How Not to Succeed As a Freelance Writer

Typewriter at the flea market

I’ve been freelancing on and off for more than 15 years. While I’ve been lucky to land some decent-paying projects with a few well-known publishers and online outlets, I’ve always wondered whether there is a secret formula to getting more work.

In fact, there is a secret formula to getting more freelance assignments, just as there is a secret formula to getting a fitter body: do more, work more. In both cases that’s easier said than done. I know what I should be doing but often I lack the motivation and stamina to get to the next level.

This is why I’ve been thinking about how to approach this issue from the opposite direction. I am not sure how one succeeds as a freelance writer — success is subjective and hard to define — but I do know what it takes not to succeed.

With the hindsight of 15 years, here are the things I should’ve done to get further as a writer. Consider it anti-advice from someone who knows better.

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Nell Zink’s Novel Jorney

“There are a lot of ways to stay safe as a writer: by not writing, by writing to no one, by writing to a single admirer, by challenging the judgment of those with the power to judge, by not putting much effort into your work. ‘It’s hard,’ Zink writes in ‘The Wallcreeper,’ ‘trying to defend your territory and advertise your presence and keep out of predators’ line of sight.'”

Every word of this Kathryn Schulz profile of novelist Nell Zink is perfect. It helps that Zink’s life story and book plots are brimming with zaniness and improbability. This was such a joy to read.

Source: Bricklayer, Bird-Watcher, Literary Sensation


Building A Nest for News About Autism and Childhood Education


I’ve always had weak tear ducts. Sappy TV ads, sensitive newspaper articles, and the like routinely move me to a tear or two. This is especially true when the primary subject is children. With two children ages 8 and 6, this affliction has only become more pronounced, as I transfer my parental guilt and worries onto situations that I can’t possibly control or fathom.

“That could’ve been my kid.”

My oldest son was diagnosed with mild autism/spectrum-related disorders when he was about 16 months old. We have been dealing with his therapies and special educational needs for nearly seven years. Oddly enough, during that time I have accepted his diagnosis and his treatment as a matter of course. I rarely cry about his condition. I just take things day by day even though I’ve never felt like I’ve had a handle on exactly what his issues are and how to treat them. 

The times that I do feel a little weepy is when I sit down to write about autism or parenting. Even as I write this I can feel the tears well up. It’s a sign that these are topics that I care about — topics I should be writing about. But honestly when I start my writing day or get to the end of it, the last thing I want to think about is autism diagnoses, behavioral therapies, and special education. I need some escape from my reality. And I like writing about travel, culture, and art because they are the subjects that interested me as an individual before I was a worried parent.

Still I’m drawn to finding and sharing the latest information on autism. For several years, I’ve quietly owned the site I had thought I would be able to keep up with autism news, and perhaps chronicle my own experience, by developing Spectrum Stories into a Tumblr site. But work and home life and, perhaps, a lack of focus, have meant that I’ve left that site lie fallow for many months.

All of this is to say that I’m trying something new: a Facebook page. Maybe it’s odd to announce something as frivolous as a Facebook page in a blog post. But I think that letting the public know about it will help motivate me to keep up with it. I would love to be able to build it into a smart, engaging, and easily accessible forum where people can learn about the latest in autism spectrum disorders, neurology, special education, parenting, and mental health.

For the record, both of my children are vaccinated and I do not believe vaccines cause autism. That said, I understand that as the page grows, there will likely be others who disagree with this. Let them read the studies. And then, let them read other articles that may shed light on newly discovered causes and treatments.

There are plenty of sites and organizations that offer news on autism. I will certainly link to some over the course of this project. But I’m primarily interested in scientific studies and education and news that will enlighten rather than entertain or enrage.

Would you like to learn more? Follow Spectrum Stories and help me build something that may help me and many others like me. Note that the page is very bare bones at the moment — no logo, only a few posts, not particularly professional in any way. This is a process. Your interest and interaction will help it evolve.

Thank you for taking the time to read this. It means a lot.


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