So you want to be a freelance writer? 5 important tips to get you started

 

You want to be a freelance writer? It's cold out there.

You want to be a freelance writer? It’s cold out there.

Being a freelance writer in New Hampshire is a lot different than New York. The pool of editors and publications is small and breaking in anywhere with a national circulation is almost impossible. That doesn’t mean you can’t do at least a little freelance writing on the side, especially if you have good ideas and you know how to package them.

Last weekend, I taught a one-day freelance writing workshop at the Nackey S. Loeb School of Communications, and this message was one to which I kept returning. The Loeb School is a small non-profit focused on fostering an interested and spreading knowledge about all things media, so the students ranged from high schoolers to retirees. All were very interested in writing and incredibly engaged, bringing great ideas with no clue how to get them in front of an editor. Here’s what I told them:

  1. Be able to write

This seems obvious, but I can’t tell you how many people underestimate the importance of high-quality writing, even those who aspire to be one. All you need to know about writing for a publication comes in two books. The Elements of Style by Strunk and White, and the Associated Press Stylebook. When editors say use AP style when formatting your story, this is the book that will tell you how to do it.

  1. Know how to identify a story

“Why should I care?” If you even get to talk to an editor, you’re likely to hear one say this when you first start out. A story worthy of publication should be something that affects a significant number of people, not just you and your friends. It should reveal new and interesting details about something people are doing, not something we’ve read 100 times. It is something out of the ordinary, even stunning, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be something we look at every day. A story should have a new way of looking at that thing. I also believe a good story provides a glimpse of humanity, whether it is joy, struggle or loss. Some people are gifted storytellers, while others have to practice. I had to practice.

  1. Network like crazy

This is the most important step. No freelance writer making a living today doesn’t network his butt off. NH Writers’ Project, NH Creative Club, and NH Media Makers are good places to start. The people you meet in those groups can help you find other ways to meet editors and writers, plus give you their own tips. Get cards and contact information. Follow up. Invite people for coffee and drinks. Hate doing it? You certainly aren’t the only aspiring writer with an aversion to the social sphere. If you really want it, you’ll do it.

  1. Practice pitching

My workshop focuses a lot on writing pitch letters, a subjective craft to be sure. There are online templates for query letters out there, but so much of the pitch format has to do with what the specific editor wants that all you can really do is keep throwing darts at the board and hope one lands on bulls eye. What you should be thinking more about is how to make the story sound interesting, keeping it short, and showing the editor there’s a great way to package it in her publication. If you send enough pitches, an editor might even take pity on you and spend a few moments telling you what you’re doing wrong and how they can be better.

  1. If you do get an assignment, be perfect

I got fired from one of my first freelance writing jobs because I couldn’t deliver a quality product on time. That’s the last time I did that. Make your deadlines. Deliver exactly what the editor wants, no more, no less. Punctuation, spelling, correct names, titles and quotes – these should be perfect, or as close to perfect as you can be. Having clean copy is my own personal white whale, so I get how hard it can be, but if you want to get hired again, putting in the effort is worth it.

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.