Magazine writing


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Okay, I don’t necessarily mean psychiatric or psychological help (although there’s nothing wrong with that either).  But, of all the comic strips that I’ve created this one is a personal favorite of mine.  Why?  Well, it’s really symbolic for me: first because I, too, have tried to “cut” corners and give myself a haircut many years ago as a teen (needless to say I certainly have a solid appreciation for hair stylists) and two because as a freelance writer it speaks volumes about my first freelance writing year and the lessons I’ve learned about DIAY (Do It All Yourself).

Hopefully, once you’re through chuckling or laughing (hopefully you found the comic funny), you’ll recognize that at the core of it the message is that we’re all good at something and downright bad at others.  That’s why there are experts or people with a knack for certain things–like giving you a haircut that turns heads (and not for the wrong reasons either).

As I reflect on my first year as a full-time freelance writer, finding experts in the field to help me with either my articles or with transcribing recordings was one of my weaknesses.  Bottomline: I didn’t like asking for help.  Surprisingly, I didn’t realize this was a part of my character.  I realized that it I was overwhelmed with other assignments, yet I still continued to burn the midnight oil to transcribe my interviews for articles I was working on. It didn’t make sense (at the time) for me to spend money having someone else do what I could do on my own.

But after reading a post from another writer, I realized that sometimes the time you take to DIAY can also be a waste of money.  And basically time is money.  For instance, the hours I took transcribing several interviews, which could be about 3-4 recordings per article was not only taxing, but it’s also my least favorite task.  Eventually, I started to use a transcription agency.  And when I calculated my time and their rates–it was a no brainer because I was saving money (i.e. it cost me more to do my own work because of the time I took versus the rates charged).  Not only was I saving money, I didn’t have to do a task I really didn’t enjoy. It’s a win-win situation!

I also sought out expert help on how to grow my freelance business.  One writer in particular is Carol Tice of Make a Living Writing.  She’s been an invaluable expert who brings writers other experts to learn from–clearly demonstrating the importance of learning through others.  She’s started a member site called The Freelance Writers Den, which I encourage every new (and veteran) writer to just try out one of her free webinars (which occurs every first of the month, visit her site for details if you’re interested).

But I eventually realized that the only way to grow as a writer is to reach out to those who have made a successful career out of it.  It’s been a year filled with ups and downs.  For 2012, I’m open to joining organizations, marketing my skills, networking more, owning my own website, and more.  It’s about being fearless and recognizing that the difference between being a hobbyist and a serious writer.  And that means making decisions that surpass just being able to support myself financially today, but to build a career in which I’m thriving year after year.

This past weekend, I watched in amazement as my 3-year-old nephew spat out the word no with relative ease and affirmation.  Whether it was about picking up his toys or eating his veggies — the reply was a swift, definitive no. NO  As I watched him, albeit frustratedly, I also started to wonder when did it become so hard for me to say no.  After all, if a toddler could do it so could I, right?  One of the reasons I think it can be difficult to say no as an adult is because we learn different social behaviors, which makes it difficult to say no when someone asks us to do something.  I think most people can attest to having a difficult time saying no, and it doesn’t matter if it’s personal or professional.

The key to breaking out of the vicious cycle of taking on too much because you can’t say no begins with acknowledging that you are the problem and the solution.  I’ve already started to put into practice the art of saying no sans the toddler attitude, and I’ve already begun to see a change in my own life (For starters, I’m not so stressed).  Here are some of the tips that I’ve implemented in my own life that I hope may help you as well:

  • It takes a bit of introspective work to figure out why you can’t seem to utter the word no.  Are you a people-pleaser?  Are you afraid that if you say no to an assignment you won’t ever hear from that client again?  Or is it that your family has dubbed you the “official” go-to person for planning family events (How could you say no after all those years of planning baby showers and buying pinatas for kiddie birthday parties?)
    • Examine your feelings next time you’re asked to do something.  Taking the time to evaluate your emotions can be quite telling when you find yourself in a compromising situation.  And it can be the start toward taking control of you life and doing the things that you choose to do, not the things you feel obligated to do.
  • Really understand and revisit your personal and professional goals. It’s easy to get lost in the shuffle of your everyday routine.  And before you know it you’re off-course and that vacation you were planning to take went poof and vanished into thin air all because you bit more than you could chew.
    • Establish boundaries with people in your professional and personal life.  If it’s a family function that you can attend, but don’t have time to bake your famous chocolate cake — just say no (and by no means should you offer to bake brownies instead because you’re feeling guilty).  On a professional note, let’s say you’re working on several projects, and an editor you’ve been meaning to work with again contacts you for an assignment.  The only problem is your deadline is really tight, and you have a lot of other obligations.  So, what do you do?  You say no.  Nope, you didn’t read that sentence incorrectly.  It’s okay to say no to a client.  And if they dump you for saying no then you don’t need to work for a company like that anyway.  But if they value your work then you’ll hear from them again.
  • Practice makes perfect!  If you’ve gone into many situations before with the intention of saying no only to find yourself uttering yes then you need to practice.
    • Tap into the inner assertive you and practice saying no in front of the mirror.  Ask your family and friends to help you practice by acting out situations that you know you don’t want to do or don’t have time for.  Learn to keep it simple, no is only a two-letter word.  Yet, people tend to feel that they need to go into a long-winded explanation as to why they are unable to do something.  I’ve learned that a simple: “No, I’m unavailable”, is quite sufficient.  And leave out the “I’m sorry” part.  Because if you’re busy or have other obligations then you simply can’t do what’s being asked of you.

So take heart and begin the journey of saying no to the things you’re unable to do or the things that aren’t a good fit for your personal and professional aspirations. And you’ll begin to see  that you have more time for the things that truly matter to you.

When I first started out as a freelancer I was focusing more on magazine writing.  And as most writers know unless you’re an expert in the field, who knows everything about everything, then you’re going to need to conduct interviews to get quotes and add value to your piece. I enjoy speaking with different people from all walks of life because I get to learn some new things along the way. Because my writing tends to focus more on medical and health issues, I pick up all sorts of interesting gems of information from nutritional foods right in my cupboard (Who knew!) to alternative and complementary medicinal practices (That makes me say “OM”).

But once the interviews over, I’m filled with a sense of anxiety — really, a sense of urgency about the interview. No, it’s not about whether or not I missed a vital piece of information or if I failed to ask the most obvious of questions. I can’t really say that it’s even an issue of reflecting back on interview and wondering if I pushed the boundaries in my line of questioning.  Actually my sense of urgency come from my resistance to the process of transcribing.samsung digital voice recorder yv-120 (ii)  Forget the fact that I cringe at the thought of just listening to my own voice (c’mon I’m not the only one who feels this way). Considering that I may have a couple of interviews to transcribe for different articles the idea of listening to my voice over and over again is not something that I look forward to. But besides that I think the process of transcribing digitized interviews is the fact that it is a super duper time consumer. Take one featured health article that I’ve written, I most likely interviewed three to four experts and each interview will last anywhere between 30 to 40 minutes.

At the start of my freelancing career, I was heavily focused on magazine writing.  But once reality set in (the bills do have to get paid), my dreams of seeing my name in the big-time glossies began to fade away–quickly.  And my lofty goals of magazine writing were replaced with a sudden urgency to write for content mills.  Thankfully, before I became a content mill writing junkie (I had a short stint with Associated Content before the Yahoo takeover), I found an alternative stream of income within textbook publishing, book researching, and ghostwriting.  All of these opportunities were literally just a matter of luck.  In another post I’ll talk about how I turned a one time opportunity into a great professional and personal relationship that fostered new work opportunities for me.  But back to my issue–transcribing.  Not only do I loathe the process of transcribing, I just don’t have the time anymore–not even even with my trusty text-to-speech software, Dragon Naturally Speaking (which I love and I’m actually using to write, really dictate, this blog post).

My workload has been a bit skewed lately as I’ve been focused on other things besides magazine writing. And although I have a few articles slated to appear in a trade magazine in the coming months (as well as a health piece an editor approached me about), I’m trying to get back into the swing of things because I do enjoy magazine writing.  And a  series of events in my family has raised a myriad of health questions in my mind that I’m getting ready to pitch to a few publications. With that said I think I’m ready to utilize an outside service to handle my transcription woes.  But, I’d like to do some research and before making a final decision.  In the meantime, I think I’ll stick to the time-saving advice from Linda Formichelli (Renegade Writer) who suggest transcribing just the bits of your recording that you need to use to include great quotes and information in your article as opposed to transcribing the entire recording.

In the meantime, I’d love to hear how other writers handle transcribing interviews. Do you use a transcription service? Did you hire a college journalism major?

A common complaint that I think everyone at one time or another can agree on is the sense that time flies by.  No matter how organized you try to be, or how diligently you work, time can seem to be moving at warp speed.  And before you know it your to-do list doesn’t seem like you’ve done much all day

Well, rather than giving yourself grief over how much you didn’t do focus on your accomplishments no matter how small.  As a new full-time freelancer, I’ve adopted a glass half-full perspective to help me throughout my day.

So focus on the positives like you’ve actually gotten some priority work done (and no I don’t mean catching “The View” on ABC).  I try to keep a 9-5 schedule (I know, I know I said “try” to, and I do accomplish this most of the time).  Now that my day is almost done, I’m looking at my tasks and realize that I still have a few more items to take care of.  While some tasks are housekeeping items like consolidating my numerous email accounts (Why did I need so many Gmail accounts to begin with again? I forgot.), other tasks include moving along to the next session in an online copyediting (CE) course I started.  But rather than getting fixated on what I didn’t do, I’m checking out what I actually did accomplish today:

  • Pitched ideas to two new markets and resubmitted an old idea with a different slant
  • Conducted a one-hour phone interview
  • Completed a CE exam for a potential freelance opportunity (2-hour timed test)
  • Replied to emails about freelance opportunities that I’m being considered for
  • Submitted an article that was due today
  • Had breakfast & lunch (Hey, a girl’s got to keep her energy up!)

As a newbie to the business of freelance, I’m learning to be happy with the progress I’m making.  Getting frustrated is part of the process, but I’m channeling my energy toward recognizing my accomplishments daily and not just waiting for those BIG moments like scoring more clients on a consistent basis or getting published.  After all, it’s the things that I do daily that’ll get me to those hallmark moments in my career.

Freelance work has been a stressful transition for me after leaving a 9-5 job in publishing.  So, I’m striving to manage my time better, to be accountable even when I don’t have deadlines looming, and to learn to give myself a break when I don’t finish everything I set out to do daily.

So, are you a glass half-full freelancer?  When was the last time you slowed down to give yourself a pat on the back for those little victories in your day?

I am a firm believer in the idea that if you want something in life you have to align your thoughts, words and actions to match the dream.  In pursuing a writing career, I believe that I am a writer.  And the things I say and do complement each other to mirror that reality.  When people ask me what I do – I tell them I’m a writer.  I don’t go through this whole spiel of explaining that I just started out, and that I’ve gotten some clips, and yadda, yadda, yadda.  Part of my process involves visual aids that help me to focus on the path toward evolving as a writer.  Here are some of the things I’ve done to create visual motivators for myself:

  • Visual Board – Write your goals on a chalkboard, stick a list to your refrigerator door, or find some other way to create your very own visual board.  The idea is to have your goals in one place where you can easily view them.  In my attempt to take small steps toward becoming more “earth-friendly”, I made my visual board using PowerPoint, and I run a 3-minute slideshow every morning that has words of encouragement, motivational images (e.g. cropped image NYT best-seller list with my name ad book title among other writers), titles of my books, and phrases like “Book Signing today at Barnes and Noble”.
  • Book Cover Inspiration – That novel idea that’s been running around in my mind for a while now, well I’ve finally started writing it.  And to keep me motivated, I’ve created a book cover for my novel which keeps me on course and inspired.  My book cover has my name, an image, and the working title for my novel.  It’s also included in my visual board.  But to bring in a bit of reality into the mix, I taped it over another book so I can actually pick it up and touch it…well, it is my book.  It serves as a concrete reminder that I am working toward something real, not just an idea of being published one day.  It feels nice to see my name on a book and the proud feeling that stirs up in me is the fuel I need to keep on writing.
  • Just For Fun – We’ve heard the saying: Fake It Till You Make it–well that’s the confidence to believe in yourself even when you have no idea when you’re big break will come.  I like to play around with this website to create a magazine cover.  It’s cute, fun, and if anything another visual source to keep me motivated.

Do you use visualization to keep your morale up?  I’d love to hear your ideas.

Time, time, time…What is it with time?  To the great physicists of our day, like Stephen Hawking and Michio Kaku the question of time spans discussions of the cosmos, quantum entanglement, and wormholes–pretty much things that I can only somewhat make sense of by watching Fringe (Woo hoo! I love that show).

But for the everyday person it’s a concept that seems to be fleeting as our days are filled with mundane tasks (like balancing our finances and grocery shopping) to exciting goals (like saving for a new home and planning to start a family)—whatever it is time simply flies by.  And we can’t seem to get a handle on it.  I know like most people, I’m always trying to do as much as I can every day.  Sometimes I fall short and other days I amaze myself by how much I’ve accomplished.  As a magazine writer, I’m always adding more to my plate to diversify my portfolio–enrolling in writing courses, connecting with fellow writers, and pitching ideas to new magazines.

At first, pitching new magazines took a lot of my time.  Because I was look at back issues to get a feel for the type of stories they printed, and I was trying to find out information about the readership: average income, average age, and gender (i.e. Are the readers mostly female or males?).

Why is this important to know?

Well, for starters let say you want to write a piece about trendy places to eat for a local magazine.  Without the background information, your pitch may be great but if the magazine’s readers are mainly women who are married with children–with an average household income of 60K–then trendy restaurants may not be a good idea for this magazine.

Here are some quick ways to help you identify if your idea is good for a magazine’s target audience:

  • Sometimes magazines publish their readership stats on their website.  But rather than visiting each website and trying to locate where this information might be, I prefer to use a one-stop shop like Echo Media, which is a site for advertising companies.  It’s packed with helpful stats that help me readily identify a magazine’s audience (click here to see an example). Bonus: And if that wasn’t great enough, you can also use this site to discover new markets.  One of the ways you can search for information is by clicking on categories such as media (i.e. newspapers) or demographics (i.e. seniors) to display a sample of your search query.  To have full access you need to register, which I haven’t done because they do offer a lot of information without having to register.
  • If I can’t find the magazine I need (which is rare) then I opt to view the magazine’s cover by checking it out on Amazon’s website. Another option is to swing by the library or bookstore.  That old adage “Don’t judge a book by its cover” doesn’t really apply in every instance, especially when it comes to making decisions about magazines.  You can tell a lot about a magazine’s cover.  Here’s a quick approach to making a judgement call about a magazine just based on its cover:
  1. What are the article titles listed on the cover?  For example – Jeans for every shape under $100; Save by Swapping Gear with Gal Pals — If I was looking to write for more budget-conscious consumers then I’d pitch to the second magazine, which clearly looks for ways to save money.
  2. Who is on the cover of the magazine? Is it Kate Hudson, Susan Sarandon, or Will and Jada Smith – the celebrity cover person(s) will tell you about the reader’s average age, their marital status, which will help hone your pitch.

Have you pitched articles that missed the mark because it didn’t target the magazine’s audience?  Do you have some time-saving tips on how to identify who a magazine’s readership is? If so, I’d love to hear about it.

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