Diary of a freelance writer, 2 September 2015

Just a little something to illustrate today’s post – nothing to do with writing. (Picture: Ian Wordsworth)

Welcome to the new diary – which should be a weekly journal of my freelance writing experiences and escapades. Let me know if there’s anything you want to see, and equally let me know if there’s something you’d rather not know.

I’ll try and keep it to freelance writing – short material and long – with maybe the odd nod towards any editing or proofreading that’s getting in the way. Bear in mind that I do have to earn a living, so that too does impact on my time.

The picture, by the way, is because we (the business manager and I) think the whole blog looks nicer with an illustration. If I mention a book, then I’ll use the cover. Otherwise, it’ll just be a nice or an interesting picture of something.

Prep work
So, last week I started the prep work. It’s quite a big job to get started, but once it’s in place, the maintenance of it is much quicker and easier.

A jobbing freelance writer should be thinking 6 months ahead. Lead times on monthly magazines are usually around 3 months, sometimes longer, and on weekly magazines are usually around the 4 – 6 week mark. So once in the swing of this, in September I’d usually be thinking March next year at this point. As I’m just warming up again, though, I’m giving myself an extra month. So this jobbing writer is currently thinking April 2016.

The first thing I usually do, when I’m up and running, is go to my dictionary of dates. One of the best ways to achieve success with most kinds of magazines is to find a topical hook on which to hang your feature or article or short story or filler or reader’s letter or whatever. If a magazine can link something to a date, they’re more likely to accept your work/idea.

It’s no good just coming up with an annual date, though – unless it’s a feast or season or annual occurrence that a fiction-using magazine will want stories around. Generally, for articles, a magazine isn’t really interested in something that happened 3 years ago, or 9 years ago, or 37 years ago. They seem to prefer it to be in multiples of 5 or 10. So before I can even go to my dictionary of dates, I need to list the years I’m looking for 5 years ago, 10 years ago, 25 years ago, 50 years ago, and so on. So, for April 2016, I should be thinking April 1991 (25 years), 1966 (50 years), and so on.

For example, on 1 April, aside from it being All Fool’s Day every year, in 1986 (30 years ago), the US submarine Nathaniel Green apparently ran aground in the Irish Sea. And on 5 April 1976 (40 years ago), James Callaghan succeeded Harold Wilson as prime minister, defeating Michael Foot in the final ballot for the leadership of the labour party. Now, while neither of those may interest me personally, there will be other material that does. And with the current contest for the leadership of the labour party soon to be resolved, I can see how the savvy jobbing political freelance writer can milk that second story to death, using both the anniversary and recent events.

Other things on which to peg any kind of creative writing would include feasts and seasons, such as Easter, if it falls in April next year, which also seems to herald the start of the Morris dancing season as well as the well-dressing season. It can also include the tail end of Hocktide as well as Rogationtide. And saints who are celebrated in April include St Richard of Chichester, St Alphege and St George. And it’s the bard’s birthday and the anniversary of his death, so not only something on Will Shakespeare, but also travel features on parts of the country that featured in his life.

And then there are all of the local events that are happening in April next year, which will include well-dressings, mostly but not exclusively in Derbyshire, coal-carrying competitions in Yorkshire, and Tutti Day in Berkshire. (If you don’t know about them, do a search.)

So at the start of each working year I begin with a list of topical anniversary year dates – just the years, I look up the actual dates later. And this year I added the dates to an Excel spreadsheet I’m using as a master working document. This document also includes the “think April, query March, write February, submit January” reminder for September. For October’s worksheet, they’ve all moved on to May, April, March and February. Because while I want to be thinking April, as a jobbing writer I also need and want to be querying March, writing February and submitting January.

And this actually means I have a bit more work to do in September if I want anything out there and published in January, February or March too, something that can be sent to magazines with a shorter lead time.

Last Wednesday I started the prep work by opening an existing spreadsheet – one I use for tracking word-count each month – and adding those topical dates plus a think/query/write/submit table for the next 12 months on page one. This is my “schedule” page.

On Thursday, I continued with the planning admin by copying my “drafts record” onto page 2 of the master spreadsheet. This is the table that keeps track of which draft I’m working on (outline, draft 1, 2 or 3, editing) of which item – short story, filler, reader’s letter, RTE, article, etc.

I also created a new page for each month, being that month’s “worksheet”. For example, I have a September worksheet that reminds me what month I’m thinking/querying/writing/submitting but also includes a section for jobs I have in for that month (in September I have in 6 books to edit already), and a section for research trips I want to make (such as local annual events we can photograph and experience this year and maybe sell something ahead of for next year).

Last week, with it being a bank holiday, I had Friday off.

The weekend will be when the poet and I go out on our research trips – when we’re not already busy with the parents, the band, or with fishing. As we were away this weekend, where we went may form the basis of something in the future, but for this weekend it was a holiday.

Same as Friday.

Yesterday, in preparation for when the work proper starts later today, I hauled out my old faithful dictionary of dates, an almanac I have of British myths, customs, feasts and seasons, and I did a search on the internet for some useful “this day in history” websites. When I found a few I liked (and it’s always best to have several sources as they’re not always complete or correct), I bookmarked them to make searching quicker in the future.

The coming week
During this coming week, i.e. from today onwards, I’ll be narrowing down my think/query/write/submit to specific dates. And, once in the swing of things, this should be a mechanical job for future months.

So today, I’ll be glancing down the dates for April 2016 to see if something catches my fancy. And, if I have time, I’ll have a quick look at March, February and January later in the week too, so see if there’s something I can come up with fairly quickly. Then I’ll have a think about how meaty the idea is, where I can sell it, whether to write an article or a short story, and how many slants I can come up with. When I have examples, I’ll share some of them – and even toss out a few I don’t think I’ll do anything with.

In my experience, some readers like to “join in”, even if they do so secretly or just between them and me. So, if you want to join in (and share progress in the comments section if you wish), this coming week, find out what’s happening in your world in April 2016. Is there something that interests you enough to write a story or article about? Or loosely base a story on? Do you know an organiser of a local event you could interview? If you have time, use this week as your thinking time for March, February and January too.


6 thoughts on “Diary of a freelance writer, 2 September 2015

    1. It’s a lot of work when just starting, but easy to keep on top of on a month-by-month basis. The shroom was at Kinder, I think, although we do have several in the grass at home at the moment. 🙂


  1. Having your own regularly updated chart is an excellent idea – might have to give that a try! Currently I use a selection of websites, including a few government health awareness ones; if I can, I try to give even the health columns a topical twist and tie them in with a national or global awareness day/week/month.
    And yes, double-checking is excellent advice. I’d read about the WI centenary this year and seen it listed as May, but having sold it to my regular ed,, further research showed that the WI itself was marking the centenary in September – 100 years from the first meeting as opposed to 100 years from its formation. Luckily for me, the ed was quite happy to run it in September instead. 🙂 *That’s reminded me to go and search the internet to see if there are digital editions of any mags that are running the article!*


    1. Already I’m itching to be getting on with it all but, sadly, I have to break off now to do some editing. I’m hoping it’ll take up less time once I’m back into the swing of things again.


  2. Okay okay, I submit!. You are an amazing lady/freelance writer Mrs Wordsworth and put most of us to shame. 🙂 I shall try and improve my output. Don’t forget the odd list now and again. Always goes down well!


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