When I was 20 — not as newly minted to the age as I am right now to 22 but still pretty shiny — I laughed about freelancing.
To me, freelancing was a blanket term for unemployed-but-I’m-a-free-spirit-so-I-get-work-when-I-can-but-really-I-should-be-a-full-time-worker-and-also-I’m-not-lazy-it’s-just-this-economy — hm, the way I remember it contained far less political commentary, but the shadow of that sentiment existed.
I began my rite of passage as a freelancer in December, and the largest vegetable of my labor dropped today. It takes the form of this cover story I wrote for Folio Weekly, an alt weekly of which I’m fond and have been for, you know, years.
Anyway, I decided to break down some of my process of this piece and comment on what different skills I had to engage, to make it all work. Because, on job applications, “strong verbal and communication skills” fails to fully encompass the routine of producing written content.
In no particular order, I’ve come up with:
1. I meet deadlines really well.
Much of the joy I got from working on this story came from the two editors with whom I worked. I had a deadline set weeks in advance that allowed to form a complete story, off of which we edited, mended, reworked and further developed as time went on.
2. I’m ace at having phone calls and emails returned — mostly.
There are occasions in the story that I note I didn’t hear back from a source, but, for the most part, I have one of those hey-I’m-not-a-terrible-journalist-let’s-have-a-conversation personalities. That also really encouraged me. In features and enterprise, much of the success of a piece relies on the ability to make a connection with the folks you’re interviewing. One source I pursued for a month returned my call just as I almost hit “Send” on my final draft. Now that’s a testament to my persistence.
3. I don’t load sentences with gobbledygook, for clarity, but hold on to creativity.
One of my writing flares is extensive use of em dashes, which a classmate in Advanced Reporting sophomore year inferred may be a little too extensive. But creative use of punctuation is a great way to hold to your distinct voice in pieces in which you’re largely aiming to be disinterested. I exercised most of my bogus diction when I reviewed a musical in January, which those editors thankfully had me change. It more closely fitted an overly chatty high schooler’s newsblog writing than a more tightly knit alt weekly. (I stole “gobbledygook” as a descriptor for hyper-stylized writing from this interview with Diablo Cody, whom everyone knows I admire.)
4. I’m a level-10 AP stylist.
Speaking of gobbledygook banter. … But really! Even though each publication uses its own guide for style, I crafted this story entirely in AP style and noticed that, throughout the process, my editors shifted it into a style that matched their product. I never had a note that said, “Translate this to AP style,” which is a type of note for which I built a reputation during my three and a half years of editing.
5. I’m willing.
Lastly, I’m simply willing. I’m willing to take on a story out of my comfort range of story length. I’m willing to take on a story outside of my comfort range of source count. I’m willing to take on a story that’s going to cost $30.25 in ticket sales. I’m willing to experience something that I’ve never experienced before and did not understand at all. I’m willing to stop using repetition, at this point.