In an unstable gig economy, a freelancer writer and/or editor might be tempted to take whatever comes along, to accept paltry wages in order to build a portfolio, to perform work that makes one's stomach churn.
In a word: Don't.
I've posted ludicrous RFPs for gigs and pointed out why no self-respecting freelancer should accept them. Those who do grossly undercut the value of the service they provide. That results in gross devaluation of the profession as a whole. It reduces writing and editing to commodities: writers and editors become widgets, not craftsmen. Competent writing and editing require sophisticated skills, critical thinking, and a touch of artistry. First and foremost, it's based in craft. Any craftsman knows that practice doesn't make perfect, it makes excellence.
I'm a professional. My skill and time are worth more than pennies per hour, so I negotiate fees commensurate with that. That means service gets expensive, especially on larger projects. That does not mean my skilled service cannot fit into a client's budget. I often work with clients to complete their projects in piecemeal fashion. This has two benefits: 1) the client receives the complete service for fees that don't break the bank and 2) I have a predictable income for a certain number of days or weeks. Especially when working mainly with one-off projects, a predictable income offers reassurance.
Taking whatever comes along oftentimes translates into researching subjects about which the writer knows nothing for the purpose of writing intelligently on the topic. This scattershot approach to career development imparts no in-depth knowledge that specialization confers. The writer cannot address any topic in-depth: it's all surface content. I've learned in the past few years which subjects to avoid. For instance, I don't bid on projects that require in-depth technical knowledge of, say, the latest smartphone apps. I have neither knowledge nor interest in such things. However, if someone wants a case study on a particular product or an article on a specific dog breed, then I'm all in. Let's get it done!
Writing nonfiction is pretty much cut-and-dried. It doesn't have much wiggle room, except for, perhaps, opinion pieces reviewing the pros and cons of said topic. Writing fiction spans a whole range of gray. I've learned--and continue to learn--through experience what I will and will not write or edit.
Take horror, for instance. Horror stories prey on my impressionable imagination. When I already have trouble sleeping, deliberately immersing myself into something disturbing and grotesque is just stupid. I don't edit horror stories and I certainly won't write them.
Recently, I received an RFP from someone seeking a ghostwriter who presented his story summary. It's basically a rape fantasy from the rapist's point of view. Such things crash against my moral boundaries. It's sick and disturbing. I fear that buyer needs intensive therapy and heavy duty medication. I cannot and will not write something like that.
Another potential client asked me to rewrite chapters of several well-known and popular books for his motivational guide. I declined that project, too, as it came way too close to plagiarism--another hard boundary in my code of ethics. Other ethical quandaries hit my desk: someone who wants a freelancer to write his ethics paper, someone who wants a freelancer to copy and paraphrase someone else's content, etc. Such project requests abound. I refuse to bid on any of them.
Like everyone else, I need money. I have to earn a living. Unlike some colleagues, I have standards and ethics that protect my self-respect and peace of mind. Professionalism doesn't only encompass skill, it also covers ethics. Oftentimes, it includes tact; however, I've never been accused of tact. Do you want to know what it's like to work with me, with a writer/editor who focuses on the quality of the project? Then take a gander at my client testimonials.
The gig economy is unstable and I'm accepting new clients. I won't say you can't do better than me, because there is always someone better. There is always someone who's more skilled, cheaper, faster, more knowledgeable, etc. However, I offer good value with a combination of acknowledged craftsmanship and steady professionalism. You could do a whole lot worse.
Every word counts.