Question One: Is this your full-time job? If not, please elaborate: What is your full-time job? Do you enjoy it the same as travel writing? Why don’t you travel write/blog full-time? Would you if you could? etc.
I’ve been freelance writing for 15 years … so yes, this is my full-time job. And I’ve been fortunate that I haven’t had to market myself or pitch stories. My clients find me through word of mouth or remember me from my two years at a local magazine or editors reach out to me with story ideas. When I first set out on my own it was riskier than it is today. Back then the internet was still a baby and there was no such thing as blogs or social media which has given newly minted journalists and writers so many more opportunities for an outlet.
No, I wouldn’t want to travel full-time; maybe 25 to 30 percent. I have a dog and don’t want to kennel her all the time. Also, to be able to travel – and make a living – you have to have a successful blog with lots of advertisers or a magazine already lined up to run the story – and pay well.
Although I write or have written for various local, regional, national magazines, websites, etc. I’m also a 1099 writer for a public relations agency, writing press releases, advertorials, etc. Although it’s the “dark side” of journalism, it pays very well.
And I write for a nonprofit foundation, as well.
Question Two: What made you decide to enter this field?
I wanted to write since I was a little kid. Dr. Suess was my inspiration – and still is! I wrote short stories and even illustrated them until college.
Question Three: What (if any) is your degree in? Are you doing what you expected to be doing with your degree? Is it necessary to have a degree in this field? (If you don’t have a degree, write N/A).
I have a bachelor’s degree in fine and applied arts. Major was journalism with a magazine concentration. Art minor. I never wanted to work at a newspaper: I envisioned myself at a major fashion or news magazine traveling the world. But the reality was only newspapers were hiring when I graduated. I was a reporter and eventually an editor for a weekly newspaper before working for several dailies. It was an amazing educational experience and I learned A LOT – how schools, cities and counties are run, how to read a budget, sat through murder trials and went on raids with the police.
I finally segued into magazines in 1999 in Naples and was exposed to a completely different culture of high society, multi-million dollar homes, upscale restaurants and met many famous people.
I think social media has changed degree requirements. I’ve seen many successful bloggers make a name for themselves without any degree or even a background in journalism or English. But I’m a big proponent of education as the great equalizer. There is so much inaccurate information out there in the cyber world. My journalism education taught me about fact-checking, emphasized getting both sides of the story and how to write in pyramid style for readers who stop reading after the first few paragraphs.
Question Four: What was it like trying to find a job post-graduation? (If you don’t have a degree, write N/A or refer to High School).
It wasn’t too bad … when I finally applied myself. I landed a job at a weekly newspaper – it was the first job I applied for.
Question Five: What is a typical work day like for you?
I honestly don’t have a typical day. I try to get up at a decent time but that doesn’t always happen, especially if I’ve been up late finishing an assignment. That’s the thing about freelancing: you don’t really have holidays or weekends off unless you plan out your assignments. If I’m working on an article for the newspaper, I spend a lot of time on the phone, interviewing people. I’d prefer to do it in person but it’s too time-consuming (I live 90 minutes from most sources). Sometimes I have 30 pages of notes I have to arrange into coherent sentences and a 1000-word story.
I’m never working on the same thing each day, and that’s what I like best. One day it might be a travel story, the next a restaurant review or magazine blog or writing a website or newsletter. And I’m still learning. A few years ago it was wood powder coating and nuclear safety.
Question Six: Do you like your career?
I do but I’m not loving it as much as I used to. Maybe that comes with the relentless PR deadlines and the subject – new homes and communities. Maybe it’s age/maturity of wanting to contribute something to society. I recently realized I miss creative writing. It’s been 20 years or so. I’ve started writing a few novels and am trying to rediscover that voice and that flow.
Question Seven: What is the most rewarding (your favorite) part of your career?
To hear from an editor or a reader they enjoyed your piece and learned something from it. I love research and investigative journalism; ideally it exposes something terribly wrong that needs fixing or at least makes people aware.
Question Eight: What is your least favorite part of your career?
During my days at the newspapers, it was awful talking to someone whose loved one had just died.
Working from home is also a challenge; there’s no daily interaction with others that you get in an office.
Question Nine: What career challenges have you faced?
Balancing work and a private life. Covering cops meant I always had a police scanner with me and sometimes I’d have to go out in the middle of the night to a crime or accident scene – with my 4-year-old daughter in tow.
Even freelancing I still struggle with trying to establish working/non-working hours. It hasn’t worked … yet.
When I relocated to Florida and a larger market, I was intrigued by this thing called a PIO – public information officer. I’d worked in a small town where I could waltz right in and talk to the police chief, the county judge executive or school superintendent. It was difficult having to deal with a PIO who essentially becomes a gatekeeper.
Question Ten: What (if anything) would you do differently?
I would have aimed high sooner in my career. Instead of working at the weekly newspaper I would have applied to the dailies in the area.
I’d also tried to tap into my “voice” sooner. I didn’t really discover it until 10 years ago when writing travel pieces for magazines allowed me to tell my story in first person and the foibles that inevitably followed.
Question Eleven: Is it hard to become successful in this field? What steps did you take to become successful in it?
I really don’t know how social media has impacted anyone’s success in the field these days. As a reporter I was persistent, calling, calling and calling and always mindful there were two sides to the story. That seems to have vanished from mainstream journalism these days. Observe and pay attention to every detail. Read press releases, get out there and talk to people face to face, if you’re traveling talk to the locals: You’ll get a story that’s different from anyone else’s.
Once I started at my first daily, I got noticed by other editors in the state.
It also boils down to good writing skills and telling a story.
Question Twelve: What tips/advice do you have for a beginner in the field?
Believe in yourself. Get published somewhere during college or start a blog so you have clips/something to show potential employers. Although this may be outdated info. Ask a lot of questions and be curious. I’m inquisitive to a fault but it’s really helped me tell a different story.
You may have the greatest story idea but unless you explain it well, an editor isn’t going to understand.