Last week, I wrote about my background in journalism and the importance of focusing your writing on a specific area.
Like my initial decision to get into journalism, my decision to do freelance work full-time was also somewhat serendipitous. It was provoked by the birth of my first child. By the time she arrived, I’d figured out that I wanted to have more control over what I wrote, and I wanted to be as involved with raising her as possible. If I’d stayed at my newspaper job, I wouldn’t have had time for any freelance work and I wouldn’t have much time with my child.
I’d built up enough regular gigs, contracts, and contacts to make it work. Because I didn’t have the burdens of my full-time job, I had more time to be creative and aggressive with my story pitches. Each additional story, op-ed, blog post, and fellowship led to other opportunities at more outlets. I got a column at a major magazine. I was asked to contribute to books and speak to groups throughout the country. A writing career matches well with having a family in part because it’s so flexible and allows for increased or decreased work. When my second child arrived, I was able to stagger my assignments so that I could ease back into work after her birth.
While my move to freelance work was motivated by family concerns, it coincided with major downsizing among newspapers and magazines. That created opportunities as well. Newspapers and magazines still need content even if they are struggling to pay benefits for full-time employees. That means that you can develop a relationship with a media outlet for regular content without having all the hassle of a full-time, 9-6 job. Such an arrangement isn’t ideal for everyone, but it works if you have benefits arranged through other mechanisms.
Being a full-time freelancer can also allow you more opportunities to travel and jump on assignments that come up suddenly. For example, I had always dreamed of covering a political convention. While I was employed full-time at media outlets, such a trip was difficult to justify. But as a freelancer, I was able to cover both national political conventions in 2008. My husband— also a writer—and I covered both 2008 conventions with our daughter in tow. We rigged childcare together almost perfectly, so that we could report and do radio and television interviews as needed. Because various media outlets have weak travel budgets, they couldn’t afford to send as many reporters to the conventions as they would have liked. I was able to cover speeches, meetings, and protests and sell pieces to a variety of outlets to finance my trip.
Make no mistake: being a full-time freelance journalist is hard, and being a mother of young children to boot is especially trying at times. Challenges include conducting phone interviews with children underfoot, meticulous record-keeping for tax purposes, and the constant pressure of finding new gigs. However, the freedom I’m afforded and the job satisfaction more than makes up for the frustrations. While the troubles facing media have made a writing career challenging, they also provide opportunities and flexibility that were unavailable in the past.
Mollie Ziegler Hemingway is a columnist for Christianity Today and contributor to GetReligion.org. Her writing on religion, economics and baseball has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The Los Angeles Times, The Guardian, Federal Times, Radio & Records and Modern Reformation. This post originally ran in the Institute for Humane Studies Journalism Career Guide.
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