Tag Archives: freelance

This week in freelancing

She's probably worrying about money.

She’s probably worrying about money.

When I woke up Monday morning, I thought that everything would be different. It was my first day as a full-time freelance writer, and I was certain that I would wake up with all the energy and inspiration to take the publishing world by storm.

Instead, I slept in. If my sleep schedule — I do my best work between 3 -11 p.m. — and money worries were factored out, it would have been one of the least stressful non-vacation weeks on record. But even with those two things factored in, it’s still been an incredibly productive week. Here’s roughly how it went:

Monday
Pitched two articles, outlined one, wrote a guest post about bourbon,  itemized my to-do list, cooked, cleaned a bit, and napped.

Tuesday
Drafted two previously outlined articles, checked a couple things off my to-do list, tutored and got a pitch rejected. Tuesday evening, a friend and I went to a cocktail reception at Flip Burger at the Summit. We sat with Laura from Alabama Graffiti (Hey, Laura!), and enjoyed salty turkey sliders, blue cheese-y butcher sliders, and stack sliders. To compliment the food, we sipped on extremely raspberry-y Flip Mules.

Wednesday
Found out that Adam passed the bar (!!!), napped, celebrated, finished an article about salt and amari for mental_floss, and tutored.

Thursday
Put together a budget to find an income goal, freaked out about money, took a nap to deflect the fear, woke up to find I have media credentials for Tales of the Cocktail, and rewrote the intro to an upcoming article for Birmingham magazine.

Friday
Friday afternoon, I sat down with a friend to talk about freelancing. What followed was a discussion about fear, change, and growth that has shifted the focus of my writing. More on that another time. I also finished the Birmingham magazine article, pitched mental_floss for May and celebrated my mom’s pending retirement and Véro’s wedding.

This week was full, and I’m excited to take today off.

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Author talk: Carla Jean Whitley

muscle shoals sound studioCarla Jean Whitley is one of the main reasons I call myself a writer. In the four years I’ve known her, she’s been my mentor, friend, confidant and travel companion. While I was interning at Birmingham magazine, she taught me how to approach AP Style (hint: it’s not sneakily or from the side) and ways to make sure my articles didn’t suck.

She’s also the author of “Muscle Shoals Sound Studio: How the Swampers Changed American Music,” the managing editor of Birmingham magazine and a prolific freelance writer. During the past year, she finished her yoga teacher training and has kept up a regular practice. And yet she still took the time to answer all of my questions on writing.

Clair McLafferty: Why did you start writing when you were young?
Carla Jean Whitley: I can no longer recall a time when I didn’t write. I suspect my interest was tied to school; I was always a good student, and writing came easily to me. Couple that with positive reinforcement from my teachers and parents, and it’s no wonder I kept at it.

However, I also think that interest is intertwined with my love of reading. I’ve read myself to sleep nearly every night since I was 4 years old, and I often joke that the perfect job would be getting paid to read whatever I want. (OK, OK. I’m not actually kidding.)

CM: What kept you interested?
CJW: That positive reinforcement went a long way, and probably fueled my interest up through high school. I also discovered at an early age that I’m excited by sharing ideas, whether my own or those of others. Now, more than a decade into my career, I believe even more strongly in the power of storytelling. Some journalists come to the field because they want to change the world. I ended up here because I like writing and fiction didn’t come naturally to me. However, I’ve seen people better understand their communities because of articles I wrote, and that’s humbling and exhilarating.

CM: I understand you published your first book earlier this year. What were some of the biggest challenges you faced during that process?
CJW: I’ve worked in journalism for more than a decade, and so I’m accustomed to reporting and writing (and doing so quickly). I expected writing a book would be similar, albeit stretched over a longer time frame with a much higher word count.
After one or two interviews, though, I realized I needed a different approach. My book, “Muscle Shoals Sound Studio: How the Swampers Changed American Music,” focuses primarily on a period from 1969 to the early ’80s. The studio’s work had already been covered by countless media outlets over the years, and it seemed silly to ask people to not only recount something that happened 45 years earlier, but also to retell stories they’ve shared over the years.
After that a-ha moment, I regrouped, shifting my focus to historical research and relying on interviews to fill in the gaps. It was a daunting task, but I found myself grateful for my history of journalism professor, who required us to use dozens of primary sources in his class.

CM: What were some of the best parts?
CJW: Easily, the most fun was reading old Rolling Stone album reviews and periodically realizing songs I love had been recorded in my home state. I already knew about a number of them, of course, but I had no idea George Michael had tracked a version of “Careless Whisper” here.

CM: How has it been received?
CJW: The reception has exceeded my expectations! Just this morning–nearly four months after the book’s release–I signed 170 copies for a single order. I’m fortunate that so many people are interested in this story, and I think that’s a testament to the incredible music recorded there.
CM: How do you balance authorship, your editorial job and freelancing?
CJW: It’s a constant struggle. My primary role is managing editor at Birmingham magazine, and I frequently check myself to ensure I’m not neglecting my duties. I’m fortunate to work with supportive people and in a flexible environment, but that could be a recipe for disaster if I weren’t vigilant about getting my work done and maintaining the magazine as my No.-1 professional priority.
I primarily write freelance stories and books at night and–when a deadline looms–on weekends. However, I try to be judicious about how I use my time. I often have to decline last-minute invitations to spend time with friends because of assignments, but I try to regularly spend quality time with the people closest to me. Most weekends, I’m hanging out with my boyfriend and putting writing to the side. That makes weeknights spent in front of the computer a bit easier. (Plus, my cats love it. They think writing time is snuggle time!)
When book deadlines draw near, I also cut back on the amount of freelancing I do. I have a couple of regular clients (most notably BookPage), and I don’t like to put those relationships on hold. However, there were a couple of months earlier this year when I didn’t accept BookPage assignments because I needed to focus on my manuscript, and my editor and friend, the fabulous Trisha Ping, understood. I frequently pitch other publications, but I try not to overschedule myself. (The key word here is try.)
CM: What’s next?
CJW: I’ve got a second book, a history of beer in Birmingham, scheduled for release in the spring. That, too, will be published by The History Press. After that, who knows? While history is immensely satisfying to research and write, my true love is narrative nonfiction. I’m always brainstorming ways to move in that direction, and perhaps blend the two.
Bonus: Carla Jean’s must-have list for writers:
Writer’s Digest (worth every cent. Please subscribe.)
Scratch magazine (I love, love, love this digital-only publication. It works to remove the mystery in the relationship between writers and money, and I’ve learned so much as a result. Their “Who Pays Writers?” database is also wonderful.)
Quill (the magazine of the Society of Professional Journalists)
Longform (I am obsessed with their podcast!)
And Pocket for keeping it all organized.

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Starting Fresh

Photo credit to Jessica Jack Wyrick

Photo credit to Jessica Jack Wyrick

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

Last weekend, I came across the Mary Oliver poem that included that line, and it’s stuck with me. Since then, I’ve been hustling my freelance game harder than ever before. As a result, I’m calling September The Month of Just Doing It. So far, I’ve pitched two national publications and one regional one. I’ve requested an update from a private client, and scheduled an interview.

Even though I haven’t been blogging, I’ve been writing more than ever before on many of the same topics. Here’s a handy list of life updates:

  • I still love cocktails. My dream of writing for mental_floss has been a reality for almost a year, and my editor’s help in finding my voice in science writing has been invaluable. Read those posts here.
  • I’m exercising regularly. Not all of the written entries have been posted yet, but having Chris Conn as my personal trainer at Omega Life Fitness has pushed me to a new level of fitness. On to the next goal.
  • Rejection is OK. I’ve already had a pitch rejected from one national publication, but immediately pitched another. If my motivation to keep moving, working, failing and learning ever stops, I’m finished as a freelancer. For The Month of Just Doing It, I will continue to research and pitch new stories, even if they fail. I also entered a cocktail competition earlier this year and made it to the finals. I didn’t win, but did learn a lot from the process itself.
  • I’m engaged. Even before I was engaged, I was writing for Love Inc., a wedding publication dedicated to all love — equally. I’ve written about buying a wedding dress, getting engaged (in that order), and various industry trends.
  • I don’t like new things. As a writer, being change-averse is both silly and counter-productive. Without experiencing new things, you can’t develop new material for any medium. This weekend, Adam and I went to a marksmanship clinic. It was a new and thoroughly frustrating experience, but I can now hit a target with a damn fine grouping at 100 yds, and am a passable shot up to 400 yds. This winter, I’ll go hunting with Adam for the first time.
  • Bartending is still awesome. Writing and bartending are two of my passions, and getting to pursue them both concurrently is amazing. But both take hustle, hard work and energy. Over the next few months, I’ll be ramping up my networking on both fronts to see how I can move them forward.

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Profession vs. personality

Photo credit to Hyperbole and a Half, one of my favorite blogs.

Photo credit to Hyperbole and a Half, one of my favorite blogs.

Professionally, my life is split between two extremes. As a freelance writer, I sit on my couch and translate my thoughts into words that are published on websites, blogs and print. These jobs challenge the boundaries of what I think I can write and continuously expand my horizons. I’m alone when I write, but I’m seldom lonely.

Most days, I leave my apartment only to run or to go to work. In the past months, running has become an exercise in pacing both my strides and my life. It’s not always something I do well, but I keep trying. I have more energy when I run, and am more able to tackle all of the challenges thrown my way.

When I’m behind the bar, I step it up. I drink more tea and if I’m really tired, some espresso to keep my energy levels high. I joke, banter, tell stories, talk to customers/friends and keep moving. If I’m in motion, I’m awake and can keep the momentum going. It’s fast-paced, hospitality-oriented and way different from anything else I’ve done.

I’ve found recently that I’m having more trouble recharging after my shifts. Whether it’s exhaustion, an inconsistent sleep schedule, lack of exercise or overstimulation, I can’t seem to get rested. Though I’ve put a plan into effect to get back to regular exercise and have started blocking off time to read. After deleting Candy Crush, this plan seems to be working. My energy levels are slightly higher, and I have finally worked through my to do list.

Next week, I’m looking forward to more time to myself. I’ll also be putting together a Halloween costume and getting ready to start the November #bloglikecrazy challenge. Though it’ll add daily blogging to my to do list, I’m looking forward to getting back in the habit of writing and taking time out for my blog each day. As well, sitting down with my writing every day will give me the chance to evaluate my priorities as a freelancer. I may not like what I find, but it’ll make me more honest.

Until then, I’m going to keep on working towards balancing my work obligations and personal needs. Right now, it’s time to read.

Have any advice for balancing your personality type with job expectations? Leave them in the comments!

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Dress like a freelancer

I should be writing, not searching for pics of Lil Bub.

I should be writing, not searching for pics of Lil Bub.

When I quit my office job, I spent the first couple days surfing the web for writing inspiration. After three days, I had exhausted my patience for silly memes. Before transitioning to full-on writing, I combed my hair and changed into slacks and blouse. I didn’t change my workspace or routine, but dressing professionally made me feel like I was on the clock.

Psychologically, putting on comfortable but professional clothing can signal your brain and body that it’s time for work. When you change out of your pajamas, you’re able to stop resting and start knocking out tasks on your to-do list. Since minimizing distractions is crucial in succeeding as a freelancer of any kind, taking all possible steps to delineate work time from play time is essential.

By dressing up, you’re enforcing a small measure of self-accountability. When practiced on a regular basis, it can help increase productivity and focus. If you surf the web for cat pictures instead of potential pitches, you’re wasting your own valuable time. I’ve found that it’s much more difficult to justify an hour spent on Pinterest or Facebook when I have set goals for the day’s writing.

That said, my one pair of dress slacks is more comfortable any of my jeans. As a result, I’m more comfortable in business casual. By dressing up, I’m also able to schedule and attend last minute meetings away from my couch. More importantly, as I build my freelance base, learning how to define the border between work and personal time will be absolutely crucial to maintaining my passions — and my sanity.

Balancing all of these aspects of my life will be tricky, but it will be doable with practice and support. Luckily, if any of these gets too overwhelming, I will take a step back and rest. All the freelance pitches will still be out in the world tomorrow — and so will the cat pictures.

If you freelance, do you dress up to go to work?

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Do or do not. There is no try

Photo c/o Shutterstock.

Photo c/o Shutterstock.

Since I graduated college, I have resisted defining myself by my job title. After being raised to be the author of my own story, the idea of describing my identity with others’ words makes me feel like some manic pixie dream girl. Once I quit my day job to bartend and freelance, I have fewer reservations about shaping titles like these to fit my life.

Not using these titles became an excuse. Denying that I am a writer and a runner gives me the slack I need to put off blog posts and speed drills. Not admitting these parts of my identity gives me the room to fail without fear of consequence. If I’m not a writer, having a pitch ignored or rejected is just part of being an amateur freelancer. If I’m not a runner, spending the afternoon on my couch instead of the sidewalk isn’t neglecting a training routine, it’s personal care.

The truth is that I am both a writer and a runner. My spreadsheet of story ideas and markets won’t pitch itself, and I’ll never be able to run 3.11 miles if I don’t lace up. Pretending that I have no responsibility to these titles won’t cut it anymore. I simply can’t ignore it anymore.

Tonight I work my first solo bartending shift at Octane. Though I haven’t been too hesitant about calling myself a bartender, I qualify the title by adding “baby” or “in training.” Truthfully, I will be learning new parts of the craft during every shift I work. If I keep using a qualified title now, I may never stop, further hindering my ability to hone my skills.

Needless to say, the denial and qualifications stop now. I am a writer, runner and bartender, and should direct my energy to develop these abilities instead of denying them. It’s about damn time.

Today’s title comes from Yoda’s speech to Luke.

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Can you just be whelmed?

Signs, y'all.

Signs, y’all.

As I have said several times before, one of my biggest struggles is balancing my schedule and making time to be mindful. Right now, my hamper of clean laundry is overflowing and dust bunnies are breeding like…rabbits in my house while a shameful number of unfinished blog posts languish as drafts. To top it off, I have now gone four days without a workout and have not cooked a full meal since last Wednesday.

In the midst of it all, I went through my first week in a new position at my company. The switch has forced me to closely inspect all aspects of my future goals. Financially, I found I would be living paycheck to paycheck if I did not tutor and freelance. No matter how I crunched the numbers, I cannot currently afford to leave the apartment unless I work past 5.

Over the past week, I have been pitching stories like mad. Though some of these ideas will be unpaid, I will still get to gain experience in the field and possibly cultivating larger future projects. I have also started putting together a master list of potential, likely and unlikely publications I would like to write for.

Since all the my public school tutees returned from spring break, my schedule has been steady. Even then, I have started reserving at least part of one weeknight to visit with friends and family. The small amount of mental health space that this move has created keeps me saner and more centered.

The combination of my schedule and the new social media policy at work has left me with little time for online interactions. That said, I’ve still managed to geek out over Doctor Who all over the Twitterverse, hang out with a new friend and write out some (very modest) resolutions for the new season.

I will be introducing a new editorial feature later this week and another at the beginning of next week. The first will be website and app reviews for services that I have found to be incredibly helpful. The second will spotlight people in Birmingham who are harnessing social networking tools to foster growth, development and general awesomeness in the community. I will also begin sharing some of my favorite entries from Birmingham Box Set as I get them posted.

Hang on, y’all. We’re in for a ride.

Title today comes from 10 Things I Hate About You. “I think you can in Europe.”

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