Posts Tagged ‘freelance writer’

Time to Write — But What?

September 25, 2012

So I just finished a huge project for a magazine that assigns me stories about four times a year. The projects are crazy complicated, involving tons of emails and phone calls, long interviews, close examinations of product features, and surveys of prices at a range of retail stores and websites. I may have a byline when the issue comes out, but truth be told, there’s a lot less writing and a lot more research when it comes to this particular magazine. 

Anyway, it’s kept me tied up — no exaggeration — since mid-June. And when things felt a little tedious during the long, hot summer, the thought of free time to write my own stuff kept me going. No more assignments at least until winter, I promised myself. September through November would be my time to work on exactly what I wanted to work on.

But, now that September is here — what, exactly, do I want to work on?

It’s not that I have no ideas — it’s just that I’ve been imagining so many projects since June that I don’t know which to concentrate on. Now I’m not saying that any of these ideas are good or will eventually be completed (or deserve to be completed, for that matter); but even though I’m not now on someone else’s clock, time is still limited, and I want to make the most of the time I have.

So…do I work on the novel that’s nearly done, on the theory that this idea takes priority because it’s (arguably) the easiest to complete?

Or do I work on the idea that’s got my imagination going, even though, at least for me, new ideas always take the most time and show the least progress. 

Do I leverage my research from this summer to develop some new magazine queries, since these ideas are the most likely to find their way into print?

Or do I play around with some genre — romance? paranormal? — that I’ve been tempted to try for a while?

Lately I’ve taken to doing a little of everything, hoping that one of these ideas will emerge as the one I truly want to pour myself into.

But I don’t know if that will actually happen — and for now, none of these ideas is gaining any momentum. And November is not that far away.

With life so busy, how do you decide what you want to work on? 

Another undecided day in the life of just another working writer. 

Why Do Essays Feel Soooo Good?

May 1, 2012

Okay, I know the facts. It’s less than 1,000 words. It’s appearing in a regional magazine with a relatively small target audience. It’s not highlighted on the cover. And I didn’t even get paid that much to write it.

Still, I am so, so happy to see my personal essay in print!

It’s funny, isn’t it? I write a lot of research articles for a variety of publications, and I do love those assignments. It’s fun interviewing experts and learning new things–and like every other writer I know, I get a kick out of putting words together to make a great lead, a satisfying conclusion, or a clever headline. I like watching an article come to life, and I feel pride when I email a finished product to an editor–especially if it’s been one of those article that resisted getting written.

But nothing gives me the kind of charge that I get when an editor publishes an essay of mine. And the fact that it doesn’t happen that often makes it even more special. That email from an editor to tell me “Yes, yes!” is like the ultimate pat on the back. It’s the universe telling me, “You did it!” No–it’s the world saying, “We love you!”

Take this latest essay. It started with my plan to spend some alone time with my daughter by taking a weekend trip and exploring the home-turned-museum of one of our favorite authors, Louisa May Alcott.

Driving to Concord, I got that spark that writers all know so well–the sudden thought, “Hey, this would make a great article!” What followed, of course, were days and weeks of self-doubt and stagnation. “Nobody’s going to want to read this,” I told myself. “It’s all been written before; it’s all been written before–and better!”

And then, throwing caution to the wind, I plunged into deep and unknown waters–playing with words and memories, daring to feel that the work taking shape would actually have merit, whipping up a query that presented my heart and soul in a mere five-sentence paragraph, and then hoping for response from an editor who really “got” me.

Maybe what it comes down to is this: While most other types of articles are mostly about the work, a personal essay is also largely about the author. It’s the author’s opportunity to say, “This is what I think, and this is what I feel. This is what’s important, and this is why. This is who I am and who I want to be. This is a piece of my life.”

How about you? When did you publish a personal essay, and how did you feel? Are you working on a personal essay now? What are your hopes for it? And if you’re not working on one–why not?!

Another grateful day in the life of just another working writer.

 

Writers: What Do You Do When You’re Jealous?

March 21, 2012

Okay, get this.

Two months ago I went to one of the larger writers conferences in New York. It is so big and so sophisticated that the sponsoring organization issues a set of “etiquette” rules in advance. The rules mostly warn you to be polite to editors and agents–that is, to refrain from accosting them in the hallways and elevators and shoving your manuscript in their faces. In fact, the rule sheet suggests, you should leave your manuscript at home, as no one will want to see it on site. Bring only, it says, paper for taking notes, an open mind, a good attitude, your best listening skills, and so on.

So at one of the workshops, I happen to sit next to a very nice person. It turns out we have kids the same age and a couple of other similarities, so we chat a bit, and then she asks how I’m enjoying the conference. I mention that I’ve learned a lot, I feel somewhat motivated and inspired, I’ve collected the email addresses of agents who might be interested in my book, so it’s all good. And what about her?

As it turns out, she ended up seeking out and meeting one of the conference organizers who also happens to be a very successful and well-known author with dozens of popular books to her credit. And while I was following the rules and being polite with my open mind, my new friend was handing her manuscript to this writer (yes, she brought her manuscript, “evading” the very rules that this famous writer had probably helped write!), who promised to read it and get back to her with feedback within the next two weeks.

Oh, did I mention that I’ve been working on my book for three years, while she just wrote hers last fall?

We exchanged email addresses and we’ve been in touch a few times, and she wrote me yesterday to tell me that she heard back from the famous writer, who loved her manuscript and recommended an agent who she felt would definitely be interested. Of course, using this famous writer’s name will no doubt catch the agent’s attention, so there’s no danger that my friend’s work will sit in the agent’s digital slush pile, along with mine and the gazillion others that have been emailed since the conference.

In short, I really do think my new friend is on her way.

Now the hard part: I want to be happy for her. I really do. And I am happy for her.

But I also feel like throwing up.

Even worse, when I read her emails, it completely derails me. I find it hard to work or be at all optimistic. I feel hopeless. It’s as though she won the lottery, and the other 1200 of us at that conference should just pack it in. It’s hard to keep doing all the things the books and conference workshops tell you to do, when a newcomer can just scoot in, cut the line, and potentially win the whole kit-and-kaboodle.

What do you think? How do you feel when a friend strikes it big in the publishing world? How do you stop yourself from feeling miserable and giving up?

Another discouraging day in the life of just another working writer.

Who Owns Your Digital Rights?

March 15, 2012

Several years ago — before the Internet really took hold — I wrote a series of slice-of-life essays for a local newspaper. They weren’t very good, and I didn’t get paid. Still, I was just starting out, and they did what I needed them to do: taught me how to work with editors; gave me confidence; and served as evidence of publication when I began going after paying gigs.

The newspaper , which is now about 100 years old, is published by a small company on a shoestring budget, so they’ve never invested in a significant online presence. However, recently a local community organization made a generous grant to begin digitizing old issues, as a way of preserving the town’s history.

Now, as an active community member, I think it’s great that our heritage and history will be available to anyone who wants to enjoy them. I’ve had the chance to browse some of the issues from the 1920s, and they’re truly fascinating. I’m told that many of the older newspapers are nearly unreadable, so the grant couldn’t have come at a better time.

But as a writer, this turn of events leaves me uneasy. You see, when I agreed to publish my essays, I never signed a contract — the newspaper was too small to even offer contracts to freelancers. My agreement with the editor was simply that she would publish the essays, but I would own them — so I could market them elsewhere if I ever chose to do so, or not. It was all up to me.

I never agreed to give the paper digital rights — simply because back then, there was no such thing.

Sadly, I hear many stories of writers whose work has been digitized without their permission. As a matter of fact, I recently attended a workshop by a consultant who has built a successful business helping writers recover damages from publishers who may have illegally turned their printed books into e-books. But when I went up to her afterwards to ask about newspaper articles, she basically told me to let it go. “It’s impractical to expect newspapers to contact every single writer who has ever written anything and ask for permission to digitize,” she said.

Truth be told, the current digitization plan for my local newspaper involves only older issues that are in the public domain, which means it does not cover the more recent issues in which my stories appear. And as I understand it, digitizing newspapers is a long-term process — meaning it may be years and years and years before the question of whether to digitize recent issues comes up. I’ve also been told that should my essays ever go online, I could easily lodge a complaint, and they would quickly be taken down. And, I suppose, when you get right down to it, I might actually find it nice to see those essays online, possibly getting a second, digital life.

Still, I can’t help worrying for writers who, for one reason or another, really don’t want to see their old newspaper work suddenly appear on the Internet.

What do you think?

Another confusing day in the life of just another working writer.

Are You A Writer When You’re Not Writing?

March 8, 2012

I just had a month of pure freedom.

And I hope that doesn’t happen ever again!

You see, last fall I started working on two huge articles that involved a lot of research and a gazillion discussions with my  call-you-every-five-minutes-with-another-question editor. I knew these assignments would keep me busy nearly full-time through January. So I put my nose to the grindstone, while February  beckoned, with its promise of free time to read, have lunch with friends, play at fiction writing, troll around for some fresh, new projects, imagine maybe a book project or two…

And sure, February 1st was great, and February 2nd wasn’t so bad either. But by February 6th, I was in a panic. Why was nobody calling? Where were my next assignments? How long was this dry spell going to last?

Of course, there was a real question lurking behind all these worries — and it surfaced in mid-February when I met someone new in town and introduced myself as a freelance writer. Suddenly my mouth felt dry and my cheeks sort of started to burn. Hah! the little voice in my head said with contempt.  How can you say you’re a freelance writer when you haven’t had an assignment in weeks? You’re nothing but a fraud! 

Ah, so that was the question I was wrestling with. Was I freelance writer when I wasn’t…well, writing? And if so, then when would I stop being a freelance writer? After four weeks of no assignments? Eight? Six months? Come to think of it, have I really ever been a freelance writer? Or have I always been merely a lucky wannabe?

My insecurities led me to make a bunch of stupid decisions — like sending out queries for articles that I really didn’t want to write, just because I thought I could get the assignment. And emailing an editor I haven’t heard from in a while, just to “touch base” and “say hi.” I should know better. Article assignments comes from great ideas, not from desperate “remember me?” emails.

Happily, in early March I heard from two editors, one of whom I had basically written off because I had sent her what I thought were two wonderful ideas in January and she hadn’t gotten back to me. In my panic, I thought she hated my ideas — when actually, there had just been a problem with her email account that she only recently noticed. I now have three major assignments, and I’m busy as ever.

I only wish I had made more of freedom when I had it.

What do you think? Do you have to be actively writing to consider yourself a writer? How do you handle insecurity, which is so much a part of a freelancer’s existence?

Another self-doubting day in the life of just another working writer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Article Interviews: Why Do They Talk?

February 16, 2012

A few years back when I was on staff a at trade magazine, I set out to interview a key merchandising executive at Bloomingdale’s. Susan K. was glamorous, sophisticated, powerful, and notoriously press-averse.

“Everybody already knows who I am and what I stand for,” she told me. “Manufacturers and designers all want to get their products onto my floor.  The only possible thing that could happen if I do the interview is I could say something wrong and get people mad at me. Why would I consent to that?”

Why indeed? Why take the risk?

I was thinking about this situation not too long ago, while I was writing an article for a regional magazine about the pros and cons of living a rural life. I had contacted a writer friend of mine who lives in the country, and she spoke eloquently–almost lyrically–about the joy of driving home on winding roads after a long day at work.

“If you quote me, do you have to use my name and hometown?” she asked.

I did. That was the magazine’s policy. She told me that she didn’t like being so exposed in print — but then she said she would do it this time, and she looked forward to seeing my piece.

I wondered: Why did she agree to be published? Was it because I was her friend and she didn’t want to disappoint me? Had I gotten her to do something she didn’t want to do? Did that make me a bad friend?

Another time I was working on an article about developmental delays in children, and through a friend of a friend, got in touch with the mother of a severely disabled preschooler. The child had motor issues and language problems, and Mom’s entire life revolved around doctor appointments and physical therapy sessions. Worried that she would regret being so open, I offered to hold back on anything she preferred to remain unpublished — but no, she said, she was fine with my printing everything she said.

Why did she agree to be published? Did she really want to be as open as she claimed she did? Would the right thing be to hold back on some of her more personal quotes, as a way of protecting her from her own candor? Did I exploit her to write a good story?

Now, my interviews don’t always proceed this way. Some people ask to see their quotes before the article is printed. Some people even ask me to repeat their quotes two or three times, as though their whole world might collapse if they used the word “this” instead of “that.” Sometimes it’s because they’ve been misquoted by others in the past, and sometimes it’s because they have never been quoted, so they don’t know what to expect. And some people just don’t like to relinquish control.

And what of my Bloomingdale’s friend? She ultimately and unexpectedly called me back and agreed to the interview — and enjoyed the whole process so much that she thanked me whenever she saw me for months.

Why did she talk?

Truth be told, I’ll never  know exactly why anyone I’ve contacted decides either to speak to me or not to. But if my years as a writer have taught me anything, it’s that being interviewed for publication entails consequences — and when people decide to do it, I want to make sure that they’ve reached that decision without being manipulated, and that I quote them accurately, objectively and in the proper context.

How about you? Have you ever tried to interview someone who felt conflicted about whether to talk? What did you say and what did they say? What finally happened?

Another diplomatic day in the life of just another working writer.

And P.S….my fellow blogger Nicole Cloutier (http://nicolecloutier.me) nominated my blog for a sunshine award. Now it’s my turn to spread the sunshine, so stay tuned for my great blog pics!


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