Can You Become a Technical Writer on Upwork?

Upwork is good at some things and not so good at other things.

If you’re looking for the top rate anyone in your field can earn, then you’ll likely be very disappointed. Upwork takes a 20% fee on your earnings.

But:

  • If you’re building out your portfolio, it might be your best option.
  • If you’re moonlighting and taking odd jobs that fit your schedule, Upwork can pay well.

In fact, I recently contracted to complete a user guide for $1500.00. It seemed a perfect fit for my schedule: I thought it might take me as much as 15 hours, but it lasted 10 hours (over two weeks). One-hundred fifty dollars an hour is not a bad return for technical writing. (OK, they took a 10% cut [not 20%, as I’m a “Top Performer”], but still…)

The “Upwork is Bad” Refrains

A regular habit on every Facebook writing group I’ve ever followed is a beat-down on poor ‘ol Upwork. I’ve identified two broadsides: The generic “Upwork Stinks” and the more specific “I’m So Offended.”

One rap: there are no good jobs on Upwork. Companies are bottom-feeding price shoppers with no concept of paying for good work. Another is: someone contacted me about working for $18 (or some silly low number) an hour. I was so offended I told them off and I’m never going back to Upwork.

Imagine these scenarios:

Become Technical Writer

1) Let’s say you’re told to go to an auto junkyard. There, you’re told to look for clues to some rare and valuable gems in the glove compartments of better cars. Most people, not being familiar with junkyards, will only see the vast expanse of ugly, rusted cars. And become disenchanted. But if you’re tenacious and learn the layout to the junkyard, you’ll find those gems.

This addresses the first complaint:

There ARE a lot of price shopping clients on Upwork. They’re only looking for the cheapest transaction. But there are others. Like growing software companies and enterprise-sized companies that pay well for good work. These are the gems you have to find.

2) Despite being shy, you go to your first dance social or prom in high school. Your initial response is positive. There are a lot of attractive dance partners. But there’s one loner with pimples who picks their nose in the corner and looks at you. You try to look away, but when you look back, you find them looking at you. You muster the will to focus on other dance partners, but then the loser taps you on the shoulder and asks you to dance! You’re so embarrassed and humiliated you run away. You tell your friends the very next day you’ll never do that again!

This addresses the second complaint:

Instead of sitting in your seat and saying “NO,” you let that one negative experience color the whole dance. You experienced one person, not thirty or fifty. If many people behave like that, then yes, you’ve got a basis for your complaint. But one negative experience does not deserve a broad slam. You’re internalizing. Maybe this is more of a personal issue than an Upwork issue.

The Truth Is…

A lot of writers in “third-world” writers are doing good work. It doesn’t matter that they’re not “native speakers.” Joseph Conrad and Vladimir Nabokov were not native speakers. But they’re two of the most distinguished novelists in modern English literature.

Because some writers’ cost of living is far lower than in countries like the U.S., they’ll work for a far lower hourly wage in the global marketplace that is Upwork. Such work might not be as polished as a comparable native speaker’s, but its value can be outstanding.