As mentioned in a previous post, I juggle a lot of jobs these days. Along with working a “gig with benefits,” organizing educational expeditions for journalists and helping raise two headstrong girls, I also try to keep freelancing in the rotation. Here’s how.
I Wear Headphones (A Lot)
Don’t get me started on the “pitter patter of little feet” currently pounding the floor above my office and shaking fillings loose in my teeth.
I’ve Surrounded Myself with Story Ideas
My two jobs in science and environmental communication keep me swimming in story ideas.
The Institutes for Journalism and Natural Resources takes working journalists on field trips to learn about energy, environment and resource issues across North America. But those journalists aren’t the only ones gaining knowledge about a lot of cool issues and making connections with excellent sources. Just last year, my work with IJNR led to a freelance assignment on Asian carp.
For my other gig, I get paid to go out on boats with researchers from the Center for Limnology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison as they catch fish, monitor water chemistry or sample zooplankton. Then I get to write about it. The resulting press releases, newsletter articles and even blog posts expose me to a lot of future story ideas and give me a strong background in areas like aquatic ecology and hydrology.
Obviously I can’t write about our research as an independent journalist (damn you, ethics!), but it allows me to keep reporting on and building a knowledge base about a lot of cool science.
While neither of my jobs can be called journalism, at least I feel like I’m staking out my beat for the future.
I Write for My Local University
One satisfying outlet for my work during this “freelance on the back burner” phase has been a small quarterly magazine put out by the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s College of Agricultural and Life Science. It’s a good fit. The science is interesting, the word count is expansive and the pay ain’t too shabby for a guy with two other jobs.
Additionally, the long lead time for deadlines on a quarterly magazine allow me to build time into my schedule for reporting and writing without getting overwhelmed. Every university has publications like these, from alumni magazines to research newsletters. They’re a good, low-stress way to keep honing your craft.
I Keep My Connections Current
Finally, I’ll just say a quick thanks to social media. It’s been years since I attended an SEJ or NASW conference as a working writer, but I’m still in touch with a number of fellow writers and editors thanks to Facebook and LinkedIn and Twitter. I also get to meet incredible journalists on my IJNR trips or when working the SEJ conference, so my networking is still going strong, even though my writing isn’t. And that will serve me well down the road.
I Take the Long View
Life, if you’re lucky, is actually quite long. And it’s full of phases. Right now I’m in the “parent of two young children and sole bread-winner” phase. Or, as I like to call it, “lost in the woods.”
But, in only a few years, my girls will be spending huge chunks of their day at school, my wife will get to re-enter the work force and talk to other adults again, and I will settle in to my basement office, free from the jackhammer of little feet, and jump back in to freelancing in earnest.
But I’ll probably still wear my headphones.