It has been said by the authority on life that a triple strand cord stands above one trying to hold on alone (or something like that). I have been living that solitude, at least in my writing for some time now. I have been wearing my other mask, in group form, with fellow artists, going to seminars, learning techniques, dabbling in my paints for the past few months. I had let the writing fall by the wayside thinking of all of the saturation in the market.

This morning as I read my “daily pages” I ran across a book I recently downloaded. There on the page was a quote about writing. It pointed out that Renaissance men wrote Sonnets, not to get them in a magazine or to show they had talent, but “because they wanted to tell a certain lady they loved them. His chest was full of an uncomfortable pent-up feeling that he had to express.” (from IF YOU WANT TO WRITE)

I found a similar momentum in the passion of Birmingham writers last night.  I attended a seminar organized by the brainchild of the Birmingham group they recently called SEE JANE TWEET!  or SEE JANE WRITE! as it was founded to be called by Javacia Harris Bower.

I was so energized by the positive “strands” of writers who conjugated together to ignite a spark in freelancing’s future. Writers have all been told in the past that opportunity has been made stagnant by downsizing and a slowing economy. But like eating, I know that people “gotta read”.  And that is evident online as blog posts light up the internet highway each and every day, whether midnight here or midnight across the globe, by sunrise all over this earth, people are surfing for information and muse to start their day. I was so excited after the meeting of maybe 50 people from across Birmingham that I vowed to never put down my pen again!

I have been on a sort of writing sabbatical. I have scribbled in my journals, written letters to people who didn’t desire my sorted knowledge about what they needed in their lives that I so willingly revealed, I have penned a few songs I still can’t get my son to put music to and have dabbled in a few poems after a brief moment when I came across some old school pieces I had attempted to craft more than twenty years ago. But I have forgotten the heart of writing, the story.

So today I dusted off a few that have been in my writing vault, sent them out. I vowed to not only look at life behind the lens of my camera, but to sift through the rubble of every adventure and find the story.

For now, the summary to the meeting will have to suffice. I took the notes last night and by 10:30 pm had it all outlined so I could remember. I share it here with you. Whether you are a fellow writer, an artist or a photographer, there are so many publications that feed our love for knowledge and new things.

Pinterest and photo sites are great for whisking through ideas and getting visual images of dream spaces and organizing ideas but the writer is the one who makes it all become something more than a picture of something that could be. A writer is there to unearth the why, the how and to weave a story just as those who told folk tales or shared chords that travelled up the mighty Mississippi to become todays r and b tunes did on late nights on city streets across the south.

The writer is the writer because that is what writers do. They write.

If you have ever wanted to be a writer, now is the time. But do it because you love to write, whether on a blog, in a love letter, in a journal.

According to IF YOU WANT TO WRITE, “no writing is a waste of time. With every sentence you write, you have learned something.”  I say write every morning to sift through the stuff of life and watch as you learn more and more about yourself. This will also give you the space and clarity to learn more about the world around you.

What have you got to lose?

Here are the notes from the meeting:

Thanks so much for organizing this workshop. I wanted to share my notes on the meeting. I hope anyone who wasn’t there will be able to find some interesting information.
Thanks again!
Allison Adams
Tonight several dozen members of the creative group called See Jane Write gathered at the Homewood Library, many after a full commitment at their day jobs to find out more about the opportunities in Freelance Writing. 
This was the sixth event for the group that was founded by ASFA school teacher Javica Harris Bowser.  She has a strong presence in social media with blogs, facebook fan page and twitter presence. All attendees were invited to tweet during the meeting at #sjwbhm for those who were unable to make it. While the group is for women, she welcomed the men who joined in the event with open arms.
Four panelists from a variety of local publications shared their opinions on questions gathered throughout the week from participants as they registered using Eventbrite.
Javica introduced each member of the panel in a way that exuded her enthusiasm about writing and writers. The spirit of encouragement was confirmed with clapping from the audience eager to soak in any nugget of information before the panel even began to speak.
Panelists are listed in number order below and their comments are noted after each question using their number as reference.
  1. Carla Jean Whitley- Managing Editor- Birmingham Magazine and freelancer for Bookpage.
  2. Chianti Cleggett- freelance writer for Birmingham Magazine, Workplace, NAACP and other publications
  3. Kate Agliata- Editor
  4. Glenny Brock- Editor Weld Magazine, Birmingham’s newest weekly newspaper
Q:  What is the best way to present yourself in a query letter. What would you want to know about a person interested in writing for your publication?
  1. Mrs. Whitley receives numerous queries. She suggested having great ideas. She encouraged demonstrating your writing ability in your query and asked that you include writing samples.  She invites offers to take editors for coffee, saying that especially students who need direction are always open to contact her. One note:
   “Don’t send academic papers.”
  1. Have creative, unusual stories. Say Mrs. Breck, not Mr. You should do enough
    research enough to know that the editor is a female if that is the case. She   
    encourages you to research the publication, know the publication, and check back   
    issues to be sure you don’t duplicate an idea that has been implemented.    
    Proofreading is key.
  1. Kate suggested you familiarize yourself with the individual sections of the publication to see how your writing would have specific appeal to their readers. 
  2. She was an editor for both Birmingham Magazine and Birmingham Home and Garden Magazines. They would accept blog posts as clips if there was a lack of experience if it adheres to the style of the publication and shows the writers ability.
Q:  What do you look for in a good pitch?
  1. A good story is key. A sample lead is ok. She invites a casual note with an angle if it is interesting and wants to writer to get her excited about the idea.
  2. Kate prefers that you keep it brief and encourages new statistics or data that would prove the appeal to readers.
  3. Pitch a good source and have specific organization.
  4. She is also a freelance writer and suggests you know a magazine’s style and what the editor likes. Let people know you love to write.
Q: Advice for how to get your foot in the door to write for a publication:
  1. Ask an editor to coffee to get more information on their needs. Prove you are capable.
  2. She had been interested in a national magazine and made a call to find that the editor knew her from a prior experience with another magazine. Chianti shared tips from The One Minute Millionaire to keep on trying at least until the third “no” before giving up. 
  3. Don’t overdo it but persistence does help. Remember that sometimes an email gets lost or it is a crazy work week. Don’t take it personally.
  4. Study mastheads in the bookstore (hierarchy) Sometimes you can tweet and make a connection with an editor.
Q: Is there another way to discover which sections are open to freelancers?
  1. Look at more than one issue. Birmingham Magazine has many freelance opportunities, but there are also regular contributors. You won’t get their assignments. 
  2. Established publications have standard guidelines, usually online. Mental Floss and Oxford American both have great examples of guidelines. 
Q: Do you find value in Writer’s Market Publication?
  1. Usually use if looking for something specific but much of it is on the websites.
  2. It gets overwhelming, like reading the phonebook, but valuable for browsing.
  3. It was exciting to see how many publications are out there.
Q: Tips to generate good ideas:
  1. If you are interested in learning more about something it is probably a good idea.
  2. Read a lot, watch television, check out new magazines. Every topic, even the news can be expanded to be local from national or from a national slant to your local area.
  3. Two best tips from a professor are “write what you know” and “develop an expertise in something and write about that” and she also added, “READ”. 
  4. The best way is to have a lot of ideas. Be specific and see stories everywhere. A past editor taught her to interview and he would ask questions so that each of the interviews might be paired with other interviews with similar experts that might be spun into ten stories. He was a hunting writer and also taught her, “Use every part of the animal.” (do so in writing)
  5. Keep a notepad with you at all times.
  6. Don’t be afraid to hear no.
  7. Think outside the box.
  8. Localize and Nationalize all stories.
In the next year there will be a number of 50 years anniversaries of monumental events in Birmingham. Find a national publication that will be interested.
Q: Is it possible to freelance and make more than enough to live on Ramen noodles?
  1. Yes lots of people are being published.
  2. It is hard but possible. It is like having two jobs: one hunting for work, the other for writing. But editors can be lazy so if you have photos, captions, prove your ability and have headlines you just might be her favorite writer. Know that sometimes editors aren’t being paid and have back invoices they are waiting on. If you haven’t been paid, be patient.
  3. HGTV Website pays 30-90 days after the story runs and sometimes there are variations.
2)She suggests doing work efficiently and getting it in before deadline so editors know to send work to you. 
  1. She has always been paid on time.
Q: How does time management fit into your career?
  1. A staff job helps and so do reminders. Google docs is great because you can get your work anywhere. 
  2. Procrastination is apparent. I have an entrepreneur coach. Even when I am not writing I am working on it in my head.
  3. She works from home and has a specific area for work that is distraction free. 
  4. It is a struggle for her and she told about a program called freedom that puts timers on social media so it locks you out.
  5. Divide hours into research, writing or managing website. Going from one thing to another is less productive.
  6. Sometimes when you are out you can be doing research.
Q: What options are available for invoicing if you aren’t being paid?
  1. Would follow up in a day or so after it was due.
  2. Have been burned twice by local startup publications. Her policy is only to write for them once.
  3. Be pro-active and sign a contract. Know their policy. You can also make your own contract.
  4. Meet first with the person who contacted you.
  5. Sometimes the editor might be unaware and you can contact accounting. It may be a simple lack of paperwork.
Q: How long should you write for free?
  1. She did a national book review for free to get the job. 
  2. She volunteers some writing for small groups to get her name out, usually 2-3 articles a year.
  3. Exposure is invaluable.
  4. We all blog for free. There is a cost but it is a great value when you get your work out.
She volunteers for the Lyric Theater fundraising. 
Q: Best piece of advice you have received on Freelancing:
  1. On writing in general, Bird by Bird says EDIT EDIT EDIT shitty first drafts.
Keep asking, “Then what?”
  1. Echo- EDIT. Be open to different ideas.
  2. Write what you know. Write every day, even if for 5 minutes.
  3. See stories everywhere.  Follow your curiosity.  Talk to other writers.
Q: Class recommendations?  Workshops? Organizations?
  1. Networking with See Jane Write!
  Write Club at the Hoover Library. Alabama Bloggers. Birmingham Blogging Academy. Tuscaloosa Southern Christian Writers Conference.  Lucy Jaffey Women Writing for Change. 
  1. Journalism class at college.
  2. Alabama Media Professionals
Q: Standard Rates:
  1. Varies, approximate/ word assigned.
  2. Most already are set. Niche pays by the hour.
  3. Varies, written for lump sum and depends on amount of research and interviews.
Quantify your increase in readership.
  1. Smaller pieces are $75- larger pieces to $500.
Q: Lead times:
  1. Pitches are three months out. 
  2. Know the publication and audience as well as deadline schedules. 
  3. Weekly. Calendars are great sources of story ideas. Every single event can be a story.
Q: How do you set up your business as a freelancer?
A number of audience participants suggested using Alabama State Bar for LLC forms and to protect yourself in case of a lawsuit.