It all began with an email. On an otherwise ordinary day, I opened my email inbox to find a message with the subject line “October ELLE.”
I clicked on the message to find correspondence from an editor at ELLE magazine who wanted to know if I would be interested in writing an article for the magazine for Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
At first, I was certain I was being Punk’d (Remember that show?). But after finding the editor on LinkedIn and other sites I realized this was real. I realized I had just been asked to write for a magazine in the top 3 of my byline bucket list. I was so excited I ran laps through my house for a solid minute before I calmed down enough to share the good news with my husband.
The article was hard work. I had to interview several sources and the assignment required a quick turnaround on the first draft and the revision. But I did it. The article — For Breast Cancer, 40 is the New 50 — ran in both the October issue of the magazine and online.
The experience taught me so much about freelancing. Here are three of the most valuable lessons learned.
I’ve been writing articles for media outlets since I was 19 years old. Back then we actually clipped our works from papers and magazines and pasted them in a binder (this is why we journos call our writing samples “clips”). Yes, I’m old AF. But no matter your age, you can start a freelance writing career of your own in just 7 simple steps.
Even though I loved being a high school English teacher, for years I daydreamed about quitting my job to write full time. But I thought it would always be exactly that — a dream.
To be clear, I’d been a full-time writer in the past. Before I started my career in education, I was a staff reporter for a weekly paper in Louisville, Kentucky. But my tenure there just showed me that I wanted to write on my own terms. I wanted to be a full-time freelance writer. But I thought there was no way I could do this unless I was willing to eat PB&J for breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day. I was convinced living a comfortable lifestyle as a full-time freelancer was impossible.
Then one day I decided I was going to give it a shot anyway!
Let’s talk about your BIG, HAIRY, AUDACIOUS WRITING GOAL!
A BIG, HAIRY, AUDACIOUS GOAL (or BHAG) is a concept developed in the book Built to Last. A BHAG is a goal that’s clear and compelling and once that requires building for the long term and creates a sense of urgency.
So what’s a big, hairy, audacious writing goal?
I think it’s that writing goal you have that’s so big it scares you. The one that’s so ambitious that you’re afraid to tell anyone about it because you think they’ll laugh at you. Or maybe when you think about the goal you laugh at yourself.
That was me less than 2 years ago. I secretly wanted to quit my teaching job to be a full-time freelance writer. I have other BIG, HAIRY, AUDACIOUS GOALS and I knew that being a full-time freelance writer would give me the flexible schedule I needed to pursue them. But I was convinced that there was NO WAY I could make enough money to pay my bills and maintain a comfortable lifestyle on freelance writing income.
But guess what? I’ve done exactly that for over a year — in spite of cancer and in spite of a global pandemic that has rocked our economy.
There are three things that I think helped me achieve this goal.