Monthly archive

July 2012

Focusing on Success

As a writer, I am always interested in hearing what other creative people do to get themselves in the mood.

No, not for that — I would rather not know — unless, perhaps, it would make for a funny story.

On second thought, I would rather not know.

No, I am talking about project mode. Is there some kind of ritual they follow to spark ideas? Hearing about other creative-types’ little quirks and routines is fascinating to me because it makes me feel okay about my own and it gives me insight into what makes other people tick, especially people I really admire.

For example, do they only get started after they have had their morning coffee? Or maybe they do their best work late at night? Do they always work facing a certain window or a blank wall? Do they take a morning walk along the same route before starting their day? Do they do a yoga routine to get themselves feeling invigorated and ready to take on a project? Or do they just dive in and get it done?

And what constitutes a successful day’s work? Is it the completion of 1000 written words, or a sketch of an entire painting, or a relatively error-free music or play rehearsal?

For me, it’s not so cut and dry. My biggest challenge, to begin with, is finding good long stretches of uninterrupted writing time and using them for all they are worth. One might think, “Well, gee, you’re a stay-at-home mom whose kid is in school for six hours a day. What’s the problem?” I’ll tell you what the problem is. Actually, I have a few problems.

Problem #1: I am highly distractible. I can’t even bear to have my two adorable dogs staring up at me when I am trying to write. Look at them. Wouldn’t you be distracted, too?

Felix (left) and Daisy (right). They may look innocent, but they are distractor extraordinaires.

They have to be stowed away in their crate at the top of our stairs. Until the male dog, Felix, starts to whimper because he is a tad obsessed with me and wants to follow me everywhere. If he weren’t so cute I would find it creepy. So then my guilt sets in and I feel badly because here I am at home and I am locking my dogs away in their crate.

So I stop what I’m doing and go up and let them out. They rough-house with each other for a bit (which is also distracting) and then sit down and stare up at me again. The cycle continues.

And don’t even get me started on the lure of the Internet. Curse you, Al Gore.

Problem #2: To counteract Problem #1 I have attempted to sequester myself away in our home office. You’re probably thinking, “Bingo! That’s what you need to do. Problem solved.”

Not so fast. I never said life with me was easy. No, my friend, my issues run deeper than that.

You see, once I am securely locked away in the office, butt in chair (a mantra every good writer should chant obsessively to him or herself), I start to think about all of the things I should be doing instead of writing: laundry, ironing, washing the floors, vacuuming. You get the picture. This leads me to…

Problem #3: I have a very supportive husband.

“That does it,” you are probably saying. “How can having a supportive husband be a problem?”

Well, for one thing, he works full-time outside of our home. His job isn’t exactly stress-free, either. He works really hard so that I can continue to work from home pursuing my writing career and be available for our son, who has special needs. He is a wonderful man and I am very lucky.

So when the housekeeping tasks I listed under Problem #2 don’t get done on a regular basis, I start to feel guilty again. This is self-imposed guilt, mind you. My husband does not complain that he might not be taken seriously by his employees when he wears his Beavis and Butthead T-shirt to work because I didn’t get to the dry cleaner’s before it closed. Instead he is happy that it is at least clean and reasonably wrinkle-free.  He kisses me goodbye and tells me to have a great day. What a champ.

It’s hard for me not to feel guilty and blessed all at once. I am trying to get better about not beating myself up, though, because I don’t want all of my husband’s hard work to be in vain. I know I just need to get over it, keep writing, and eventually it will pay off.

So that brings me back to my original point. Guilt feelings pushed aside, what does it take to get my creative vibes flowing so I can have what I would call a successful day?

It depends if I’m working on nonfiction or fiction. If it’s nonfiction, I need complete silence. Locked in office, butt in chair, staring at blank wall. Leave me alone. I just start typing and eventually the ideas present themselves. I wish I had something more dramatic or profound to offer, but it really is that simple. When I am really in my zone, it’s not difficult for me get 700-1000 words down in an hour. For me that’s a big accomplishment and I feel successful afterwards. And then, of course, I set about editing what I wrote, which can take quite a bit more time, but I am happy just to have the words down.

My fiction pieces are often more challenging. I wish could go sit on a beach every day with my notebook and pencil in hand, because that has always been a productive setting for me. Unfortunately, the closest beach is two hours away, a trip that would not work on a daily basis, so I have sought out other sources of inspiration here at home. I often find it beneficial to listen to some music before I start to write. This helps especially if one of my characters is giving me a hard time. I may have an idea of the type of music that character would listen to, so I create a playlist for him or her. I listen to some or all of the songs then get writing — in silence.

Eight out of 10 times, it works. So well, in fact, that I lose track of time and realize I will never make it to the dry cleaner’s before it closes.

(What do you do to get yourself psyched to complete an important project? It doesn’t matter if you do creative work or not. Is there some kind of ritual you follow? Do you listen to a certain type of music, work out, or just get to it? If you work out of your home, how do you deal with distractions, self-imposed or otherwise, and stay focused?)

 

Writer’s Digest Writing Website of the Week – July 27, 2012

Yesterday, Brian Klems, online editor for Writers Digest magazine, notified me via Twitter that Vox Laurus has been named the magazine’s Writing Website of the Week. Yay! That was some nice news to get to end my week. If you go to www.writersdigest.com and scroll down, you will see the announcement and the snapshot of Vox Laurus near the bottom right-hand corner of the page.

 

Prevailing on the Winds of Success: Tim Errickson, Artistic Director

When I seek out people to interview for my blog, I am generally looking for individuals who have taken a huge risk in abandoning the relative security of a 9 to 5 job to strike out on their own. They stand the chance of not having a regular pay check if things go sour, but forge ahead anyway because they want to pursue their passion. That takes a certain brand of chutzpah, in my opinion.

So I bent my own rules a bit in interviewing Tim Errickson, artistic director for Boomerang Theatre Company, a nonprofit rotating repertory theater based in New York City. Tim works full-time as an executive assistant for a large financial services company in Manhattan. However, he has spent nearly 15 years successfully overseeing the artistic direction of Boomerang while keeping his day job — not an easy task.

Find out how Tim manages to do it all and how his corporate job informs his theater work. Be sure to read Tim’s bio at the end of this interview.

1)      Tell me more about The Boomerang Theatre Company, its history and mission:

I was freelance directing around NYC, getting jobs here and there. I had been fired from a job directing a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream through, what I thought, was no fault of my own. Maybe it was, but I don’t think it was. I got really frustrated with the idea that someone else was going to tell me when I could work or not work.

Years earlier, I had gotten a chance to go to England for my junior year of college. While I was there I spent a lot of time at the Royal National Theatre of Great Britain, which is a large, three-theater building that runs anywhere from six to eight shows at a time. They run them in a format called rotating repertory. You might have three theaters, but in each theater there could be three shows running, and they would rotate. So on Monday you might see Hamlet, on Tuesday you might see Waiting for Godot, on Wednesday you might see The Importance of Being Earnest. That’s in one physical theater. I was always fascinated by that idea.

When I was fired from Midsummer and was looking for something to do, I decided I was going to try to start a company that had rotating repertory as its core component. The reality is small theater, what’s been dubbed as off-off Broadway or independent theater, always struggles with an economic, uphill climb. The idea of trying to make three shows happen became daunting. It suddenly occurred to me there might be a model that could allow you to realize some savings by ruling out things you wouldn’t have to buy three of every time. As a result, you could get three shows up for the cost of maybe 1 ½. That was a model that seemed to take hold, so we just kept doing that.  That first year in 1999 we did three plays and was the genesis of the company.

An attractive element to it is that artists — actors, designers, whatever — can work on multiple projects simultaneously. There is an idea you can belong to something larger than what you might normally get if you were signing onto something else.

Also, a rotating repertory [supports] this idea that plays of different eras can talk to each other in a way that seeing Hamlet in July and Waiting for Godot in August wouldn’t allow. You can put things together and essentially make a larger piece of work. It’s almost as if Hamlet is chapter one, Godot is chapter two, and Earnest is chapter three. When they line up together like that, they bleed into each other in a way that makes the experience of seeing them unique and different for an audience member. From an audience standpoint, that was the mission.

 

2)      You currently juggle two jobs. You have your day job as an executive assistant and then your rest-of-the-time job as artistic director of the theater and as a playwright. How much of your time do you devote to your theater work?

On an average week I will work my 45-50 hour day job and then in the evenings and on the weekends I will be at rehearsal, or at readings, or working on various fundraising agendas and projects.

It’s a juggling act, certainly. When we’re busier here at work, my brain is filled with so many things that when I get home it’s not as easy to take that hat off and shift into theater hat. In general, I’ve been able to balance the two things pretty well. In a perfect world, the theater job would pay for itself, but I enjoy my day job very much. In the same way that plays can inform each other, from a business standpoint, working for a large financial services company, i.e. thinking of things at a macro level versus a micro level, has informed how I work in my nonprofit job. So there is value in having a job that isn’t just concerned with artists and ticket sales, but that is also concerned with growth and succession planning and, especially working in human resources, what is the most benefit you can provide to artists who work for you. It’s actually been great, in that respect.

 

3)      As the artistic director of the theater, what are your main duties?

The biggest job is season planning — artistic development and season planning. I spend a good deal of my time working on programming: picking out which plays to do, where we might do them and which spaces fit them the best, timing in terms of where they would fall during the year, and where we can actually produce them in terms of other projects.

A lot of my time is also spent reading scripts and selecting work that perhaps isn’t finished, but we’re interested in, or a writer we’re interested in so we can further develop a relationship with them. Going to see plays, seeing what the talent pool is at a given moment. Taking meetings, seeing who is working on projects and what they’re interested in and seeing if that would fit in with what we’re planning to do this year, next year, and so on. That’s a big chunk of my artistic director job.

I also have a hand in fundraising. My managing director and I work on grants together. Due to the artistic side of it, I have to be able to represent for the grantors what our artistic mission is and what our vision is going forward, so that when we apply for funding we don’t just say, “Give it to us because we’re great.” Instead it’s, “Give it to us because we’re going to do X, Y, and Z and we’re doing X, Y, Z because they hit on these touchstone moments.”  So my role in fundraising is to be able to present the vision coherently and get people excited about what they might be able to see and experience if they do back our endeavors.

In addition, I spend a good amount of time on marketing and audience development, insofar as we’re trying to get funding, we’re trying to get the projects up, but ultimately we need people to come see them.  I make sure that our e-blasts, our art, our season brochures all speak in the same voice as they connect directly to the work.

 

4)      What do you enjoy about being the artistic director of The Boomerang Theatre Company? What are some of the challenges you face?

[As an actor], one of the things you lack is the ability to control many of the things that go on around you. You may audition for something, something you think you’re totally right for, something you would love to do and you know you could do well, and you don’t get it because you don’t have the control of choice.

As a director, you begin to have the control of choice. You can select people to work with you. You can select the play, the actors, etc. At a certain point you still lack control of production. Somebody has to come along and say, “We want you, Director, to direct this play,” and put the financing behind it.  Eventually I moved into producing because I wanted to have that level of control and choice.

What excites me as producer and artistic director is sort of the larger artistic vision of what we can present — putting together a larger picture, a larger canvas. One of the things we’re talking about now as we go into 2012, 2013 and beyond is what our artistic canvas can consist of. So, three plays, yes, toss them together. Outdoor Shakespeare, great. Can we manage to do web video that supports those things, both from a marketing standpoint and from a fresh storytelling standpoint? Putting all of these creative elements together is what excites me.

The challenges are always going to be money and time. There’s never enough of either, but in a way those challenges force us to be more creative, a little leaner, and more focused. We have to be efficient and effective and say that [we’re] going to be the very best small, under-funded theater that exists. We’re gonna kill it.

 

5)      What is it about your personality that allows you to be good at your job?

I’m a multi-tasker, for sure. I think I have a pretty good handle on when I need to be charming and agreeable and when I need to be more firm and hard-lined. I know that I’m not always the smartest guy in the room, so having other smart people around me is an asset. I’m more than willing to defer to someone else if it seems like they have more bandwidth to handle a thing — even if I might really enjoy doing that thing.

I don’t always get to direct as much as I would like for my own company, but that’s okay because we need to get the work done.  It‘s more important to me to get the work done than it is for me to have thumbs and fingers in the rehearsal room every day and neglect something else.  It has been trial and error. We still struggle with making sure we have everything we need to do a project and how thinly we’re stretched sometimes. In general, I think, I’ve been able to use some time management skills and some diplomacy and just enough resourcefulness to get things accomplished.

 

6)      Has juggling your two jobs impacted your personal or family life in any way? How do you balance your hobbies or personal interests against your responsibilities to both careers?

It’s funny, I was joking with my girlfriend. She has a tree in her yard that we’re trying to cut down. We started this project, I don’t know, maybe Memorial Day. We cut down half the tree, but the saw we were using just ran out of batteries so we didn’t the cut the whole thing down. So I said, “Honey, I’m going to charge the battery and we’re going to cut this tree down.” It’s now two months later, the half of the tree is still there and it’s started to grow back. Every time I walk into her yard I think, “Oh my God. I hate that tree.” We joke around that we’re going to have to cut down two trees now because it just takes forever to get anything done

So yeah, time management on a personal level becomes a challenge. I try to make sure that when Sara and I are spending quality time together, I’m not doing other things. The worst thing would be for me to have her come over and then say to her, “You know what? I need two hours. You just go watch TV.” I try to be sensitive to that. When you follow something passionately it takes up a lot of your time and there are challenges to balancing work life [and personal life].

 

7)      What three pieces of advice would you give to someone who would like to become an artistic director?

1)      Surround yourself with people that you trust and admire.

2)      Make a clear goal and don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t get it.

3)      Know that if you don’t get it today, there’s always tomorrow. Lick your wound, get up the next day, and give it another shot.

Just have fun. Life is way too short to be chasing something that does not bring you joy.

(Tim’s story continues on the next page. Click here.)

S-U-C-C-E-S-S, That’s The Way We…

Sorry, got a little carried away. I’m just really excited about the launch of this blog. It’s the product of several weeks’ worth of work so far. I’m really impressed by the people I’ve interviewed — such intelligent, creative professionals — and am grateful for their time. I also appreciate the trust they’ve placed in me to convey their stories in a meaningful way.

Now I just need to get some female interviewees to even things out a bit.

I’m keeping this very brief because you have a lot of reading to do. I’m going to be trying different interview formats as time goes on, so future posts shouldn’t be as long as some of these. I have one more interview I’ll be posting this week, so stay tuned. Be sure to check out my ‘About’ page to get a better idea of why I started this blog.

I hope you won’t be shy about leaving comments and don’t forget to subscribe so you’ll get an email update when a new post is up. Thank you for stopping by!

A Screenwriter’s Secrets to Success: In-Depth with Chad Damiani

Chad Damiani is a screenwriter working out of Los Angeles. Along with his writing partner JP Lavin, Chad has written and/or developed feature films and television projects for Robert Zemeckis, Brett Ratner, Bryan Singer, Eli Roth and others. He also performs longform improv with CAT BATH! — the house team for a bimonthly show called Catsby!.

Chad and I know each other from our college days at Rutgers University in Camden, NJ. I can remember going to the college theater and being thoroughly entertained by a performance of three short plays Chad had written at that time. I’m not at all surprised by the success he’s enjoyed so far. He is bright, funny, and very busy. Last week I snagged the opportunity to catch up with him by phone to chat about his journey to becoming a screenwriter. It turned out to be a lengthy but fascinating interview, well worth the read and your time.

1)      How did you get started as a screenwriter?

I started writing really young and wrote through college and got kind of discouraged. I ended up taking a different career path for a while, which was announcing for professional wrestling. That was just a fun, crazy job, and through that I got to dabble a bit in terms of writing. I started doing some freelance articles. I had some visibility because I was doing some TV stuff and was part of a popular website, so I was able to build a little freelance business.  But I still wasn’t getting back to what I really loved, which was stories and plays and ultimately things like screenwriting.

The pro wrestling company I was working for was bought by a competitor and we were all fired. It was a crazy time. I was about 30 or 31 and it was like I was at zero again. I just figured since I had nothing, that I might as well try to do all the things that I dreamed about when I was in high school and college. I came out to Los Angeles and at first I kind of fell into that trap…I mean, it’s all a journey…but that trap of trying just to find work, period, in entertainment of any kind. I worked on reality shows and anything I could make a paycheck off of.

I had some success there, but realized I wasn’t happy and was like, “You’re just going to have to accept that you’re going to have a period of failure.” I think that’s one of the hardest things to accept when you’re starting in a field like writing. You’re going to have a period where your work’s probably not going to be that good and people aren’t going to respond to it and you’re not going to make any money, but you’re going to have to just stay in that zone until you earn the right to be somewhere else.

I think it took about five years of writing things I wasn’t terribly happy with, giving things I’d written to people and having them respond poorly, constantly reassessing the product I was putting out and my practice in terms of how [and what] I wrote, until I really found my voice and started to get noticed.

I moved out to LA in 2003 and started making a living as a full-time screen writer in 2006.

 

2)      Describe or outline your typical day.

It’s very important to have a regimen. My day starts pretty early. I get up and walk my dog. I write all morning, take a few hours off, then try to write a few hours in the afternoon.

I work with a writing partner [JP Lavin], so when I talk about those windows of work, sometimes those windows are taken up with meetings. We spend a lot of time on the phone with each other. We don’t write together in a room. We both work on things separately, but we talk out a lot of our ideas and why things work and what changes need to be made. Then we both go off separately. Usually when you’re a writing team you work on multiple writing projects at once. It’s one of the benefits because you have to split your money, but you can do twice as much work.  So I try to make sure that mornings are a time I get a few things in, because for me the later you get in your day, the more you’re carrying your day with you, and probably not in a way that’s going to inform your writing.

 

3)      So how challenging is that, to be doing that back and forth with JP? How do you make your ideas come together?

Well, that was part of that failure period I talked about. There’s an old adage that says, “Failure is a gift that no one wants.”

JP is a strong personality like I am.  There are some writing teams — and I think actually they’re the writing teams that function at the lowest level — that have an alpha and a beta. They have someone who’s a really strong personality, and someone who just supports that personality. It wasn’t like that for us. We both have very strong opinions. We have very different likes and interests and we tend to approach things differently. So we spent a long time just arguing with each other and fighting for our own ideas instead of just listening to what the other person was saying or agreeing that it didn’t matter who came up with an idea, as long as that idea served the story the best.

We started working together in 2004, so we’re coming up on almost 10 years working together. It’s not uncommon now for us to have a brainstorm session and both present ideas and then end up fighting for the other person’s ideas by mid-conversation. Essentially you have to check your ego. This story, this thing you’re creating, if you do it right, it’s bigger than both of you, it’s the universe. The idea that you somehow know all the pieces of this universe before you start the process is just hubris. You have to let it grow and let it inform you, as much as you inform it. In that process, you also to have to be open to wherever that goes, even if the thing you love the most is completely lost. If it’s for the better of the project, then that’s absolutely the direction you have to go.

 

4)      In terms of working from home and collaborating with JP, do you consider yourself truly your own boss?

I think that’s an interesting thing about bosses. I have a friend who just went into business for himself in a whole other field. He has said to me, “I just want to be my own boss.” I mean, you have more control over your destiny, but everybody is your boss when you work for yourself. Anytime you sign a contract to deliver a script, you’re working for those people. JP and I can’t make any decisions without the approval of the other. No one has the right to veto.

I think there’s this idea that if you have complete control over your direction, that that’s somehow so much better than working for someone. I think the real fun of working for yourself is just being able to choose the things you work on and being passionate about them. Understand that you’re still providing a service and whenever you’re providing a service, you’re still working for whomever you’re providing that service to.

 

5)      What do you find challenging about that aspect of it, or is it challenging at all?

From the artistic standpoint…I’m not working on Merchant Ivory movies. I work on action comedies. I work on mainstream, big movies and really try to do my best to use as much technique and creativity to provide movies for a wide audience. What’s most challenging in general, for me personally, is accepting that lack of control isn’t a bad thing. Good things can come from notes you might hate from an executive. Good things might come from putting a lot of pre-work into a project that you don’t get, because you learn something in the process of going for that project.

In general, I think most humans feel a little unbalanced when they don’t know what’s coming next or they don’t know what tomorrow brings. The reality is, that’s what’s great about working for yourself — new challenges, constantly having to adapt and rely on yourself for all of the things that you can control.

Artistically, anyone who tries to gain complete control just doesn’t understand what it means to be an artist. An artist isn’t a product of just what takes place in your mind. An artist is a product of how [he] copes with [his] environment. It’s all the other things that inform on a project that sort of bring it to another level. We don’t work in a vacuum.

 

(Wait, he’s not finished. Continue reading about Chad’s journey here.)

On Success in Writing and Editing: A Q&A with Chuck Sambuchino

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing editor and writer, Chuck Sambuchino. Chuck knows a thing or two about working hard to make his way through a competitive industry. He works for Writer’s Digest Books and edits two annual resource guides — the GUIDE TO LITERARY AGENTS as well as the CHILDREN’S WRITER’S & ILLUSTRATOR’S MARKET. His Guide to Literary Agents Blog — all about agents, submissions and platform — is one of the biggest blogs in publishing. He was recently included in a FORBES Top 10 list of “Social Media Influencers: Book Publishing.”

His first humor book, HOW TO SURVIVE A GARDEN GNOME ATTACK (gnomeattack.com), was released in Sept. 2010 and has been featured by Reader’s Digest, USA Today, the New York Times and AOL News. The film rights were recently optioned by Sony and director Robert Zemeckis (Back to the Future). His second humor book, RED DOG / BLUE DOG: WHEN POOCHES GET POLITICAL (July 2012, reddog-bluedog.com), is a collection of funny dog photos merged with political humor.

               

In addition, Chuck has also written two other writing-related titles: the third edition of FORMATTING & SUBMITTING YOUR MANUSCRIPT (2009), and CREATE A WRITER PLATFORM (fall 2012).

Besides that, he is a freelance editor, husband, cover band guitarist, piano lover, chocolate chip cookie fiend, and owner of a flabby-yet-lovable dog named Graham. Find him on Twitter (@chucksambuchino) or online (chucksambuchino.com).

Read on to see what Chuck has to say about success and how to achieve it in freelance editing and writing.

1) You’ve worn many hats throughout your career. What is the one best descriptor, at this stage, that describes what you do for a living?

Possibly “instructor.” No matter what I’m doing for Writer’s Digest — planning webinars, editing my books, speaking at conferences, sharing through social media — it all goes toward the instruction of other writers.

2) How did your writing/editing career get started? How long have you been at it?

When I got out of college, I decided I didn’t want to use my major of public relations. This was an alarming revelation, because I was starting from zero. I applied for an entry-level editorial position at a local newspaper, and, perhaps due to sheer enthusiasm from me during the interview, I got the job. I proved myself and became a reporter. I began to write stage plays and magazine articles on the side for fun. This helped, because when I applied to Writer’s Digest in 2005, I had some (small) writing credentials under my belt, and had an excitement for writing. I’ve worked for Writer’s Digest for seven years. Since the publishing industry is evolving, my job responsibilities are always evolving, as well, which makes it fun yet challenging.

At night, I work on my own book projects (usually humor books), which are represented by my literary agent. I think starting from scratch as a writer and now finding success has really helped me. When I’m instructing other writers, I can always explain that I’m in the trenches with them. People respect that, and know you’re practicing what you preach.

3) Describe/outline your typical day. How many hours do you work per day, on average?

About 10 hours, between WD work and my own writing books. I work at the publishing house during the day, then go home and hang out with my wife. When she goes to bed and the (lazy) dog is asleep, it’s time to work on my personal books and platform.

4) What is your favorite aspect of being a freelance writer/editor? What do you find challenging?

We must be clear here, because being a “freelance writer” and being a “freelance editor” are completely different things. Freelance writers usually compose articles and/or other types of content for people. Freelance editors do content editing or copyediting on books.

My favorite part about freelance writing is developing relationships with editors. Once you building a trusting relationship, then the editor passes article ideas on to you, and life becomes easier.

My favorite part about freelance editing is hearing the success stories. When I critique someone’s work and they find an agent, I get a chill. That is the ultimate test whether or not your edits are working.

5) Has being a freelance writer/editor impacted your family life in any way? How do you balance your hobbies or personal interests against your need to meet deadlines?

Almost all personal activities outside of writing had to go. I no longer have poker night or play basketball or racquetball.

6) How do you generate new ideas?

New ideas come to us all the time, in the form of conversations with relatives or jokes with friends or whatever. I simply realized long ago that, as a writer, I must 1) write down these ideas immediately, and 2) spends many, many hours brainstorming them to flesh them out. You have to do a lot of research to investigate an idea, be it for a magazine article or for a book.

7) What three pieces of advice would you give to someone who wants to become a freelance writer or editor?

For freelance writers: It’s very difficult early on as you try to break into markets. But once you break in to 1 or 5 different markets, you should be able to develop long-term relationships with those editors and get a dozen or a few dozen assignments. This means you make more money with less work.

For freelance editors: Try to pass on ideas on how to improve the work. I think it’s pretty easy, as an editor, to point to a section and say “This doesn’t work.” It’s much harder — and therefore a much more valuable skill to provide — if you can say “This doesn’t work, so let me throw out an idea on how to improve it and fix the section.”

For freelance editors: Try and get a position with a publishing house. The thing is: Everyone wants to be a freelance editor because they can make their own hours and work from home. But we here at F+W tend only to work with editors who have worked here before and are familiar with our likes and style guide inside and out.

8) If you had the chance to start your career over again, what would you do differently?

I would have started blogging earlier. In my line of work (nonfiction books), building your platform and visibility in the marketplace is of the utmost importance.

9) What have been some of your mistakes, and what have you learned from them?

I didn’t get on Twitter or Facebook early enough. I wasn’t a huge fan of social media as it started to blossom. But as I started using these tools and seeing their true power, I realized they were perhaps the best means to communicate and market with others.

In terms of learning from my mistakes, I think my strategies on social media are based more on the mistakes of others. I see what some people are doing on Twitter — always asking you to read their book — and realized that kind of aggressive marketing does not fly. I tweet and use Facebook infrequently, and try to make each message count.

10) Tell me about one particularly satisfying or memorable event in your career.

Several moments stand out. But if I had to pick one, it would be when Sony optioned the film rights to my humor book, HOW TO SURVIVE A GARDEN GNOME ATTACK. My wife and I knew immediately that this was a big accomplishment that could go on my resume forever.

11) How do you define success? To what do you most attribute your success?

Within my career, I define “success” as making a decent living doing something I love. I attribute my success thus far to my competitive drive, and I also contribute it to the fact that I enjoy all aspects of the writing business — the craft end and the business end — and that allows me to throw myself into my work and be happy.

12) Where do you see yourself, career-wise, 10 years from now?

Honestly? … No idea. I could be at WD, still doing the same thing. I could be a full-time book writer. I could be a social media consultant for some kind of company. Hard to tell!

13) Tell me about what you are working on now.

As I write this, I am gearing up for the release of RED DOG / BLUE DOG, and getting the website in order. I’m contacting book reviewers and pet bloggers.

14) Is Graham a red dog or a blue dog?

The truth is he does not care one iota about politics. If what you’re discussing doesn’t involve 1) eating or 2) sleeping, he doesn’t care. I’ve personally seen him pee on yard signs of both Democratic and Republican candidates.

15) If you were conducting this interview, what question would you ask?

“What’s the last concert you saw?”

Answer: I was scheduled to see Van Halen in August 2012, but they cancelled their show in town. I’m pretty bummed about it. That would make my last official concert Aerosmith.

 

Thank you for an informative interview, Chuck, and thank you for being so supportive of your fellow writers, especially those just starting out. Readers, have YOU ever experienced a gnome attack? If not, it could still happen. You should probably buy Chuck’s book, just as a precaution. Or take your chances. Suit yourself.

 

In the meantime, please share your comments below on freelance writing or freelance editing, your dog’s political persuasion or lack thereof, and/or the last concert you attended (sadly mine was in 1996, a music festival in Philadelphia featuring numerous alternative bands including Green Day).

Getting MAD, Finding Success: An Interview with Writer Don Vaughan

A couple weeks ago I had the opportunity to conduct a telephone interview with veteran freelance writer, Don Vaughan. Besides having 35 years’ experience as a professional writer, Don is also the founder of Triangle Area Freelancers (TAF), a North Carolina-based networking organization comprised of professional nonfiction writers. I met Don through my membership with TAF (an awesome group, by the way) and greatly respect and value his professional advice and support.

You can learn more about Don and see his impressive bibliography on his website or follow him on Twitter. In the meantime, see what he has to say about how he has found success and fulfillment in his career as a full-time freelance writer.

1)      How did you get started as a freelance writer? How long have you been at it?

I majored in journalism in college and worked on my local newspaper back in Florida while I was still in college. It was a very educational experience. I ended up working for the newspaper for six years. This was in the late 70s, early 80s. I started as a columnist and worked my way up to associate editor. However, I realized community journalism was relatively low-paying, so I had an opportunity to take a job as a staff writer with a national medical magazine called Your Health. It was owned by Globe Communications in Boca Raton, which also owned a number of tabloid magazines.

I worked for Your Health for about six years and really enjoyed it a lot, but found myself writing the same kinds of articles over and over again. So then I had an opportunity to take a position with the National Examiner, which was a tabloid newspaper.  I worked there as a staff writer and senior editor for four or five years. I enjoyed that immensely. It was great fun, but then there was an editorial change and a new editor came in who had previously worked for the National Enquirer. He was one of those management-by-terrorism types who thought he would get more out of his employees by screaming at them and treating them poorly. I don’t work well under those kinds of circumstances and my health started to suffer. I had insomnia. I was developing an ulcer. I dreaded going to work. It was just a horrible situation.

My wife, Nan, said, “Maybe now’s the time for you to start freelancing.” She knew it was something I had been thinking about. She was working, the bills would get paid. I put in my notice, but spent another six months at the newspaper getting my ducks in a row so that I had some freelance assignments in the pipeline when I finally left.  I continued to freelance for the Examiner and Your Health and for other tabloids in the organization, which was very helpful.

That was in September 1991 and I’ve been a full-time freelancer ever since. In fact, it’s all I’ve done in those 21 years aside from working just a few months at Borders, following 9/11. I took a little bit of a hit as far as market after that and it took a few months for things to build back up again.

 

2)      Describe/outline your typical day. How many hours do you work a day on average?

I’m actually working harder now than I was when I worked in an office, as far as the number of hours. I’ve come to realize this is essentially a 24/7 occupation.

I get up at 8:00 a.m., feed the cat and grab some breakfast. I spend a few minutes checking my morning email, work on either research or writing until noon, take an hour for lunch, and then I work until around 5:00 or 5:30. I take a break for dinner and typically I’ll work at least another hour after that, usually until 7:00 or 8:00, sometimes longer if I’m on a deadline for something and I have to get it out of the way. I try to keep it Monday through Friday, but it’s not uncommon for me to work on Saturdays and Sundays, as the job dictates.

Sometimes I will divide my day by doing research in the morning and actual writing in the afternoon and evening. It really depends on my priorities on any given day. It’s not a particularly exciting job.

I do most of my work via telephone. Only occasionally do I go out and do some research or an interview in person, but I do like those opportunities. The nature of what I’ve been writing lately hasn’t really facilitated that.

 

3)      Do you find it challenging in any way to be your own boss or to work from home?

It has its challenges, but I’ll tell you right off the bat that freelancing is my dream job. I love it. It would take a tremendous amount of money to get me back into an office environment.  The one thing I miss more than anything, I think, is the socialization that comes with working in an office, just being with other people.

I do work comfortably by myself. I love working at home.  My commute is 15 steps. I can dress in T-shirts and shorts. I’m my own boss. I write for whomever I want to.

 

4)      What is your favorite aspect of being a freelance writer?

The one thing about freelancing that I like more than anything is the variety it offers. As a general freelancer I write for an eclectic array of publications. So I might be writing a medical article one week and then a historical article another and then after that I might be doing something about popular culture. It’s a constant change and everything is new. I’m not writing the same things over and over again.

I also really love interviewing. I hate the transcription part, but I really love talking to people.

 

5)      You mentioned earlier that you try to limit your working hours to Monday through Friday, but that you are working a lot more hours than you were in an office environment. Has being a freelance writer impacted your family life in any way?

My wife, Nan, is very understanding. She knows I’m very motivated in my job and I’m constantly trying to get more work. I’d say if I divided my time up on a daily or weekly basis, it’s about 60% getting work and 40% doing work. There’s a lot of trying to get work and sending out proposals.

Also, by working more I mean when I’m not physically working, I’m thinking about things. After a while you develop what I call “the writer’s eye,” where everything that comes into your life you very quickly wonder, “Is this something I can write about?” When Nan and I go on vacation other people are having fun and I’m looking at stuff thinking, “That would make a great article.” So that’s the kind of place where I am right now and as a writer it’s a good thing. I’m never at a loss for ideas to pitch. There’s always something on my desk for me to do.

 

6)      Would you say that’s where you generate most of your ideas, just from your day-to-day interactions with other people?

 The thing I tell my students is that the ideas are there. Most people don’t recognize them. Ideas come before us with the people we meet, the things we do, the places we go.

I’ll tell you I get a tremendous number of article ideas from the daily newspaper. I’ll see a national story that I might be able to turn into something local, but more typically there will be something going on locally that I’ll realize is newsworthy for a national audience.

I do a lot of work for Military Officer Magazine and many of the ideas I pitch to them I get from the News and Observer. I take the idea, expand upon it, find my own sources, conduct my own interviews, and do my own research. The idea was triggered, but the article is mine.

 

7)      How do you stay current with changes in the field of freelance writing and publishing?

That’s one area where I’m lacking a little bit. Only recently have I started to ramp up my social media presence. I have a Facebook page, but it’s mostly personal. I don’t really do much with it.

I do have a website, which I keep current, but that’s mostly for when I approach new editors and want them to see samples of my work.  I have gotten a tremendous amount of work because of my website. People will Google freelance writer + Raleigh and my name is one of the first to come up, so the website has been very beneficial work-wise.

Very recently, I expanded my LinkedIn page. I haven’t seen much benefit from that, but there might be something down the road. I also recently joined Twitter, for whatever that’s worth. I’m not tweeting every day and there are a few people that I’m following. Mostly I’m just keeping my nose to the grindstone and trying to stay aware of new markets and new trends in freelance writing.

 

(See the rest of Don’s interview on the next page.)

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