Okay, so it wasn’t really a “date,” since due to conflicting schedules our meeting wound up becoming a phone call. Nevertheless, the first interview was wonderfully informative, and Kat Richter is every bit as charming to speak with as her writing is to read. With warmth and energy she shared her experiences as a freelance writer, and I learned exactly what I’d hoped to find out– the seldom-shared details of what really goes on before a freelance writer’s work finds its way into print.
For my first question, I decided to start out with something very general. “Tell me about a day in the life of a freelancer. What do you usually do?”
Our writer’s answer: “Well I teach, so in the mornings I usually teach for three hours, and then I have a break. That’s when I’ll take my laptop to a coffee shop and write for a few hours before I go back and teach again in the afternoon. I think for most people it’s like that in the beginning. You work part time and you write part time.”
Freelancing, in case you had any doubt, is definitely not a nine-to-five kind of job.
On the subject of dividing her time, Kat mentioned that for many freelancers it’s a struggle to maintain their budding writing careers while paying the bills through their day jobs. “For a lot of people, if you work,” she says, “you have trouble finding time to write, and if you don’t work, you have trouble finding things to write about.”
That’s why she says she feels extremely lucky to have stricken such a perfect balance between teaching and writing. Her favorite part of freelancing is the enjoyment she gets from writing itself, whether her words inspire, teach or entertain her (many) readers. “When I’m writing, I don’t feel like I should be doing something else,” she says.
Asked whether writing is her dream job, Kat answered, “Yes,” and then added, “I mean I do see myself going on to pursue my PhD later…I love to teach. But I will always do both. Even when/if I make it to the New York Times Best Seller’s List, I still plan to do both. I will always teach.”
Since she’d mentioned the subject of finding topics earlier, I asked exactly how a writer generates the idea for a story. She told me that the very first article she wrote was inspired by her observations on museums struggling to put together programs for home-schooled children. Having been home-schooled herself, she realized she was in a position to help. “I thought, I can speak to this,” she says. And so she proposed the idea for a story to help bridge the gap between museums and the their home-schooled audience.
Of course, Kat explains, if successful, the writer doesn’t have to pitch ideas forever. Every freelancer’s dream is that their article will be a hit, and the editor will call them back for future assignments. “Ideally you build a good relationship with the editor,” she says. Once that happens, there’s a lot less weight on the writer’s shoulders to generate new story ideas.
But before a writer reaches the point of being commissioned for articles, the first piece has to be published and well-received. And for that to take place, there’s a lot of work to be done. I asked Kat about the timeline of a project from start to finish. She told me about a piece she wrote on museums featuring live dancers, for which she submitted a query letter one year ago. It took two months before the editor wrote back to inform Kat that they were interested in the piece, and also to let her know that they preferred to use a different outline. Aside from the time invested in actually researching and writing the piece, freelance writing demands patience while waiting for the editor to answer the query. She notes that it’s extremely important to respond right away to correspondence from editors, even though it may take them some time (months, even) to reply. “It’s a very hurry-up-and-wait situation.” As for the finished product, the paycheck for that piece came in very recently, she says.
Kat keeps a spreadsheet of her projects, which steps they’ve reached in the submission process, and the magazines to which she’s proposed them. About the long wait, she commented, “You need to be very patient, but you need to be very persistent as well. You have to follow up with that editor. You need to be pushy, and that’s hard sometimes.”
The wait, Kat says, is something that surprises a lot of writers. It surprised her, as well. I asked if the world of freelancing had any other surprises, pleasant or unpleasant, for her when she first started. “I had an inferiority complex,” she confessed. “I didn’t study English or Journalism. I studied Dance and History…But as long as you have a good idea, and of course you can write well, and have expertise in that area, or some sort of link to that expertise, you can get published.”
Lastly, I asked Kat whether she had any words of wisdom for aspiring freelancers. Her response, she says, is something a friend of hers says often:
“You need to act as though you’re doing what you want to be doing.”
She explains that her friend’s advice means that a person who wishes to do something for a living (other than their current job) needs to dedicate the same amount of energy to that pursuit as if it were already their career. For starters, if you plan on trying your hand at freelance writing, Kat suggests going out and buying a current copy of Writer’s Market.
Aside from teaching and freelance writing, Kat has a dating blog, is working on a novel and also writes a column for AOL’s City’s Best, Philadelphia. For more of her advice on freelancing, check out her Writing Wednesday entries in the On Writing page of her blog.