Freelance Remuda Bonus Q&A
It's an off week for our podcast--check back next week for our episode on branding and rebranding--but we wanted to take a minute and answer some questions from our listeners.
I'm sure you go into a story with some idea of where it will go, but what is the biggest left turn a story took on you? And/or did a story every turn in a way it was no longer useable?
Abigail: Hmm, this is a good one. I did a story earlier this year where I'd planned to write about different kinds of bits for barrel racers and what the bits were best used for, tips to get the most out of them, etc. When I called my bit source that the magazine wanted me to use, I discovered that to him, there were only two types of bits used for barrel racers, and he was strongly convinced that only one--a ported bit with variations--was the right choice. It was an intriguing idea, and he made a convincing argument, so instead of writing about several different kinds of bits like I'd planned, I ended up writing a case for the ported bit--with support from several barrel racers that had switched to that kind of bit. I think it was an interesting article, it was just completely different than the one I'd planned. I will add that after my first initial conversation with the source, I went back to the editor and we talked about the direction of the story before I changed my scope.
As far as unusable, I once was given a story where the topic was a bit tricky to pin down. I'll admit I didn't have a good grasp of what it was (it was a concept in business, and as I'm not a business owner, I wasn't that familiar with it). But I planned my article, did my research and reached out to several sources to interview. Every single source I talked to was stumped on what I was talking about. I couldn't get anywhere with my topic. I revised my approach and tried again, but it just seemed to be a topic that didn't resonate with my sources--and probably wouldn't have resonated with readers either. I talked to the editor about it and we decided to switch gears and write about something else.
I can think of a couple of stories that were unusable after I turned them in. One was a sidebar and it got dropped because the source was a sponsor for a competing magazine. I didn't realize--and that type of politics is more common than you might think. It's always a good idea to know the sponsors and the players for a magazine/association. Always run your source choice by the editor! Another article got mired in approval from the association behind the magazine... It was a controversial topic, and I can understand why it was tricky to approve. I still think it's a good article and I keep hoping to see it published someday!
Kate: I once drove up a mountain to talk to a source for an article, only to find it was not going to make the magazine. It was my first "big" trip out of state and it put a pit in my stomach thinking I had wasted time. However, it was a great learning opportunity, and I did provide the person with a nice photograph, though the article never ran. That is the tricky bit with this industry, we are all looking for a great story, but it has to fit the publication's goals, ideals, etc. A person can look great on paper or when spoken about by a friend, but when you have them in front of you, the flaws are noticeable. It is similar to trying out a new horse, in my mind. Sometimes you won't know you're about to get bucked off until you step foot in the arena.
The first thing to do when a writer realizes the source may not fit the intended/pitched idea is to alert the editor. You may still have an article that works, but don't mislead the editorial team. Go with the interview, see what photos you can get, and work with what you got. I try never to give up on an interview until I've exhausted all means of questioning or rabbit trail correcting. One way I try to ensure the source will give me the information I need or want is to visit with them beforehand, via phone or email. Be clear about the article's intent. Tell the source what kind of photos you need (outdoor arena, etc). That way, everyone is on the same page.
If you could do anything else, besides writing, in the world for a job, what would you do?
Abigail: Right now, I can't see myself doing anything else because I really do love it so much. But I always thought that I would like being a university academic advisor. I know it would involve me going back to school, but that's my secret "other" career plan. I've also always loved the idea of being a tour guide at a cool attraction. I once visited Le Cadre Noir - the French equestrian school in the Loire Valley (The French Equestrian Team trains there). We had an English-speaking tour guide for our small tour and I thought that would be the coolest job in the world. So, maybe something like that. Something in academia or something in a cool travel destination. But these days, I really love the freedom of being self-employed, so I don't see myself getting away from that anytime soon.
Kate: Before last August, I was working full time as a marketing and communications manager. I enjoyed the many hats I wore in that position - writing, some photography and graphic design, event planning, trade show planning and website management. It was a great creative outlet, and a position that I've held with a couple different organizations. If freelance/writing was no longer an option, I would move back to the communications sector, and try to work for a university system again. However, writing and photography are my passions. I truly feel this is what I was meant to do with my life - tell stories about other people's lives, their horses and the Western lifestyle. So to steal from Abigail, I don't see myself moving away from storytelling.
What do you do when you're overwhelmed?
Abigail: Sometimes I just load up the kids in the stroller and go for a walk to clear my head. Practically, I rewrite my to-do list and prioritize what HAS to get done and when it has to get done. I put things down in my planner. I'll call my MIL to come watch the kids if possible. And I'll turn off social media on my computer (I use Anti Social) and put my phone where I can't see notifications, and just get to work knocking things out. And I burn the midnight oil at both ends, telling myself Ill sleep later. It's not ideal, and I try not to get to that point, but sometimes you just have to get through it. When I DO get through it, I try to do some self care, like a bubble bath or sitting by the fire pit with a book, maybe going riding!
Kate: It can be easy to look at the calendar with deadlines, personal tasks, etc. and feel there aren't enough hours in the day. There are days I feel like everything I do is a job, whether is is for the house and family, or marketing via social media. That is when I turn to the outdoors. I take Huk Fin dog on a walk, or I go ride my Bernie pony. It is hard not to concentrate on the task at hand when corralling a 15-month-old, 81 pound Labrador or guiding a 900 pound Quarter Horse around the pasture. Outside time always helps me clear my head. Once back at it, I prioritize tasks by how long they will take me to accomplish.