Introducing the Modern Journalist Toolkit

Introducing the Modern Journalist Toolkit

Welcome to the Modern Journalist Toolkit, an ongoing series that looks at new approaches and methods to support reporting and writing. Expect to see a fair amount of technology—some of the most frequent questions I get are about what apps and tools I use—but also new attitudes and strategies that make sense in the 21st […]

The one goal no freelance writer ever mentions

The one goal no freelance writer ever mentions

If you have taken one of my classes or worked with me one-on-one, I’ve asked you in one way or another about your freelance writing goals. Doing so ensures clarity and specificity so that we can recalibrate as necessary. While the details are important to the individual, over time I’ve seen general patterns of desire […]

Writing Coach 6-Pack Special

Writing Coach 6-Pack Special

When I coach writing students, we normally work together for 12 or more weeks. This allows enough time to work on deeply on multiple challenges and ensures that we can continue to build on early successes. These students know that there’s no silver bullet to freelance success. However, I’ve had numerous requests for a smaller […]

Are you up for a writing challenge?

Are you up for a writing challenge?

The 12×12 Write Now Challenge 2016 begins next Monday, 11 January. Despite the deluge of tweeted resolutions and planning widgets that proliferate at this time of year, I’ve yet to see a plan or process that really meets the unique needs of freelance writers. Over time, I’ve created my own approach to reviewing what I’ve done and […]

2015’s best video about writing and breakthroughs

This video was filmed in 2013, but it has new resonance in 2015, which seems to have been the Year of Ta-Nehisi Coates. For every (frustrated) writer who wants an early draft to be their best, consider that this MacArthur Genius also never gets that “perfect thing” in his head out on to paper. Perseverance […]

Keep calm and follow up

Keep calm and follow up

A fellow writer asked for the best piece of advice I had for freelancers. Follow up, follow up, follow up.  As soon as I send something (a story pitch, a request for an interview, whatever), I schedule the follow ups on my calendar. This diffuses any emotional reaction to nonresponse/silence, and keeps things moving along on schedule. […]

On My Bookshelf: Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert

On My Bookshelf: Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert

If the title doesn’t tip you off, Elizabeth Gilbert’s theories about creativity and ideas are a bit woo-woo. Sometimes, seriously woo-woo. But most of her new book Big Magic is an easy-to-read take from somebody who is serious about her dedication to writing, and who sees creativity as a guiding life force rather than as […]

3 ways to become a better writer

3 ways to become a better writer

On the last morning of a silent meditation retreat, my teacher announced that he would tell us the three most important things about continuing a meditation practice at home. For a week, we had had a respite from daily life: no talking, no internet, no personal sagas, no decisions about what to do next. The normal […]

Which comes first, the story or the market?

Which comes first, the story or the market?

Looking for story ideas first and then scrambling for market suggestions often doesn’t work out in the long run. It likely took me a while to figure this out because that method is so common amongst freelance writers that it appears as if it’s the way things are done. Freelance forums typically have a bunch […]

Freelance Boot Camp: Writing queries that sell

Freelance Boot Camp: Writing queries that sell

Registration for the online version of Freelance Writer Bootcamp is currently closed. Sign up here to be the first to hear when enrollment opens up again.  It’s one thing to have a great idea for a story, another to know your dream markets, and something else entirely to know how to write a pitch letter […]

On My Bookshelf: It’s What I Do by Lynsey Addario

On My Bookshelf: It’s What I Do by Lynsey Addario

An afternoon shopping at New York’s Strand bookstore is an exercise in both decadence and restraint. Like most book lovers, I’ve back and forthed my reading habits to acknowledge the portability and economy of an e-reader. My criteria for buying physical books have become more specific: art and reference books, and out-of-print titles are the […]

Infographic: How to Become a Successful Freelance Writer

After hearing me describe the process of deconstructing a magazine to identify the most freelance-friendly sections, and how to customize a story idea, a student stared at me, with her mouth agape. “That sounds like a lot of work,” she said. Well, yes. But anybody who spends any time reading how-to-pitch type guides quickly hears […]

What to watch: Movies for the media

What to watch: Movies for the media

This trio of films have all found audiences with the general public, but may have particular resonance with journalists, photographers, and related members of the media. Finding Vivan Maier “Finding Vivan Maier” is both an introduction to the work of the prolific street photographer, as well as a dive into who she was and why […]

Coffee coffee buzz buzz buzz: What’s brewing?

Coffee coffee buzz buzz buzz: What’s brewing?

US alternative weeklies were still in their heyday back when I began writing for a living. Shortly after I left my day job (i.e., went from part- to full-time freelancing), I pitched a couple of arts ideas to an editor at The Washington Blade, who in return asked if I would be interested in a […]

Mandela’s South Africa

Mandela’s South Africa

Even when it’s expected, death still surprises. Prior to Mandela’s death, I had numerous conversations with editors about content that they wanted to have at the ready. It’s standard practice for news organizations to prepare obituaries of well-known people on file, but the preparations for Mandela were extreme. In the hours and days after the […]

On Instagram and Scooping Yourself

On Instagram and Scooping Yourself

This morning, after I’d briefed the photographer about the story in progress, we waited in the parking lot of a community hall for a source to arrive and escort us to a new location. I walked to the slightly crumbling mural of O.R. Tambo, snapped a photo, and posted it to my nascent Instagram account. […]

Pistorius sentencing and reporting come to an end

Since February 2012, when Oscar Pistorius killed Reeva Steenkamp, USA Today has asked me to go out and speak with those so-called regular people to get their take on the unfolding facts. Cell phones make person-on-the street interviews tough. Look around any public area: the people by themselves are invariably chatting on their mobile, or […]

How do you answer, “Who do you write for?”

How do you answer, “Who do you write for?”

Like most questions about freelace writing and journalism, the real answer here is, “It depends.” When sending a query to a new-to-me editor, typically my bio line lists a few credits tailored to the publication. If, say, it’s a enviro/science story, I’ll mention Discover and Ensia; architecture editors find out about Dwell; education editors are […]

A story killed and resurrected

A story killed and resurrected

Throughout my years of freelance writing, there is one recurring situation that is genuinely tricky to prevent: the story that gets killed because the assigning editor leaves the publication. You might think that the new editor would be so busy trying to get up to speed that the last thing they’d do is kill a […]

Conference call

Posted in business, freelance

Conference calls are a part of a freelance writer’s life, but often they leave me feeling like I should have received hardship pay. This little video, “A Conference Call in Real Life,” transforms every bit that is super unfunny in real life. In the sequel, I’m guessing there will be somebody getting dressed or eating […]