In the weeds

When I started this project, I thought I’d have all this time to keep notes of my progress. I was going to create this testament to freelance struggles I could offer up as a reference to those who came after me. What I forgot is how time consuming it can be. Fortunately, I’m at a place where most of my work comes from editors I already know, or from networking with clients who need a writer for their website or annual report. I don’t do a lot of blind pitches. Obviously.

A big part is the editing. Editing your own writing is hard work. It seems like it shouldn’t take that long…just read through what you wrote, clean up the typos, make sure what you are saying is clear and precise. Sounds easy. That took me an entire afternoon. Next comes writing the pitch letters, getting the formula right, obsessing over every word. That’s an entire evening of work. Then there’s trying to find the right editor to send the pitch. It’s a fruitless Google search at every turn.

Last week’s March Pitch-a-Thon goal was to edit one previously written piece I had yet to publish and write a pitch letter for said piece. This week’s goal: to send it out and start researching my next project. I did want to note that I found two resources especially helpful last week: This piece on the Billfold, especially in regards to pitch length and whether to include the essay.

If personal essays are your thing, I would also recommend Jessica Olien’s Personal Essay Writing Workshop, an online course offered by media website Mediabistro. There are writing tips and exercises, which I found to be some of the best I’ve ever received, but she also has a wealth of information about pitching to publications that will save you lots of time learning the hard way.

First ever March Pitch-a-Thon

Is there anything worse than a blind pitch? Whether you’re writing one or getting one, pitches can be a painful process. To new writers, the successful pitch formula is an enigma never to be mastered. To editors, poorly written pitch letters litter their inbox like grocery store plastic bags. After five years of on-again-off-again freelancing, I still have trouble creating a pitch editors will bite on, at least when it comes to the blind pitch.

Each April, I teach a half-day freelance writing workshop at the Nackey S. Loeb School of Communications in Manchester. A big segment of the seminar is spent on pitching. My advice is to get to know some editors first and find out what kind of stories they are looking for. Do they want you to submit a completed story first, or do they want a short pitch to consider first? How long are their pieces? Will taking a few photos improve your chances of landing a story? What parts of the publication are easiest to break into? Etc…

Eventually I get to the blind pitch – a.k.a. pitching an editor whom you’ve never met or spoken with before, typically at a larger, national publication. Really that’s what everyone is there to hear, getting their byline in Real Simple or Field and Stream. It may be my lack of confidence in front of a crowd, but when I explain to them that the best I’ve ever been able to get out of blind pitch are a few emails back from an associate editor, followed by silence, I can see disappointment flash across their faces.

Next month, I am slated to teach my Freelance Writing Workshop again, this time for a full day. For this extended seminar, I’d like to come armed with new and useful information, and if what they’re really want are tips on blind pitches, I figured I better get some together.

Hence my self-imposed first ever March Pitch-a-Thon. For the month of March I will focus at least one day a week and all additional down time to pitching as many publications as possible. The emphasis will be on publications where I don’t know the editor and where I’ve never pitched before – blind pitches. I’ll provide updates here, as well as some samples of my writing and pitches, as a resource for my future seminar students. It’s also one of those public shaming, deadline-driven initiatives to ensure I actually get things done.

Here’s my to-do list as I open my first ever Pitch-a-Thon:

  1. Make a list of stories you can rewrite or re-purpose for a national publication.
  2. Conduct additional research or editing to get these pieces ready for submission.
  3. Write those pitches.
  4. Find the right editor to send my pieces and get those pitches out the door.
  5. Come up with a list of stories I’m going to research and write from scratch, and a list of possible publications to send them.
  6. Gather sources, photos and other important information editors would want to see with my pitch.
  7. Write and submit the pitches.

While I tackle #1-4 this week, I threw this little Eat Pray Love-style pep talk to watch (at the top of the page).


On the edge of the Berkshires

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By the time I had finished my third drink, getting into the hot tub with strangers didn’t seem so weird. It was a perfect summer hot tub night – dry, a little breezy and not to hot. Located just outside the main door of the hotel, there had been a steady flow of people in and out of the thing for about an hour, so when I saw the older couple holding court step out, I made the decision to head in.

A chatty couple sat to my right, my husband and a single man clearly warmed on wine sat to my left. I turned to the chatty couple and asked, “What do you do?” The man was an attorney who split time between New York and Washington, D.C., and the other wrote for the New York Times, mostly about art.

“I’m a writer, too,” I blurted out, wishing almost immediately that I hadn’t. The Times writer looked back at me expectantly, steam circling her head. I opened my mouth but for a few seconds, all you could hear was the low gurgle of the bubbling jets.

“I write mostly for trade publications and some regional publications.” I paused. The wine, the steam and the late hour made this exercise seem more exhausting than ever. “Look, I’m not going to do that thing where writers try to impress each other by listing off all the places they write for. I write, but not for any place you’ve ever heard of.”

The attorney smiled. Clearly he had heard others go through the exercise before. The Times writer looked surprised at my bluntness, then relieved. She didn’t want to hear it and I didn’t want to give it. I sat back against a jet and let the bubbles work out a knot in my lower back.

My kind of art.

My kind of art.

My evening in the hot tub and this interaction pretty much sum up my experience at the Porches Inn at Mass MoCa and most of North Adams’ art scene. It’s nice but not overtly friendly. Cool, but in that elite liberal arts college kind of way. It’s a nice mix of odd and cozy — and a little bit awkward. North Adams is for people like me, its got the culture without that Berkshires pretense.

The Porches occupies a stretch of mill worker row houses across from Mass MoCa, housed in the old mill. It was gutted and updated with retro lamps and vintage art; the rooms have large, clean bathrooms outfitted with the little extras (shoe shine kit!). The king sized bed was backed against the wall on one side, which I hate, but the turn-down service and locally made chocolates on the pillow made up for it. Our room had a small porch with a bistro table and chair set. It was a great place to sip wine, play cards and watch the action in the heated pool and hot tub.

2014-06-23 13.43.04Walk over to Mass MoCA and you’ll find a sprawling industrial-era campus of brick stone and wooden buildings. Finding the entrance was not intuitive, nor is the gallery layout. An impressive set of installations by Teresita Fernandez greet visitors as they enter. Metallic pins wind their way along the walls of the first gallery, while in the next room, a wave of plastic, colored tubes floats into the cathedral ceiling. Walk up and down the gallery and you’ll notice a low murmur – the sound of the air movement created as you pass underneath.

Sol LeWitt

Sol LeWitt

There is much to love about Mass MoCA. The Sol LeWitt collection is comprehensive and colorful, including information on how the galleries were constructed. There is much to leave you unsettled, confused and uncomfortable. I don’t know how it’s possible to make someone feel claustrophobic in a space as open and large as these galleries, but somehow Mass MoCA does it.

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Mass MoCA’s success lies in its comprehensiveness. Every room, every walkway, every last vestige of the manufacturing complex it once was is cultivated in a way that impacts and impresses.


We dined primarily in North Adams, a small on-the-rebound town at the northeastern end of the Berkshires. The Italian restaurant recommended by Porches staff was adequate, but had a limited menu. Nearby Public made us much happier. My husband drooled over the craft beer offerings from tiny New York and upper Midwest breweries. I sipped on a Hemingway, a variation of the classic daiquiri, served with fresh squeezed lime in a martini glass. I had spent the early weeks of summer in search of a good rum drink. This was it.

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Driving into North Adam and the Berkshires region is very disorienting. Winding roads and switchbacks challenge your sense of direction. Rolling hills quickly arch into steep mountainsides that threaten to suck your car into the abyss. Abandoned and ramshackle motor inns line the roadways, devoid of hope of every being rehabilitated. The whole place seems like it’s been forgotten, and for many it probably has.

Yet the payoff on this drive is grand. A scary curve next to a dingy mobile home twists into an expansive vista with views of the entire valley. Wind turbines line the ridges, turning slowly, reminding busy city folks to slow down too.


A drive to the top of Mt Greylock revealed great views in this a harsh and blustery place. It has been centuries since settlers first stood on this peak, but the Berkshires still feels like a place of pioneers. It’s hard to scratch out a living, but it seems to have so much promise.

About Kittery, killed it

IMG_1916 The following post was to be published elsewhere, but did not make the cut. Here’s the piece, aimed at an out-of-town audience.

Getting Out in Kittery

I had been suffering from a bad case of cabin fever, so I suggested to my husband we get a babysitter and do a date night. Not wanting to spend half the evening looking for parking in downtown Portsmouth, we took a quick drive over the Sarah Long Bridge and enjoyed an evening of beer drinking and eating delicious food in Kittery, Maine.

Up until recently, Kittery had been a sleepy town with a tiny downtown – known as the Foreside – that included few things to do at night. But in the past few years, an infusion of young entrepreneurial energy lured Kittery residents back to the Maine side of the bridge for their drinks, dining and entertainment.

Old Memorial Bridge looking from Portsmouth, NH to Kittery, Maine

Old Memorial Bridge looking from Portsmouth, NH to Kittery, Maine

My husband and I started at the Black Birch, a low-key and tiny space known for its small plates and a killer beer list. We started out with the deviled eggs, three halves each with their own twist on the summer picnic classic. The wasabi-spiced was the clear winner. For dinner, I had the duck with a sweet citrus glaze, which left me scoping the sticky yumminess up with my fork long after the duck was gone. My husband had the brick chicken – a dish that left me wondering how they could make plain-old-chicken taste so good. My husband sampled the darker beers on the list – of which there are plenty – while I started with the 2 Govt., a bourbon-based cocktail named in honor of the Black Birch’s address.

If whiskey is your thing, you’re sure to find something to make you happy here. Not only do they offer a solid selection of bourbon and rye, the Black Birch also has a constant rotation of seasonal whiskey-based cocktails on their menu that go above and beyond the seen-all-too-often twist on an Old Fashioned or Manhattan.

Next to the Black Birch is Buoy Gallery, founded by young artists looking for a space to showcase emerging art both local and from away. If the gallery looks like it’s having an opening or an event, stop in. Buoy focuses on innovative and captivating shows. If it’s not open, don’t worry. The Black Birch and Buoy are connected by a back hallway and you can usually take a peek in the gallery near the restaurant bathrooms.

Old Memorial Bridge, close forever

Old Memorial Bridge, close forever

Down the street is Anneke Jans, a fine dining restaurant with a casual yet classy bar attached to the main dining room. For nearly 10 years it’s been a trendy after work spot for Kittery’s professional class, and more recently inherited a top-notch chef to revamp the menu. If you’re going for cocktails, I suggest anything served in a martini glass. If you’re more of a wine drinker, there’s plenty to keep you happy on their list, too. Make sure to order the mussels, with bleu cheese. This once-weird combo is one of Anneke Jans’ signature dishes for its mix of briny and creamy tanginess.

The Foreside is not the only place of interest in Kittery. There are the shopping outlets on Route 1 which are easily accessible from Interstate 95. Here you’ll find Levis, Nike, Coach, and an entire building dedicated to the Gap-Banana Republic brand. There are your typical fried food restaurants along the strip, as well as the slightly upscale fish eatery, Robert’s Maine Grill, which is a must-stop for oyster lovers. For good food, good drinks and (slighty) less cost, drive north on Route 1 just past the outlets to the When Pigs Fly company store and restaurant. Here they elevate the classic pizza joint with craft beers, freshly made pizza, and oh-so-good sandwiches made on their own bread.

Lights over the Old Memorial Bridge

Lights over the Old Memorial Bridge


Kittery has long been the little sister to Portsmouth’s many great restaurants and was considered lacking when compared with the city’s art and music scene. But as rents climb and Portsmouth grows, young chefs, bartenders, artists and others from Seacoast New Hampshire are taking their ideas into Maine. This exodus has largely been Kittery’s gain and now those who come to visit Portsmouth have a whole new downtown to go to.

Manchester Love


The longer I work in Manchester, the more I come to realize it’s my second home. Although I’m not in the city as often as I was during my Union Leader days, I have more professional connections in the Queen City than I do in my hometown. I’ve gotten to know the place from a unique perspective — as one who works but has never lived there — which inspired me to do a quick post about it.

There’s plenty to complain about when it comes to Manchester, like traffic. Seriously, how is it that traffic is so bad here. Perhaps the 1 million lights? Or the worst drivers north of Boston? Crime is another factor, which is relatively low compared to some other cities the size of Manchester, but people in New Hampshire are outraged by a dog fouling epidemic. Hearing about a rash of break-ins or a drug ring bust is cause for panic.

Manchester is one of those funny places that has a small town feel, but big city problems. I think the big city aspects add more to Manchester than diminish, but I hold things like culture, entertainment opportunities and diversity in high regard.  Here’s a sample of the Stay Work Play piece I wrote this week:

5 Reasons to Love Manchester

Manchester has many personas, depending on who you are and where you live. For some it’s where you see Van Halen play on its next tour. For others it’s a place to go bar hopping, and unfortunately for others, they see Manchester as a city where your car might get broken into. I’ve worked in Manchester off and on for a few years now and have found that the city has more to offer than its “Manchvegas” nickname lets on.

1. Manchester is multicultural

For one of the least diverse states in the country, New Hampshire’s Queen City is very diverse. Dozens of languages are spoken by students in Manchester’s public schools and more than 20 percent of the students are non-white. Manchester today is home to Sudanese, Bhutanese and Iraqis. Having different cultures represented in the city means there are stores and restaurants that cater to these cultures. The West Side has the Ali Baba Wholefoods Festival & Treasures, which serves wine, groceries and prepared food like falafel, shawarma and channa masala. Near Gill Stadium is its sister store the Spice Center, a market offering foods mainly from the Middle East and southeast Asia. There are many more small markets throughout the city that have ethnic food sections catering to the neighborhood. Manchester also has an embarrassing amount of good Mexican restaurants and a highly rated Nepali restaurant, Café Momo.

2. Manchester has the Merrimack River

During the Industrial Revolution, Manchester’s riverfront property was taken over by mills and warehouses. Now it has a baseball park, walking trails, and luxury condominiums. The mills are still there, but inside are tech firms, restaurants and the UNH Manchester campus. If you want to get up close to the river, head to Arms Park. Parking is ample and you can walk along the Merrimack just feet from the rushing water below.

Starting this business is a funny thing to write about


About two years ago, I decided I would give newspapers a break. If you’ve never committed yourself to a career in journalism, understand that this was a big change of heart for me. I gave up higher-paying jobs to work at a newspaper. I let relationships suffer and I abused my own health to work at a newspaper. I had been dedicated to daily news for almost a decade, so giving it up wasn’t a decision I made lightly.

But if I’m being honest, leaving newspapers behind was pretty easy once I decided to do it.

Working at a newspaper, no matter how large or small, is simultaneously the most uplifting and most depressing job you can have. One day you’re hunting down the parents of a child killed in a hit-and-run, the next you’re interviewing a Rwandan refugee who found out that morning he will be going on to college after graduating high school in the spring. Then there are the internal ups and downs. The brotherhood of reporters and editors who laugh at the dark jokes you’d never dare utter to people outside the newsroom. The support we give each other, even though we’re digging our talons in as deep as we can to hang on to the job we’ve got. And I will never forget the hostility that can infect a newsroom after years of layoffs, pay cuts and poor management.

I wrote the following post as a basic how-to on starting a business in New Hampshire, but if you know the back story, it’s about much more. I’ve abandoned my career in newspapers — for the time being — to give mercenary writing a try. I really thought I would miss newspapers more, but I don’t.

Starting your own business: My story

About a month ago, a large envelope from the New Hampshire Secretary of State’s Office came to me in the mail. Inside was a letter and certificate notifying me that I now officially had my own business. As of Nov. 12, 2013, BLH Writing Solutions is free to perform “independent contracting services providing writing and web content” within the state of New Hampshire.

Does this piece of paper make a difference in any way except by adding a small ounce of legitimacy to my self-employed existence? Not really. But it certainly feels nice to know that when people ask me what I do for a living, I can tell them I run my own business.

My experience this year has been relatively crisis-free, but I know there can be lots of challenges to starting a company. As I prepared to launch my business idea, I found the stories from others who started their own business to be helpful. Although I’d like to avoid giving advice here, I’d like to share my story.

The Idea

After a few years in the newspaper business, I began to question the future of the industry. Seeing “journalist” at or near the bottom of those annual job security lists made me nervous and I worked with many talented people who were ahead of me if a promotion ever presented itself. When I gave birth to my daughter, instead of taking maternity leave I left my position, not really knowing what I’d do for work next, just that I wanted to work for myself.

A I considered my options, I kept thinking about a casual conversation I had with one of my regular sources. She told me that good writers were impossible to find and if I ever wanted to change careers, she could refer me to a few businesses looking for writers. This wasn’t the first person to tell me this. People in the business world have told me repeatedly that knowing how to write a letter or an announcement or instructions to staff on a new policy are skills in high demand.

So that’s where I started – writing for people who didn’t have the skills or the time to do it themselves.

The Plan

A few weeks ago I wrote a post on networking, which covers much of what I did during the first six months. I contacted people I had worked for in the past, and people I met through other jobs. I told them if they needed something written, I could do it. I got one client right away, who connected me to a marketing firm looking for a writer. I got a reference to write for a college publication from a friend’s mom, and a college friend, who now edits a trade magazine, gave me a few assignments. The work trickled in slowly at first, but as I met more people, more work came in.

This summer, I did some networking on Facebook and landed my biggest assignment yet.

The Details

As the end of the year approached, I realized I’d have to do my taxes. It was time to get my house in order. I filed my business name, BLH Writing Solutions, with the Secretary of State, which the law says is required to do business in N.H. Then I took a few hours to gather up my receipts, invoices, check stubs and any other materials I could think of and paid a visit to an accountant.

The visit was not uplifting, but it didn’t make me want to hang it all up either. I will have to pay a significant amount to the IRS next year because I didn’t submit quarterly filings. (I was supposed to file quarterly?) But because I did a good job of keeping records, I can deduct most of my expenses without fear. The accountants I spoke with also gave me a good plan moving forward so I don’t make the same mistake next year.

The Next Step

While this first year in business has been a great education for me, it has also made me realize there is so much more to learn. Next year I hope to form a relationship with theNew Hampshire Small Business Center to make sure I continue in the right direction. I am also interested in learning more about information offered by SCORE, the Service Corps of Retired Executives, which offers business seminars throughout the state, and the Center for Women’s Business Advancement in Manchester. Stay Work Play also hasresources for starting a business in NH on their website.

As far as first years in business go, I am happy with the way mine has gone. I have no regrets about working on my own, but there is one thing I miss about the old days — paid holidays.

Stay Work Play: Advice on Networking?

As a regular blogger for Stay Work Play, I am given lots of liberty as far as what I can post. Went to a winery over the weekend. Yup, that counts. Saw a comedian at the Portsmouth Music Hall. That’s one of the next posts on my list. While these out-and-about posts are perfectly fine, we are also encouraged to write about  more professional concepts, like things that can help you land a job or improve your skills.

So I dug deep into my career history and came up with this blog post I thought might help young college grads and 20-somethings ease into the working world a little more smoothly. Is this advice valuable? Who knows? I offer what I learned along the way, for what that’s worth.


The (relatively) pain-free guide to networking

Let’s face it. Networking is not easy. It requires putting yourself out there, meeting new people, and facing some rejection. But it’s also one of the best ways to land a new job.

There are lots of websites and career advice manuals that can help you get started, but knowing how hard networking has been for me and considering how many times I’ve turned to networking after a layoff or career change, I wanted to offer my (relatively) pain free guide.

New Hampshire Fair Season, My Heaven


Each year in March and early April, Miami-Dade hosts a fair and exhibition, one of the few times of year the weather is cool and sunny like a New England fall day. The Miami Fair is everything you would expect from such an event: food, lame shows, rides, bad art exhibitions. But of course it’s Miami, so everything is a little gaudier, a little more extreme.

When I lived in Miami in the late ’90s, there were a series of AV club-style commercials for the fair on the local television stations. Because I was always very broke and couldn’t afford cable, I was often watching some game show or syndicated sitcom on these local stations, which gave me ample exposure to the Miami Fair advertising strategy. These commercials featured flashing lights, quick shots of exciting rides and young people taking huge bites out of cotton candy and hot dogs. At the end, a chorus of cheesy singers would belt out in an ascending melody, “Be there, the fair, be THERE!”

Around the 10th time my roommate and I heard this catchy tune, it was permanently ingrained in our memories. We would sing it as often as we could comically fit it into conversation. If someone asked if we were going to a party, the response was, “I’ll BE THERE!” Or if I ran into my roommate on campus, we’d spontaneously break out our beloved fair song. I could still sing you this song today.

Now I live in New Hampshire, which is the heart of fair country. Each fall when my friends and I go over which fairs we want to attend, I annoy them to no end with this stupid song. Unfortunately, they didn’t get to hear how great it really was.

After a quick search, I found a toned-down modern version of the commercial, which doesn’t quite have the exuberant singing I remember, but it will give you an idea of what I’m talking about. I also wrote a Stay Work Play post about my secrets to successful fairing, which I sample below.

The Fair, Be There

The end of summer is such a bittersweet time of year. The hottest days are behind us, the swimming is a whole lot colder and everything seems to end earlier in the evening now that people are back in school.

But the end of summer and beginning of fall also brings us fried dough, the Tilt-A-Whirl and animal exhibitions. That’s right. I’m talking about the fair.

New Hampshire is lucky to have so many great agricultural fairs. I’ve done most of the fairs on the east side of Interstate 93 and a few in Maine and Massachusetts. For the past few years, my friends and I have invested serious time and money into studying the art of fair-going and I can confidently say we have perfected the trip to the fair. Here are my tips for maximizing your time this fair season.

1. Get full first

Many people will disagree with this, especially those who like rides. But now that we are all a little older and wiser, can’t we just admit we go to the fair for the food? Why torture yourself longer than you need to?

I usually go with a decent-sized group of people, maybe 5 or 6, all of whom I am comfortable with sharing food. This is the only way I have found you can make it through the wealth of so-bad-for-you-it’s-good cuisine each fair offers. Once you arrive, take a tally of what everyone wants to eat. Then get something right away that’s easy to share, like French fries or a bloomin’ onion. Snack on this as you stroll up and down the food aisles looking for the special fair treats you want. I get a turkey leg and give my friends take a few bites. Another friend gets deep-fried Twinkies, which everyone wants to try, and yet another friend buys a giant root beer with a keeper cup which we can sip to wash down the feast.

Writing about the home office in the home office

As I noted in my Stay Work Play post, I’ve been working from home off and on for many years now, but my current job is the first where I actually have a home office. My first “home office” was my kitchen table, followed by a cheap desk in the corner of our living room. Today, my home office occupies half of my finished attic. Although it’s way too hot in the summer and a little too frigid in the winter, the privacy it affords is invaluable.

Below is a sample from my most recent SWP post, in which I cover the perks of being employed from home. Might I also add, it’s nice for a quick swim break, too?

5 Best Things About Working From Home

I have worked from home off and on for a variety of employers since 2007. My first assignment was running a political website for a Washington D.C.-based company during the New Hampshire primary season, then I started “stringing” for news organizations like the Associated Press and the Portsmouth Herald. In 2009, I had had enough of the freelance life and took an office position in Manchester. There I stayed until about a year ago, when I had my first child and decided working from home was where I wanted to be.

Working from home is something many New Hampshire companies embrace, whether it’s full-time, one day a week or just once in a while. I’ve found that some companies prefer to have me work independently from home, especially after I prove I can meet their deadline, or at the very least are willing to discuss how working from home can be incorporated into my office job role.

If working from home is something you want to ask your boss about, I say go for it. Just remember, it is not for everyone, especially those who need to feel the boss is watching to get stuff done. But if you are deadline driven and organized, working from home has major advantages. Here are a few: