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The pros and cons of online writing and editing

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Back in the '80s, when I began writing and reporting, if someone had something bad to say she could whisper it into the ear of her colleague: "Did you hear that Wiegler used a dangling modifier in her story on hamster mating?!"

Now it's 2013, though, and everyone with a tablet or a smartphone can make or break our careers. (To be fair, your local orthodontist suffers the same risk, and his secretary might just call you up pleading to write him up more fairly.)

Your online reputation is one thing, whether that means landing a job or a home, but your online writing reputation is still another. As every self-involved, neurotic scribe knows, the Internet is a bastion of haters and would-be career enders. For this very reason, I rarely read comments on my articles - or at least not until much time has passed. This is not because I think I'm a bad writer or the world is inherently evil, but because I know I'm sensitive.

Online writing is also risky when one jumps onto one of the contractor web sites - such as Guru or Odesk. These are fine sites for writers, graphic artists, editors and PRs to make income, but caveat emptor: just as your orthodontist would like to be judged independently by you, so would you like to be critiqued by real persons.

Persons, not people. Every person has a subjective understanding of the world, whether that is colored by your actual performance or his indigestion, his misogyny or your last name. Maybe he hates Jews? Maybe she doesn't like Americans? Maybe, just maybe, you were too good and that rankled Mr. Ph.D. Smartypants?

Overall, I find that ratings are largely fair, but there is enough error out there to give us all pause. Mathematically, the best rating systems are those in which more than say, a dozen people do the rating. If over a thousand people have been to the Bozo Inn and nine out of ten people dig it, I probably will, too. But if eight out of ten people hated a dentist, could it be that maybe he had attracted a rough clientele? Maybe he'd been going through a staffing change and the agency had sent him all dodos?

On the contractor sites, writers and editors are rated on qualities such as "communicativeness" and "skills". How can someone who hires us to edit a 40-page academic paper on widgets possibly know how skilled we might be if, say, we were editing what we usually do, widgets-attached-to-hamsters?

So be forewarned. Writing online is a decent way to make extra income--hey, here I am on Examiner--but remember, there are a lot of opinions out there. The important one is the one you have of yourself, and if you do consistently high-quality work, it will show.

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