There are times when we’re qualified for a writing position, and times when we aren’t. Sometimes, the ones in which we were told we weren’t qualified but tried anyway are the very positions that give us our start, show the world we can do it, and prove to ourselves that we’re better than we thought we were.
You’ll learn from Linden Gross the time she was told she was unqualified for a position, and how it worked out to be a great gig for her. I liked her advice on starting and maintaining a writing career, and I know you will, too.
Enjoy this interview.
You’ve been a freelance writer and editor for quite a while. Tell us how you got started and how long you’ve been working as a freelancer.
I always thought I would have a writing career. I just figured it would happen in the summers because I started out wanting to be a teacher. When that didn’t work out, I headed to New York where I requested a number of informational interviews. One of the people I spoke with called me a few days later to tell me that the Ladies’ Home Journal was looking for an Associate Editor.
“You’re completely unqualified, but go for it anyway,” he said.
So I did. At the end of the interview, the LHJ Senior Editor said, “You’re completely unqualified for this position, but we’re trying to fill it in house. If that works, the Assistant Editor slot will open up. And that one you’re qualified for.” Ten weeks later I moved to New York to take that Assistant Editor position.
After three years, I wanted to move back to the West Coast. The Los Angeles Times was seeking to start a Sunday magazine with more substance than the shelter magazine they had at the time. I got hired. Because I wanted to write, we made a deal that I would edit 50 percent of the time and write the other 50 percent of the time. However, since we had to get the new magazine up and running, the 50/50 deal wouldn’t kick in until my second year on the job.
The 50/50 deal never materialized. The more I wanted to write, the more editing I had to do. When the magazine’s editor finally told me that he needed me as a full-time editor since he could hire writers, I flew to New York to get a sense of my freelancing opportunities and promptly quit. I got congratulatory emails from staffers I didn’t even know. Not many leave the velvet coffin, as they call it, because they make it so comfortable that most just die there no matter how unhappy.
I freelanced for national magazines for more than a decade after that before switching my emphasis to writing books and helping others with their writing through my writing coach (and now blog coach) services.
You’re now a writing coach, and I think with your impressive list of credits (Ladies Home Journal, The Los Angeles Times Magazine, and even a ghostwritten bestseller) you’ve got a lot that freelancers can learn from. What do you see as the most common misconception people have about freelance writers?
People think that writing is easy, until they try it out for themselves. That’s usually when they call me with challenges ranging from organization to writer’s block.
Another misconception, that writers themselves often share, is that if a freelancer isn’t writing, then that freelancer isn’t working. As every freelancer knows, you have to have material in order to write. That means that you have to do research, some of which involves reading (I have my clients do active reading which includes note-taking) and some of which involves interviews. Then you have to come to terms with–and organize–your findings and ideas. All that counts as work.
In your opinion, what’s the best way to get new clients as a freelancer?
It’s all about the marketing. You have to have a solid web presence with a website–your online calling card–that serves you well. You need to get out there and network frequently and effectively. While that effective networking entails having an intriguing elevator speech, a good brochure and business card, it really involves establishing relationships rather than selling yourself outright. Online advertising can also help bring in prospects. The secret there is to have them talk about their pain–in essence why they need you–rather than pitching them your services right off the bat.
Tell us what your day is like. How many hours do you work and do you have the flexibility that many freelancers crave?
I work at least as hard as I did on staff. Maybe harder. Last week after putting in a number of 12-hour days, I told myself I needed to slow down. So I stopped after ten hours. On the other hand, today I wanted to finish work on my patio. So that’s exactly what I did.
I usually start the day early with a few writing coach sessions and responding to emails. Then I take my four dogs for a walk or a swim. When I return, I jump into whatever project I’ve calendared for myself. If I’m on deadline, I work for as long as I’m effective. If I’m not on deadline and don’t have any writing coach sessions scheduled, I work on my own projects. More often than not, those involve marketing my services rather than my own creative work. I hope to flip that equation soon since the marketing efforts seem to be paying off.
Anything you’d like to add?
I named my business the One Stop Writing Shop after realizing that I did so many different kinds of writing that I had indeed become a one-stop shop for all of a person’s writing needs. That wide breadth of writing experience also helps me provide super effective writing coach and blog coach services. As much as I love working as a writer, I love helping other writers as a writing coach and blog coach even more.
Where can we find you online?