Storytelling and writing are like muscles that get stronger the more we use them, whether by developing our own work or helping someone else develop theirs.Ana Reyes, Writer’s Digest interview
Whether you’re a newbie writer or a seasoned veteran, it’s always a good idea to keep learning about writing (the craft and the business) and improving your skills. If you’re looking for some new-to-you resources to dig into in the new year, you’ll want to peruse this list we’ve compiled for you. (Some of us will be taking each other’s suggestions!)
We asked several Evangelical Press Association freelancers for their favorite books and they were happy to share these. Some of them are specifically about writing. Others touch on related topics such as marketing or establishing good habits. In no particular order . . .
- Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer by Roy Peter Clark
- Newsletter Ninja: How to Become An Author Mailing List Expert by Tammi Labrecque
- The Christian Writer’s Manual of Style, 4th Edition by Robert Hudson
- Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamotte
- Atomic Habits by James Clear
- The Solo Video Journalist by Matt Pearl
- On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction by William Zinsser
- The Writing Life by Annie Dillard
- On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King
- On Writing (and Writers): A Miscellany of Advice and Opinions by C.S. Lewis
- A Dash of Style: The Art and Mastery of Punctuation by Noah Lukeman
- Writing for Story: Craft Secrets of Dramatic Nonfiction by Jon Franklin
- Make Every Word Count by Gary Provost
- You Can Succeed as a Christian Writer by Nick Harrison
And here’s a podcast suggestion to jazz up the list:
- Thomas Umstattdt Jr.’s Novel Marketing Podcast
One last suggestion (which we are not getting paid to make): The Evangelical Press Association has compiled a library of 78 on-demand video presentations from the virtual events and webinars held in recent years and will continue to add to this treasury in the years ahead. This is a valuable one-stop source of training from industry experts in writing, editing, design, photography, digital publishing, social media, professional development, and more. The catch? You need to be an EPA member to access the library, but Associate membership (i.e. if you’re not a publication) is only $80 a year. For the price of four or five of the books listed above, you get access to a great many resources and networking opportunities, including the monthly freelancers’ Zoom chat hosted by this blog’s editors! Learn more here.
What are your favorite resources for writers? Please share in the comments section.
Thanks to Ann Byle, Sommer Cunningham, Akosua Frempong, Chris Maxwell,
Patti Townley-Covert, and Terry White for their recommendations.
Freelance writers can improve their financial sustainability by building relationships with multiple clients. They can further increase their stability by writing in a few different niches. And many serious freelancers will also work toward a diversified mix of offerings, perhaps writing articles for publications, crafting books, teaching classes, speaking at events, critiquing writing, and more. Each new client and offering strengthens a freelancer’s business.Robert Lee Brewer, Writer’s Digest (Nov. 18, 2022)
a collaboration by EPA freelancers
If you missed it, click here to see Part 1.
What are your favorite tools or resources as a freelance writer?
Lori Arnold: Otter AI transcription service has cut my transcription time by at least half. It’s pretty accurate for a multi-voice recognition system. You can also search keywords in the transcript. They offer a free basic package for individuals just starting out.
Akosua Frempong: My favorite tip came from Joyce Ellis during one of the EPA Freelancer Zoom calls and was confirmed during another meeting by Jeff Friend. Joyce mentioned the Christian Writers’ Market Guide. I decided to subscribe to it and, through it, I got my first professional break in Christian freelance writing, writing for Peer! The guide provides essential information on the publications, including pay and, as Jeff mentioned, tips on how to get the editors’ attention. For me, as a freelance journalist and more specifically a Christian one, it’s been a beneficial tool.
Stephen Clark: After trying and rejecting several journaling tools, I stumbled onto The Journal by DavidRM Software. This software offers much more than just journaling and is loaded with useful features that are intuitive and easy to use. You can create unlimited dated journals that allow you to create one entry per day. You can also create undated loose-leaf notebooks where each entry is just like adding a page to a binder. The notebook feature is great for organizing projects. For example, you can create a notebook titled “Articles” with each entry an article in progress. Navigating the journals and notebooks is very easy by way of tabs and file trees. You can rename the tabs at any time. Each notebook and journal can be set up with their own default font, color scheme, and passwords. Entries use formatting features similar to what you will find in Word as well as spell check, thesaurus, and auto-replace. You can cut and paste or insert text and graphics from other sources. You can search a single notebook or every journal and notebook for a word or phrase, and you can export the text (individual entries or batches) as RTF files.
Ann-Margret Hovsepian: These are my top three suggestions:
1. The Print Friendly browser extension button is the best and fastest way to print out (or save as a PDF) a web page in a readable format. You can click on any images or text you don’t want in your print-out.
2. The “Save” feature of Facebook is something I use a lot. If I see a link, quote, or idea that I want to hang on to for a future project, or just for my personal use, I save it. You can create “Collections” to organize the posts into categories.
3. I highly recommend signing up for Jane Friedman’s Electric Speed newsletter, which features helpful tools and resources and is sent out twice a month.
What is the best advice you would give other freelancer writers?
Jeff Friend: Never, never, never miss a deadline.
Ann Byle: I’ve learned these things along the Freelance Way:
1. Walk through the doors God opens. Whether the project works out or not, the exercise of moving forward without fear (or with a little bit of fear) is worth the effort.
2. Trust the process. We want the right lede, the right ending, the best story RIGHT NOW, but sometimes it takes a bit for those things to come. But they will come if you do your research, give yourself time to think, and relax. This also applies to starting a freelance writing career; you have to do your due diligence—put in the time and effort—to get started.
3. Don’t hold things too tightly. Which is to say, your stories will be edited and the projects will go to someone else. Disappointing at times, but it’s part of the gig.
There is no rule on how to write. Sometimes it comes easily and perfectly; sometimes it’s like drilling rock and then blasting it out with charges.Ernest Hemingway
a collaboration by EPA freelancers
After a little break, we’re back! We asked several associate members of the Evangelical Press Association, some of whom are on our team of blog contributors, to share their best tips for successful freelancing. We got such great responses, we’re sharing the wealth in two separate posts. Here’s the first part, which is all about getting organized.
How do you keep track of deadlines and juggle multiple projects at the same time?
Randy Petersen: I have a calendar on my wall for deadlines and meetings. And I make a list every morning of my work for that day. I try to break big deadlines into shorter ones (e.g. one-third of the project by April 1.)
Ann-Margret Hovsepian: I use a large hard-bound spiral agenda (sorry, that’s Canadian for “planner”) with two-page monthly and weekly spreads and write down every deadline and task, adding sticky-notes in bright colors for anything I want to make sure I don’t forget. I’ve also been using Google Calendar to immediately block in appointments and meetings. I like that I can quickly access it on my phone to make sure I don’t double-book, and that I can use different colors for different types of commitments (e.g. red for professional meetings, dark blue for medical appointments, etc.)
Stephen Clark: There are three things I’ve used for years to manage my work:
1. Simple wall calendars. I always have two hanging side by side show the current month and the next month.
2. A small notebook. I make lists, write down ideas, take notes at meetings, and basically keep everything in the notebooks.
3. Technology. I use Google Calendar on the phone to manage deadlines and stay in synch with other devices.
How do you organize your ideas (and material) for future projects?
Stephen Clark: I always carry 3 x 5 cards to jot notes and collect them to scan later. Using the The Journal by DavidRM Software, I create tabs and files and add notes from time to time on various topics, and even paste in URLs to articles and other sources. And there’s always tabbed manila files neatly labelled and stored away in a file cabinet. I have sometimes maintained several files, each on a different topic, to collect clippings and notes on specific topics to pull from later. I’ve also kept one folder just for stuff that I found interesting. When I needed a fresh idea, I’d pull out this folder and just browse through it.
Ann-Margret Hovsepian: I used Evernote for a while and it’s got great features for organizing notes and saving online information (whether it’s an entire web page or just the bit you’ve highlighted on that page), with the ability to use keyword tags and much more. . . but I eventually felt overwhelmed by the task of creating folders and coming up with keywords and keeping everything organized, not to mention remembering to refer back to my notes. I find it much easier to keep a basket with colorful labeled file folders next to my desk and throwing bits of paper in there that I don’t have to hunt around for when I need them. (I’m intrigued by Stephen’s suggestion, though, and will be checking it out!)
How do you deal with information overload / digital clutter?
Randy Petersen: In research, I try not to find more than I need.When beginning a project, I may do a lot of background reading to learn about the subject. From that, I’ll develop my structure for the piece. Then I’ll have a sense of how many quotes I might need, and I find them. There’s considerable flexibility in this. Sometimes I find a quote that’s so good, it forces me to change my outline.
Stephen Clark: Ignore it. It will always be there. I use what I need and walk away from the rest. If it’s something on the internet, I can Google it later if I need it. If I can’t find a specific article or other piece of information I once read, I can always find newer resources that serve just as well. Even on my PC, it’s easy to search on files using remembered keywords and phrases. I’ll squirrel stuff away in various folders and then ignore it until I need it.
Watch for Part 2 on November 15. We’ll be telling you about our favourite tools and resources, as well as our best tips for freelancing.
I notice that you use plain, simple language, short words and brief sentences. That is the way to write English―it is the modern way and the best way. Stick to it; don’t let fluff and flowers and verbosity creep in. When you catch an adjective, kill it. No, I don’t mean utterly, but kill most of them―then the rest will be valuable. They weaken when they are close together. They give strength when they are wide apart. An adjective habit, or a wordy, diffuse, flowery habit, once fastened upon a person, is as hard to get rid of as any other vice.Mark Twain
by Holly Johnson
If you’ve ever been to a circus, or even just surfed the web, you’ve probably seen iconic images of tightrope walkers. Carrying a long balancing pole, they work against and with the laws of physics to conquer them.
On a much less dramatic scale, walking the line between full-time work and a freelance business can feel that way. With your nine-to-five on one side and your personal creative efforts on the other, how do you move smoothly between the two?
Define Your Goals
Establishing your reasons for taking on what is essentially a second job will help inform the way you approach it and manage it. Here are some questions to consider as a starting point:
- Do you want to pursue an independent writing career?
- Do you want to simply keep a side hustle?
- Do you want to develop skills that could help you earn a promotion at work?
It’s also important to look at what other responsibilities are on your plate. How will you prioritize them?
- Additional activities and commitments outside of work?
Know Your Limits
Overestimating your capacity? Easy. Accurately evaluating your time and energy? Not so much. At the 2022 EPA convention in Colorado Springs, I chatted with a woman who works for a ministry full time, as I do. She also does freelance work. It was refreshing to be able to talk candidly about the challenges of juggling these dual roles. When you’re eager to excel in your job, but also want to be recognized in the freelance world, it’s so very easy to overextend. Last year, this new acquaintance had accepted too many projects, and she became overwhelmed and exhausted. For my part, there are times when “full time” is more than full time. And there are weeks when the sheer intensity of that week leaves my creative tank too drained for me to even write for myself. I have to be judicious and conservative about what freelance opportunities to pursue, and when to pursue them.
When you’re considering new assignments, collect as much detail up front as you can so that you can make an informed decision. As the adage goes, saying “Yes” to one thing means saying “No” to another. When you say “Yes” to extra work too often, you may soon find yourself saying “No” to social connections, sleep … even health. This have-it-all culture may tempt you to burn the proverbial candle at both ends, but at what price? Consider which projects are best suited for your long-term goals and your current obligations. Then choose wisely.
Be Intentional …
Look for creative ways to develop your skills in ways that can apply to both realms. Where could your freelance work intersect with your vocation?
For example, my current job, while not a purely editorial role, does land in the communications space. When the Evangelical Press Association convention schedule is posted and I see topics that clearly apply to my work, I talk with my supervisor about attending the event as my professional development opportunity for the year. Even though my employer doesn’t currently hold a membership with EPA, because I maintain my associate member status, I’ve been able to attend the convention several times as an employee and as an EPA freelancer.
On the flip side, if your vocation doesn’t dovetail with writers’ conferences in this way, you’ll need to be even more intentional about networking and landing freelance projects. Connecting with groups like Christian Freelance Writers Network and investing in professional membership opportunities can help build a strong foundation for that strategy.
Being intentional also means following up on freelance leads. If you have a regular assignment that hasn’t arrived in your inbox on time, check in with your contact to find out what’s up. If you talked with someone at a conference or other event, send a quick email to see if that project you discussed is still on the radar.
… and Go with the Flow
There’s an element of trust that comes into play in the middle of your efforts toward equilibrium. Certainly, do your part to cultivate leads … to follow up … to pursue that other facet of your life. Just keep in mind that when you have a regular job, you are responsible to be “all there” so that you can meet your employer’s expectations first. Your work performance is part of your Christian testimony. As far it depends on you, make sure you’re honoring the Lord in that setting.
So be persistent — and patient. This isn’t only a balancing act; it’s also a work in progress. If you need to let go of some freelance opportunities in the short term, you need to also trust that God will open other doors down the road, when the time is right. Remember, He has a plan. He began a good work in you, and He’ll be faithful to complete it (Philippians 1:6).
By day, Holly Johnson works for Compassion International as a donor communications specialist. By night (well, some very select evenings and weekends), she painstakingly cultivates Vision43 Communications LLC. She has written and edited for a variety of organizations such as Focus on the Family, Christian Camp and Conference Association, USA Triathlon, and Compassion. Contact her at email@example.com.
The best advice on writing was given to me by my first editor, Michael Korda, of Simon and Schuster, while writing my first book. “Finish your first draft and then we’ll talk,” he said. It took me a long time to realize how good the advice was. Even if you write it wrong, write and finish your first draft. Only then, when you have a flawed whole, do you know what you have to fix.Dominick Dunne
by Randy Petersen
“How are you?” someone asks.
“Busy!” I reply without thinking.
That now-reflexive response draws empathy and often camaraderie. People nod and groan. Everyone is working hard.
But what should I say during down times, when I’m not busy? We all go through periods when the publishing cycles turn against us, when our favorite editors all go on vacation, when our inboxes contain only spam. Even more important, what should I do in these dry seasons?
The Bible talks about “redeeming the time” (Ephesians 5:16 KJV). Most modern translation rephrase that as “Make the most of every opportunity,” or something similar. Not a bad paraphrase, but Paul used a business term with the word agora (marketplace) tucked inside. In a literal sense, this is saying, “Buy your time back from the market and use it for good.”
Isn’t that what we’re talking about? As a freelancer, you market your time, but at this point no one’s buying. How will you “buy it back” and use it in a positive way? Here are some ideas.
Don’t Lose Hope
You may be tempted to mope because no one wants your wares. You might worry about your career. But reread Ecclesiastes 3 and note that there are seasons for everything. Seasons to work feverishly on deadline and seasons to slow down.
Plant Some Seeds
There is “a time to plant and a time to harvest,” says Ecclesiastes 3:2. Maybe this is a time to invest in relationships with editors or potential co-authors. Float some ideas that aren’t yet at proposal stage, and see if any seeds take root.
Think Like an Editor
If you were the editor-in-chief of a Christian magazine, what sort of articles would you be looking for? Do some play-acting. Imagine yourself at the helm of one of the publications you pitch to. Then map out the next few issues as you’d like to see them. What topics should be covered? What stories demand attention? What tone would you like to set? Then return to your own persona and look at the Table of Contents you’ve just created. Is there anything the real editor might be interested in, anything you could write?
Fix Up Your Space (and Your Tech)
Maybe this is the time to make the guest room your office, or to get a proper desk chair that won’t give you backaches. Maybe you should reevaluate your hardware or software. You never have time when you’re in the thick of things, but now that your schedule has thinned out, maybe you can discover some better ergonomics.
Learn Something and Write About It
You’ve always wanted to learn biblical Greek. Or understand computers. Or read the top ten novels of the last century. Or figure out Twitter. You were also too busy, but now you’re not. So go for it, but also write about it as you do. Thousands of others can learn from your learning process.
Grow Your Soul
Memorize a chapter of the Bible. Practice various forms of prayer. Listen to great music, or make music yourself. Wander through an art museum, or make some art yourself. Gather wise sayings from your ten closest friends and family members. Do a task at your church that no one else wants to do.
Take a Strategy Day
Make it a personal retreat. Find a room, preferably with a whiteboard, at your church or a local library. Invite a “consultant” to join you for part of the time—someone who knows you and will help you think logically. (It was my sister who helped me storyboard a career plan at a crucial time.) Map out your plan for the next four months, twelve months, two years, in getting work, doing work, lining up regular projects, and improving your own ability. Let your vision soar, but then bring it down to specific action steps.
Down time can be growth time for you and your business. As the “time-redeeming” passage goes on to say, “Don’t act thoughtlessly, but understand what the Lord wants you to do” (Ephesians 5:17 NLT).