Name: 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:
I’ve discovered that I’m a morning worker. By the time 4:30 rolls around my brain starts to turn to mush and I notice I’m wasting time scrolling through Pinterest. So I wake up, throw on some yoga pants (SUCH a perk of working from home!), start the coffee maker, and immediately get to work. That way I can put in some good hours while I’m at my most productive. In the afternoon I send a bunch of emails, put my to-do list together for the next day, and get started on dinner. (I swear, there’s a shower in there somewhere, too.)
VA: Give us the backstory: What inspired you to become a freelance writer and how long have you been doing this?
AO: My desire to become a freelance writer mostly came out of my desperation to leave New York. I had been there for 8 years, working as an editor at a bunch of different magazines (Good Housekeeping, Fitness, and Shape), and around the time I turned 30 thought: Enough! I was sick of living in my 5th-floor walk-up that was less than 200 square feet and cost just under $2,000 a month. I was sick of the dating scene in New York. I was sick of not having a car that I could jump in whenever I wanted to go on a spontaneous road trip (because I just *knew* I was the type of girl who would go on spontaneous road trips if only I had a car). So I decided to move, but had no idea what job I could do because I’d only ever been a magazine editor. I figured that I knew lots of other people who had gone freelance and so I thought I would give it a shot. More than two years later and I’m still doing it.
VA: What is your most favorite project or projects to date?
I got to write a few quiz books for American Girl, which was a total joy. Putting myself back into the mindset of a 9 year old was fun (and scary!) and the writing was such a change from my more typical work. I also got to write an essay about taking a naked yoga class. A co-ed naked yoga class. That was… interesting.
VA: Do you have a niche or do you consider yourself more of a generalist? (And why did you choose one or the other?)
AO: I tend to do a lot of women’s health and wellness stories (how to improve your memory, how to make morning exercise a habit, how to stay motivated at the beginning of a new exercise routine). I spent eight years working at women’s service magazines, so that kind of writing comes easily to me and I love it.
VA: What is your favorite part of the job?
AO: The flexibility. If I finish a story early or am waiting for a bunch of people to email me back, I can go to the gym or walk around my neighborhood or do laundry. I squeeze in all of my errands throughout the week now, leaving my weekends free for fun.
VA: What is the worst part of the job?
AO: The uncertainty. I am really Type A, which was perfect for working as a magazine editor. But as a freelancer there’s only so much that’s in your control. I’ve had a hard time “going with the flow” and accepting that there will be slower periods and busier periods. To comfort myself, I look back on the past year and a half and see how it all worked out. But man, it’s hard.
VA: What do you wish you had known starting out, so you always make sure to tell other people?
AO: This isn’t something I wish I’d known, but it’s something I always make sure to tell other people. Learn to love Excel. I keep spreadsheets for everything: current assignments, monthly goals (so I know how much more I have to pitch to reach them), invoices I’ve sent out, business expenses, everything! Being super organized has helped me see that, oh wait, I haven’t gotten paid for that story I wrote 7 months ago. Without Excel I’d be lost. I also am the luckiest freelancer in the world because both of my parents are tax accountants. If you aren’t blessed enough to have a mom and dad to do all of your expenses and tax returns for you, find a good accountant.
VA: What are you still trying to figure out about this writing business?
AO: I am still trying to figure out how to pitch. I know that sounds silly, but since going freelance most of my assignments have come to me from editors I know. That’s been great (coming up with good ideas on your own is so hard sometimes!), but as a result I feel rusty pitching stories to new editors. My 2014 goal (resolution, whatever you want to call it) is going to be to pitch more frequently. The more I do it, the easier it will be! Or at least that’s what I hope!
VA: Probably the two biggest fears about freelance writing that I hear are: How do you have enough discipline to work for yourself? And, how do you maintain any work/life balance when you work for yourself? So — what are your thoughts on these?
AO: I have a few tips for this one…I do not turn the TV on during the day. I listen to music, but no television. It’s too easy to get sucked into some horrible rerun on TV and then you realize an hour has passed and you haven’t written a word. I find it easy to stay disciplined because I know that if I don’t work, I don’t get paid. As for work/life balance, I made sure that when I moved into my new apartment, there was a separate room I could turn into an office. When I’m in that room, I’m working. When I’m not in there (nights and weekends), I’m not working.
VA: Where do you see yourself, writing-wise, in five years?
AO: God this one is hard. I want to write a few books (I have some ideas I’m tossing around in my head, one for a non-fiction book about a friend’s crazy life, one for a young adult novel). I think in another year I’ll have a better idea if I want to stay freelance writing. I’m not sure this is a forever gig for me. I miss the social aspect of working in an office and I miss feeling like I’m part of a team. I also miss having a goal of a promotion or raise to strive towards. But the flexibility of working from home and for yourself is pretty amazing. So, I guess we’ll see!
PS. Want to share your Day In the Freelance Life? Email it to me on virginiasolesmith [at] gmail [dot] com, subject: Day In the Freelance Life Submission. Try to follow this format and include a picture or two of yourself, your work environment, what have you.