Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Answers for Suzannah: Freelance Writing

Remember when I asked for questions to jump-start my need to write in this space more meaningfully, and then I PROMISED to answer whatever you shot my way? 

Remember that? 

That was almost three months ago, and I've answered less than half of your thoughtful questions. 

But I'm here to say, I'm a trooper: I'll answer them; I will.  Starting today, with a question from Suzannah, a sweet, smart, shouting, laughing blog friend:

sarah, i want to know how you landed your newspaper column. when did you start writing for the paper? how much do you work now and how do you balance writing and family? do you write anywhere else as a freelancer?

I landed the newspaper column mostly by plucky assertiveness.  After being convinced and persuaded by a few friends and family members, I finally agreed that writing could be something more than just a hobby for me.  And after asking around a bit, the local newspaper seemed like a wonderful venue in which to ply my trade. 

First, I wrote a (too-long, too-detailed) email to the newspaper's editor.  It included a few ideas I'd come up with for columns I could regularly contribute to, as well as a handful of writing examples from my blog.  I tried to sell myself, but in hindsight, I wonder if that eagerness was actually helpful; I might have been more successful had I stuck mainly to a professional tone. 

But even with my happy naivety, I was offered a job.  The editor was very nice, very encouraging, and very efficient.  In truth, I feel extremely lucky to have landed this job.  First off, I have no journalistic experience: my features editor often jokes about how obvious my writing is in ousting my non-industry training.  But also, the people I've encountered at the local paper are all very generous with their encouragement.  If you felt like you might want to pursue a freelance column in your town, I'd say Go For It!  It can't hurt, and any critical advice you might receive can only help in the future. 

That was in February of last year; in March, they ran my first column.  Since then, I've been doing freelance writing (small as it may be), in whatever free time I can manage.  A morning here, an evening there.  On a good day, I can write a column in under 2 hours unless I become completely stumped, in which case I step away from the computer until next time -- a luxury, knowing that my other responsibilities will allow me to come back when my ideas are better formed and more easily expressed.

The biggest problem I have with freelance writing is learning to make it a priority.  Since I write so much -- for fun, for blogs, for emails -- it feels difficult to compartmentalize what HAS to be done, versus what I WANT to get done.  I've found that setting aside a certain day and time for deadline writing to be really helpful in keeping me organized.  If I approach it like a job -- professionally and intentionally -- everything flows more smoothly.   Now, if only I could stick to that plan...

Currently, the newspaper column is my only freelance job.  I could say that I'm hoping to branch out and do more...but I'm not.  I'm happy with this level of pressure (low-key and manageable) at this phase of my life.  My family is my first priority, and as long as we're comfortable with me not contributing in a major way to the family income, I'll stick to my plan. 

I want to spend every available moment with my kids.  I'll sacrifice to make that happen.

Plus, by doing so, I'm provided with endless fodder for newspaper column ideas.


  1. I think I'll steal from a comment of yours today: You are magical. MAGICAL! :)

  2. Love it!! It is so nice to hear how someone, somewhere gets to live a piece of their dreams. And the best part is that you seem to love it.

  3. I think it's so great that you have a column! And every time I read it, I am always nodding along in perfect agreement. I really love picturing a bunch of mamas reading their newspapers and sipping their coffee and doing the same!

  4. I want to be you when I grow up. Even though I think we might be the same age. Someday (crossing fingers) I can be like Sarah!

  5. yay! you answered MY question:)

    i love your chutzpah. i am not naturally a go-getter, but i know in a lot of ways, i need to be, because not all opportunites present-we have to create them!

    you've given me some ideas to mull over...


Hmm...And how did that make you FEEL?