Freelance Writer Files: What do clients want?

“Please stop! Don’t do any more!”

My client’s voice on the phone sounded frightened and panicked. But that was not unusual. What was, though, was that she was stopping me from working on part of a larger project. I had ambivalent feelings about halting mid-project.

On the one hand, I like big, multi-faceted projects like this one, involving both print and Web writing. (And, of course, the ability to bill hours for research, communications, writing, revising, etc.) But on the other hand, I had a major problem with the project. Namely, that try as I might, I could not understand what the client wanted. This kind of client (of whom I have had few) might be called the “Oracle at Delphi” type.

The Delphic Oracle client

As you will recall from your studies of ancient Greek culture, the Delphic Oracle (a.k.a. the Pythia) was a priestess of Apollo with the gift of prophecy. She sat by a rock out of which certain vapors emanated, which may have been like ancient LSD. She would give you an answer, all right. Several, even, if you had more gold. The only problem was that her pronouncements were subject to many different interpretations.

Guess what I'm thinking.

The Delphic Oracle type of client can be frustrating—and kind of cute; they do try so hard to communicate their needs—but not nearly so crazy-making as the “Black Box” type. This client won’t tell you at all what s/he wants. You have to guess what’s inside the Black Box (the client’s head). Don’t worry, s/he will let you know if you guess wrong. Which, of course, you will.

I am a Gemini, which means Mercury, the astral body named after the messenger to the gods, is my ruling planet. So communication is my happy, happy place. I enjoy it. And I’m pretty good at getting the point and making a point, most of the time, anyway. So I feel terrible when, whether because of the client’s or my own failure to communicate (Did you see an image of Strother Martin wearing mirrored aviators just now? I did.) produces less-than-peachy results.

The most important thing (actually, two things) about which I’m unclear: One, am I off my client’s project, or just on this part of it? And two, is the client panicking because of my bill, which I e-mailed on January 1? Oh, there’s a third thing, the most vital of all: Will I get paid?

I imagine I’ll find out soon. Say, can you direct me to the nearest Delphic Oracle? Umm. Maybe I’d better just consult my Magic 8 Ball.


  1. Great post, Liz. And I can totally relate! Hope you had this client sign a contract to ensure you get paid … Good luck!!

  2. Julie, this is the one case where I didn’t do the contract. D’oh! I won’t make that mistake again. Thanks for your good wishes. Hope you’re doing great! See you Thursday.

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