Once, I got an email from a Christian author, asking if I could edit his manuscript. I had the availability, and his writing seemed to be in pretty good shape, so I started in on the first chapter. As I see it, his interpretation of scripture was relatively sound. His personal anecdotes melded well with the verses he laid out. His overall thesis was encouraging, and probably pretty inspiring to those who would seek it out. But ultimately, I had to turn down the job.
The problem? I’m not a Christian. And despite having once been a Christian, I felt icky providing feedback on content that goes completely against my morals. That would be the same as me (a vegetarian) writing chicken liver reviews for KFC.
It’s hard to turn down work when you’re a freelancer. Any gig that comes into my inbox is potential money for rent, utilities, food, childcare, and all the other stuff. I thought, for an hour or so while I worked on this project, that I could set aside my worldview and edit in an unbiased way. After all, that would be money for me — and I’m a professional, so I should be able to turn off my logical brain long enough to help this person, right?
But then I realized the problem wasn’t so much about my personal mentality. It was about serving my clients. I couldn’t genuinely serve this client as an agnostic, because I have no idea what his Christian audience wants. And if I don’t know that, I can’t honestly guide him in any way that is helpful. By this reasoning, I determined I couldn’t take on this project — but I knew of a really smart, Christian editor who might be game, who I could pass it along to.
Turning down work is hard, but it’s an essential part of narrowing your focus and gaining expertise and credibility. Nobody takes seriously a writer who claims to be able to do everything. But do a few things really well, and you’ll see doors open for you that would have otherwise been out of reach, if your desk was too cluttered from taking every task that came your way.
Plus, it’s good to be genuine as often as possible, at least that’s what I think.