Why You Need to Freelance

Thursday, April 19, 2012

magazine shrink ray?
Image Via Creative Commons

I was in the 5th grade when I announced to my parents, teachers, and friends that "when I grow up I'm going to be an author." I remember thinking that title sounded so important, so regal. 

Two decades later I have yet to publish or even write a book. Sometimes I get a bit disheartened by this but I'm encouraged when I remember that I am still a writer nonetheless. I've written for magazines, webzines, and newspapers and I blog like crazy. I know that all the smaller projects and assignments I'm doing are good practice. And practice makes perfect, right? 

In fact, writer and blogging superstar Jeff Goins says that the best way to start a writing career is to write for magazines. Goins writes:
"It doesn’t matter if you’re a future novelist, nonfiction author, or journalist. Writing short-form pieces prepares you for long-form. This is a great alternative to endlessly working on multiple drafts of your book and letting it sit in a drawer for years."

He goes on to say that writing features for magazines, websites, and other publications teaches you to be humble about your work (yes, even you need an editor) and teaches you how to meet deadlines. And on top of all that, writing for magazines usually pays.

If you're wondering how to get started, Goins recommends writing reviews, doing interviews on your blog, and working to gigs with online publications. Read more of Goins' suggestions here

For those of you who live in Birmingham, Ala., you have the opportunity to learn even more on breaking into the world of freelancing. On Tuesday, May 15, See Jane Write, an organization I started last year for local women writers, will present Freelancing 101. This event is a panel discussion featuring successful freelance writers and editors of local publications. Click here for more information and to register for this free event.

For those of you who don't live here in my Sweet Home Alabama, don't fret. I'll be sharing plenty of freelancing tips in the coming weeks and after the panel discussion. 

Happy writing!  

Q&A with Socialpunk Trilogy Author Monica Leonelle

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Have you ever wondered if you could use your love for social media as more than just a way to promote your writing, but actually as inspiration for it? That's exactly what digital media strategist and author Monica Leonelle has done with her new book Socialpunk

Socialpunk, the first of a trilogy, is aimed at tech-savvy, social media aficionados who enjoy writing and reading (especially those who are fans of books like Ender's Game and The Hunger Games). The book centers on Ima, who is stuck in a virtual reality. Ima would give anything to escape The Dome and learn what’s beyond its barriers, but the Chicago government has kept all its citizens on lockdown ever since the Scorched Years left most of the world a desert wasteland. When a mysterious group of hooded figures enters the city unexpectedly, Ima uncovers a plot to destroy The Dome and is given the choice between escaping to a new, dangerous city or staying behind and fighting a battle she can never win.

Read on to learn more about Leonelle and her new book. 

Monica Leonelle

How did you get inspired to create the Socialpunk trilogy?  

I was inspired by the city of Chicago, by social media issues in our current world, and by the cyberpunk genre. The book is a bit like the Terminator series and I reference that a couple times just for fun. James Cameron is basically my favorite director ever, and he really inspires me with his world-building and storytelling skills.    
Who is your favorite character in Socialpunk and why?

I would have to say Ima, as she's the main character and the book is told entirely from her point of view. What I love about her is how much she changes from the beginning of the book to the end. She feels very guilty and is constantly struggling with right vs. wrong. She's probably one of my favorite characters out of all the ones I've written.

Tell us in one sentence why we should read your book.

The book is fast-paced and fun and Ima is someone you'll definitely be able to relate to! Plus, there is a character with rainbow-colored hair. Seriously. And you can give people money by pressing a finger to their wrist. Pretty crazy.

What motivated you to start writing?

I've been writing forever! I write a ton almost every day, as it turns out. Writing is the way I express myself, so I just fell into it naturally.

I started a Gen Y blog in 2007 called Twenty Set. It actually gained quite a bit of steam early on, but eventually I moved away from Gen Y topics. The reason I started that blog, though, is because I couldn't clear my mind! I literally just needed to get things out of my system. So I wrote that blog 4-5 times a week for about six months until my ideas stop churning so quickly. My love for writing as an adult grew out of that experience.

Who are some of your favorite authors and what is it that you admire most about them?

C.S. Lewis. I also love contemporaries like J.K. Rowling, Suzanne Collins, and Cassandra Clare. They are all great storytellers and have amazing characters and enough tension to keep a story going.

What are some of the biggest mistakes you see bloggers and writers make when it comes to marketing their work?

Three things that I talk about all the time on my Prose on Fire newsletter : 1) They don't focus maniacally on building an audience through an email list, 2) they don't write addictively, using marketing psychology to keep people interested in their work, and 3) they don't launch often enough.

I go into waaay more detail about these in my newsletter.

What advice would you give to someone who dreams of one day publishing a book of her own?  

Patience! It's the worst thing to tell a writer. I hate hearing it too, which is why I'm saying it now. To remind myself to have patience with writing. It's not easy to make a living at it. A lot of people advise that if you can see yourself doing anything besides writing, you should do that instead.

On Being a Woman Writer

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Ladies Who Lunch!

I believe in the power of the written word, and I believe in the power of women. This is why I blog, this is why I write essays, this is why I teach English, and this is why in March of 2011 I started See Jane Write, a networking group for women writers in my town of Birmingham, Ala.

On Monday a few of the women from the group and I (pictured above) got together for lunch at a local Thai restaurant. The food was good, but the conversation was even better. After a brief talk about politics (there’s always plenty to discuss in that arena here in Birmingham) we got down to business – discussing the writing life.

Being a writer is hard. Being an artist of any kind is difficult in part because there’s such little respect for these professions. In fact, they aren’t even seen as professions by some, but simply considered hobbies. For many of the women at the table when we told our families we wanted to be writers we were told, “OK, but you need to get a real job too.”

Being a woman writer can be even harder. The byline gender gap has been well documented by groups like VIDA. Women's voices are still underrepresented in the media and literary arts. And this is another reason I  founded See Jane Write. I believe that women who dare to express themselves, to tell their stories, and to share the stories of others through the written word need a strong support system.  They need someone to encourage them and to hold them accountable.

Because the writing life can be so difficult it can be easy to get off track, to go weeks, months, or even years without writing. Lately, I have really been struggling with feeling like a real writer because now that I’m an English teacher and no longer a full-time journalist I’m not being paid for my written words.  But one published author at the table said something that really stuck with me. She said something that reminded me not to put a price on my art in that way.  

The true measure of whether or not you’re a writer is simple: Are you writing more than you’re not? In other words, you may not write every single day, but you need to write most days. All relationships, even your relationship with writing, need quality time. Are you truly showing your love for writing or just offering lip service? I, for one, am ready to give it my all.  

An Ode to Poetry (and Carrie Bradshaw)

Sunday, April 1, 2012

In the second Sex and the City movie, Carrie Bradshaw (who, in case you haven’t been keeping up, is now married) runs into her old flame Aidan while she’s in Abu Dhabi with the girls. Against better judgment, and the advice of her friends, Carrie decides to get all dolled up and met Aidan for a late night dinner and at the end of the night they kiss.  

Carrie admits she went out and lip-locked with Aidan because she hadn’t felt like herself lately. She was losing her sense of self. Two weeks ago I was tempted to run to the arms of an old love for the same reason.  Sort of.

While vacationing in Louisville, Ky., (yeah, not quite Abu Dhabi) I thought about returning to my first love – poetry.

I used to be a poet.

For years I lived my life in verse, my speech sprinkled with alliteration.

I read poetry every day and never went to bed without putting down on paper at least one line.

In my purse I carried a notebook filled with phrases that would eventually become stanzas that would eventually become poems that I hoped would eventually become a chapbook.

My passion for poetry began at an early age. I was in elementary school and my best friend was moving away. We had a fight just before he left. I wrote him a poem to apologize. And then I kept writing and writing and writing. Later I was introduced to Maya Angelou and Nikki Giovanni and I kept reading and reading and reading.

In college I minored in creative writing and saw my poems in print for the first time in my university’s literary journal. In graduate school I wrote, taught, and performed poetry through June Jordan’s Poetry for the People program. In Louisville, Ky., I was a featured act at a spoken word event for the first time and was asked to perform at poetry festivals. I was even paid for my poetry for the first time.

Then one day I stopped being a poet.

I remember when my passion for poetry started to wan. I got a column at the newspaper where I worked at the time and through that I felt like I was reaching people and connecting with people like never before and in a way I never could with poetry. And one day, quite ironically while I was at a spoken word night, I made a conscious decision to quit poetry and focus on non-fiction. And I never looked back, until two weeks ago.

Like Carrie, I haven’t felt like myself lately. I don’t feel like a writer. I’m a teacher now, not a reporter. Writing is no longer my full time job. It’s something I have to squeeze into my free time and, therefore, feels like a hobby instead of my art. I blog often and freelance when I can, but still when I utter the words, “I’m a writer,” it feels like a lie.

Two weeks ago I started wondering if poetry could help me get my groove back. After all, it was my first love. I came up with this idea to write poem a day in April, which is National Poetry Month. Then I remembered Carrie and Aidan in Abu Dhabi and I realized this project would be the equivalent of making out with poetry for a month.

Yes, poetry was my first love, but we don’t all marry our high school sweethearts.

But the relationships of our younger years are important because they teach us how to love. Poetry taught me how to be a real writer. Poetry taught me to write for writing’s sake. Everything around me was a poem waiting to be drafted. I didn’t write poetry to win adoring audiences or to make money. I wrote poetry because I just couldn’t help myself.

To feel like a writer, to feel like myself again, I must get back to that. I must write blog posts with no thought of page views and pen reported and personal essays with little regard for freelance gigs.  I must write simply because I must write. And doing this will be the best way to honor poetry this month.

April Intentions

Spring Flowers
Photo by Curtis Fry
Image via Creative Commons

April is a very special month for me because six years ago on April 8 I said "I do" and married my best friend. But along with celebrating my anniversary there are many other things I want to do this month. Here are my April intentions:

Guest blog.
Have lunch with the ladies of See Jane Write.
Continue to write for Clutch.
Post at least one Blog Like a Girl Q&A.
Rejoin the Skirt.com blogging community.
Start a new workout regimen.
Launch another attempt to become a good cook.
Blog about and attend Paint the Town Red.
Check out Living in Limbo.

What are you plans for April?