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Writer Profile: Chantal McCulligh

Chantal McCulligh

Chantal McCulligh didn’t set out to be a freelance writer; it just naturally happened after she launched her blog. Chantal was kind enough to share her experiences with all CFWJ readers in an interview.

How did you get your start in freelance writing?

I started freelancing randomly, actually. It wasn’t planned. I maintained my own personal blog (www.chantalmcculligh.com) and from that, companies began to recognize my unique style of writing and through word of mouth, I have now been freelance writing for three years and do not plan on stopping.

How long have you been freelancing?

Three years.

What drew you to freelancing?

I’ve always enjoyed writing because of the simple fact that everything can be revealed through words; emotion, memories, thoughts, advice, life. etc. As mentioned, I did it just for fun, and I have been blessed with the opportunity to have my passion become my career.

What sort of writing do you specialize in?

I definitely excel in conversational, witty, and an informal style of writing, but do write to all different kinds of requirements.

What, to you, is the best part about being a freelance writer?

Being able to share a world with someone else through words. It’s phenomenal, really. Also, the opportunity to write in different niches allows me to truly learn something new every day.

What is the hardest part about freelancing?

The hardest thing about freelancing is probably the stigma that is attached to it. Us freelancers don’t get to sit on a couch in our pajamas while watching our favourite television shows. It’s work, and any serious freelance writer knows that words don’t just flow to the paper or screen.

What was your favourite or most memorable job?

The opportunities and fabulous people that I’ve met are certainly the best part of the job. I’ve had the opportunity to travel and do things that I would have never done, or had the to opportunity to do had I not become a freelance writer. The friendships that I have created with clients are definitely a great benefit to this career choice.

Do you have any writing tips that work for you?

Write with a glass of wine and edit sober. Just kidding! Write as if you were speaking to someone face-to-face. This works for all niches and ensures that all content remains captivating.

What advice would you give to someone starting out in the profession?

Build a prestigious repertoire and portfolio. Word of mouth goes a long way, so make sure that all clients are beyond satisfied with the work you provide.

What’s one “tool of the trade” you simply couldn’t live without, whether a piece of software, computer, favourite pen, etc.?

My iPhone. I always say that I work 24/7 because even when I’m not sitting at my Macbook, my brain is constantly flowing with new ideas so I constantly find myself resorting to my notepad or voice notes to record a catchy sentence that comes to mind, or new article ideas.

Is there anything else you’d like to say to our readers? 

If you love something, don’t stop until you have it.

You can reach Chantal through her website or any of her social media channels listed below:

Website: www.chantalmcculligh.com
YouTube: www.youtube.com/chantilliscious
Twitter: @Chantalnm
Instagram: @Chantalmcculligh

 

Writer Profile – Sharon Aschaiek

Sharon Aschaiek

 

Sharon Aschaiek is a prolific and successful freelance writer living in Toronto. She freelances under her business name, Cocoa Media. She specializes in the education field, working on communications projects and other items for colleges, universities and private schools. She also works as a journalist for media publications and does corporate writing. We were lucky enough to get some time with her to find out about how she manages to keep her successful freelance business going strong.

How did you get your start in freelance writing?

When I started my career before full-time freelancing, I began as a special sections editor at the Toronto Sun. While it was a great experience in newspaper writing and editing, I wanted more independence and freedom to write what I wanted. I started freelancing while I was with the Sun, and within six months, recognized that I would be able to make more of an income freelancing than I was making at the paper; this was my cue to start my own business.

How long have you been freelancing?

I started freelancing in 2003, and began writing full time as an independent in 2004.

What drew you to freelancing?

The opportunity to choose projects I want to work on, the kind of clients I want to have, and the publications I want to work for. I know I can always make more money if I work longer hours for more clients, something you usually can’t do at a traditional full-time job. I also get to work independently, and have better work/life balance, which is important to me as a mother with a young child.

Your website says that you specialize in education writing. Do you do other types of writing as well?

Over the years I’ve written about business, employment, engineering, accounting, lifestyle, culture and travel. This made me a generalist for the first part of my career. In the last few years, I started focusing on education as my target niche, and the results have been very rewarding.

How did you get involved with education writing?

When I was working at the Sun, part of my role was as the education and employment editor.

I started building a network of contacts in the education field. I became really attracted to the sector, as there is always something interesting happening. New programs, research, ideas we all associate with self-improvement; the education sector offers many interesting projects and challenges.

What, to you, is the best part about being a freelance writer?

While there are so many good things about being a freelance writer, so much of it is that I love to write. As a freelancer, you can write for so many different types of projects. I just really enjoy the independence, and managing my career on my own terms. On one hand, I have several different “bosses” in my clients, but have a lot more control over who those clients are and which projects I choose.

What is the hardest part about freelancing?

The ebbs and flows that come with running your own business can be tricky to navigate, there’s always a risk that comes with independence. While I’ve enjoyed more steady, busy periods than dry, when it gets dry, it can cause a bit of anxiety about where your next project is coming from.

What was your favourite or most memorable job?

One I really liked was a piece I wrote about a doctor who provides services to elderly patients in their homes. He decided to start observing gaps in government home care. There are so many people who could benefit from getting health care in-home, but the services are so poor and underfunded. They have to go to the hospital to get care for stuff that could be done at home, which lowers their quality of life and increases their risk of getting infections.

He decided to photograph patients in their homes as a statement. I found it inspiring and wrote about him for a couple of publications. I was honoured to receive a nomination for the piece for the 2005 Kenneth R. Wilson awards in the category of Best Profile of a Person. When you meet those kinds of individuals, it makes the work so much more satisfying.

Do you have any writing tips that work for you?

There are a lot of different things you need to do to sustain your business. Business development and finding clients and work revolves around networking. Network a lot. Go to professional writing and communication events to meet other professionals. You will find that as an independent writer, you really need to get out. I network a few times a month to find out about new opportunities and meet other professionals.

I volunteer for the PWAC Toronto Chapter and edit its Networds blog.  I also volunteer for the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC), Toronto chapter.

Volunteering helps build your credibility, meet new people, find out about experts and generate new business.

What advice would you give to someone starting out in the profession?

A lot of what I just said in regards to networking will help anyone starting out. So much of it is getting familiar with professional associations in the writing profession. They can help keep you up to date on industry trends, new markets, publications that are hiring, how to set rates, how to create contracts, all of that great stuff you need to know.

When I joined PWAC as a new writer, I found it really helpful.

What’s one “tool of the trade” you simply couldn’t live without?

I use Google’s suite of tools, including Gmail and Google Calendar.

I also recently created a spreadsheet to track business development activities. It includes tasks like updating my website, providing recommendations to contacts on LinkedIn, attending professional development events and so on. I have it open from the beginning of the day, and mark each time I do a task. It’s really motivating for me to use this approach. At the end of the month, I can see how much I’m doing in each area and it helps me keep on track.

You can reach Sharon at her website, through her LinkedIn profile, or on Twitter @sharonaschaiek.

 

 

 

Canadian Writer Profile – Kirsten Doyle

kirsten_doyle

Kirsten Doyle discovered her career in freelance writing through a cause near and dear to her heart: “I am the parent of a child with autism, and several years ago I was approached by the Geneva Centre for Autism to run a race to raise funds for autism services,” she explains. After her first half-marathon, she discovered she was “addicted to running” and decided to write about her experiences on her blog, Running for Autism. This led to her first freelance writing gig in 2009, when she started crafting web content for a non-profit organization.

To this day, Kirsten still loves writing for good causes. In fact, one of her favourite jobs was creating web content for a non-profit group aimed at helping young people: “The site is Light of DAE Studios, and the idea behind it is that young musicians do some community service, and in exchange they get a free professional recording of one of their songs,” she explains. “Writing for a cause that can be so instrumental in changing the direction of a young person’s life is truly special.”

A member of the Professional Writer’s Association of Canada, Kirsten is flexible and can do most any kind of writing, but says, “I have a special place in my heart for website content and articles for blogs and ezines.” To her, the best part of freelancing is being able to build a rapport with her clients. “In getting to know them, I get to know the message that they want to impart. That can be a very exciting and challenging process.”

She was drawn to freelance writing in the first place because it gave her a chance to be creative. Even as a child, she envied creative people: “You know, those who can effortlessly paint a portrait or sew a beautiful dress.” But when she began writing, she learned that she had a different sort of creativity: “I love to paint pictures with words. I have a passion for finding just the right sentences to get the right message to the right audience.”

She does, however, find it challenging to have her work undercut by content mills: “The hardest thing is competition from people willing to write for next to nothing, generating huge amounts of low-quality content. I believe in providing the best quality content possible, and I take a lot of care over my work.” As a writer, she values “integrity and quality above all else. If I feel that I am not the best writer for a particular project, I will recommend a more suitable fellow writer to the client.”

When struggling with writer’s block, Kirsten turns to advice offered by Annie Lamott in her book, Bird By Bird – Some Instructions On Writing And Life. In it, Lamott highlights a quote from a Mel Brooks routine, in which a psychiatrist advises, “Listen to your broccoli, and your broccoli will tell you how to eat it.” When struggling to get the words flowing, Kirsten finds it helps to “just sit in a quiet spot, and calm the voices in your head. Stop trying so hard and just sit there listening to the broccoli. The ideas will come.”

For Kirsten, her netbook is an invaluable tool of the trade. She finds herself slightly uncomfortable with tablets, “but I love my little miniature laptop. It goes everywhere with me. It is compact enough for me to use on the subway, in a car, or on one of those ridiculously small tables in cafes.”

To those just starting out in the profession, she recommends plenty of proofreading, pointing out that one can never really be too careful in their work. “Nothing will make a client lose faith in you faster than an uncaught spelling error.” And when it comes to a piece of writing on which you’ve spent a lot of time, she suggests asking a friend to look it over as well: “A fresh pair of eyes can catch little things that you are just too tired to see.” She also urges new writers not to undersell themselves, but to “recognize the value in your work.”

You can learn more about Kirsten and her work on her blog, Running for Autism. You can also find her on Facebook and @running4autism on Twitter.

Canadian Writer Profile – Connie Motz

Connie Motz

Not long after opening a travel agency with her husband in 1995, Connie Motz was approached by a local newspaper interested in having her contribute a monthly travel column. While that initial job didn’t pay, she began applying to job postings for travel writers and landed her first paid writing gig doing work for an airline-related website.

She’s now been freelance writing for almost 18 years. She specializes as a travel writer, but over the years she’s written on many different topics. “I take pride on being able to cover any topic and weirdly enough, I love the research aspect of writing,” she admits. She notes that she’s always felt the need to write: even as a child, she kept a diary and wrote poems for her high school yearbook. When she left a retail management career to become a Certified Travel Consultant in 1989, she says she felt the “progression to travel writing was a natural fit.” Today, she’s a member of the International Travel Writers Alliance and the Travel Writers Association.

For Connie, the best part of freelancing is the freedom to work anywhere, whether from the comfort of her own home, or from a travel destination. “It’s very satisfying getting paid for doing something you love, I just wish I could work it into a full time career – but there’s always someday.”

Connie also really enjoys the perks that come with travel writing. “A few years ago I was invited to go on a press trip to Sandpoint, Idaho, and my husband and our two teenage boys got to tag along; it was amazing! We did winery tours, stayed in a gorgeous condo on Lake Pend Oreille, mountain-biked at Schweitzer Resort, explored Silverwood Theme Park and did an interview with a local chef who prepared a private meal for the four of us.” Another of her favourite jobs involved a U.S. national magazine five-page feature on Costa Rica that came about from a previous pet travel article she’d been asked to write for the same publication: “I love the jobs that come to me – the ones that I don’t have to look for – they’re always the most fun.”

On the other hand, she finds the hardest part of freelancing is earning enough money to make it worth her time: “The downturn in the economy has also played a part in finding decent paying clients and in keeping the work coming in on a steady basis,” she explains. “Many clients are very budget conscious so when they may have historically purchased ten articles, now they’re only looking for one or two. And I really, really dislike freelance writing bidding sites where clients want to contract a 500-word article for an abhorrent $1 payment.”

After losing her laptop when her backpack was stolen during a trip to Costa Rica, Connie invested in a Macbook Air, which she relies on: “I truly couldn’t live without my Mac now.” She also swears by Moleskine lined reporter notebooks, which she has been using for decades.

When it comes to improving one’s writing skill, Connie recommends reading everything you can get your hands on: “If it’s bad writing, you can learn from other mistakes or you can hone your craft from classic writers like Hemingway.” She also likes to take plenty of notes, since “you never know when you need a scenario or details to work from.” To those with a passion for writing who are just starting out in the profession, she advises: “stick with it. You never know when your big break article will be just around the corner.”

You can learn more about Connie on her professional website and her blogs, My Favorite Things and Rent Our Costa Rica Condo. You can also find her on LinkedIn, Twitter and Pinterest. A cancer survivor of almost two years now, she is an avid supporter of the BC Cancer FoundationCanadian Breast Cancer Foundation and micro-lending organizations including Kiva and Vittana.

Canadian Writer Profile – Christine Peets

Christine Peets

Christine Peets got her start freelancing in 1998. Already working for a community newspaper, she was not entirely satisfied with the direction of that job, so she quit, and decided to see if she could parlay her knowledge into magazine writing. A self-professed “magazine junkie,” she contacted  the Professional Writers Association of Canada (PWAC) – which was called the Periodical Writers Association of Canada at the time – and through their resources learned how to write for magazines and craft query letters. She was able to use some of the resources she’d developed during her time with the local paper and found work in agricultural writing, getting her first freelancing break with Farm and Country magazine.

Within a year of starting her freelancing career, she was a member of PWAC, and today, she is the organization’s Ontario Regional Director. She is also a member of the Canadian Freelance Union (CFU) and the Napanee & District Chamber of Commerce. While the early part of her career was focused on agricultural writing, these days she focuses more on writing articles about health, design, and personal finance, and makes use of her degree in Early Childhood Education to craft articles about family and parenting.

Christine also teaches courses on creative writing and business communications, which can be tailored to small groups or offered on an individual basis. She finds that the two activities work together nicely: “Not only do they complement each other economically, but I find that my being a creative writing teacher helps me with my own writing. And doing business communication workshops helps me run my business better.”

Considering herself a generalist, she enjoys the variety of the work and the challenge of keeping up with different topics. To her, the best part of freelancing is having “options of being able to work from home and setting your own hours. And picking and choosing the kinds of work that you want to do.”

For Christine, the hardest part of freelancing is the lack of a regular paycheque. “It can be feast and famine, where you’ve got a lot of work coming in, and then you don’t have any and you’re scrambling. Your bank account is very fluid. And that’s very difficult, not having a regular income.” She says that she is lucky to have her husband’s support, both emotionally and financially, without which freelancing would be a lot more difficult.

If she gets stuck in her writing, she finds it helpful to go to her colleagues for assistance. In this way, being a part of an organization like PWAC is especially valuable: “If I’m stuck for sources for a story, or market for a particular story that I’m trying to work on, I can go to my colleagues and somebody’s got the answers. Everybody knows somebody who knows somebody. And you can really get the help you need from colleagues.” Christine adds that being part of the CFU is important to be able to work with colleagues and affect change with contracts. “There is strength in numbers.”

For those just starting in the profession, she suggests picking a few areas of expertise to begin and then branching out from there. “I started with the agricultural writing because that seemed to be where I had the most information. I knew a lot of people in this area who were in the agricultural sector that I could maybe write some stories about, and then sell those stories to different magazines.” Christine also finds that it’s important for freelancers to have the right tools, especially a good computer, reliable Internet connection and an excellent long-distance telephone plan. Investing in a telephone headset also makes doing phone interviews easier.

She also recommends trying to avoid getting stressed out if you suffer from technical difficulties. “Don’t sweat it. If your computer goes on the fritz, maybe that’s a day that you’re meant to sit and do some research, or you’re meant to do something else. I just find that it’s easier if you try not to get too stressed out about it.”

You can learn more about Christine on her professional website, Captions Communications, and her blog, With Humour and Hope.