending the Africa Energy Forum, Africa Climate Change and Onboarded new clients who I am working with in 2024. 

Venture into other niches

I mainly write for B2B SaaS brands. However, when the agency terminated my contract I didn’t have the luxury to choose the next gig. I had to look for unpopular niches that people don’t write for or don’t like posting about. 

I got to learn about gambling. I managed to secure some gigs writing about casino reviews, slots and I-gaming. I would later use the samples to secure a role with gambling.com as a casino review writer. 

Final words

Working as a freelance writer is not for the faint-hearted. Clients come and go. It’s up to you to have a growth mindset and know how to navigate through challenges. This blog site was inspired by the 2023 challenges and hopefully, it will be a source of income. Parting shot, keep learning. Never give up! 

FAQ:

How did AI impact freelance writers in 2023?

AI led to the rise of content detection tools, causing some clients to terminate contracts due to suspicions of AI-generated content. It also resulted in companies testing AI for content creation, leading to fewer opportunities for writers.

Is it advisable for freelance writers to publicly share information about their multiple clients?

It’s better to keep client information private, as some clients may view working with multiple clients negatively.

What are the typical busy seasons for freelance writers?

According to my experience, the last quarter (October to December) is usually the busiest, while the first quarter (January to March) tends to be slower.

How can freelance writers adapt during slow periods?

Venture into less popular niches to secure work during slow periods in your primary niche.

What tools should freelance writers be cautious about using?

Be cautious when using AI-based tools like Grammarly, as overreliance on them may lead to content being flagged as AI-generated by detection tools.


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