I've spent 40 years writing and perhaps 75 percent of the time I said out loud that I was a writer, I got people looking at their shoes, shaking their heads in quiet disbelief. They spent their lives hating the idea of writing anything. "Take it away, pal. I'm not fighting you for your job any time soon," they would say.
Now I review Upwork profiles. I try to be gentle, but I like being opinionated. One thing I see again and again are new members who claim to be expert writers. This, essentially, is me writing to them.
I'll start the ball rolling. The first article I ever wrote was published by The New York Times in 1981. After a long, numbing period of inactivity, I wrote for 10-15 years or so doing pickup articles for regional tourist magazines and a local weekly that resembled a hometown Boston Phoenix or Village Voice. I then started writing for agricultural trade magazines, then a sports magazine that catered to college athletic departments.
After this, I started working for three weekly newspapers with all the trimmings, which means 60 hour weeks, sub-human pay, late night school board meetings, covering every snail crossing or barn raising or bank robbery (although there were none of those in four years) in three different towns. Then I started freelancing again, this time for a richer audience. I was writing for the type of glossies you come across in bookstores. The work came with big checks, but they were too few and far between.
Then I got a job covering global finance for United Press International. While there I wrote 30,000 newsbriefs over the course of eight years, plus a daily economics column and two humor columns on the weekends.
UPI folded in 2014. About a year later, I joined Upwork.
Now, as I said, I review profiles -- it's become an amusing passtime. In doing this, I fiound out where all the new writers are coming from and I'm dismayed, troubled and shocked at their qualifications.
Many of these new writers say they have a passion for writing and accomplished some content writing along the way. To prove this is true, they post three or four photos in their portfolio that look a lot like magazine covers, but have no writing attached to them. "I wrote about agriculture," the profile says, and the proof they offer is a photograph of a tractor plowing a field.
Some of them are legit. They actually did write an article or two. They aren't very good, but it's a start.
The thing is, after two articles, with a genuine passion for writing or not, they claim to be experts.
I'm the type of guy who puts his head down and goes to work. I was a dairy farmer for 20 years. I don't look up very often and when I do I see the world has changed. It's frightening. Change is probably a good thing most of the time ... but I'm just trying to end this on a nice note. Change is also just plain scary some of the time.
I feel you. Designers face the same thing. Once, I read an article on the internet about the jobs anyone could do on Upwork and there it was graphic design (I don't remember if writing was there too). They claimed you just needed to know how to use Canva and you were set to look for clients on Upwork as a graphic designer! Now you have clients asking to make illustrations for $3/each because that's what other freelancers are offering (real story). It is frustrating and frightening, like you said.
The same goes for translation. People who barely know a foreign language, and have no talent or skills in writing in their own native language, claim to be translators.
In the beginning, I felt scandalised and offended about that. Now, I think it is just a matter of time before the vast majority of those cheaters end up in the "trashbin of history" (quoting one of my colleagues).