Tag Archives: freelance

Returning from That Summer Place

It’s almost back to school time here in southeastern Pennsylvania, which means the kids will be terminating their summer brain dumps, rushing to catch up on assigned reading and trying to remember how to convert improper fractions to mixed numbers. That usually means time for the grownups to start getting their acts together, too.

I admit that I’ve slacked off this summer in a few areas – writing every day being one of the biggest. But where spring has always been the traditional time of renewal for nature, back to school time is, for kids and adults, typically the start of something fresh. It’s an opportunity to establish new routines and actually stick to them because so many other scheduled events depend on things running smoothly.

Yeah, this summer my word count for Novel #2 has fallen off, but I’ve also gotten the chance to do some things that will help make that book better even though I’ve spent a few weeks not actively banging away at it. One of those weeks was spent at our family’s own summer place, this one deviating from past years by switching the Outer Banks of North Carolina for Folly Beach, S.C.

New places equal new inspiration, so in lots of respects it was a worthwhile trip. I’m hoping it ends up as a salable travel story for the freelance writing side of my work, and there are always little details I can pick up from somewhere new to add into a story. Plus, as someone who sets his books in South Carolina but is based full time in Pennsylvania, it’s good to get back once in a while and get in touch with the people you’re writing about.

It’s also been good to go down some roads in my own reading that I don’t often travel. I tilted more toward the fantasy side of things with Fran Wilde’s Updraft and delved into the world of the Mafia – particularly as it relates to Philadelphia and Wilmington, Del. – in Charles Brandt’s I Heard You Paint Houses (look for an upcoming story on Charles and the forthcoming film version of his book in September’s Out & About magazine).

Novel #2 includes more of a criminal enterprise subplot, so it was great to read Brandt’s book and get a window into mob life beyond that provided in the Mafia film pantheon of The Godfather, Goodfellas, etc. And it’s always interesting to see what styles other writers adapt. Wilde’s is lean and tight, which keeps her sprawling, world-building tale to a reasonable and accessible length. While I’m not creating new universes out of whole cloth this time around, I’m trying to keep things leaner myself, so reading other writers who can do so is a bit like taking a master class in how it’s done.

So, here’s to parlaying my non-writing experiences and unassigned summer reading into some good, solid work on Novel #2 once everyone in the house gets back to their school year schedules. It might not be lounging on the beach or by the pool, but there will be plenty of that again next year.

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5 New Year Resolutions for the Aspiring Freelancer

2016-New-Years-ResolutionWith the new year, lots of folks cast their minds to a life change. For many, that change involves leaving the 9-to-5 working world and becoming a freelancer.

A while back, I was supervising my son at a birthday party for one of his elementary school classmates. The birthday boy’s father and I got to chatting about work, as dads often do in social situations, and he revealed that he was an engineer. He asked what I did, and I told him I was a freelance writer. When he probed for details, I shared my relatively flexible, work-from-home lifestyle as his eyes widened in awe.

“Oh, man! You’re living the dream!”

I demurred, as I often do when confronted with others’ disbelief, because I know in my heart that as good as freelancing sounds to people who don’t do it, it can have some pretty big ups and downs for those of us who make a living without being tethered to a single employer.

Sometimes I’m asked what the “secret” to a freelance career is. Truth: There is no secret. But there are a few commonsense steps you can take to prepare yourself if you’re seriously considering breaking free of the corporate cubical farm and going out on your own. Here, then, are my five things to do before you become a freelancer. Continue reading

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Here’s to a Surreal Start to Your Week

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Time and space are funny things. I know this sounds like a Dr. Who quote, but stay with me.

For example, It never seems to take as long returning from a distant destination than it does getting there in the first place. Get head down in work you love and it almost seems you can accomplish superhuman feats of productivity with baffling speed. Then again, pause to check Facebook for 10 minutes and you might find you’ve frittered away an hour without realizing it. Colors and perspective inside buildings can make rooms seem far larger or smaller than they actually are. Continue reading

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Happy (Slow Going) Monday!

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Summers for the freelancing parent mean two things – more time enjoying the warm weather and time off from school with the kids, and more late nights working on all the assignments that normal people would be doing during the daylight hours. The result is some groggy mornings, particularly when the work to be completed wasn’t finished until 2 a.m.

Thankfully, there’s coffee (or carrot juice, if you prefer) and plenty to resume working on today. Because when there isn’t more work is the time to become worried.

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Power Pop Wednesday: Yes, Please Do Go All the Way

In 1974, when this song came out, I was 6 years old, and yet I find that memories of it playing on AM radio still bubble up from way back then.

It was one of those songs that, in retrospect, should have told me that I would eventually become a huge fan of the source material the Raspberries tapped, which was really Rubber Soul– and Revolver-era Beatles.

It’s also a reminder, at least for me, not to do anything half-assed. Granted, that sort of going all the way isn’t exactly what the song is about (you can read about that in another posting), but it never hurts to have little musical cues throughout your playlist reminding you to take care of business … as in actual business, rather than the other kind of wink-wink, nudge-nudge business.

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Celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Office Cubicle By Leaving (or Planning to Leave) Yours

This is how you should be celebrating today, the 50th anniversary of what we today call the office cubicle.

I’m sure the guy who invented this now ubiquitous bit of office furniture never dreamed it would engender such deep and abiding hatred. Instead he probably thought he was doing something good for the workplace, like helping offices maximize their usable space and encouraging collaboration between co-workers.

Who knew that these humble desk/separator combos would come to be seen with same affection as the tiny pens cattle purveyors use to raise veal calves? Who would imagine that the most collaboration they would encourage would be inspiring colleagues to gang up on one of their number (the one with the untenable BO and tendency to eat microwave burritos at his desk) and stab them in the neck with a Bic pen? Continue reading

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After a Week Under the Weather, an Unrelated Complaint

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Freelancing is a constant hustle for the new gig to both pad the revenue stream and have something to fill in the blanks should an existing client decide to bail or inexplicably run out of work for you.

I spent the last couple of days not feeling so well, so trying to gin up new work was about the only thing I was good for. And in doing so, I was reminded that people really have no concept of the fact that “artists” (a category that working freelance writers unfortunately fall under) are actually trained professionals deserving of pay on par with their similarly trained and experienced – but non-artistic – peers. Continue reading

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After This Weekend, I’m Renaming Monday “Napday”

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This weekend flew, with the usual basket full of chores and fun topped off with a last-minute, quick turnaround editing assignment from the West Coast that didn’t wrap up until 2 a.m. today. So it’s not that I really need any instruction on this, but it’s good to have some reference material to make sure I’m doing it right.

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Another Satellite Office

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Summer weather is here and with it the joys of answering work e-mails poolside. Sometimes freelancing can ironically leave you feeling trapped at home, and sometimes it really frees you. Still wouldn’t trade it.

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The Art of the Interview

ReporterBack when I worked full-time in newspapers, I was occasionally called upon to do what were referred to as “brown baggers” – mini seminars that could take place over a lunch hour – as well as speak to visiting students during journalism-related events involving local high schools.

At several of these, I was asked to discuss interviewing techniques. It’s been a while since I offered any advice on this, but recently I was asked by a young colleague at one of my copy writing clients to offer some tips on getting a good interview. Here’s a slightly altered version of our exchange.

Dear Scott:

I hope this email finds you well. I am an intern working on my first story  and I wanted to reach out to you to see what strategies you may be able to suggest for successful interviewing. 

Are there certain questions which you find elicit quote-worthy responses? Do you utilize any applications to record interviews? If there is any other insight you have to share, it will be greatly appreciated!

Thank you,

A.

Dear A:

I’m a big proponent of the “first date” approach to interviewing. I gather whatever background I can on the topic I’m going to be discussing or the person I’ll be interviewing (just like you’d Google stalk a potential date – not that I would EVER do that, of course). Going in knowing just enough to be dangerous allows you to ask intelligent questions but still not sound like you know everything about the subject already.

I also don’t prepare a list of questions in a formal fashion. I know what I’m going to ask based on my research or direction from the editor or project manager. I’ll often write a list of cues, but I prefer for interviews to take a very organic course and be very conversational. Rigid lists of questions don’t usually allow for that. As the “first date” label suggests, you’re trying to express some genuine curiosity in what the interview subject has to tell you, so I phrase my questions accordingly.

This works particularly well with “regular folks.” People who work in government or at executive or managerial jobs are often used to speaking in front of others or being interviewed, but “civilians” – regular people who usually don’t find themselves the subject of an interview – are often suspicious of you or unfamiliar with the process, which makes interviewing (particularly over the phone) a bit trickier. Therefore it’s easier to just get them talking about the subject at hand and redirect the conversation if necessary.

You’ll find that this is a great method to generate “quote worthy” comments, since interview subjects feel more comfortable if they’re just having a chat as opposed to undergoing an interrogation. The job of mining through your notes to find that standout quote is your job, but if I hear something special during the interview, I’ll usually highlight it somehow to remember.

Also, don’t let the interview peter out at the end. So many times I’ve come to the “end” of an interview and had subjects start asking me about myself. I’m always willing to share a little, and this frequently cues them to tell a story about the topic at hand that will contain either A) the brilliant, standout quote, or B) the touching, hilarious or otherwise relevant anecdote that would make a perfect lede to the story.

As for recording, I usually don’t find it necessary for quick turnaround work. I have the advantage of having come out of newspapers, where speed is key. I type my notes as the interview subject is speaking, and make sure to use a headset (I use a Bluetooth earpiece with my smartphone) for the interviews so both hands are free and I don’t have to worry about the phone slipping off my shoulder mid-conversation. It never hurts to create an improvised shorthand for yourself so you don’t have to type out every single word.

I do have an Olympus digital recorder for in-person interviews and an app on my phone that allows me to record phone calls (Smart Voice from Google Play – I’m sure there’s a comparable iPhone app), but recording interviews has a tendency to make me lazy with note taking, then I just have to go back and waste more time listening to the recording when I’d rather just start writing straight from my typed notes. I might only use it for someone who I know is a VERY fast talker or for a story that I know will be longer form and will take more time anyway.

For those of you who are in (or have been in) the journalism biz, what did I miss? I’m all too aware that this didn’t cover more confrontational interview situations, so what suggestions would you offer in that regard? Let me know in the comments thread. Thanks!

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