writing/freelancing advice

Tools I use and like 

  • Wave for invoicing and basic bookkeeping, because it’s free, simple, keeps me organized and makes it easy to tell exactly how much is late and from whom because there is ALWAYS SOMEONE(S)

    • Note: Wave is also how I keep track of my expenses (mostly by screenshotting receipts or taking a picture, and uploading). And it’s an easy way to tell at-a-glance how much money is (or should be) coming my way, rather than just flying blind. I like the bar graphs on the dashboard because I like trying to make them go higher every month. 

  • Study Hall’s transcriptionist database for paying someone else to transcribe; Wreally Transcriber to do it myself ($20 annual license but great keyboard shortcuts for slowing down audio, rewinding, etc – it really makes the transcribing process a lot faster for me) 

  • DocHub for signing contracts/W9s without trying to do the print/scan thing

  • Olympus recorder (I have the WS-822) for interviews; a pickup earphone mic for phoners

  • Boomerang for scheduling emails to send later (like when I think of a pitch at 3 am on a Saturday during the holiday break like a nightmare person) 

    • Boomerang is also good for resurfacing stuff back to the top of your inbox if no one responds within a scheduled timeframe (i.e., if recipient doesn’t reply by X-date) — good for pitches and reaching out to sources 

  • Gmail filters to try and shunt things like press releases, listserv emails, HARO responses etc out of my inbox so I can look at them at my leisure and be slightly less distracted

  • I use a spreadsheet to track my pitches so that if one gets rejected, it doesn’t just die on the vine. I think I got the basic template from someone else and tweaked it to my liking but it’s basically this. If a pitch gets three rejections, I’ll usually try to regroup or figure out a different angle (or, you know, make peace with the fact that it isn’t a good idea//bookmark it to revisit later).

  • Pomodoro timer plugin for forcing myself off of twitter and actually doing work 

  • Pocket for keeping track of things I want to read, or relevant links that arise during research 

  • Toggl is good for tracking your time if that’s something you need to do for a project

  • The most analog, a cheap dry erase whiteboard on my wall where I keep track of current assignments, pitches I want to send, and ideas I want to develop. Helps to see it all in one place (and cathartically cross things out) 

  • Squarespace is what I use to host my portfolio site. It looks nice and is simple for me to update with new material. (Note: Squarespace is pretty user-friendly if you want to DIY it, but I worked with a designer, Sarah Lawrence, to nail down the exact layout I wanted and make it look good, neither of which I’m capable of doing on my own.) 

  • Ommwriter is a distraction-free word processor I use when I’m really struggling to focus. It is *not* free ($6 I think?) and there may be better options out there, but I’ve used it off and on since roughly 2010 and have enjoyed it. Full-screen, soothing visual effects, satisfying clicky noises as you type (all optional). 

Resources

  • Study Hall is a great community, & wealth of shared info, camaraderie, transparency 

  • the Opportunities of the Week newsletter rounds up many different pitch calls and includes other helpful links

  • the Open Notebook's pitch database is an excellent resource for seeing lots of pitches from many different writers. (All science-based stories, but still lots to learn no matter your beat.) 

  • Another great pitch database

  • Nieman's annotated series is fantastic; I read every single one. I really enjoyed Marie Claire's and Pacific Standard's. 

  • I learn so much from Jenny Zhang’s Annotations newsletter

  • Pitching Shark is no longer active but a good archive

  • Kill Fee is a great podcast, as is Longform. For freelance-specific advice, check out The Writer’s Co-Op, hosted by two freelance journalists and focused on the business aspects of freelancing.

  • Often you can google "[publication] pitch guidelines" (or some variant) and dig something up. Here are a couple examples from Longreads, Atlas Obscura, Slate, Serious Eats, Buzzfeed Reader, the Texas Observer, NPR, and Narratively. I find it helpful to read firsthand what editors are looking for, in their words, even if I'm not planning on pitching that particular publication right away. 

  • Scope out how publications pay/treat their writers here and here (very important!!!) 

  • More info on the Freelance Isn't Free Act which applies to you if you’re in New York or *working with a New York-based company*  

  • CJR, Poynter, and Nieman often cover lots of great and informative freelance-adjacent topics 

  • Contently has a partnership with Nexis for a discounted membership. Might not be worth it depending on the type of research your work normally involves but it’s here if you’re interested. ($20 a month, so still not cheap)

  • Times Machine: great for archival research (also newspapers.com but it isn’t free) 

  • Check your local library for access to JSTOR or other academic databases, subscriptions to NYT, etc!

Advice from other writers

ps: if this doc helped you, please feel free to send a few bucks to a reproductive justice nonprofit like ARC Southeast 🙂 

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