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Canadian Writer Profile – Damian Trasler

When Damian Trasler’s first child was born 14 years ago, he decided to stay home with the baby while his wife went back to work, since her career was further along than his own. He had always had an interest in writing, so Damian decided to use the opportunity to pursue his dream, and his eldest daughter was very obliging by “sleeping or sitting quietly in her rocker, requiring only the occasional interaction or outing each day,” giving him time to establish himself in his new career.

Damian began by taking a correspondence course that covered a variety of writing styles. “Because of that, I revised my original plan of writing a brilliant novel and tried some of the alternatives first – looking to sell short stories to magazines and non-fiction features too.” Once he had a few stories written, he began sending them out to magazines. His second story and first article were both picked up for publication, which was a huge boost for his self-esteem. “Being a stay-at-home dad was not a positive thing for most people: they implied that I was loafing, taking time out, living off my wife’s earnings. Bringing in income through doing something I loved seemed an ideal response.”

Since then, Damian has also added playwriting to his repertoire, something he got into more or less by accident. Although he’d originally intended to move on to novel-writing, he joined a local drama group, and upon learning that he was a writer, the group asked him to compose a play for them to use in a competition. “Though I knew nothing about writing plays, I cobbled together a one act play that won an award at the competition, and has since gone on to be performed all around the world.” He and some friends then formed a writing partnership, selling their work through Lazy Bee Scripts.

One of his favourite jobs so far was also the first full-length play he’d ever written. Speaking to a drama group in his hometown of Vancouver, he got the idea to create a play “that began with a bare stage and the characters built the set as they came on.” It took two years of work, but he managed to capture the idea with his play Merely Players. “I incorporated that idea of the set being built piece by piece as the actors come on, turned it into a minor murder mystery/time travel piece and had the actors deconstruct the set as they exit. It was a lovely example of a small idea growing into something much greater.”

To Damian, the best part of being a freelance writer is the time it gives him to be with his family. He appreciates being there when his daughters finish school for the day, and the flexible schedule that allows him to take them to events and activities in the afternoon. The biggest challenge lies in being able to find enough work. “Although my plays are lodged with a publisher and I receive a monthly royalty cheque, I’m still always working to find new ways to connect with new customers, to publicize the other type of freelancing I do: editing and proofreading.” He points out that while social media is a great tool for building a community, it’s more common to link up to other freelancers than sources of work. “That’s going to come in time, when more traditional avenues of employment filter through to online activity.”

For those just starting out in the profession, Damian recommends that you “make sure you’re writing because you want to write. Writing to make money is a great way to lose heart and soul. Write the things you want to write, the things you would be writing anyway.” When it comes to getting things done, he finds it beneficial to set targets for himself: “I hate the idea of having to write every day, but when I set myself the challenge of writing at least 1000 words every day I was surprised how easy it was,” he explains. He finds his netbook extremely useful in keeping him on-task, especially since it’s powerful enough to run Microsoft Office but not so powerful that he can install “time-wasting games” on it. “With the netbook I can write almost anywhere, and I can write when someone needs the other computer in the house.”

Along with writing and reading, juggling is one of Damian’s favourite hobbies, and he’s started offering local classes and workshops in Circus Skills. You can learn more about him and see samples of his work on his website.

Canadian Writer Profile – Jessica Patterson

Jessica Patterson began freelancing while still in university. A journalism major at the University of King’s College in Halifax, she landed a job freelancing on weekends for a local paper, after completing a month-long internship with them. After graduating, she took a newspaper job out west, which she enjoyed until the financial crisis hit. Without many other jobs available, she considered going back to school to study a different field, “but I always came back to journalism. It’s what I was trained in, what I have an honours degree in, what I couldn’t imagine not doing. So I stuck with it.”

Jessica has now been freelancing for four years, and working at it full time for the past two years. She specializes in lifestyle writing, but describes herself as a generalist. “I have written business, construction, health, automotive, arts and entertainment, culture, hard news, courts and crime stories.” Based out of Calgary, she’s also had plenty of opportunity to cover the western way of life, including “agriculture, rodeos, horse racing, chuckwagon racing, the Calgary Stampede, jumping at Spruce Meadows, and western horse events like reining, cutting and cow horse. I have even written about rodeo royalty.”

One of her favourite jobs, in fact, was a gig she landed not long after arriving in Alberta. While out in the foothills to conduct an interview about a horse sale, she found herself awed by the beauty of her surroundings, as well as the fact that there were actual cowboys working not far away. After wrapping up her interview, she found her way back blocked by a herd of cattle. With no idea how to get through the herd with her car, she waved down one of the cowboys, who went on to clear a path for her while on horseback. “It was my first taste of the kindness that permeates the western culture,” she explains. Other memorable jobs include interviewing country folk legend Ian Tyson, and writing stories about amazing people like organ donors and paralympians.

To Jessica, the best part about freelancing is the diversity of work, and the fact that it is always changing. “I love meeting new people, hearing and getting to tell their stories. And if they happen to be difficult stories, I’m tenacious and enjoy the challenge,” she says. On the flip side, the feast or famine aspect of freelancing can prove challenging, and Jessica understands editors and publishers are on budgets and does her best to work within them.

Jessica finds both her Blackberry and her camera to be extremely useful tools of the trade: “One allows me to communicate wherever I happen to be, and the other allows me to document.” When stuck on a project, she finds that “the ‘butt in chair’ mentality works. I scold myself to stop procrastinating and just get it done,” she explains.

For those just starting out in the profession, she recommends beginning at a community weekly to gain both clips and experience: “The pay is generally better and more consistent than a freelancer’s. It’s what I did.” She also advises finding a mentor, and says she wouldn’t be where she is today without the help of her own mentor. She’s even written about her positive experience on her blog.

Jessica is a member of the Alberta Magazine Publishers Association. You can learn more about her, and view her portfolio and resume, on her website.

Canadian Writer Profile – Christine Schrum

Christine Schrum got her start as a copywriter at a large, direct-response marketing firm. Having completed a Masters in writing, the job allowed her to gain experience with everything from “radio scripts and infomercials to product packaging, press releases and web content.” It also allowed her to develop a network of industry contacts, which led to people approaching her for freelancing gigs. She’s now been freelancing off and on for over a decade.

Sometimes these jobs lead to full time work, but Christine finds herself returning to freelancing time and again. “I love the freedom,” she explains, adding that freelancing suits her personality. She enjoys being able to work on her own schedule and at her own pace, and “it’s never boring!” Because clients and projects are always changing, she might find herself “blogging about abstract art in the morning, writing a white paper about solar energy around noon, then writing an e-newsletter about the health benefits about meditation in the afternoon.”

Christine also really enjoys the fact that her office is portable, and she says that she couldn’t live without her laptop and Skype: “It’s the remote worker’s Holy Grail, allowing you to group conference, host webinars, share files and ping your coworkers with quick questions throughout the day.” She likes being able to work from anywhere in the world, and recalls one time Skyping with a coworker who was in Colombia while she herself was visiting Abu Dhabi. She also likes to make a point of logging some on-site office hours where possible, since it benefits her clients and also adds to the dynamism of her day.

One of her favourite jobs so far was working for a fine art fair called Artexpo New York. What started as a freelance gig turned into a full time one “that involved working with an amazing creative team and traveling to cities like NYC and Chicago. The shows were exhausting but exhilarating, and I had a blast working with artists from all around the world.”

The real challenge of freelancing is “definitely the feast or famine aspect.” Sometimes you have so much work, you have to turn clients away, she explains, while other times you struggle just to find enough work. “That’s why it’s key to save up for those lean times.”

When she finds herself overwhelmed by her workload, she likes to “follow the advice that writer Anne Lamott’s father gave her when she was a child and agonizing over a book report on birds. ‘Just take it bird by bird,’ he said.” She finds it helpful to create a prioritized to-do list and then work through it “bird by bird.”

For those just starting out in the profession, she recommends getting your name out there. “Print business cards and build a simple website. Let everyone know you’re in the market for freelance work. Network with your mentors, professors, friends and industry connections.” She also recommends setting up a LinkedIn profile that makes use of keywords.

Christine is always on the lookout for exciting new opportunities. You can learn more about her on her website and her LinkedIn profile.

Canadian Writer Profile – Jodie Blaney

Jodie Blaney got her start in the educational book publishing industry about fifteen years ago. While she worked mainly in sales and marketing, she began taking on editorial work as well, assessing books for the post-secondary market and working as an editor for an English as a Second Language textbook. From there, she began working on a freelance editing career, and decided to go independent a few years ago.

She says she was “drawn to freelancing because I really wanted to manage my own time, and to work independently on projects; and to just approach my work on more of a project management perspective.” And because she also works as a visual artist, she finds freelancing allows her the scheduling flexibility to “expand on the other creative side of myself.”

When working on academic editing, she likes to have two things close at hand: a reference sheet for punctuation and quotation marks, and a guide to academic formatting, such as an APA guide or Oxford style sheet. “Have them just right on your desk so you can reach for them,” she advises.

Today, Jodie works mainly in creative corporate copywriting for websites, creating content, sales landing pages and marketing materials, with a particular focus on sales and marketing. She also provides ghostwriting services and manuscript completion. One of her favourite jobs so far was working with a client to complete a first novel, by helping to flesh out and develop the characters. She enjoyed the experience of essentially co-writing a novel, and getting to help someone determine the ending of their book and expand on their characters.

For Jodie, the best part of freelancing is getting to work with a large network of clients on project-based work. She particularly enjoys cultivating a long-term relationship with her clients. “For me, I just really like the flexibility to manage my time, manage my customers, and I find it very challenging.” She finds, however, that sometimes the required research can prove difficult, especially for very technical pieces or unfamiliar subject areas.

To those who are considering getting into content writing for websites or article writing, she recommends creating a brief outline of the project first, that you can provide to a client for approval before you begin delving into the actual piece. “Create a kind of framework that you can agree upon and then go into detailed writing, rather than kind of having to go back and revise everything.”

She also recommends to those just starting out in the profession that you focus on building up a portfolio as soon as possible, even if it means taking “jobs that maybe aren’t in your ideal rate to begin with, but to have faith and confidence that you will be in high demand if you put in the work early on.” Instead of always worrying about your hourly rate, “look at your income in a big-picture way, what it works out to monthly or yearly; don’t get fixated on the hourly.”

You can learn more about Jodie on her website, Blaney Writing Services.

Canadian Writer Profile – Jenny de Miranda

An expatriated Canadian, Jenny de Miranda got her start freelance writing when she was giving classes at a language learning centre in Lisbon. A woman at the centre needed help with writing, and knowing that Jenny had come to Portugal to pursue that dream, she gave her a start in the field.

Jenny has now been freelancing for about two and a half years, and still considers herself at an early stage in her career. She’s willing to write on most any subject provided it pays, and she says, “I really enjoy writing about health and wellness. I really dig that topic; the broad spectrum of it. It could be food, it could be exercise… I really dig that. So right now, that’s my goal, to score a gig as a consistent contributor for a health and wellness publication.”

She particularly enjoys the learning aspect that comes with researching a story, and then to be able to present what she’s learned through the written word. “Even writing an article on, like, bar stools, you can find information about it. I like the research, I like the learning part of it, and I like being able to present all that information that I get to acquire.” She also likes that she can write from anywhere in the world, because she likes to travel. “It’s nice to be able to just take your laptop and sit in a hammock in Bali.”

Wherever in the world she may be, Jenny says that she can’t live without her dictionary, because words have such nuanced meaning, and it’s important to use the right one for the situation. “Words are complex… If they meant the same thing, we wouldn’t need two words for it. So it’s important when you write, to choose the correct words and make sure you’re using them in the correct context.”

One of her favourite jobs so far was working on a series of articles about diet and cancer. She was assigned eight articles about food and its effect on cancer, in what was a very objective series. Although her “brain hurt by the end of it,” she found it really interesting to research, and appreciated writing for a website where she could use a very practical writing style.

The hardest part about freelancing is staying motivated, says Jenny. “I definitely had it pretty romanticized. I’d think, ‘I want to be a writer, I want to be a writer.’ But it’s hard work.” There’s so much to do, including maintaining a blog and website, querying, researching and writing. While it’s great not to have to answer to a boss, it also means there’s no one there to ask either. And especially in the beginning, it’s hard to stay motivated when sending out so many query and pitch letters and often not hearing back.

She finds it works well to set a realistic writing schedule for herself, and to even give herself a word count to attain. It’s important to be patient, “and to write, and to write, and to write. Writing is, I think, more of a craft than it is an art. You get better and better the more you write.”

To those just starting out, she says, “be relentless.” If you want to be a writer, it’s important not to give up. There’s plenty of information out there, and reading about writing is good, she explains, “but for me, I guess the bottom line is you have to write. Just keep writing, and writing and just write.”

You can learn more about Jenny and view her portfolio and blog on her website, The Write to Be.