After my big breakdown in May 2006, I discovered I could not longer write with the facility I once had. I tried cutting back on my assignments and doing fewer stories, but I couldn’t write as well as I had before. And the deadlines were stressing me out.. I knew that if I wanted to be well, I needed to cut back on the stress in my life.
My difficulties were highlighted by the last assignment I resolved to do. I had been asked to write a series of profiles on Mississippi’s community colleges–all fifteen of them. It was going to be a nicely-paying assignment, but I discovered that doing it was like trying to roll a huge stone up a hill. I couldn’t think clearly enough to make them as good as I wanted them to be. I wound up following a strict outline for each one that was restrictive but comforting in that it limited the scope of the articles to what I was able to do at the time.
I started each article with a short history of the school, followed by what the school was known for today. Then I wrote a bit about whatever was new at the school, whether it was a building, a degree program, or an administrative team. Then I included a short interview with a student of the school, then wrote a conclusion. Most of the information came from the public relations office of the schools, and I simply rewrote it in my own words. I was too tired and sick to give the effort to do very original work. The stories were accepted, and I got my last paycheck as a freelancer in July 2006.
Turned out I got out of the business just in time–the newspaper industry started a stunning downturn as more and more people turned to the internet for news. The recession hit and cut newspaper advertising by a huge amount, and many of the outlets I wrote for changed hands in a consolidation of ownership. Most stopped using freelancers altogether. And the same trends continue today, with reduced staffs at most newspapers and magazines working harder than ever to produce content. Many outlets that still use freelancers often ask that they work for free in return for “exposure”. I am proud to say that I never worked for free, but it’s a reality many beginning freelancers face.
I hope this short series has encouraged and educated some of you on what freelancing is all about and how you can go about getting started. Good luck and God bless your efforts.