​The quarterback, the quiet friend, and “effortless” assignments

​The quarterback, the quiet friend, and “effortless” assignments

(Psst … Registration for Freelance Writer Bootcamp is OPEN. Click here to join the last session in 2017.) Recently I got an email from a new-to-me editor who works at a publication I’d never heard of. If magazines were high school archetypes in a teen movie, and the New York Times was the football quarterback […]

Modern Journalist Toolkit 19: A new answer to “Why now?”

Modern Journalist Toolkit 19: A new answer to “Why now?”

In South Africa, “now” means sometime in the near future. “Now now” means even sooner. And when an editor (anywhere in the world) asks why your story is important now, they mean when the piece will be published and read. That could be tomorrow, in three months, or a year. Anticipating this aspect of your story […]

Freelance Writer Retreat near Cape Town, South Africa

Freelance Writer Retreat near Cape Town, South Africa

Registration for the Freelance Writer RETREAT near Cape Town, South Africa, is now open. Two days of workshops focused on boosting your confidence, skills, and bottom line as a freelance writer. Plus, penguins. Imagine if you could easily generate freelance article ideas that delighted you, your editors (or the editors you want to write for), […]

7 ways your environment impacts your writing and creativity

7 ways your environment impacts your writing and creativity

Is your surrounding environment helping or hurting your creativity? As a freelance writer, you may feel like you’re supposed to be able to work anywhere. Maybe you’ve done great work under stressful conditions. But small environmental stresses can build up over time and erode the confidence, stamina, and support that lead to your best work. […]

Modern Journalist Toolkit 18: How to leave a conference full of freelance article ideas (but not tote bags full of brochures)

Modern Journalist Toolkit 18: How to leave a conference full of freelance article ideas (but not tote bags full of brochures)

The first time I went to a large trade show as a freelance writer, I wandered around, mindlessly stuffing free tote bags full of every single brochure and pamphlet on display. When I got home I was completely overwhelmed. I had no idea how to coax those stacks of paper (most of which was a […]

Modern Journalist Toolkit 17/Digital nomad: Freelancing on the road

Modern Journalist Toolkit 17/Digital nomad: Freelancing on the road

When I saw this VW van in California a few weeks ago, I thought immediately about a recent article about #vanlife. Somebody who thought she could do her job remotely was surprised to find out that she couldn’t work on her computer during a bumpy ride, nor connect for calls in the middle of a […]

Modern Journalist Toolkit 14: Saving and organizing clips

Modern Journalist Toolkit 14: Saving and organizing clips

Way back in the day, our freelance ancestors clipped their articles out of paper magazines and newspapers with scissors, and made photocopies to send to editors. They sent the clips (or cuttings) with a system called snail mail. It cost money and it took days–many thousands of minutes longer than the emails and links we […]

She blinded me with science

She blinded me with science

Despite my lack of technical training, I’ve interviewed a fair number of scientists. Right at the start of our conversation, I tell them that I don’t have a science background, and ask them to please explain things to me in layperson’s terms. Usually they get it that I’m not a colleague and keep things simple; […]

7 most popular posts of 2016

7 most popular posts of 2016

Would you be surprised to hear that this Backstory blog was originally conceived of as a place to post comics about what goes on behind the scenes when writing articles? A few years ago, I was not imagining that I would be making videos, teaching freelance writers how to pitch, leading goal-planning challenges, or even […]

Modern Journalist Toolkit 10: Color Me Quick

Modern Journalist Toolkit 10: Color Me Quick

One antidote to overresearching, overreporting, overthinking, and overwriting is a really tight deadline. This video offers some takeaway tips on quick reporting in the field: For many freelancers, breaking news is part of a mix that keeps things fresh and exciting. For writers who are used to working in isolation, there’s a satisfying sense of […]

The next round of Freelance Writer Bootcamp is on me (for one of you)

The next round of Freelance Writer Bootcamp is on me (for one of you)

I’m offering a full scholarship for one person to attend the next round of Freelance Writer Bootcamp. That person could be you! >> Click here to apply for the Freelance Writer Bootcamp scholarship. This six-week Bootcamp program is for writers starting as freelancers and looking to pitch and sell their first story, as well as […]

Modern Journalist Toolkit 8: Saving time with sourcing services

Modern Journalist Toolkit 8: Saving time with sourcing services

So tell me, are you that incredibly well-connected writer who always knows the savvy, witty person to contact for insight and comment on every story, regardless of topic or audience? Is your contacts list completely up-to-date? Does everyone immediately take your call, or respond within minutes to your messages? No? Me neither. But I am […]

Modern Journalist Toolkit 7: Three-minute marketing makeover

Modern Journalist Toolkit 7: Three-minute marketing makeover

The humble email signature is one of the overlooked workhorses of your marketing efforts as a freelance writer. You are more likely focusing on the brilliant idea you’re developing and pitching, but the contact details you provide give you an opportunity to come across as thoughtful and professional—or not. In the worst-case scenario, your signature […]

Modern Journalist Toolkit 6: Yusuf Omar on Reporting with Snapchat

Modern Journalist Toolkit 6: Yusuf Omar on Reporting with Snapchat

Yusuf Omar is a cell-phone trailblazer. He finds unconventional uses for apps like Snapchat, Facebook Live, and 360 video for telling serious news stories, most of which are viewed on small screens. Omar is the new mobile editor at the Hindustan Times, one of India’s largest English newspapers, with a print circulation of more than […]

Can I quote you on that?

Can I quote you on that?

Quotes aren’t necessary when submitting a query to an editor, which is one reason why including a good one can make a pitch really stand out. A proposal should have the same DNA as the final story. Original reporting brings new insight and life to most articles; even if it’s a given you’ll be speaking […]

Do editors find you irresistible?

Do editors find you irresistible?

Enroll for the next session of Freelance Writer Bootcamp here: www.freelancewriterbootcamp.com Many people are called to the writing life, and many try to freelance. But without a strategy in place, it can quickly become overwhelming. Where do writers get their best ideas? Where are the good markets? What are the formats used for queries and […]

How to read a publication like your future editor wants you to

How to read a publication like your future editor wants you to

(Scroll down to watch the video!) Not sure why your story ideas aren’t selling? If you ask an editor for advice on the best way for a freelance writer to break in to his or her publication, they often have the same response: “Read it first.” Unfortunately, some writers don’t take that super simple advice to […]