Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Freelance writing? Who knew?

2011 seems to be turning into "The Year Of New Things" for me. It kicked off with completing my first half-marathon. The flood gates just seemed to open after that. I did a presentation on Podcasting for a room filled with Girl Scouts (which by the way I'm doing again for Gangplank Jr. on April 30th! Boys can podcast too!). I have never given any sort of presentation of any kind before. I shot a gun for the first time in my life, and I'm going to be 39 at the end of the month. I also had an opportunity to test my writing wings, and get paid for it! I want to focus on the writing experience right now, as it was a month of crossed fingers and added gray hairs (because yeah, I need more right?) as I waited to see if the article would make it to print.

When my extraordinary go-getter friend Sara approached me about writing for Homeland Security Today, I was a bit confused initially. I don't write, I record. I blog occasionally. I share things on Facebook and Twitter. Write- at least 2000 words- and be paid for it? I must be the most unqualified person for the job.

After 10 minutes or so of all the negative, I calmed down. The topic was intriguing for my politically-charged mind. A comparison piece of Sheriff Joe Arpaio here in Maricopa County, and Pima County Sheriff Clarance Dupnik. For those not up on the news, Pima county is on the border, and he's the recently outspoken Sheriff who blamed the January shootings in Tucson on right wing rhetoric. The editor wanted a piece covering both Sheriff's background, and their policies and ideas on border security and illegal immigration. See? I get all tingly even as I type this. What a great topic. Honestly the moment I saw the subject the angle formed in my brain. And hey- I *do* write out my podcast scripts since I research topics before recording. So why not? What's the worst that could happen? So Sara introduced me to the editor and contracts were signed.

Wait- interviews? Like, interviewing both Sheriffs? Calling up offices and arranging times? Are they nuts? I don't even call my own FAMILY. After spending two hours searching and re-searching both Sheriffs websites for media contact email addresses, I realized I'd better just call. I got that ball rolling, then began outlining my piece.

Researching and writing were the easy parts. Well, it turned out that researching was the easy part. I'm good at that. I learned a whole bunch about writing from this experience. I sent my first draft to Sara, and 24 hours later she sent it back, with a note: "Don't let all the blue color scare you."

I waited another day before I looked.

Sending it to her was a good move. One, she has written for this magazine before. She knows their style, and what they are looking for. Two, she's been writing and critiquing way longer than I have. I trust her, and I don't take criticism personally. The harsher the better, otherwise how will I improve (unless you're my husband, apparently. I practically bawled when he told me what he thought.)

So I jumped into corrections, while checking in with my interview hopefuls. More messages left. I even reached out to a few people I knew on Twitter/FB who I thought might have some connections. As the deadline approached, it became less about talking to a Sheriff, and being ok with just talking to anyone from the Sheriff's office. I focused on the writing. My biggest problem as I look back was I think I tried too hard. My goal (with full disclosure to the editor how liberal I am) was to show that I could stick to facts and be unbiased, keeping my personal feelings on immigration out of the mix. It worked too well, because my writing initially was dry, and just fact after fact. Like reading an encyclopedia page. It lacked personality, which I'm glad I fixed (with help) for the final result.

As luck (??) would have it, the editor of the magazine and a few of the writers were in town for a Border Security convention in mid-February, so both Sara and I got to meet them. That was nice, I always like meeting the people I connect with in person. Plus, if I wow them with my vast knowledge of all things border security, maybe they will hire me again!

Not only could I not remember the name of the man who ran against Sheriff Arpaio (Dan Saban) in the 2008 election, I felt the beginnings of the flu coming on. Sara said I did fine in my conversations, but I was dead on my feet by the end of the dinner. The next week was spent in bed with the laptop, trying to write with a 103 degree temp, and aches so painful blinking made me cry. Thoughts of failure wormed their way in much easier through my flu-induced delirium.

Somewhere in the middle of it all, Arpaio's office called to schedule the interview. Now that the deadline was closer, I had to take a phone interview versus meeting him in person. The President's Day weekend was coming up, but we scheduled it on that Monday. "The Sheriff never takes a day off." his assistant told me. All righty then!

A whole new set of fears overtook me. Will my recording equipment work? Am I going to keep hacking into the phone during the interview? What were all those questions I had??? Oh no did he check out my Twitter/Facebook accounts, where I yell about his policies ALL THE TIME? I had actually stopped talking about him directly when I got the gig- funny how professionalism does that. Or maybe it was the fear.

It was a good interview, I have to admit. I enjoyed talking to Arpaio. When you stick to the facts, there is no room to get emotional. I think there was only one time I had to bite my tongue, but overall it was a good interview. I need to finish the editing of the audio, and I will share it with you all on the podcast.

It was such a relief to finally send off the finished product. Sara had warned me that I would get it back for more edits- that's just the way it goes, so it didn't come as a surprise. Mostly the changes were in the placement of the information to help the story flow better, but it was me! My work, my name, my accomplishment!

Seeing it online, I couldn't stop grinning (and sharing!). When I get print copies, I'm sure all the grins will come back again.

It was a definite learning experience, in several ways. Obviously I'm now an expert in border security (sarcasm please). However, writing for a publication is completely different than mere blogging or writing for a show that is all about you and your beliefs. I also learned that I can loosen up and it's ok. There is a way to be factual and unbiased, and still have a fun style that makes people want to read. It's an art form, truly. I'm all ready thinking about the next writing project, and who I can market it out to. Possibilities abound. As I said, the flood gates are open, and I'm very lucky to be in a position where I can really explore this freelance thing and see where it goes.

Besides, practice makes perfect, right?