Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Why I'm a Better Student Because of Freelancing

This fall I’ve cut way back on pursuing writing projects and am focusing most of my energy on education—I’m teaching an English class at my community college, and am back in the classroom as a student working toward my Master’s degree after a year off.

I admit I was a bit nervous about being a student again. It took some time, but I got into the groove of being the teacher. I was also worried about ultimately taking too much on and being overloaded with work. I’m happy to say that my workload is busy but manageable—so much so that I’m starting to send some pitches out again.

But the real surprise is how much more committed I am to my class this time around and how not-intimidated I feel by the course material and, yes, my classmates (I always think they have so many more brilliant things to say than I do!) And I think that at least some of this newfound commitment to my studies is due to my writing projects. Here’s why:

I’m more disciplined. I had a highly productive summer and spent nearly all of August hunkered down at my computer writing articles. I couldn’t afford to blow off work (which I’m ashamed to admit I did for many of my undergrad reading assignments) or not meet my deadlines. I find that I’m treating my assignments for this class just like any other writing project, so I’m making time for the reading rather than winging it as I’ve done in the past and making a genuine effort. By doing this I feel as if I’m actually getting something out of it.

Thinking of paper topics is much easier. As freelancers our lives revolve around stories—finding new ones, reslanting old ones, and making them sound impressive in our pitches. Writing academic papers isn’t all that different. Most academic papers are an in-depth discussion or analysis on an element of the reading, just as many magazine articles are a narrow focus on a broader topic.

I understand the material more. Perhaps this stems from interpreting Shakespeare for my college classes, or perhaps it comes from having to understand a topic enough to write intelligently about it. Perhaps it’s a combination of both. Whatever it is, I haven’t struggled with any of the reading too much yet this semester.

There’s a light at the end of the tunnel! I’m a few credits away from completing my Master’s, and I compare this with being in the home stretch of completing the article from hell (and we’ve all had ‘em). Whether it’s prickly subject matter, hard-to-reach sources, elusive editors, or simply not knowing where to begin, writing-wise, there’s a tremendous feeling of accomplishment when you wrap up a killer assignment. If I feel that proud of myself after successfully tackling an article, I can only imagine how I’ll feel when I finish my degree!

What about you? How has freelancing positively benefited you lately?

Monday, September 27, 2010

How Critiquing Can Benefit Freelancers

We freelancers live in a bit of an insulated world—most of the time we’re alone with the computer screen, our thoughts, and perhaps a phone should the mood to communicate with others strike. Most of us are slugging through the ever-growing pile of work on our desks and in our inboxes—how can we possibly find the time to focus on our projects?

My schedule doesn’t lend itself to much editing—once I get the initial version of a project finished, I’ll let it sit for a bit then come back to do any last-minute tweaking or polishing. And as a nonfiction writer, my biggest concerns are having quotes correct, facts accurate, and an overall tone of a piece that sounds as though I have some knowledge of a subject. As I’m usually working on a fairly tight deadline, I haven’t had time to enlist the help of a critique partner or group to make sure I’ve done all of this. Other than occasionally asking my b.f. to read something and asking if it makes sense to him, I go it alone—researching, writing, and editing—and hope for the best.

And lately I’ve been wondering if I couldn’t benefit from a bit of critiquing for my paid assignments .

I’ve always thought of critique groups as something that can only benefit fiction writers. After all, it’s easy to edit and add and revise a story that may or may not ever see the light of day over and over again. But me, I have deadlines. I don’t have time. Does it sound correct? Then that’s all I want. “Send”. Done. On to the next project.

But I’m slowly changing my thinking. I’m participating in Steph Auteri’s “5 Weeks to Freelance Awesome” e-course, and like any other class, weekly homework assignments are included. Steph gives us feedback on each assignment, and although we’re only 2 weeks in, I’ve already taken her advice. I tweaked a query using her feedback and received a very positive email from an editor (not an official acceptance yet, but he said he liked the idea and would bring it to the next assignment meeting). Seeing as how this is a new-to-me publication (and a trade pub, no less, which I’ve been nervous about querying up til now), I was thrilled. Maybe there is something to having a reader with a fresh perspective offer feedback on projects. I’m eager to see if I land any other assignments by applying Steph’s comments.

What about you? Do you use a critique partner or group for professional projects?

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Fall Projections

I wrap up the last of my summer assignments on September 7. My plan was to give myself a breather from pitching stories unless a brilliant idea came to mind, or an editor sent a story my way that was too good to pass up. (Although, who am I kidding—I’ll take on just about any story that an editor would want to give me!) My plan was to focus on academics for the next few months, and maybe write an occasional article.

As usual, things aren’t exactly working out that way. It’s a good thing—I’m just trying to figure out how to fit it all in.

Let’s see. I’ve already been assigned a holiday assignment due in mid-October, was just greenlit for a feature story for a new-to-me publication, and am waiting to hear on another assignment I’d pitched a few weeks ago. And I can’t leave out a regular series of articles that another editor offered to me which are still in development. I sent an LOI over the weekend and (surprise!) the editor already got back to me. Luckily, they use freelancers and assign stories (a definite win-win if my idea well is running dry!), so that sounds pretty promising.

Most exciting of all—another freelance writer friend was approached about writing web copy for a gentleman who designs and builds websites (he’s planning to add web copy as an additional service)—and she asked me if I’d be interested in working with her. We’re in the process of working out the details of a proposal, but I’m really excited about finally starting to branch out in a big way.

So that’s what I have on my schedule for the next few weeks.

How’s the fall shaping up for you?