November 28, 2009

My Success Secret: Low Standards

My meteoric rise to success as a freelance writer is dependent upon only one thing: exceptionally low standards. In five months, I’ve built a large clip file, published in three local newspapers, two local magazines, and I've completed several projects for businesses. My column runs every two weeks in a daily, and once-a-month in a weekly.

Yes, it only took me -30- years and a circuitous route through a successful career in public relations and marketing, to land back where I started. As a journalist, only working for less money. I didn’t think that was possible, but let me assure you, it is. Thirty years ago I sold out to the higher paid, glamorous world of public relations, primarily so I could move out of my parent’s house. I liked those people, but I didn’t want to live with them forever, hiding in my pink painted childhood bedroom with the white, fluffy kitty posters on the wall.

After my mandatory “early retirement” earlier this year, I decided to use my journalism education. Let me rephrase that, print journalism education. When I went to college, the Linotype machine was still around. And there were many, many newspapers. And even more shockingly, people read them. Daily. In some cities, two or three times a day. There was a time, when journalism was the hottest college major. We believed working in a newsroom might land us next to Robert Redford (as Bob Woodward in All The President‘s Men).

The career position I left early this year is one that due to changes in technology and market forces is going away.

The most logical thing to do is return to another profession that, due to changes in technology and market forces, is going away. (I also considered a career in investment banking, but I hear that’s going away, also.)

It’s going well -- I’ve been published on a local level. The editors are smart, and I’ve learned a lot from them. I’ve taken assignments and pitched my own ideas for publication. I’ve been stiffed on one assignment that had three sources and hours of work. That stunk. Also, freelancing means competing for space and stories with others in the local pool of writers. I've also learned to be patient about getting paid -- agencies don't pay you until their client pays them, magazines don't pay until thirty days after publication.

One fellow freelancer has traveled all over the world and has a resume full of Conde Nast publications and The Paper of Record’s magazine, another writes for Suite 101 and is writing a children’s book about her dead cat. I feel the need to point out that I personally find a huge difference between The Paper of Record and Suite 101. Though in our age of technology, most people don‘t see the difference.

I’ve written about the zoo, banking, social networking, the auto industry, Christmas decorations, energy efficient windows, Special Olympics, disaster preparedness, old churches, and local women’s issues.

Last week my editor asked me to write a column about Broadway because the local high schools are doing musicals this weekend. She told me one of them is doing A Chorus Line. I was out of town when I got this assignment via email, and wrote the column on my laptop in the lobby of my parent’s retirement home.

I am past the age of reason now, and I had my own little senior moment right there in the retirement home. I wrote the column about Cats, and about two days later realized my editor said A Chorus Line. Obviously it could not be used, obviously this editor thinks I have a buzz saw where my brain oughta be (I really wanted to say has a hog jowl where her heart oughta be). Man, it was a good column, too, I segued from the animation of TS Eliot’s beloved felines right into West Side Story, which I happened to see on Broadway in July. Gotta love that smooth transition.

And I learned the hard way that it is Jacob Marley, not Bob Marley, who is a character in Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Really big brain fart there.

I’m hoping to work my way up to covering the monthly sewer board meetings. Quoth the raven.