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:
Name: Cheryl Lock
Job Description: Freelance writer, personal finance blogger and syndication consultant for Savings.com, SEO writer for Pet360, and a part-time editor for Studio One, working on multiple Web properties. Cheryl also travels like crazy and blogs about her adventures over at Weary Wanderer.
Location: New York City
And here’s how Cheryl spends her days:
On Mondays I work in an office as an editor for Studio One working on four different websites, one of which is an international edition. So on those days I’m in the office from 8 a.m. to 6 pm.
Tuesdays I work from home for Studio One on the same projects/websites.
On any given Wednesday through Friday, you can find me on this schedule:
8 am: Wake up and immediately grab iPhone or computer to start working, sometimes while I’m still in bed.
8-12 pm: Generally working straight through the morning hours, coffee in hand, which I’ve found to be my most productive. Writing or conducting interviews, working on pitches, sending or returning emails, etc.
12-3 pm: If I’m being honest, I usually take these off. Lunch, run (if I’m going to!), shower, TV break, nap or volunteer (which I haven’t done nearly as much as I started off wanting to).
3-5 pm: I might have another interview scattered somewhere in here, or some emails or reading to do, but I would say on most days, I’m pretty much totally done by 5, other than periodically checking my email later in the evening as well.
I’ve also started working on a draft for a children’s book. I have it in my calendar to work on that on Wednesdays and Thursdays from 10 to 11 am.
VA: Give us the backstory: What inspired you to become a freelance writer and how long have you been doing this?
CL: I’ve always wanted to be able to spend more time concentrating on multiple subjects, and I knew that being a freelance writer would be the only way to do that. I also really wanted to start developing an idea I had for a children’s book series, and to volunteer more. I figured freelancing would potentially give me the flexibility to get in all of those things. It’s been a little over a year now and I can honestly say that it has done just that.
VA: What is your most favorite project or projects to date?
CL: I just recently sold a personal essay to Runner’s World, which was awesome. It’s running in a column that they only run a couple of times a year, and the editor was very cautious when I submitted to explain that she receives hundreds of submissions, it’s very competitive, not very likely mine would be picked. Then she read it and came back and said it was really funny and she wanted to run it in the very next column. That felt good 😉
VA: Where do you get your story ideas? (Like that RW essay — congrats, btw!)
CL: Most of the time I’m inspired by things in my own life (like the Runner’s World essay!), or by friends, other articles and books I’m reading, the news, etc. Also my dad sends me a lot of ideas, and one of my editor-mentors tells me when things I’m talking about would make a great story.
VA: How often do you pitch stories? (Per week or per month or no set schedule?)
CL: I have no set schedule, since I’m lucky enough to be working with a set number of “clients” every month, but I try to pitch at least three original pieces each month, whether to websites or mags.
VA: How many assignments do you work on at once?
CL: Hmmmm–let’s see. Probably the easiest way to answer this is to say:
- I’m working as the freelance editor twice a week for the three U.S. and two international websites with Studio One every month.
- I’m the personal finance blogger and syndication consultant for Savings.com. For that job I’m writing two original blogs each month and dedicating 6-9 hours per month on syndication consultation, including pitching new clients potential syndication deals and uploading and writing content for clients we currently have in place.
- I’m the SEO writer for Pet360, which requires a certain number of posts per month, based on what my editor tells me.
- Then whatever other projects I have going on at the time, that either I have pitched myself or people have come to me for. For example I’ve been doing a lot of work for my old gig, Learnvest, and I’ve done stuff for Parents and Parents.com as well, where I also used to work. I also work pretty regularly with a health publisher based in Florida (they run four health-related magazines) that I’ve been freelancing for since I lived there six years ago. Random other things will come in, like the Runner’s World project, or for Weight Watchers and Ladies’ Home Journal, where I have editor friends. The additional gigs vary every month, but those first three bullets are projects I know I have every month.
VA: Do you have a niche or do you consider yourself more of a generalist? (And why did you choose one or the other?)
CL: More specifically defining my niche is something I’m working on this year. I would say that finance is a topic I have a lot of experience in, as is parenting, but travel is my passion, and I’m trying to break into it more. I’ve also done a lot of work in the pet realm for a bunch of different pet websites, which is always really fun (especially when I can use photos of my own adorable pets!)
VA: What is your favorite part of the job?
CL: I love the flexibility, and the ability to write about so many different things. I get bored very quickly, so this is pretty much the best job for me. Work on one project to death, then move on. Love it.
VA: What is the worst part of the job?
CL: Hmmm, I feel like I should say the sporadic payment here, but that’s actually not been the case for me. For some reason (knock on wood), the companies I work most frequently with are pretty good at timely payments. I guess I’d have to say, as horrible or stupid as it sounds, the editing process. Not in the sense that I hate re-doing things, but sometimes I just feel so strongly about the specific way I wrote something, or even one stupid word, that I hate making the change. I do, of course, make it, but sometimes not without a fight 😉 Writing can be so subjective–I definitely think that’s the hardest part.
VA: What do you wish you had known starting out, so you always make sure to tell other people?
CL: Well I knew a whole lot, because I was lucky enough to have amazing freelance friends who had been in the biz for a long time…like you! [Editor’s note: (Blushes modestly.)] I think I was probably more prepared than most–I had at least six months of savings stored, I was ready to take a financial hit at first, working in an office at least once a week would keep me connected to people and civilization, etc. I guess I’d have to say the hardest part so far has been forcing myself to do productive things (outside of work) with my free time. Like I said, I haven’t volunteered nearly as much as I started off wanting to— that was a big reason I wanted to even do this in the first place, and so far it has basically translated into naps.
The editor-in-chief at the job I had right before I went full-time freelance, who was lovely, also gave me some pretty spot-on advice. She told me to put a bra on every day. That’s been really helpful.
VA: What are you still trying to figure out about this writing business?
CL: How to get a thick skin, stop taking things personally and STOP READING THE COMMENTS! I’ve been writing/editing for eight years now, and I still find this the hardest thing.
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?
CL: In terms of discipline, I think that is hard for some people. Luckily for me, I’m a ‘do it right now if it can be done’ kind of gal. I think that comes in handy. It’s easy to let things slide through the cracks when there’s no one to remind you that things are due besides yourself. I also think that finances will be a big part of having enough discipline to work for yourself. If you don’t have the discipline and aren’t getting it done, being broke will be incentive enough to get moving on it!
In terms of work/life balance, that’s true, too. I think one thing I didn’t do, that I probably should have, was to set up a separate email account for my freelance work. That would help a lot to keep work and life separate. And I’m careful to try to set specific endings to my day when I can/when it’s possible, like by making plans with friends who have regular jobs, so that I have to meet them after work and be away from my computer.
VA: Where do you see yourself, writing-wise, in five years?
CL: Having written my critically acclaimed children’s book series and supervising the shooting of the movie for it! My husband and I are also planning a move to Denver next year, and will be writing there. That’s what I love about this business–it’s portable!
VA: Who are your favorite writers right now?
CL: I’ve been reading a lot of David Sedaris lately. I guess I’ve been in a silly mood!
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.