“I’m a writer, not a non-profit organization.”

“I’m a writer, not a non-profit organization.”

I grew up believing that one day, I would become a doctor, law or accountant. At Chinese school, that’s what they drill into you – that this golden trinity of professions would eventually allow you to achieve Valhalla and you would live a wonderful life, surrounded by riches.


It was only in Form 4 that I realized I hated anything and everything mainstream. Somehow, the more popular something was, the more I resented it. I was not a loner, but I had my small circle of friends I was comfortable with. But apart from the time spent in school (and thinking about boys, ha!), I found solace in books. I loved books, and I loved scribbling in my diary, which I have since burnt to ashes as I don’t like reading what I write.


I told my parents I wanted to study Mass Communications instead of the typical medicine/law/accounting route. They were aghast. I told my teachers and friends the same thing. Their response: “But why?”


Why? Because I wanted to graduate and do something that I love. I wouldn’t go as far as to say that I have a flair for the written word, as I believe that when you’re passionate about something, you work speaks for itself. Because I wanted to show the others who pooh-poohed the writing profession that the pen is mightier than the sword. Because I didn’t want to be like everyone else in my class.


My parents finally gave me the green light, having reached an agreement with me that if I finished my Form 6 and still wanted to do Mass Comm, I could go ahead. I graduated, and found a job at a reputable publishing company that paid peanuts. And yet, I was over the moon – I was finally chasing my dream!


Along the way, I gained some wonderful mentors, but lost some close friends to the unforgiving clutches of time. I learned a lot about how the industry works, and I got the opportunity to work with and meet so many interesting individuals. For that, I’m grateful for starting my career where I did.




2017 marks the 8th year I’ve been writing (3 as a full-time writer and the rest as a freelance writer), and I’ve learned that the industry is largely based on trust. The younger me was naïve and a tad too trusting, which led me to think that once an adult said something, they would stick to it and carry through. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

“Give discount lah, I don’t have so much budget leh!”

“Can you simply simply write something for me ah?”

“Wah… need to pay deposit one ah?”

“Eh, other people charge me cheaper leh!”


As a freelance writer, you’re only valuable when your services are needed. It’s different from other industries – if I were a homebaker, for example, the orders would have to be fully paid for before I proceed to bake them.


But for writers and designers, we never have the upper hand in business deals. I learnt to protect my own interests by charging a deposit, which to me, reflects the client’s sincerity in wanting my work and paying for it. A wise woman I know said, “Writing is a skill, and skills have value. People belittle it simply because they can’t see it at work.” I couldn’t agree more.


My writer and designer friends face the same problem, especially with clients who intentionally (or unintentionally) delay payment because they’ve received what they want. Even with friends, who feel that they deserve a ‘friend price’ because “eh, we fren fren what!”


To me, if my friend has a business, I would try my best to support him or her whole-heartedly. If your own friend can’t even support and respect your craft, how can others? A sincere note to everyone whose friend has a business – if you want to engage his or her services, it’s a nice gesture to insist on paying normal price as everyone else, unless your friend is the one to initiate the offer of a discount. You either support 100%, or don’t support at all. Don’t do it halfway and demand to be given a hefty discount, because that’s not what friends are for.


If you’re a writer or designer, stand firm and stick to your principles. If you’re confident in what you do, know that you fully deserve what you’re asking for. There are others in the industry who don’t mind swallowing their pride for a quick buck, but don’t have the skills or experience to take on the job. I’ve had clients who approached me, asked for a quotation then opted for someone cheaper, but came back in the end because the job was a total mess and needed to be corrected. Precious time and money was wasted. Pay monkey, get peanuts, right?




Sadly, the freelance industry in Malaysia is far from being fair. The unspoken rules, if any, protect the client instead of the freelancers. But if we don’t take pride in our trade, our careers become meaningless. In order for us to stay passionate, we need to take steps to protect ourselves from unknown and unpredictable circumstances. We need to look out for each other.





1 Comment

  1. Aaron Tang
    / Reply

    Well said Michelle,

    You’re an awesome writer. Don’t let anyone take advantage of you!

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