Category Archives: Freelance Life

Wanna Work For Me? (Part-Time Writer’s Assistant Needed)

This idea has been brewing for awhile, but something about this week has inspired me to make it happen. Maybe it’s that back-to-school energy that still inspires me to buy new pens and notebooks every September; maybe it’s that this month marks my ninth year as a freelance writer (here’s my origin story, if you haven’t read it).

Or maybe it’s just that I’ve been busy out of my gourd this week, and realizing how much more efficient I could be at everything if I had somebody helping me make the sausage over here. Whatever the inspiration, I’ve decided that I need some consistent help with admin, story research, and really, a whole long list of things that keep silently shuffling forward on my to do list without ever getting accomplished because I need a second brain and more hours in the week in order to accomplish them all.

So, I’m hiring! I need a (very part-time, freelance) assistant who can manage some of my logistics, help with story research, and so on. Here’s the deal.

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[Freelance Life] A Day in the Life of David Moscrop

I’m excited to include David in this series because I know a lot of you guys are part-time freelancers, fitting your writing in around other jobs and projects, and he has an interesting take, plus some smart strategies for jumping around between different genres of writing. 

Name: David Moscrop

Job Description: PhD candidate in political science at the University of British Columbia, freelance writer, consultant, bourbon aficionado, sometimes blogger at davidmoscrop.com.

Location: Up until recently, Vancouver, British Columbia; currently in transition back to Ontario and perhaps to Europe.

And here’s how Dave spends his days: 

I generally avoid meetings and events as best I can, so I keep my days pretty clear. I’m not too consistent with how I spend my working time, so I don’t let the clock determine what I do or when I do it. Instead, I have a checklist system that lets me stay flexible while still getting my work done: as long as I spend some time working on a project, it doesn’t matter to me when I do so. That said, I do try to keep a rough order of daily events.

My daily “routine” unfolds over broad time spans instead of specific times. Also, if I really don’t feel like doing something that day, I don’t, but I do try to do most things on most days. When I spend more than an hour on something, I acknowledge that with a checkmark in a book in which I keep track of the days that I’ve met minimum work times. This only applies to weekdays, though. I do work on weekends, but there’s nothing even close to a pattern those days.

Morning: Sometime between 8 am and 12 pm I wake up, eat something that’s easy to prepare, make coffee, check e-mail and texts to see if anything is on fire, ignore most e-mails and texts, and then read whatever I feel like reading: essays if I’m curious, news if I feel like being despondent for the day, or maybe some novels or political non-fiction. Sometimes I play video games.

After an hour or two of that, I write fiction or essays or op-eds for about an hour and a half or two hours, depending on what I’m working on at the moment, either at home or at a coffee shop that I’ll walk to. I typically write long hand in a notebook, since this keeps my thinking to a manageable pace and forces me to really consider my options before I write or delete something: it’s easy to type nonsense or to push a ‘delete’ button, but takes a bit more effort to physically mark something down or scratch something out.

At this time during the day, I try my best to focus on one thing at a time, seeing it through to completion before I let my mind wander. I then spend a bit of time working on pitches. Check.

Early afternoon: After that I tinker with e-mails and texts for a bit, usually because the messages I receive are growing more frantic. I might do some errands or do some more leisure reading. If I do have some appointment, I try to make it for this time, since I’m more likely to actually keep the engagement if it’s after I’ve done some work, but before I’ve eaten lunch. Check.

Then I have lunch and watch some TV: usually American late-night shows from the previous night or listen to podcasts or some music while I cook.

Afternoon: After lunch, if I’m not injured (which is rarely), I go to the gym or run or swim. Occasionally I cycle, but I’m terrified of the traffic because, as a driver, I know that drivers are awful people when they drive. I’ve tried training for a few long-distance races over the course of the last three years (a half-marathon, a marathon, and a triathlon), and I’ve become injured each time. Eventually I recover and repeat the cycle. I’m at my best when I’m running though – nothing contributes to my creativity more than running, with the possible exception of a good conversation. Check.

Then I practice the guitar for 45 minutes. Check.

Late afternoon: Technically I’m a full-time PhD student, so I spend two to three hours each day working on my dissertation. I spend about half that time reading and the other half writing or editing. If I’m working on a related side project: an article or conference paper or some grading, I do that after my dissertation work is finished for the day. Check.

I also tend to be working on side projects, which I spend a bit of time on the late afternoon or early evening. In 2012, I drove from London, England to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia for an adventure charity rally known as the Mongol Rally. I spent a lot of time planning that. In 2014, I’m driving from Alaska to Argentina, so I make time to work on stuff like that.

Evening: Dinner. I eat out as often as not, but if I’m home and training and ambitious, I cook something healthy. But I prefer to go out to meet a friend or two for dinner. I eat a lot of sushi. I mean, obscene amounts.

Night: By now I’m probably meant to be at some event or engagement that I regret having agreed to attend. Most times I’ll try to find a way out, but I end up going slightly more often than not. If I don’t have anything to do, I’ll read more, maybe answer some more e-mails, or watch a movie or play video games. I often edit work for friends – they do the same for me – so this is when I do that if I haven’t already. Check.

Bed: I go to bed between 10:30 pm and 2 am, depending on the day. I can’t really predict when I’ll feel like sleeping, so that’s a big part of the reason my mornings can be so erratic. If I can’t sleep, I’ll get up and read a bit more, or watch something on Netflix that I’ll know will put me out.

One of David's workspaces.

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[Freelance Life] A Day in the Life of Alice Oglethorpe

Job Description: A former magazine editor, Alice is now a freelance writer and editor. She’s had work published in Real Simple, Self, Shape, Whole Living, Better Homes & Gardens, Psychology Today, Fitness, Every Day with Rachael Ray, and Good Housekeeping. Also, you guys, she survived naked yoga. 
Location: Chicago, IL
Alice’s Typical Day: 

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And A Few Others.

I don’t always do a blog post every time I post a new article to my portfolio — either because I get busy and forget or because I’m behind and adding a bunch at once and don’t want to overload you with a bunch of separate posts. This would be the latter as I’ve been updating the ole portfolio with everything that came in while I was on baby leave.* So I thought I’d do one more post to quickly highlight them all.

I have to say, I’m loving the slightly random mix of stories here. Anyone who has ever asked for my opinion on the freelance life has to hear my spiel about the importance of being a “plumber writer.” As in: If you want to eat, don’t be too precious about your niche. Plumbers don’t agonize over whether a clogged toilet best expresses their voice. They take the job, they unclog the toilet, they get paid, and then the client calls them again when they need a new copper pipe job.

Which is not to say you shouldn’t have a niche. Mine is telling women’s stories, particularly when they intersect with questions about work and beauty. But writing outside that niche pays the bills. Which I like to do. It also makes me a better reporter and writer because non-niche stories stretch me in different ways. And it expands my cocktail party chatter. This is key because the holidays are coming, which means lots of parties and lots of being asked the dreaded “so, what are you working on?” question. (Seriously, is it just me, or is this question completely paralyzing? That and “who do you write for?” In either case, I find myself casting about wildly, unable to remember anything I’ve ever published, and questioning whether I am, in fact, employed at all.)

So anyway, here’s a rundown of these new mostly non-niche portfolio additions, just in case something catches your fancy.

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[Freelance Life] A Day in the Life of Cheryl Lock

One of my goals now that I’m back from baby leave is to get this series up and running again. I’ve long been super fascinated to hear how other writers spend their days — and since my typical day is shifting pretty dramatically as I figure out the new balance of work and parenting, I’m even more interested in hearing how other folks figure out their own balancing acts. 
So here is Cheryl:
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No, Editors Won’t Steal Your Ideas

I did a fun interview last month with Grace Bello, who is a journalist, copy writer and writing teacher who writes for the Freelance Strategist. The (very smart!) piece is now up over here. If you don’t know about Freelance Strategist (I, um, did not) — it’s a cool blog run by Contently, which is a free portfolio site for journalists to showcase their work and connect with editors and what have you. I haven’t used Contently myself yet, but a prospective client was just telling me last week how he finds it pretty useful for finding new writers. So I should probably get on that. There is, as they say, buzz, and maybe you should check it out (and tell me how it works for you!).

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[Freelance Life] A Day in the Life of Amy Palanjian

So Pretty! Crochet by Amy PalanjianSo Pretty! Felt by Amy Palanjian

So now that you’ve seen how I work the Magic Hour and spend too much time talking to my cats, it’s time for our first official peek at a day in the life of another freelancer. Kicking things off is the very awesome Amy Palanjian. Amy and I bonded instantly when we were hired as assistant editors at the now-dead Organic Style in 2004. The magazine was run on such a shoestring budget that instead of having cubicles, we shared a conference table with two other editors — ensuring that we would either get entirely sick of each other or become best friends. Spoiler alert: It was the latter. 

I’ve decided that in addition to hearing how these freelance writers spend their day, you’re also going to want to hear a little bit about what kind of work they do and how they got where they are — so keep reading for that conversation with Amy after her daily routine.

Here is Amy:

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[The Freelance Life] On Writing for “Exposure” and What We Need to Do About It

Here is a rule that I have about email: Once more than five people send me a link to something, I have to really read it and Have Thoughts. This week, it will not surprise you to hear that the link I keep getting emailed is Nate Thayer’s dust-up with The Atlantic when one of their online editors asked him to write a 1200 word article for “exposure.” (If you missed this whole deal and want a good summary of how The Atlantic and general world responded to Nate’s post, check out Jane Friedman’s excellent write-up here.)

“Exposure” is just a fancy word for “free.” As regular readers of this blog know, I am not a fan of working for free, although there are a few respectable instances where you might decide that it makes sense and exposure is one of them. Ironic case in point: I let that very blog post about not working for free be re-posted to Medium and Ed2010 for free – because those sites are run by colleagues who I like and respect and because I know they have lots of freelancers among their readership, so the piece could reach people who would find it helpful.

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A Day in The Freelance Life

Co-worker Walter gets on top of some filing. 

Introducing a new feature for The Freelance Life: Day in the Life snapshots! I love when other blogs do these — especially So How Was Your Day?, which obviously does nothing but — because I am absolutely beyond nosey (yes I will also look in your bathroom cabinets when you invite me over, without a modicum of shame). And with freelancing, there are just so many endless variations on how you could spend your day! But I have a working theory that while there are many different effective working styles, there are better and worse things you can do with your time to be productive and successful. And that perhaps the freelancer stereotype of sleeping until 3 PM, working in your pajamas and eating Ramen noodles for all your meals falls into the “worse” category.

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[The Freelance Life] On Getting Paid (And Knowing Your Worth)

When you’re starting out as a freelance writer (or really, in any creative/media-driven career), this really annoying thing happens: People ask you to work for free. A lot.

I don’t know too many lawyers or investment bankers or insert-almost-any-other-profession-here who have to work gratis or for “stipends” (read: slave wages and maybe some swag from the beauty closet) for years before they get a regular paycheck, but in our industry, it’s a rite of passage. I’m one of the “lucky” ones because I got most of my unpaid labor done in college via three unpaid magazine internships. I made fantastic connections at these “jobs,” and one of them turned into a full-time job after college, so lots of people would say, you see? Luck. But what really makes me lucky is that I come from a family who supported my career goals and were financially able to subsidize the huge corporations benefiting from my pro bono photocopying all those semesters by covering my living expenses through college and for a wee bit afterwards. #thanksagainparentalunits!

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