Kicking things off: Frequently asked questions

Hey everyone; yes, I’m finally doing this. I’ve been saying for years that this blog is something I was most looking forward to maintaining when I finally got around to upgrading my website, but to no one’s surprise (not mine, anyway), it’s taken me a while to actually get around to it. There are a few reasons for that — writing is literally my job and I do so much of it already every week that it’s always hard to make time to sit down to write something else that I’m not actually getting paid for. Also, believe it or not, blogging has never really come naturally to me. I had a running blog for a little while in the early 2010s (when blogging was big in that space) but I never really found a good rhythm with it or found my voice there, if that makes any sense. Blogging is so different from the writing I do for consumer publications, which you would think would be more challenging (not to say that it’s “easy,” either). Bloggers also typically don’t have editors, and I’m a firm believer that every good writer needs an editor. So sorry in advance for any typos I manage to miss here.

Finally, I was feeling a little overwhelmed with where to even start. I get a lot of questions about how I fell into this career and about work and life in general as a freelance journalist, so I think I’m going to tackle it one question at a time, and hopefully with regular frequency. So here goes with that very first frequently asked question:

How long have you been a writer/when did you know you wanted to do this?

I would say I’ve been a writer…pretty much my entire adult life! I always knew I loved to write as a teenager — high school English papers were never a drag for me and I knew I wanted to be able to write in some capacity for a career. I always loved reading magazines growing up, so one day I wrote to Atoosa Rubenstein (the then editor-in-chief of CosmoGIRL!, one of my favorite teen magazines) asking for advice on how to make it happen. And she actually wrote me back! I even printed out her response and hung it on my bedroom wall. (I wish I still had it!) In addition to the expected recommendation to write for my high school newspaper and major in journalism in college, she also suggested considering applying to colleges in or near New York City, where most of the publishing companies that owned consumer magazines are based, so I could potentially do internships during the school year. So that’s exactly what I did — I ended up majoring in print journalism at Hofstra University in Long Island and truly loved my experience there. I was also very involved in my college newspaper and did intern at several magazines during that time, including Glamour, CosmoGIRL!, More, and Fast Company. (Most of those don’t exist in print anymore. RIP print!)

Fast-forward to 2009, the year I graduated from Hofstra, in the middle of a recession. I spent my first post-grad year living in the city and hopping between temp jobs and more paid internships before finally landing my first full-time job as an editorial assistant at a medical research publishing company. Less than a year into that job, I decided to leave New York (my former roommate and good friend Mandi likes to say I left New York “before it was cool”) because I wasn’t sure if the dream of breaking into magazines was even going to happen or if it was even my dream anymore. As far as life in New York went, I found that it was still as expensive as ever even with a “real job” and the only thing that was really different was that I now had health insurance. Having spent so much time in the city even during my college years made me feel like I’d already lived out that dream by then, too, and I was ready for a change.

I moved back to my hometown of Houston (where I hadn’t actually lived in many years, since my dad had moved us to Oregon before my twin sister and I started high school). Thanks to family connections, I was able to move back with an administrative job in place in the healthcare industry, figuring I’d eventually move on to something media- or communications-related. Sure enough, a job for a copy editor and staff writer at the Houston Chronicle opened up about a year later, which I ended up getting. I truly loved that job and the people I worked with, but I ended up leaving a few years in because there was no room for advancement and I really needed to be earning more money by that point. A year into my next job back in healthcare (this time actually using my degree and editorial skills), which I assumed would be more stable, I ended up getting laid off.

I did start freelancing pretty much immediately after that, even though doing this long-term was never the plan. I’d actually freelanced here and there for a couple of publications over the years, but it was barely enough to even offset my monthly student loan payment. I didn’t know of many people who were actually doing it full-time and I never thought it could actually be sustainable until I was thrown into it.

I’m now almost six years into full-time freelancing and a common misconception is that I had overnight success with it, which really couldn’t be further from the truth. Yes, I got a handful of fun and fulfilling assignments at big-name publications within the first few months. But I also spent the first year and a half still applying and interviewing for new jobs, in addition to continuing to make connections and building relationships with editors and other freelancers in the industry. I barely broke even, earnings-wise, with my last “real-job” salary that first year, and it took four years for me to finally double that and to really not look back and consider going back to a full-time role.

That last part is not something people love to hear, but giving it time and being patient really is the best advice I could give anyone wanting to take the plunge into freelancing. I say all the time that this is the dream job I never knew I wanted because I honestly thought I was closing the door on a career in journalism when I left New York and never would have imagined I’d have the opportunity to write for so many of those dream publications all those years later. I also always say I honestly wish I’d planned for this, had I known it was a possibility, and worked on building client relationships before leaving a job a lot sooner and by choice. So if you’re in a full-time role right now and wanting to go freelance, you’re already in a better position than I was.

To me, this part of my career story is some of the most boring stuff to even talk about (and I know plenty of people still get so turned off by any discussion about money). But, as the title implies, it is one of the things I’m most frequently asked about. And honestly, as a woman and writer of color, I’m also so grateful for the mentorship I’ve received in this chapter of my career, which I desperately could have used when I was still in it in the corporate world. So if you want to ask anything further, you know where to find me