You could say that freelance writing sort of fell into my lap.
Last summer I received a Facebook message from an old friend and former coworker, telling me to contact her about a freelance opportunity. I was surprised and a bit nervous, since I wasn’t doing much writing in general and at the time was focused on poetry. But I answered the message and was instructed to call one of my friend’s current coworkers, who’d posted a note in their office to the effect that he was looking for writers for a “retro” magazine he edited. And she gave me his phone number. Then I got more nervous. Because the last time I’d written something along the lines of a magazine article was in 1979.
Which I didn’t mention to the editor when I finally called him.
I say “finally” because the process was highly reminiscent of the time I tried to pick up the phone to schedule my first skydiving appointment back in 2004. Advance and retreat. Rinse and repeat! Who was I to call this guy? I didn’t have magazine writing experience. The one article I’d sold, at age 19, to Seventeen, was never published, although I was paid for it. All I had to my publication credit was a batch of poetry, an anthology essay on my midlife crisis tattoo, a short story, and a defunct blog.
Besides, I hate talking on the phone. Especially to strangers.
Finally I employed the classic “When I’m on my deathbed, what will I wish I’d done?” line of reasoning, a technique I highly recommend for indecisive types like myself, then picked up the receiver and dialed. The voice on the other end of the line told me a bit about the Boomer-oriented, games, puzzles and features magazine called ReMIND, and how he’d been doing nearly all of the writing for it, but was looking to farm out assignments to a small group of writers, and asked to see some samples. The pay would be low, but I didn’t really care; it would be more than I currently made off my writing, which was exactly nothing, and I still had a day job. However, when he mentioned samples, I wondered if that would spell the end of it. I was upfront about my lack of experience, although I may have tried to fluff my chances by adding that I had a B.A. in Creative Writing. Then I emailed him a short story, a couple of poems, the tattoo essay, and a couple of the best posts from my long-defunct blog. And crossed my fingers.
And got my first writing assignment – five hundred words on, of all things, “The Creature from the Black Lagoon.”
While still a bit anxious over delivering an acceptable piece, I found myself thoroughly enjoying the trip down memory lane as I researched a movie I hadn’t seen or even really thought of for decades, and the actors behind the scenes. I got it in under deadline and was rewarded with a “very pleased” from my new editor. And a byline. And a check.
Which I made a copy of. Yes, I did. Hey, it was my first such since 1979.
Of course, I was so green that when I received my copy of the issue carrying the article, I was a bit shocked to discover that about half of my original content had been edited. It was also now unquestionably better. (I’m not just saying that in case my editor is actually reading this, by the way.)
A year later, a bit wiser, and with more articles under the ReMIND banner, plus several guest posts for the magazine’s blog, I’ve enjoyed covering topics ranging from Christmas in 1954 to “hot Boomer collectibles” and the evolution of movie westerns – but the antics of the lovelorn Gill Man hold a fond place in my heart.
And somewhere along the line, it gradually began to dawn on me: “Hey, maybe I could do this freelance thing full-time down the road…”
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I’m not sure when or even if freelancing as a regular line of work might have occurred to me if it hadn’t been for the fact that my day job would eventually be coming to a natural conclusion, and I knew I wanted to do something different, especially in middle-age. Years ago I took a course called “Writing to Sell,” but didn’t even finish it – that’s how interested I was in the concept. I vaguely knew that it was not the easiest way to make a living, nor did I have enough interest in writing in general to consider attempting it. As I’ve previously said, I essentially wrote when the planets were in perfect alignment and all atmospheric conditions just right. But after doing a number of articles for ReMIND, a light slowly began dawning in my brain. What if that opportunity, plus knowing that my job was slated to end within less than two years, was all part of a plan? That maybe this was Fate slowly unfolding?
It was a tempting thought.
So earlier this year I began doing what over-thinking, list-making, formula-loving personalities like myself typically do: amassing materials to educate myself on the subject. Buying books. Signing up for online courses. Joining Facebook groups and The Freelance Writer’s Den. It has been, by turns, an exciting, hopeful, fearful, uncertain, and frustratingly clueless journey. At times I’ve felt scales falling slowly from my eyes…at others, as if I was groping cluelessly in the dark. And I still have so much to learn.
There’s a reason they say ignorance is bliss…
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How about you? Are you a freelance writer, or have you considered becoming one? Or have you pondered some other type of career change in mid-life? I’d love to hear about your experiences.
Then I hope you’ll join me here next week for “So You Think You Wanna Freelance, Part II: Hey, This is Harder Than it Looks.” See you then!