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Canadian Writer Profile – Karen Evenden

A writer with a passion for the outdoors, Karen Evenden enjoys freelancing because it allows her to “put the two things [she] love[s] together: travel and writing.” She initially half-heartedly tried to get her start a few years ago and had a few articles published, but it was only more recently that her freelancing career really began to take off, when a friend suggested that she approach a UK paper about writing on the differences between Canada and the UK. So Karen got in touch with her hometown paper and landed a gig writing articles for their online edition.

Her primary focus is on travel writing, although she’s also interested in expanding into environmental issues. With a working background in tourism, she finds that travel is an area that she knows well, and because she travels regularly, she finds ideas for stories keep coming to her more and more often.

When she was just getting her start, she found it was challenging to get her name out and make herself known without already having something published. This time around, she says that the work has come more easily because she’s writing about something she enjoys. “If you have a passion, whether that’s knitting or, I don’t know, cheese or whatever, just focus on your passion first, because I think it comes more naturally.”

Writing about her passion means that she’s enjoyed all of the jobs she’s done. One in particular that stands out was when she got to write about the Maligne Canyon ice walk in Jasper, but says, “I’m lucky, I think, because I’m writing about things that I’m already enjoying doing and they’re all quite memorable.”

Working in Canada’s great outdoors does pose some unique challenges, and Karen has found her special pen to be an invaluable tool. After regular pens kept freezing on her, a friend gifted her with a Space Pen — which works in all sorts of conditions and even writes upside-down — and it’s now her favourite tool.

For those trying to get their start in the profession, she urges self-confidence to just get out there. “Until you start trying, you’re not sure how far you’re going to get, so just get out there. Places like the public libraries offer free workshops and writer presentations. I found that it was very hard initially to make myself go, but once you begin and get used to calling yourself a writer, it starts fitting into place.” In her own experience, talking to other writers can also be invaluable, because realizing that everyone starts at the same place can give you the courage to keep going.

Karen currently writes for vacay.ca. You can learn more about her and view her portfolio on her blog.

Canadian Writer Profile – Jenn Cox

Based out of Montreal, Jenn Cox is a full-time freelance journalist. She got her start freelancing about three years ago, after working as an editor for two publications in both the print and online spheres. Wanting to try her hand at freelancing, she felt that it was “now or never” if she was going to get her start before the responsibilities of having children and other real life matters took hold.

Right after making the leap, Jenn took a freelancing workshop that was actually quite disheartening. The instructor told the class that they would never make much money and should only try freelancing if they were married to someone with a full-time job who could support them. Rather than let these dire words discourage her, Jenn decided that she “wanted to prove that person wrong” and used that as incentive to make her own freelancing career a success. So far, she’s had great opportunities and has continued to grow her business year after year.

In fact, one of Jenn’s favourite parts about freelancing is the gratification she gets from building a successful business. To keep herself incentivized, she maintains a folder with all her paystubs, and says that “it’s quite heavy after three years.” She enjoys the feeling of knowing each stub comes from a job that she pitched, interviews that she conducted, and work that she’s shared. She also likes to write about a variety of topics, with a focus primarily on those that fall under a lifestyle umbrella, like home decor, wedding, travel and parenting.

She finds, however, that working on her own so much can be a struggle, and so uses social networking sites like Facebook in order to network and stave off the loneliness that freelancing can sometimes bring. She also tries to get out of her home office from time to time, working out of cafes instead. Otherwise, she notes, especially in the winter months, it can happen that you “find you haven’t gone outside in five days.”

To keep herself on task, Jenn finds it important to set and keep a schedule. When she first started freelancing, she was keeping her own hours but realized that she was missing people who worked office hours. Now she gets up at the same time every day and knows her most productive writing times to schedule accordingly. She also says that she “couldn’t live without” her agenda, and uses a full page per day. She prefers a hard copy rather than a digital solution because she likes to be able to tear off the corner at the end of each day.

For those just starting out in freelancing, her advice is to “be persistent. Don’t think you’re being a pest to follow up on a pitch.” She found that by following up, even with a second or third email, she made sure that people saw her name in their inbox, “even at the risk of people giving me the job to stop me bothering them.”

You can learn more about Jenn and view her portfolio on her blog, Word Addict, and follow her on Twitter @wordaddict914.

Canadian Writer Profile – Rusty Haines

With a background in sports administration, Rusty Haines says that he sort of “fell backwards” into freelance writing while chasing the media for coverage and promotion for each club and association he’d previously worked for. While trying to figure out his next step after finishing a contract with Speed Skating Ontario, he contacted Peterborough This Week to see if they needed anyone to provide sports coverage, “and it just sort of stemmed from there,” such as a more recent role writing editorials and web content. Writing, which started off as something to keep him busy until he could find further full time work, has by now become a passion.

Rusty majored in physical education at Western University, and had originally wanted to be a teacher with English as his second area of focus. “Writing has always been kind of been a part of what I did…. It’s something that I’ve always kind of enjoyed doing and people told me that I was good at it.” And having such an extensive background in the topics that he covers helps Rusty understand not just the subject matter but also the dynamics behind it.

The opportunity to be creative and to create something was a major draw for him. “It’s almost like building a house, where you get the raw materials and then you just get to build off it, and it’s something that people end up enjoying.” He also appreciates the recognition that comes with making something that people find useful. On the other hand, he notes that the uncertainty of freelancing can be hard: “You never know how busy you’re going to be from week to week.”

One of his favourite jobs was also a somewhat personal one, when he got to write a community piece on an 11-year-old girl who happened to be friends with his daughter. “She had to wait for a heart transplant. And the amazing thing about the story was that she had her birthday: she and her friends sat around at the birthday party and when they blew out the candles, they made a wish. And within 24 hours, she was told that she was getting a heart. It was pretty amazing.”

He finds that prioritizing and scheduling is important for him when it comes to freelancing, in order to keep it balanced with a busy personal life and his volunteer work: “It’s being able to section off that time, to schedule it and make sure you have ample time to put focus on it.” To those just starting out in the profession, he recommends persistence and patience, because it can take time. For his part, he’s grateful to Peterborough This Week for giving him the opportunity to get his start in the business.

You can learn more about Rusty and view samples of his work on his blog, peterboroughsportsscene.

Canadian Writer Profile – Vicki Thomas

Vicki Thomas got her start working as a technical writer for a range of high-tech firms and government. About 15 years later, when her contract ended, she was looking for a way to continue writing, but she also wanted the opportunity to experience a different range of topics and the flexibility to take part in bike racing in Europe during the winter. Looking for a way to bring in income, while maintaining her dual love of writing and racing, she saw freelancing as a good fit, and has been at it since October 2009.

She’s since taken on work with professional blogs, SEO articles and websites, covering a wide variety of subjects, with a focus on technology, health and wellness, and real estate. She appreciates the flexibility that the job allows, in both schedule and writing subjects. Along with the convenience factor, she also enjoys being able to write about topics that interest her while putting her journalism degree to good use.

She describes her favourite job as one where she gets to work on all kinds of different writing, including blogging and crafting articles on a wide range of topics. “I think a lot of people are surprised when I tell them all the different types of things I write about, but I think my journalism background and my degree help a lot in trying to find the relevant data, the valid data, and put together an article or series of articles that make sense and can be useful for someone.” She also enjoys another job where she gets to write how-to articles for an online blog, because she likes the idea of helping someone solve a problem or answering a question they might have.

The lack of consistency can be a challenge, however, when compared to putting in regular office hours and knowing there will be a direct deposit on payday. She also finds that the existing pay scales can be frustrating as well, because with so many people willing to work for such low rates, it can make it hard for professionals to earn the salary they deserve. For those just starting out in the industry, she advises staying positive, even if it seems like there are a lot of other freelance writers out there: “Don’t get discouraged. Look for interesting work. And don’t settle. Don’t discount your rates just because you really want to get the job. Because then it’s hard if that client becomes an ongoing client; it’s really hard to renegotiate.”

You can find Vicki online at her writing website, Victoria’s Island, and her cycling website, Ottawa Cross. She’s also on LinkedIn.

Canadian Writer Profile – Glenn Wilkins

The recession ended his job with a newspaper in late 2008, so Glenn Wilkins used the money from his buyout package to set himself up as a freelance writer. Having already done some work with the financial site baystreet.ca, he found steady work with them and its adjunct site allpennystocks.com. “As luck would have it, they were kind of on the lookout for me, because I’d done piecework for them while I was at the Barrie Advance… It was a time when very few nice things were happening for many, many people.” Now specializing in financial and business writing, Glenn also loves to write about sports, and has published a couple of books that are available on Amazon.

To him, the best part about freelancing is being able to write without interruptions, and “you can’t knock the commute.” He also really enjoyed previously working for Global Strategy, an in-office job where he was surrounded by friends and had “everything I could have wished for: there was a level of acceptance to it, I was among friends, I was two blocks away from home, literally, the pay was excellent…” Working for the Barrie Advance had its advantages too, and allowed him the opportunity to put together a strong portfolio. When it comes to freelancing, he says it’s hard not knowing when the work is going to end and how long the pay will hold out. And he wouldn’t say he gets to set his own schedule, because “you’re still answerable to those who handle a 9-to-5 or 9-to-6 scale.”

He stands by the motto “tight, right, brief and real:” a writer should get to the point and keep things succinct. His wife has told him that he has a knack for devising an opening sentence: “I wish I could impart some magic words to somebody younger about that, but it’s just something I have. I don’t know if it’s something I could teach. But that opening sentence should make the point early on and encapsulate everything that you’re going to expound on in your next 10, 12, 14 paragraphs.”

For those just starting out in the profession, he advises patience, “but make sure you get paid. Make sure you know what the conditions of work are…” He also notes that a writer should always be prepared to see a source of work dry up: “Cram in all the assignments that you can in a short period of time because we don’t know when things are going to be back to pre-2008.”

Glenn has two books available for sale through Amazon: Legendary NHL Coaches: Stars of Hockey’s Golden Age in paperback and Amazing Broadway: Canadians on the Great White Way, available for the Kindle e-Reader.