Friday, December 18, 2015

To Freelance or Not To Freelance

Photo Credit
Last week, I announced that I want my writing to reach a larger audience. Since then, I’ve been digging deep into the world of freelancing, finding out how to actually make this work.

I’m learning that freelancing takes a lot of time, between researching, reading, pitching, and writing. And so I’ve had to ask myself – why freelance? It’s one more thing taking me away from my “creative” writing, so it better be worth it.

Here are a few reasons why I think it’s worth it –
  • Visibility: writing for different publications allows you to get your name out there. Also, it’s a good way to make contacts and network with editors and other writers. You never know how these connections might play out in the future.
  • Money: even if it’s not a lot, it feels good to get paid for your writing. Writing is a skill, and I’d like to compensated for my ability the same way as engineer or massage therapist would be. That being said, it still might be worthwhile to write for a place that doesn’t pay, but only under special circumstances.
  • Practice: my teacher tells us that everything we write is part of our “writing life,” even if it’s a thank you note. Freelance writing is another opportunity to hone your skills as a writer. We can always use more opportunities to practice writing clear, concise, and interesting prose.
  • Portfolio: it’s important to have an arsenal of writing samples, specifically published pieces. Having a varied portfolio will beget more writing assignments, which will help your freelancing machine running.

Photo Credit
Here are some ways to be smart and efficient about freelancing –
  • Do your homework: Take the time to read lots of different magazines to see what sort of content they are interested in. I find that it is better to do this upfront, but you can also commit to researching one or two magazines per week.
  • Spreadsheets are your friend: Staying organized is super important when you're your own boss, so make sure to take notes on different magazines – what they are looking for, who is the contact, what is the word count, etc.
  • Make a schedule: I get great satisfaction in checking items off a list, so I like to make a master to-do list at the beginning of the week to get organized. Some things to consider: Which articles will you work on this week? How many pitches will you send out? Keep track of where you’ve sent your work so that you can check back in with the editor if you haven’t heard from them in a week or two.
  • Think outside the box: lots of places need writers, not just the sexy mags like Salon and Bustle. Think about something you're interested in, say knitting or kayaking, and get in touch with magazines about that topic. Also, you'd be surprised how little you need to know about something to write about it well. 
  • Set aside time for unpaid work: This is SUPER important. It can be tempting to devote all of my time to paid work, but I don’t want to lose sight of the reason WHY I’m doing this. My freelance writing is in direct connection to my greater goal which is to have my writing reach a larger audience. Always keep sight of the bigger picture!

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Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Getting SMART About Goals

Hello, friends! I am happy to report that this week marks the successful attainment of my writing goal for 2015: to get a publication in a literary magazine. In fact, I got two! The first one is already posted for your viewing pleasure at Lunch Ticket, and the next one will be published at The Toast next week. With only 21 days left in 2015, I made it right under the wire, but at least I made it!

Riding the high of checking a big box off my list, I decided to set another goal. “In 2016,” I told anyone who listened, “I want to be published in Salon!” But the more I said it, the more nervous I became.

“What are you scared of?” Cait, my best friend and writing partner, asked.
“Well, speaking it out loud means I gotta do it. And what if I… don’t?”
Being the former high school teacher that she is, Cait was ready with a foolproof plan. “Make it a smart goal,” she said.
“As opposed to a dumb one?” I asked.

And so she explained. SMART is an acronym that people (entrepreneurs, teachers, etc) use in order to make headway in their professional and personal lives. I did some research and decided to give it a try.

Step 1: Write down your goal in as few words as possible.
My goal is to: have my writing reach a larger audience

Step 2: Make your goal detailed and SPECIFIC. Answer who/what/where/how/when.
By the end of 2016, I will have several mainstream media publications (online or in print) in order to advance my career as a freelance writer. (I am using the term “mainstream” loosely. Of course, I’d love to be published in The New York Times or The Atlantic, but I’m aiming at places where a newbie like me might have more of a chance, publications like Salon and HuffPost. I’m dreaming big but also staying realistic!)

HOW will you reach this goal? List at least 3 action steps you'll take (be specific):
1. Speak to writers who publish regularly in mainstream venues about the process.
2. Read an abundance of writing published in magazines where I’d love to place my work.
3. Pitch articles to publications such as Salon, Huffington Post, and Outside magazine.

Step 3: Make sure your goal is MEASUREABLE. Add details, measurements and tracking details.
I will measure/track my goal by using the following numbers or methods:
·         I will submit 2 polished articles to mainstream publications per month.
·         I will spend 4 hours per week working on pieces for publication.

I will know I've reached my goal when:
ð  *I have 2 publications in mainstream venues.*


Step 4: Make your goal ATTAINABLE. What additional resources do you need for success?
Items I need to achieve this goal: my computer + butt in chair
How I'll find the time: I will dedicate at least 4 hours per week on these pieces.
Things I need to learn more about: the editorial expectations and submitting process at mainstream magazines.
People I can talk to for support: writer friends who have bylines in major publications [get in touch with said friends ASAP!]

Step 5: Make your goal RELEVANT. List why you want to reach this goal:
If I want to develop a long-lasting writing career (working in multiple genres), I need to set the groundwork now and establish myself as a reliable and capable freelance writer.

Step 6: Make your goal TIMELY. Put a deadline on your goal and set some benchmarks.
I will reach my goal by (date): 12/31/2016
My halfway measurement will be one major publication (eek!) by 6/31/2016.
Additional dates and milestones I’ll aim for: continuing to publish my creative work in literary magazines like The Normal School, Lunch Ticket, etc.

*
Looking forward, my ultimate goal is to make my living as a writer. This is different than just writing. Lots of writers have a day job and write when they come home. I could do that, too. But what I’m saying – committing in print – is that I’d like my day job to BE writing. Just writing the words feels terrifying. And I am fully aware that writing this in my weird little blog does not guarantee that this will happen for me. But what I am saying is that I’m going to give this crazy thing my best shot.

For me, creating a writing life often feels nebulous and scary in its haziness. I think the practice of setting goals will be good in the long term, since being a freelance writer means that I will probably be my own boss, which means being organized, setting deadlines, and motivating myself.  


Hopefully this SMART goal concept is helpful to you, too. Think about something you want to accomplish in the next year, whether it’s creative, professional, or personal, and break it down using these steps. It’s also interesting to explore the reasons WHY you want to achieve this goal, and how accomplishing it will further your greater purpose in life. 


Friday, December 4, 2015

The Case for Creative Writing

Yesterday was our last creative writing class of the semester, and my students each had the chance to discuss their successes and challenges over the past few months. Many of them were surprised by a newfound love for poetry, and others mentioned an appreciation for the meditative moment that we started every class with. Several students talked about their amazement at the revision process, which warmed my little writer heart.

Narration & Description
When we started discussing writing goals, I was disheartened when a few students shared feelings of distress about the future. As it turns out, some creative writing professors think it’s helpful to tell their students that they’re never going to make it as a writer – they’re never going to be Stephen King, and they’re never going to make money at this.

I struggle to understand the reasoning behind this scare tactic. No one was telling me I was going to be destitute when I was an American Studies major in undergrad. Why the obsession with dashing the dreams of young writers? What does it accomplish besides chasing students away from the writing life?

What this message does is only assign value to something with a dollar sign attached to it. Essentially, if something you are doing is not quantifiable in terms of money, then it is not a worthwhile use of your time.

Must everything be in the pursuit of money? Do we not engage in all kinds of things purely for pleasure? In my opinion, doing things solely for the sake of a paycheck makes for a sad life.
The truth of the matter is this: it is hard making a living as an artist of any kind, whether you’re a painter, dancer, writer, singer, or sculptor. Creating art is a way of life, and it nourishes us in many ways beyond the wallet.

There are jobs that pay you to write. One of my students got an internship writing for a nonprofit. She’ll be collecting and telling stories of people in the community, writing grants, and designing and editing children’s books. That’s great, but writers will always have to carve out time for their own writing. Very few people spend their whole lives sitting at a desk, working on their own creative writing. Very few people get paid to dance all day, or splash paint on blank canvas. 

There is a myth that writing must be the end all, the only thing you do with your time. If you are truly creative, you will find ways to make money AND write. Writers come in many stripes; they can be researchers, teachers, doctors, farmers, social workers, web designers, actresses, editors. Elizabeth Gilbert worked three jobs while writing her first two books, including as a waitress and bartender. Her writing made her no money, and yet she came home from working long shifts and put pen to paper.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t be honest with our students. If they have questions about finances, we should answer them to the best of your ability. Tell them that they should only write if they truly love writing, because that is the bulk of the writing life. Publishing is cool, if you’re so lucky, but even if it comes to that, it changes nothing about the writing process: you in a chair at a desk with your favorite writing utensil.

I think you should write if writing makes you happy, if it feeds something inside of you. Ask yourself: What is the ultimate goal for your writing? Is it simply for the sake of having a creative outlet that is your own? Does writing help you make sense of this life? Does writing in your journal feel like speaking to your oldest friend, or cuddling up with a bowl of chicken noodle soup? Is there a fire in your fingers that can only be quelled by putting pen to paper?

We are creative writing teachers, not financial planners. My job as a creative writing teacher is to keep my students writing. If a student wants to major in creative writing, good for them! If they want to make a living as a writer after they graduate, good for them. If the lights get turned off or their bellies rumble with hunger, they’ll get a job that pays the bills and fills their pantry. If they love writing a lot, they’ll do it still, regardless of the job and the bills and the kids. Because the act of creating something that didn’t exist before feeds a part of you that isn’t quantifiable with dollar signs.