Although fiction writing is my true love, professional non-fiction writing has probably honed my craft more than any story I’ve written. Being edited constantly, learning to withstand criticism, and writing on a deadline are all experiences any writer can benefit from.
When people learn I’m a freelancer, they usually want to know more about how that works — especially if they’re interested in trying it themselves. My path is not typical, but I’m not sure there is a “typical” path for freelancers.
My first paid writing job was as a reporter for a tiny newspaper, but after I became a mom I needed something more flexible, preferably something I could do from home. By the time my daughter was born I had moved to a new city so I cold-called the major newspaper there and asked whom I should speak to about freelance writing. Within a few minutes, I had my first assignment.
Thirteen years later I am still writing for that same newspaper, even though I have again moved cities. I’ve done some articles for other publications, which has taught me how good I have it with “my” newspaper. I’ve worked with two editors there now, both lovely people who edit me lightly and who let me write as often or as infrequently as I like. With my energies currently going toward completing at least one of my two novels-in-progress, I’m on a bit of hiatus at the paper, and my editor says that’s fine, just let her know when I’m ready and she’ll have work for me.
This publication also pays well … relatively speaking. Freelancing is not a money-making venture, and those who do it for a living have to be savvier than I am: for example, if you’re clever you ca re-sell the same article multiple times without breaking copyright. My more ambitious freelancer friends work their way up the chain, going from stringers at newspapers (which can pay as little as $15 per story) to writing regularly for magazines that buy their articles for a thousand bucks a pop.
Since I’m not relying on it for the money, and since fiction is my first love, some people (especially my husband) ask me why I freelance at all. The primary reason is exposure: I want to keep up my resume, to have my name out there. I hope that when I finish my novel and begin looking for an agent, it will be noted that I’m a regularly-published, reliable writer who is used to deadlines and to being edited.
For this reason, I’d encourage anyone who has considered freelancing to give it a try. It’s an excellent way to get your name in print, and the feedback you get from editors will only help your writing. Even if it doesn’t pay well at first, the experience is worth it: think of it as getting paid to be critiqued, to take a writing class. When you think of it that way, what writer wouldn’t jump at that chance?
What about you? If you freelance, what has your path been? If you’ve considered it but haven’t taken the plunge, is there anything you’re curious about?