Tag Archives: freelance writing

Writing as a microbusiness: An interview with Adam Westbrook

 

Today I am pleased to host an interview I conducted recently with UK journalist Adam Westbrook. Adam, a reporter who also works as a video producer, an instructor, blogger and the owner of his own series of writing-related microbusinesses (the concept of which will be explained in a moment), is one of the best documentarians of the entrepreneurial spirit manifested by today’s most successful nonfiction writers.

Adam is confident, focused, and excited about the future of journalism. After you read this interview, and perhaps some of his blog, you will be too.

Tell us a little bit about your background as a journalist.

After training at City University in London, I started my career as a radio reporter working in different cities in the UK. Over the next three years I covered all sorts of domestic and international stories and spent a short time reporting from Iraq.

At what point in your career did you realize that the journalism industry was undergoing substantial changes? How did you respond?

When I was training it felt very much like we could see storm clouds on the horizon, but none of us could have predicted how much the industry was going to change. In my years as a reporter I continued blogging about my work, and eventually started getting more involved in social media. It was around this time (in 2008-09) that I found my work online excited me more than working in broadcast news.

Then later in 2009 I decided to take a leap and quit my job to become a fully independent multimedia producer, and haven’t looked back.

You spend a lot of time on your blog writing about how journalists can (and should) create microbusinesses or other entrepreneurial ventures. Why do you think this is important?

I don’t necessarily believe everyone should start their own ventures -it is not for everyone. But at the same time, creating and publishing content on the web has become so much cheaper and easier, and the audiences bigger, that it seems to me to be a shame not to explore its possibilities. It’s also far more exciting (I think) than mainstream media because the rules haven’t been written yet, so there’s great scope to create the work and career suited to you. Meanwhile, starting a business involves a much lower overhead, and more people are finding it brings them freedom and creative satisfaction.


In your mind, how might the approach taken by a proprietor of a journalistic microbusiness differ from the way an old-school freelance writer looked at their sources of income?

As a freelancer, despite how much freedom you have you are still selling your time in return for money. So you are at the mercy of client wants and needs, and you are only making money for yourself. Entrepreneurship is about creating a product or a service that does not involve selling your time, but something else (that is) distinct from you; it also has the potential to generate wealth, jobs, etc.

If you’re just starting out, a freelance business is much easier to set up, so it’s definitely worth beginning down this path, but if it’s career freedom you want, you should investigate product or service ideas alongside.

What skills should writers trained to write for print consider adding to their professional toolkit at this point in time? How can they leverage what they already know?

There are so many, but don’t worry about becoming a “jack of all trades and a master of none.” If you want to make a living writing online, you ought to have an understanding of online publishing – so learn how to self host a WordPress blog and do some basic HTML. The great thing about the web is it is so easy to learn new skills, whether its video, data, graphic design or web design. I wouldn’t say professional training is necessary either. Just start practicing and get your questions answered online.

Why did you choose to make one of your latest projects, Inside the Story, a fundraiser for Kiva? How did that end up fitting into your professional/business plan?

The Inside the Story was a project idea I had running around my mind for a while, and when a gap came up at the start of 2012 I thought I might as well get busy and do it. I always imagined the book raising money for a good cause, and in retrospect it wouldn’t have been possible to get the caliber of contributors on board if it had been for my personal profit. In terms of my ‘business plan’ it didn’t cost me anything but my time, which I know how to use well, and was a good profile raiser. But mostly, I believe that generosity is a really important part of business online: you have to give lots away. It’s what I do with my blog every week too.

You’ve talked a lot on your blog about building a “portfolio” career. What did you mean by that, and how important is it in terms of managing one’s career as a journalist these days?

A portfolio career basically involves having more than one form of income to support you. Again, it’s made possible by the time and energy savings of working online.  So I make most of my income as a multimedia producer making films for clients; but I also lecture in journalism, do training and consulting and sell books. It’s got better variety and means you’re not reliant on just one job. Every business has a by-product, and there are always other ways to make money from the skills or products you already have.

Want to learn more from Adam Westbrook? He offers several e-books on journalism topics, including one that’s free!

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Write This Way, Condensed: Top Writing and Editing Links for March 6, 2011

Photo courtesy of SXC.

Are You Too Busy to Write? Seven Ways to Blog More Productively — Chris Garrett on New Media
New media expert Chris Garrett discusses strategies for for increasing the quality and frequency of one’s blogging.

Tweeting from beyond the grave
Russell Working, writing on Ragan.com, discusses the phenomenon of biographers, science center publicists and other history-oriented writers “assuming” the identities of long-dead famous people on Twitter, and offers four lessons that the success of such tweeters can provide to other writers.

Your First Draft is Allowed to Suck! | Fuel Your Writing
In this article, fiction writer Icy Sedgwick reminds us all that a first draft is just that, a draft, and gives advice on how to keep that in mind and improve one’s writing.

How a Writer Can Aggravate an Editor
Meryl Evans, a web content maven and digital publishing blogger, discusses a recent e-mail she received from a writer seeking work at an e-publication that had ceased publishing 3 years ago! A great example of what NOT to do when approaching a magazine (online or off)!

7 Steps to Writing Success | The Artist’s Road
Patrick Ross summarizes the wisdom he soaked up at the Association of Writers and Writing Programs 2011 Conference and Bookfair. Steps include “write for yourself,” “build an online community,” and “be open to the wisdom of others.”

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Writing in Two Worlds: An Interview with Novelist and Journalist Jessica McCann

Novelist and nonfiction writer Jessica McCann

We have a real treat today: I recently conducted an e-interview with Jessica McCann, a magazine writer and freelance editor whom I’ve worked with several times over the years. She’s also a budding novelist — her novel “All Different Kinds of Free” is due to be published in April of next year.

Her story of how she got her start in nonfiction writing, and how she reclaimed her childhood love of fiction in order to start writing it, is inspiring and contains valuable lessons for any writer would would like to work in both fiction and nonfiction.

Write Livelihood: How did you get your start as a nonfiction writer?
McCann: I’ve worked at least part-time as a freelance writer since I was 17 years old. I started freelancing as a high school senior for an amazing group of women in the communications department at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix. Each of them mentored me in their respective areas — external communications, media relations, community outreach and employee communications. They exposed me to so many types of business and journalistic writing styles and approaches. I consider the time I spent there to be my formal education in the writing profession.

A few years out of high school I landed a full-time job in communications, then as went on to work as the editor of a regional business magazine, and finally editor for a custom-book publisher. To make extra money and build up my portfolio, I continued to freelance on the side. In 1998, I quit my editing job to freelance full time, and I haven’t looked back since.

What role has fiction writing played in your development as a professional writer?
Fiction didn’t have a role in my professional writing career for a very long time. When I was a little girl, I dreamed of being a novelist. In eighth grade, a misguided English teacher told me a short story I had written was lazy and unimaginative — that he expected more (out of me). Maybe his assessment was accurate. Maybe he was hoping to fire me up and get me to work harder. But all he really did was crush my confidence.

It took me 20 years to work up the courage to dabble in fiction writing again. I focused instead on nonfiction and built a successful career as a business writer and journalist. Once you’re on a certain path, it’s pretty hard to find the motivation and courage to wander off into the dark scary woods in search of something different. So for a long time, I stayed with what I knew I could do well, stayed with what was safe.

What inspired you to write your debut novel, “All Different Kinds of Free”?
The work was inspired by the U.S. Supreme Court case Prigg v. Pennsylvania, 1842. I first read about it when I was doing freelance copyediting on a book for MIT about Supreme Court justices.  The case  appealed the conviction of a bounty hunter charged with kidnapping Margaret Morgan, a free woman of color who was alleged to be an escaped slave. The court case focused on state’s rights, and the ruling represented the first time a major branch of the U.S. government made a proslavery stand. But I was most interested in Margaret and what became of her.

My original goal was to write a biography, and I spent about three years researching her life — or, at least, attempting to research her life. The sad truth is that Margaret and her fate were irrelevant at the time. The issue for most people in the mid-1800s was much bigger than one woman’s fight for freedom. Yet, to me, it was all about Margaret. When I realized I didn’t have enough facts to write a biography, I was devastated and grudgingly packed away my research. Then my mother-in-law loaned me a book, a fictional biography about George Washington, by Mary Higgins Clark. It was a fun read, and it gave me the idea that a fictional biography might be the only way I could tell Margaret’s story and really do it justice.

At what point did you decide the novel might be publishable?
In its earliest stages, I never really believed it would ever get published. It was just a story I felt compelled to write, and I was enjoying the creative process. Then I entered the first few chapters in  some writing competitions as a novel in progress. I didn’t win, but I received semi-finalist recognition in two respected contests. That’s when I started to believe I might have the chops to actually write a novel that people would want to read. When All Different Kinds of Free was named a finalist in the Freedom in Fiction Prize, publishing my novel was no longer just a fun dream. It became a tangible goal that I wrote  into my business plan.

Does your writing process differ for writing fiction?
Not much. I enjoy the research phase of writing. That’s often what fuels my creativity, whether I’m writing fiction or nonfiction. The interviews, digging through articles and books at the library, searching online for little-known facts and resources — it’s a process that helps ideas form in my head, helps me arrange the pieces of my story to create the picture I want my readers to see.

How does writing fiction impact your nonfiction writing, and vice versa?
As I mentioned earlier, for many years I was quite literally afraid to try my hand at fiction and was content writing magazine articles and corporate work. Then, after more than 10 years freelancing for the same clients, I hit a sort of road block. I was bored out of my mind, to be blunt. My clients were still happy with my work, but I felt like I was writing the same old articles again and again. I could do it with my eyes closed.

I felt stifled creatively, felt I was doing my clients an injustice, and felt it would soon catch up to me in a bad way. So I started writing short stories based on writing prompts, just to flex my creative muscles and work my brain in a different way. A couple of amazing things happened. One, I remembered how much I enjoyed writing fiction; and two, I realized that good fiction writing isn’t a whole heck of a lot different than good nonfiction. Being efficient with the language, using vivid imagery, telling a compelling story — these are universal to good writing, regardless of the genre.

Going forward, how do you see your fiction writing fitting in your career overall?
I would love to become a full-time novelist. It’s a challenging, slow transition, but that’s the ultimate goal. My debut book releases April 2011 from Bell Bridge Books, and I’m deep in research for my second novel.

What advice would you have for nonfiction writers who’d like to get started writing fiction?
Just get started. Start small to build up your confidence if you need to — write a short story or two, enter a contest here and there, research literary journals and submit your work. As you gain momentum, the fiction writing will start to play a bigger role in your writing life. If it’s important enough to you, it will eventually take on a life of its own.

Any final thoughts or advice for writers who work in both genres?
Be brave. Keep writing. That may sound trite or hokey, but for me it’s that simple. Look to other writers for inspiration, encouragement and motivation.

The following quotes in particular have come to mean a lot to me recently:
“To write something, you have to risk making a fool of yourself.” ~Anne Rice

“Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear.” ~Mark Twain

“The one talent that’s indispensable to a writer is persistence.” ~Tom Clancy

“Forget about becoming a great writer. Work instead on writing great stories.” ~William Tapply

That pretty much sums it up for me. Writing is scary. When you’ve already experienced some measure of success in one type of writing, switching genres and starting from scratch is even scarier. You’re putting yourself out there, vulnerable to fresh criticism, with every new thing you write. Why subject yourself to the hard work, the anxiety and the potential rejection again and again? Because you have a story to tell. So tell it, in whatever genre does it justice.

***

You can learn more about Jessica’s work by visiting her website.

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How to Make the Editor Your Friend, Revisited: Discussing the story assignment

Photo by Mateusz Stachowski via SXC.

It’s been a good long while since I discussed ways to make magazine editors happy. There are some simple rules of the road relating to hitting your word count , meeting deadlines and handling revisions that make writer-editor relations ever so much more congenial if you know and follow them.

One of the most crucial steps in the writing process comes at the very beginning of the writer-editor relationship. For many freelance assignments, you’ll get some sort of written direction about the story that your editor needs you to write. How you follow up after receiving that document, whether it be a memo describing the assignment or a contract with story assignment information embedded it in, can be key to understanding exactly what your editor wants and needs from you.

To make things easier, I’ve crafted a short checklist that you might want to keep by the phone or the computer while you communicate with your editor about your new assignment.

Assignment Discussion Checklist

__ The Basics: Are you clear about the story’s deadline, word length, pay rate, kill fee, the section the article is appearing in, what type of story it is (profile, etc.)?

__ The Angle: The story angle is what differentiates this assigned story from any other story you might write on this topic. Are you clear on what your editor wants? Are you free to research the topic further, and suggest angles?

__ Sources: Is the editor supplying you contact information for specific interviewees, associations or organizations that might yield appropriate sources? Do you need to clear potential sources with the editor before contacting them for an interview? To what degree should you work with publicists to set up interviews, gather research information, etc.?

__ Background information: If the editor has a set structure in mind for the piece, can he/she provide links to parallel stories, esp. in his/her publication? Does the publication have a “dossier” of information available for profile subjects? Are there previous stories in the magazine you should read for reference?

__ No-No’s: Discuss any deal-breakers for you and for the editor (i.e., missing deadline without warning, endless revisions without additional pay). For custom, corporate or institutional publications, clarify any “political” danger zones (topics that must be approached a certain way, protocol for contacting VIPs).

__ Follow-up communication: How does the editor prefer to connect with you? Does the mode of communication change if you need him/her to make an urgent decision about the story?

More story assignment tips

Want More Article Assignments? Tips for Working With Magazine Editors
Tips from Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen’s Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen’s Quips and Tips for Successful Writers blog.

Helping Reporters Improve Stories | International Journalists Network
Tips on how to coach reporters from a story coach/editor point of view. Many of the pointers apply to maintaining happy editor-writer communication related to the assignment.

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Write This Way: Top Writing and Editing Links for May 28, 2010

Photo courtesy of SXC.

7 Easy to Miss and Fix Writing Mistakes
Meryl K. Evans, who writes a blog on web content, reminds readers of mistakes that even good writers make when reading and editing their own copy–and offers fixes for each one.

6 Tips For a Great Freelance Writer’s Vacation
Carol Tice, writing on the Make A Living Writing blog, gives good pointers for taking a real (= no laptop or mobile phone required) vacation without losing clients or your mind.

New Voices Invests in Nine Community News Projects
New Voices, an initiative of J-Lab: The Institute for Interactive Journalism, announced its most recent crop of grant winners. These projects mainly cover small cities and towns with hyperlocal journalism coverage. Each grantee will receive up to $25,000 to launch a news initiative and work to sustain it over the next two years.

10 sure cures for blogging burnout | WordCount
Michelle Rafter offers a number of really great suggestions for keeping one’s blogging fresh and consistent. I especially like her “cures” of using theme days and keeping drafts in your blogging software that can be posted when you need a new idea quickly.

The top cliches to avoid like the plague
Sally Jackson reports for The Australian. Journalist Chris Pash has spent nine years scouring newspapers and websites to find the media’s favorite hackneyed phrases, and this article gives the top offending phrases, as well as how Pash mined this data.

Three Annoying Habits of the Laziest Journalists on Twitter
Gawker has assembled a collection of irritating “don’ts” for journalists who are contemplating crowdsourcing their entire article via Twitter. Funny and pointed at the same time!

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Write This Way, Condensed: Top Writing and Editing Links for May 13, 2010

Photo courtesy SXC.

Top 10 blogs for freelance writers | WordCount
Michelle Rafter shares her favorite blogs for those who write nonfiction. The links include blogs focusing on business journalism, professional blogging tips, even one devoted to the cable series “Mad Men.”

Are You Meant to Be a Writer? | Fuel Your Writing
Susannah Freeman poses this intriguing question to blog readers and the responses (including Freeman’s take on the matter) make for interesting and inspiring reading.

How You Reduce External Distractions to Sit Down and Write?
Joanna, author of Confident Writing blog, posed this question on Facebook and Twitter, and she shares the responses she got from other writers about how to focus and get writing assignments done.

eBook Review: The Freelance Writer’s Guide to Passive Income
Susan Johnston, writing on Urban Muse Blog, reviews Thursday Bram’s book about how to turn how to generate additional revenue streams through entrepreneurial writing projects, including e-books, niche websites, classes, newsletters, and other products (web-based and offline).

Web Writing: Who Sets the Standards? | FreelanceSwitch
Kristen Fischer discusses the potential for stylebook clashes between the Associated Press style guide, which is used by most journalists working on the web, and the soon-to-be released online style guide, “The Yahoo! Style Guide: The Ultimate Sourcebook for Writing, Editing, and Creating Content for the Digital World.”

Online journalism and the promises of new technology, PART 1: The revolution that never happened | Online Journalism Blog
Steen Steenson introduces a 3-part series about online journalism and how the Internet has impacted the practice of journalism. Steen asks “Why … is online journalism still mostly all about producing written text to a mass audience? Why is use of multimedia, hypertext and interactivity still so rare?”

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Write This Way, Condensed: Top Writing and Editing Links for May 1, 2010

Photo courtesy of SXC.

10 Tips for (journalists) Designing Infographics
Randy Krum, a visualization professional writing on Cool Infographics blog, provides a wonderful primer for journalists on how to use infographics to communicate the meaning of data successfully.

7 Reasons to Consider Small Clients | FreelanceFolder
Laura Spencer, a regular contributor to the FreelanceFolder blog, points out more than a half-dozen reasons why taking gigs with small clients can pay big rewards. A very well thought out post!

The Audience-First News
Henry Woodbury, writing on Information Design Watch, discusses the future of online news and how newsrooms will transition to a future where the audience calls the shots on what it wants to experience.

Should newspapers embrace a point of view? – Editors Weblog
Alexandra Jaffe covers a thorny topic for print news journalists–should newspapers become more like blogs (or magazines, for that matter) and embrace a strong “stance” that shows in their work? Or do readers demand balance among all opinions presented, whether by sources or reporters?

Programmer-Journalist? Hacker-Journalist? Our Identity Crisis
Aron Pilhofer, writing on MediaShift Idea Lab blog, shares his frustrations about what to call journalists who do what he does–which is lead a team of journalist/developers who build dynamic, data-driven applications to enhance his paper’s online reporting.

4 uses for Foursquare for journalists | Online Journalism Blog
Paul Bradshaw ponders a few ways in which the new location-based social networking “game” Foursquare might help reporters do their jobs.

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Feed Me, Digital Edition: RSS feeds for tracking the online journalism revolution

Photo courtesy SXC.

If you’ve followed Write Livelihood for the past few months, you’ll notice an increased emphasis on links to information on writing for social media, the future of journalism, and the convergence between print and digital media. Although I seek to cover the entire enchilada of issues–from craft to personalities–related to nonfiction writing, those three issues seem to be an increasingly important part of the “filling.”

As I learn more about the impact of online developments on traditional journalism, I find myself turning to a small cadre of sources for information and inspiration. These four blogs/websites are well worth plugging into your RSS reader in order to keep up to date about what’s happening to professional writing and content creation today.

Word Count: Freelancing in the Digital Age

Michelle Rafter’s blog is a new one in my RSS feed, but I like that she covers freelance writing and editing. Much of the coverage I see on how the Web is changing journalism focuses on newspaper reporters and editors losing their jobs. Which is of course important, but it doesn’t help the thousands of freelancers find their way in a shifting media environment.

Michelle mixes thoughts about the state of digital media with pointers on how to interact effectively with editors (yay!), recommended reading, and tips on the basics of the writing craft. Recent posts have covered how to write first-person profiles; how readers can participate in selecting what topics the Online News Association offers presentations on at its 10th annual gathering; links to free or low-cost classes freelancers can take to pick up skills they need to create content online; and tips on how to get editors to respond to you faster.

10,000 Words: Where Journalism and Technology Meet

Mark Luckie’s blog is new to me, but already I’m in love with it. The author of the Digital Journalist’s Handbook, Mark mixes news about where multimedia journalism is going with plenty of how-tos. Best of all, he practices what he advocates–most posts are liberally sprinkled with photos, illustrations, infographics, videos and slideshows that demonstrate his assertions. He also frequently provides lists of journalists to follow–which is helpful for those of us looking for role models in this new media landscape.

The Center for Social Media (at American University)
The Center, located within American University’s School of Communications, says its mission is to “investigate, showcase and set standards for socially engaged media-making.” It covers topics such as fair use, copyright issues in YouTube mash-ups, how different communities of producers gauge the impact of their media projects, the future of public media and photojournalism, and much more.

I like following the RSS feeds from the center because the organization is charged not only with keeping tabs on new media trends, but also questioning them. The academic environment in which they’re located also assures that their website has a hefty resources section, which provides information on fair use and copyright, documentary film research, audience engagement and social media distribution strategies.

Nieman Journalism Lab

I was originally drawn to this blog/site because of the Nieman Foundation’s reputation in running the Nieman Program on Narrative Journalism at Harvard University. I like the combination of academic rigor, real-world sensibility and fundamental optimism that this blog offers.

As the “about” page of the blog says,

“The Nieman Journalism Lab is an attempt to help journalism figure out its future in an Internet age.

The Internet has brought forth an unprecedented flowering of news and information. But it has also destabilized the old business models that have supported quality journalism for decades … We want to highlight attempts at innovation and figure out what makes them succeed or fail. We want to find good ideas for others to steal. We want to help reporters and editors adjust to their online labors; we want to help traditional news organizations find a way to survive; we want to help the new crop of startups that will complement — or supplant — them …

“We don’t pretend to have even five percent of all the answers, but we do know a lot of smart people. Primary among them are our readers; we hope your contributions will make the Lab a collaborative exchange of ideas. Tell us what’s happening around you, or what should be.”

That last point is worth highlighting as well. Too often, reader input on what’s working and what isn’t is an afterthought, even in an age of “user-generated content” and other interactivity with one’s audience. The fact that Nieman puts it front and center in its mission means it’s providing an example for other news media organizations to follow.

The question to you …

What are your favorite blogs/RSS feeds for information on the online-inspired transformation of journalism?

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Don’t give up your day job, it’s good for you!

layoff

Photo courtesy SXC.

I’ve wanted to be a full-time freelance writer since I was 13—so long ago, in fact, that the books about it that I borrowed from the public library talked about “over the transom” submissions (hint: it means sending the entire manuscript instead of a query) and gave tips on what sorts of typewriters and typing paper worked best for long manuscripts.

I got published professionally for the first time the next year (I’ll give you a hint as to the era: Reagan was president) and have stayed published for the last 25 years. However, there have been very few periods when I have worked full-time as a freelancer. And maybe that’s OK.

Sarah Hodon, guest posting over at the Urban Muse blog, recently wrote a great post about “5 Ways That Your Day Job Can Help Your Writing.” She has some good points about what working for someone else, regardless of whether or not it is writing-related, can boost your productivity and creativity as a freelancer.

I especially like two points she makes, about focus and self-discipline.

Sarah asserts that focusing on your day job can help you think of story ideas. She notes:

“Your subconscious is still buzzing away, even if you’re intently working on a project or sitting through a meeting. Most writers … admit that their best ideas come to them at the strangest times. … Carry a notebook with you so you can jot down those brilliant ideas.”

It’s true, having something else to focus on, other than the looming deadline for your next article/chapter/etc., can help open the floodgates to fresh ideas when sitting around worrying about it isn’t.

I think, though, that I agree even more with her assertion that having limited writing time helps one develop self-discipline. I did much of my early work as a freelancer during the summers when I was in high school. I had a “job”—stringing for a national magazine aimed at the 14-21 year old crowd—and that helped me manage the rest of my freelancing time very well. I had to do the “paying gig” first (I was given a small monthly stipend for clipping story ideas and sending them to the editorial mothership, suggesting interviewees for upcoming articles and conducting interviews and research for staff writers), then I could work on story pitches and the humorous essays I imagined editors would find gut-bustingly funny (and some actually did).

After college, living at home and without a full-time day job, I had much more time to freelance—but fewer steady writing gigs. I floundered for a bit, not as certain as in high school how to divvy up my time. It was not until I got a full-time job–doing PR for a library system–that I truly got back on track with my freelance writing.

Hodon addresses why having a regular schedule (whether from a day job or a recurring writing assignment) helps you get more done:

“If your writing projects are reserved solely for evenings and weekends, you have no choice but to get yourself on a schedule. Most writers that I know need a deadline—even a self-imposed one. Come up with a to-do list and start tackling the less time-consuming tasks—get those emails sent, look up the name of the book you’re hoping to use for research, or send the photo to the editor for your bio. It may seem overwhelming at first, but it’s a great feeling of accomplishment to get some of those items out of the way.”

In addition to Hodon’s fine list of day-job advantages for writers, I’d like to add a couple of my own.

A day job will get you out among real, live people. People who aren’t your sources, your editors, or your family. In other words, people whom you can observe and relate to in a non-commoditized way (at least where writing is concerned). I’ve heard of more than one writer who’s taken up a day job—anything from teaching to flipping burgers—just to be able to have human contact on a daily basis.

A day job gives you other identities beyond that of “writer.” Unless, of course, you are writing for someone else! In any case, a day job, writing related or not, can give you perspective on your freelance identity—since you are living another professional identity during the day and can reflect on your freelance identity from the outside when you are in the day-job role.

The questions to you…
What advantages have you found to holding a day job while working as a freelance writer? Is steady income a primary motivation or are there other, more compelling benefits in your case?

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Write this Way: Writing and Editing Links for February 16, 2009

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Image courtesy SXC.

Tips for “tweeting” productively on Twitter, confusion surrounding the best way to save journalism in the digital age, and myths and truths about freelancing are all on tap today in our monthly link-fest. Plus, a couple of fun and useful bonus links (as always).

Our first featured link comes from Maria Schneider’s excellent blog, Editor Unleashed. Like many writers, I’ve been struggling to figure out the best way to use Twitter, a social networking application centered around text-message-length communications (140 characters or less), and she has come up with writer-specific Twitter tips, plus a list of 25 folks to follow on the service, including authors, agents, book publishers and publicists.

Schneider, a former editor of Writer’s Digest, admits that Twitter can be intimidating at first:

“At first, Twitter feels like being at a cocktail party where you know no one. But if you focus on making the right connections, Twitter can actually be quite useful.

“There’s a bunch of publishing types using Twitter and following them is tapping into the zeitgeist—a never-ending stream of conversations, random thoughts and links. It gives you access to lots of smart, interesting, connected people.”

In case you’re wondering what you’re actually supposed to say/do (or “tweet,” in Twitter parlance) once you’re connected to these people, she has also written a very insightful post on how to build up your Twitter “street cred.” For example, I learned that you should follow the 60/40 rule when promoting your own stuff to the Twitterverse, as well as the fact that you should never ask for followers—Schneider calls it Twitter suicide.

All in all, her posts are a friendly introduction to the fast-moving, almost ephemeral world of Twitter—and a good guide to using it for more than detailing what you had for breakfast.

Our second stop today is at the Knight Digital Media Center’s News Leadership 3.0 blog, where veteran journalist Michele McLellan has posted parts one and two in a multi-part series on ideas that get in the way of saving journalism.

It seems everyone with a pulse (or at least a journalism degree!) is aware of the business struggles of daily newspapers across the nation. In her first post, McLellan takes on the idea that only the newspaper industry can produce quality journalism, and that endowments should be used to save newspapers in communities where a for-profit model is failing:

“Right now, the newspaper industry does produce the bulk of original reporting that we find in print and on the Internet …. But the superior performance of the Internet for a growing number of users and advertisers is transforming the journalism and the business model, and thought leaders in the industry itself recognize there is no going back.

“As long as people believe that only the news industry equate newspapers-only with good journalism, the debate is heading down a blind alley. It might be possible to raise an endowment for a beloved newspaper in a few communities. But I don’t see a lot of monied people—much less taxpayers if that is proposed—willing to underwrite a product that is only one player, albeit an important one, in the field.”

After that treatise, she takes on the even stickier issue of whether readers will pay for online content in her second post. She admits there are no easy answers. The newspaper-centric model of paying a set fee for all content bundled by a single provider hasn’t worked, and the potential for micro-payments to take up the slack from traditional publication advertising is extremely controversial. Other models, which include voluntary consumer funding of projects they deem worthy of coverage (keeping tabs on the local school board, for example), are still very much in the development stage.

Whatever your belief about the future of American newspapers and/or journalism, this series of posts will give you food for thought.

Finally, if you’ve worked as a freelance writer or editor for years, as I have, you tend to rub up against some very odd notions of what your life as a freelancer must be like. And if you’re a newbie freelancer, you may very well wonder if the ecstatic or apocalyptic claims of the joys or sorrows of the freelancing life could possibly be true. Laura Spencer, a contributing author at Freelance Folder blog, did a great job recently of sorting out some lies, myths and half-truths related to freelancing.

She covers everything from needing money to get started freelancing (a myth, she says) to freelancers typically working for next to nothing (a half-truth, she asserts). Here’s her take on the number one item on her list, “freelancing is an excuse for not working at all.”

“According to this myth, none of us are working . . . not really. We are either spending our days playing computer games or in front of the television with a box of chocolates….

“The real culprit here is the difference between the experiences of a significant portion of the population and that of most freelancers. For many people, work is synonymous with a place that you go each day. If you don’t go anywhere, then you must not be working. Technology is changing this perception, but it will take some time before it is completely gone.”

Bravo! And if you like that train of thought, Laura also posted a companion piece on 10 things you’ve heard about freelancing that are actually true.

BONUS LINKS!

Storybest

Storybest is a “social content network” for storytellers (of any genre) powered by the filtering/ranking service coRank.

CPSIA: Book Banning in the Guise of Safety

A cautionary tale from the Bookshop Blog on (we hope) unintended consequences of Consumer Product Safety Commission’s updating of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA).

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