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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Grow Your Writing Expertise #freelance #writing

Yes, I have my specialties when it comes to writing. At least I used to have specialties. Now I look for ways to grow my expertise and thereby my income. Because while specializing has its perks for those who break into the big-money markets, the rest of us need to canvas the market to stay fed.


My freelance career began in 2001. I was a high school English teacher with a couple published pieces under my belt (think: mediocre poetry, tense-shifting sci-fi, and small literary magazines). Somehow, I grabbed a gig covering sports for one of America’s first online-only newspapers, Chattanoogan.com. Sure, I played baseball with the owner’s son in high school and college, but I never dreamed of working for him. After all, newspapers were full of fact and boring sentence structure, whereas I was full of fiction, themes, daring story construction, and artistic merit. But I did it for a little extra cash and to get into sporting events for free.


As a reporter for an online newspaper, I had to submit my story immediately after the game finished. It was a bit frustrating for a burgeoning writer as myself. I needed time, time, time! How else could I polish my prose to be as unprosaic as possible? Eventually, I realized there was no option. I did what had to be done. I compromised my literary name to get a job done. That’s right—I forced myself to write quickly. One or two edits at most, and the story was shot to my editor, who would edit it once more before launching the story into the land of 0s and 1s.


Fast-forward a year. I’d given up on teaching and was looking for full-time work, as I continued freelancing for Chattanoogan.com. Providentially, I got an interview at True North Custom Publishing Company (now True North Custom Media). They appreciated my ability to work on deadlines and still write with a little pizzazz. (Okay, I added the pizzazz part. It’s called artistic license.) Over the next five years, my writing became compact and my areas of expertise expanded.


Mainly a healthcare custom publishing company, True North practically handed me an honorary MD. I diagnosed loved ones and told them about the latest treatment available to care for their diseases. Slowly, the company picked up a few bank clients, put out an outdoor magazine for a while, and even produced an art magazine. While the company grew, so did my writing chops and confidence. At the peak of my time there, I wrote 3,000 words a day, and most of them found their way to print with very little revision.


But as Robert Frost said (or was it Ponyboy?), “Nothing gold can stay.” Things changed and it became time to move on. I became the editor of a weekly paper, only to have the paper go defunct under my feet a year later. Suddenly, the freelancing I’d done for years on the side became necessary. No freelancing? No food or shelter.


Thankfully, my training at the Chattanoogan.com and True North paid off. I’d not written press releases, eBooks, or paid blog entries. I’d never covered snowboarding equipment, how to become a better conversationalist, or working as a paparazzi. That all changed when my freelance business required a boost. I was ready and willing to tackle it all!


At least I was until I didn’t get paid for a job. Desperate for more work, I told a client if I didn’t do a bang-up job, there was no need to pay me. Guess what? The client didn’t like what I wrote. Or he said he didn’t. Regardless, I didn’t get paid and became more selective in my clients. I continued going after demanding jobs that stretched my abilities. However, before I’d sign on the dotted line, I would make sure I could work well with the client and provide the quality work they deserved. More often than not, the answer has been yes. Yet there are still times when I am approached for work when I have to decline.


Has diversifying my writing improved my bottom line? Of course it has. If you don’t open yourself to new challenges and a greater diversity of work, you’ll go hungry or possibly worse, your writing will grow stale. Thankfully, with the crazy variety of new clients coming my way courtesy of folks like Amplification, Inc., I don’t have time to let my writing grow stale. In the event things get a little routine, I’ll just look back at my last blog entry and get my head back on straight.

Written by Daniel Brantley, freelance writer and editor who is always on call with Amplification, Inc.