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Freelance Success Story
Webmaster Note: See our complete schedule for this series here.

The All-Purpose Heavy-Duty Writer
by Mary Cook

My keywords for success are versatility and productivity. I write for a wide variety of publications - fast. Equally important is a truffle-hunter’s snout for seeking out markets.

I wrote from the time I left school in the late 1950s. Sometimes a brief article would find its way into print; sometimes it didn’t. I wasn’t particularly bothered - it was just a hobby, after all.

As I grew older, I gained a lot of domestic and financial responsibilities, so writing as “just a hobby” was no longer an option. I needed to earn money wherever I could.

I read as much as I could about writing and signed up for an “earn-as-you-learn” course on creative writing which I followed while serving my time in a number of mundane jobs. The deal was that if I couldn’t recover the cost of my course by the time I’d completed it, I’d get my money back.

Following the age-old advice: “write what you know” - not much in my case - I wrote articles about the various jobs I’d done. They ranged from singing folk songs to my own dulcimer accompaniment to maintaining the grounds of a number of schools in the area where I lived.

As I had very little expertise on any subject, I wrote the sort of light verse and short stories that I enjoyed reading as an escape from the drudgery of my working life. Humor and horror were my favored topics. I expanded my portfolio of successes by winning a minor poetry competition and a short story competition.

One day I came across an invitation for writers to submit to a new magazine being sold around the pubs of England. It was a humorous, “adult” publication to which I sold some off-color jokes. I followed up with a proposal to write a column as a spoof “agony aunt”. This proved to be quite a lucrative job which lasted for more than a year until the magazine folded after its sponsorship money dried up. I wasn’t too proud to write for other adult markets after that. Indeed, I still do, though perhaps some readers would be horrified to learn that the writer of some of those steamy fictional scenes is now a senior citizen.

I wrote for farming magazines about my experience of trying to lead a self-sufficient lifestyle by keeping bees, hens and ducks. I might not have been an expert on beekeeping, but I gained enough knowledge to write articles on the subject. One publication I wrote for on a fairly regular basis was called Escape. It was aimed at wage-slaves like me who wanted to make a career change. Out of the blue, the owner of this magazine commissioned me to write a business manual on beekeeping. My first book!

Like anyone else, I experienced rejection. But every negative had its positive aspect. By the time I felt ready to teach others the craft of writing, my published articles included A Translator's Guide to Rejection Slips.

I’d recouped the cost of my correspondence course and more before I’d completed it. But there was a down side. I was so slow at producing salable copy that it took me over a year to do it. That was no good to a writer who needed to earn a living. In everyday terms, I was quite successful as I sold a high proportion of what I wrote. The problem was that I only had a manual typewriter. Personal computers were in their infancy and there was no way I could afford to buy even the most inexpensive word-processor. I simply couldn't churn out enough copy to support myself, even though I could write to a high spec.

Next I became a correspondent for my local newspaper. When a post fell vacant, I joined the newspaper's salaried staff as an editorial assistant. For the first time in my life, I got my grubby hands on a computer and was hooked. At the age of 52, I was the office junior, writing wedding reports, obituaries and other routine news stories.

Within months I gained promotion, becoming the oldest cub reporter in the business. I was treated as the office mascot by my much younger colleagues. From natural deaths “following illness bravely borne”, I went on to cover murders and other unnatural endings.

It was through working in a busy editorial office for a very demanding editor, that I learned to produce accurate copy under pressure. Until I joined the newspaper, I could do fast and I could do accurate - but not at the same time. It took a lot of practice before I managed both together. What’s more, I had to take whatever assignments I was given. Reporters were required to work from a folder of source material kept on the editor’s desk. Some were self-explanatory press releases while others were just scraps of paper with a scribbled note followed by a name and phone number.

The least popular assignments were the press releases as those required little more than inputting, but we had to work through them in order. If the editor caught any of us trying to rummage at the bottom of the pile for the more interesting assignments, he would say: “From the top, please!”

One resourceful colleague managed to make some of the less interesting assignments disappear into the waste-paper basket, but my desk was right alongside the editor’s so I couldn’t get away with anything.

The same pressure which had me producing speedy, sparkling copy made me long to escape back into freelancing. By this time, I’d saved enough out of my meager salary to buy my own computer. I soon found my way around the Internet which opened up a whole new world of research material. Better yet, it opened up masses of previously unheard of markets – enough to provide me with a comfortable living.

Always on the lookout for fresh markets, I came across the Tokyo-based Hiragana Times while returning home to the UK after a visit to Japan. The bi-lingual magazine was advertising for overseas correspondents. I applied and quickly landed a year's contract to report on English affairs. Some of the stories I sold were recycled versions of those I'd covered for my previous employer.

I would advise any aspiring writer to take a salaried post or internship in the editorial office of a thriving publication in order to gain a disciplined approach to writing. Visit writers’ websites which feature markets listings. Sign up for their newsletters and create your own database of markets.

Think outside the box when deciding which markets you can write for. For instance, when I first took up beekeeping, I didn't know much about beekeeping techniques. But I was a keen gardener, so I published articles about planting schemes to attract bees.

I’d say to any established writer hoping to maximize his money-making opportunities: stop regarding yourself as a novelist, poet, journalist, etc. If you're serious about wanting to make money from writing you must be multi-disciplined. Above all, whether aspiring or established, get a life! If you do a lot of living, you can illuminate your work with your life-experience and give it that vital spark which makes editors keen to buy it.  

Author's Bio: A few of the author's writing credits include Freelance Writing and Photography, Writers Weekly, Writing World, Write Success, Writelink, Writers' Forum, Writing for Dollars, Funds for Writers, Inkspotter News, Heritage Writer, The Writer Within, ByLine Magazine, Brady Magazine, Wild About Animals, Champagne Shivers, Underground Voices .... Collywobblers, Perverse Verse for Guys and Ghouls.

Copyright Notice: All copyrights belong to the author. As such, accounts may not be reproduced in any manner whatsoever, in any form, for any reason, without the express, written consent of the author. Violators will be prosecuted.

Yuwanda Black, Publisher

How to Start a Successful Freelance Career Newsletter
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Freelance Success Stories: There are freelancers who make very good livings at what they love. Inkwell Editorial's newsletter features these successful professionals who put to rest the phrase, "starving freelancer." Read the first issue here and subscribe to read all previous issues.
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