Well, I’ve made it through about a half year of freelance writing, and so far it’s been an exciting, tumultuous, stressful, and intriguing time.
It’s tough getting started, as you’re basically running your own business — you’re a writer, a reporter, a self-editor, and the boss. And it’s even tougher being a parent at the same time. Fortunately, freelancing allows for more flexible time. But that means coming to terms with all the stories and pieces you don’t have time to write.
Despite the ups and downs, I think I’ve done pretty well so far. Over the last six months, I’ve published in a bunch of outlets and magazines I had never worked with before, including Newsweek, Slate, FiveThirtyEight, Undark, Quanta, Hakai, Now.Space (now defunct, unfortunately), and San Diego Home & Garden magazine. (See my Writings page for links to these articles.)
For those of you considering working as a freelance writer or journalist, here’s a few lessons I’ve learned so far. I’m happy to hear about what others have learned as well, so feel free to comment below.
1. It’s important to carefully manage time and money. Some people go crazy about using software to organize every minute of their day, and I don’t go that far. But since you’ve got so many short- and long-term deadlines and other responsibilities, it’s a challenge to keep them all straight.
2. Conferences and scientific meetings can be useful for material for stories, but not always. Be prepared and be open-minded about the kinds of stories you might find. But some conferences just don’t have much that’s clearly new, though you might get ideas for other things to write later once new developments take place.
3. It’s important to find editors and outlets you enjoy working with and who help you put together your best work.
3. Some outlets are better than others about paying well and on time. That’s a good reason why we freelancers should be in a union!
4. Work goes in waves, and some weeks and months go better than others. It fluctuates even more than I expected, but now I think I’ve learned to not get frustrated or discouraged when that happens.
5. Some people don’t know how to deal with the media. Just try to be as helpful and understanding as possible with your sources, even if some don’t know how the process works. Most of my sources have been excellent so far. But in an investigative piece, sometimes one’s sources don’t want to be interviewed, and then that’s a challenge.