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Career Story: Freelance Writer

Freelance Writer

Job Title: Freelance Writer

Type of Company: All of my clients are non-profit organizations in the fields of education, social service or the arts.

Education: BA, Sociology, Boston University

Previous Experience: I've been a writer and editor for almost my whole career. I started out editing, proofreading, and managing small print jobs (brochures, flyers, stationary, etc.) at a university publications department. Then I moved on to become the senior writer at another college's publications department. After a year long hiatus, I hung out my own shingle and I've been happily freelancing for over a decade.

Job Tasks: I tell my clients that I work at the intersection of ideas and words. What that means is that I take the things that they are trying to publicize and describe them in such a way that the potential audience will understand and be interested. Most often, the audience is made up of foundations and funders, so I write a lot of grant proposals. But I also write brochures, catalogs, annual reports, websites, letters, and... you name it.

Most of the writing I do follows a similar process. First comes the information sponge stage, where I absorb as much information as I can about the organization and the program. I read the agency's brochures, website, internal documents, etc. I talk to the executive director, program managers and clients. I research similar agencies or programs. With all of that as background, I look at what the funder wants to know and gather up any additional information that I don't have already (budget, staff, etc.). Then, and only then, can the writing begin.

Writing is telling stories. I start with an outline and fill in details and examples. I show the changes that the agency has made in people's lives. I use examples and numbers to show how important the organization is and why it is worthy of support or involvement. My goal is to get the reader to say, Wow, this is a cool program! Once they say that, they're much more likely to get involved. Well-crafted words have that power.

Best and Worst Parts of the Job: The best part of doing this work is that I get paid to do what I love: use words and language in a way that is pleasing to the ear and convincing to the intellect. It is incredibly satisfying to create a well-turned phrase that engages the audience.

The worst part is the need to market myself, do paperwork, and chase down payments. I d rather be working than hustling to get work.

Job Tips: Get some formal training. Yes, there is a magic to it, but writing is a craft and can be learned. Go learn it.

Read, read, read. Read newspapers, fiction, nonfiction, kids books, websites, trashy novels, haute literature, etc. Try to understand what makes certain phrases and structures work or not work.

Don't start out with freelancing. Earn your chops at a few full-time gigs first. You ll appreciate the stability of a full-time paycheck and it will give you the chance to discover what you like to do, and just as importantly, what you don't like to do.

Additional Thoughts: I've known since I was a kid that I wanted to be writer when I grew up (some would say I'm still working on it growing up, that is). At the time, I thought that meant writing books. As I learned and matured, I discovered that what I really like to do is help people communicate with each other. So I don't have the Great American Novel sitting on my hard drive, but I take immense satisfaction in knowing that I have helped some worthy organizations do important work in the world. And I've done it by writing, so I've been able to use my love of language to help others. What could be better?

Freelancing can be lonely work. I interact with clients and sources all the time, so it's not that I'm isolated. But I spend a lot time sitting quietly in my office writing outlines, doing research, and turning phrases. I'm perfectly content with that, but you have to consider whether it's right for your personality.

Finally, it's worth noting that, for me, freelancing was at least as much a lifestyle decision as a professional one. I am the primary caregiver for my three kids and freelancing has given me the flexibility I need to accommodate their schedules. My wife works full time and provides us with benefits and, frankly, a certain amount of fiscal stability. Without that, it might not be possible for me to do what I do. What I'm saying is that freelance writing is more than putting words on paper. It's a way of thinking about your life and you have to make sure your life can work with those requirements.

Good luck!

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