CFWN’s Top Tools & Tips (continued)

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. 

Ann-Margret Hovsepian: Check out the five tips I shared last summer in this post: Freelancing 101. Also, here is my list of 4 Essential Qualities for Writers.

CFWN’s Top Tools & Tips

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.

When Freelance Isn’t Your Day Job

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?

  • Family?
  • Friends?
  • 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 hollyjwriter@gmail.com.

Convention Highlights

While this blog isn’t an official publication of the Evangelical Press Association, most of our writers are EPA members. Several of us attended the 2022 convention in Colorado Springs this past April and we’d like to share some highlights with you. If you’re a freelancer, we hope you’ll consider joining EPA, too. Besides the annual convention (in Lancaster, PA, next year), we have monthly Zoom calls for discussing common challenges, sharing tips, and brainstorming ideas for improving working conditions for freelancers.

We asked two veteran and two newer freelancers to share something they learned at the convention and something they enjoyed. Here are their responses:

Chris Maxwell (veteran)

What I learned: Practical steps on improving podcasts, and more writing skills and opportunities. 

What I enjoyed: Location, conversations, each session I attended was wonderful, and seeing friends. 

Seana Scott (newer)

I learned some editing hacks for self-editing, was reminded about cultivating the creative life, and remembered that I am not alone in writing for ministry. I gleaned from creatives, enjoyed meeting new people, and had a little break from the daily grind of sitting in front of my computer at home. Definitely worth the investment.

Darrell Goematt (newer)

As a freelance photographer, I especially enjoyed the photo track of workshops taught by Gary Fong of Genesis Photo Agency. Gary expertly helped us understand what makes a substantive image that not only drives the story along but endures the test of time.

As a first-time attender, I really appreciated the intentional schedule breaks devoted to networking. The Sunday night round table hosted by Ann-Marget Hovsepian was highly conducive to meeting other freelancers and sharing ideas. Please schedule that again next year.

Ann-Margret Hovsepian (veteran)

I’ve been to well over a dozen of these conventions but I always come home with new ideas and tips. I especially want to remember these points: Never try to do creative thinking and critical thinking at the same time. Creative first, critical later. Also, be reader-centred when writing, focusing on the readers’ needs so they sense that you “get” them.

The fellowship at EPA conventions is wonderful. Over the last 15+ years, I have forged friendships that have had a great impact on my life—and not only on a professional level. I’ve grown as a human being, a Christian, a writer, an artist, and a businesswoman because of the connections I’ve made at EPA.

If you attended EPA this year, please add your own highlights in the comments section! If you didn’t, we hope to meet you in 2023.

We Need a New Name!

We’ve been loving the growth of this blog and the positive feedback we’ve received since launching it a couple of years ago. However, when some of us attended the Evangelical Press Association annual convention in early April, we started to notice that “Christian Freelance Writers Network blog,” while precise and descriptive, took a long time to say every time we wanted to point someone to this great resource.

That’s when we figured out it might be time to give this blog a shorter name. We’d love your input! If you’ve been following CFWN for a while, you probably have a good sense of what we’re all about and what we offer. What would you call this blog?

Please share your ideas in the comments below or send them to us by email (christianfwn@gmail.com). Thanks!

How to Recover from Creative Rejection

by Karen Stiller

“Sometimes you’re the windshield, sometimes you’re the bug,” has got to be one of the best lyrics from a Mary Chapin Carpenter song to which I have ever sung along poorly. It also sums up nicely the experience of being a creative person trying to find a place in the world for your work. Sometimes I’ve been the windshield (good), and I’ve certainly been the bug (splat, blech).

I had a bad bug moment this week when something did not unfold in my real writing life the way it unfolded in my imaginary, parallel writing life, where I had been busy accepting awards and retiring early.

I have a life-long habit of curling up into a ball on the couch for several long moments when all manner of things stink, so I did that, along with shedding  1/8 of a cup of tears. To my friends who cry: stop apologizing. If people didn’t want us to cry they shouldn’t have hugged us like that.

My first step to creative recovery is to allow myself these moments of feeling horrible. The length of time I feel bad about feeling bad lessens with every year and with each Brené Brown book I read. So, that’s my first tip: It’s okay to feel bad, and to feel it out loud. Whine for a little while, hopefully to a caring and tolerant friend. It hurts to make things people don’t want, or to just hear the words “No thank you,” or maybe worse, to hear nothing at all. Our surviving-disappointment muscles are required for art-making and art-sharing. Resiliency is essential, and although it’s tempting to think otherwise, denial is not part of resiliency. Feel bad so you can feel better.

Dig around in the glum and gloom: Don’t waste this icky time. You can learn valuable things from the rejection itself, like how could your art be better for this audience? Did you plan your Pulitzer-acceptance speech too soon? (Those ones are obvious). But what else can you learn from these feelings of desolation? What is the disappointment beneath the disappointment? And it might literally and only be that you wanted to be published somewhere and they said no. But it might also have to do with that moment in grade 3 that made you want to someday be the popular one. It’s okay big heart. Give your   somewhat-awful grade 3 self a tight hug. Say some reassuring things to way-back-then you.

I was texting an artist friend this week and shared my disappointment. He said that it happens to him a lot. This surprised me (which it shouldn’t have) because his work is so beautiful, which reminded me that we could talk about this more out loud. My friend shared he has learned to see these times as an opportunity to learn something from God. “Now when it happens, I tend to pay more attention to things around me,” he wrote. Yes, pay attention.

Take a break if you need one, with rewards. Take care of yourself for a beat or two. Watch what you want for as long as you want. Go out for a burger. Get a new hair cut. This is the moment for whatever little treat you allow yourself for when you’re splattered against the windshield. Licking our wounds and buying a new candle can take a moment or two, and that’s totally cool.

Pop back up again. The only failed writer is the one who gave up too soon. I’ve been doing this for 25 years, and I know that for sure. So, just as you murmured to yourself softly in that reassuring tone you use when things go bad, now you shift gears and tell yourself a little sternly to stop being a big baby and to start making stuff again. Be like those inflatable clown toys. They get punched in their puffy red vinyl noses and they pop right back up again. We need to be like that. (And if you want to watch a video of a couple who went for a walk and ended up punching inflatable clowns click here, but be sure to come back).

Bless other artists. Do something good for other people in your craft. If you’re envying someone who is enjoying success that you are not currently enjoying (this is normal and also not talked about enough), congratulate them, pray for more good things to come their way, and share something online that they created that you love. This practice will help you not be mean when you’re 90. Also, it will become a joyful habit that you can do anytime at all.

If there is someone who needs encouragement, reach out to them and give them the gift of “I see you,” or an offer to help. Is there a door you can open for them? Please, open it. There is an actual discipline to door-opening. You decide to do it. Be a door-opener. Be an artist’s artist and a writer’s writer and a potter’s potter. It was the One who made everything, after all, who taught that it’s more blessed to give than receive. Giving is simply good, but it’s also a way to pull ourselves back together again (post-windshield). On a very practical level it yanks our heads out of our own bellybuttons and reminds us the world is made more beautiful with love and art and light and pretty tiny things, and that we get to be a part of that work.

Now, go listen to wise Mary and start to feel better. That’s what I’m about to do.

Karen Stiller (www.karenstiller.com) is the author of The Minister’s Wife: a memoir of faith, doubt, loneliness, friendship and more (Tyndale House, 2020); a freelance writer and a senior editor of Faith Today magazine. Her work has appeared in The Walrus, Reader’s Digest, and many other publications. She is co-author of Craft, Cost & Call: How to Build a Life as a Christian Writer (2019) along with other books about the Church in Canada and the world. She lives in Ottawa.

Put Away the Phone

by Carla Foote

I was out on a late afternoon walk in a park near my home, after spending most of the day in front of my computer working on client projects. I had my phone in my pocket, but I didn’t feel the vibrating buzz and missed a call from a client. When I happened to look at my phone 10 minutes later, I faced a decision. Should I listen to the voicemail right away and respond to the client or continue walking and deal with the message in half an hour when I returned home?

There isn’t necessarily a right or wrong answer to this dilemma, based on the information provided in this anecdote. A timely response to a client request is based on schedule and context.

If I am on an editorial deadline and awaiting a response by the end of the day to move forward with a project, then responding immediately is important. If the reason the client is calling is because they happen to have time late in the day to respond to earlier requests for general information, then it may not be a pressing issue.

A few months ago, as I was assessing my work style and workload, I realized that I was giving too much brain space to one client. I value that client and enjoy the work I am contracted to do for them. However, I also found that I was included in many notifications that were peripheral to my responsibilities. Since I care about quality and client relationships, I was paying attention to all the notifications. But they didn’t impact the work I was doing; they just distracted my time and attention from more important things.

So, I decided I needed to set some boundaries on my work availability and energy. Since I have a good relationship with this client that I have cultivated over a number of years, I had a conversation with my key contact person. I told her I was committed to continuing to provide excellent service to them on my assigned projects. I also said I was going to be setting some boundaries on how quickly I would respond to them when I was between assignments or due dates. And I mentioned that if I was taking a whole weekday offline in the middle of a project, I would let them know a few days in advance so they wouldn’t be expecting a response. My boundary seemed reasonable, especially because sometimes my emails to them sit unanswered for a day or two while they are busy with meetings and other projects. Side note: Not participating in too many meetings is my favorite thing about freelance work!

Carla at Kenosha Pass in Colorado, about an hour from Denver

Now, when I am out walking, sometimes I just leave my phone at home. Sometimes I bring it along because of a family need, or because I might want to take a picture of some flowers or trees. But I don’t always feel compelled to answer calls and emails immediately.

I am still providing good service to my clients—and giving my mind some healthy breaks.

Sometimes I am offline for a whole weekday to take full advantage of the perks of freelance life—usually taking a hike in the foothills outside of Denver. Flexibility is the true benefit of the freelance life. I work hard when I am working for a client. And I need to periodically to unplug and take a break. This rhythm actually improves my work, health and satisfaction with life.

Carla Foote is a freelance editor and writer based in Denver, Colorado. She is on the board of Magazine Training International and a member of the Evangelical Press Association. You can connect with her at fineprintedit.com.

The Assembling of Introverted Writers

by Jeff Friend

If I told you that I’m an introvert, you might assume I avoid groups whenever possible. You would be correct. But I’ve learned the cold fact that there are times—whether at social occasions, business functions, or other types of situations—I have to engage in actual face-to-face conversations with strangers. I’m breaking into a cold sweat just thinking about it.

There is one exception to this phobia. I feel completely comfortable interacting with groups of writers.

Writing is a solitary function. Just me sitting at my desk pecking at a keyboard. Even my wife hesitates to enter my lair when I’m at work. To use a biblical phrase, we writers are a peculiar people.

But in a writer’s group, I am talking with people who actually understand the struggles, doubts, questions, and obstacles I face. Sure, my wife calmly listens when I rant about a writing challenge I’m having, but since she hasn’t personally experienced the travails of writing, she can only nod with empathy and give me a few encouraging words.  Alas, I trudge back to my desk and reenter my cocoon.

From a professional perspective, a writer’s group gives me the creativity, encouragement, and knowledge necessary for me to grow and succeed in my craft. I’ve discovered that a writer’s group is also vital for the camaraderie (and sanity) that can only be found among people who are traveling the same road you are.  We can share and celebrate our successes, comfort each other when our paths get bumpy, exchange tips and information, discuss markets and many other topics, and give a heartfelt “I know how you feel” to pick us up.

In-person meetings are probably the most beneficial (did I just say that?), but virtual meetings have opened up greater opportunities. Now, instead of meeting with only a few local writers, we can talk with people around the world and learn about other regions, cultures, and better ways to communicate with audiences in ways we could only imagine before.    

Aside from the professional aspects of a writer’s group, the personal benefits are equally valuable. As an introvert, the interaction helps me to reach outside of my comfort zone and become more sociable, and boost my spiritual life as well. The Bible tells us to “forsake not the assembling of yourselves.” I think that applies to assembling as writers as well as coming together with other believers at church or special events.

Do I still get the heebie-jeebies when I’m getting ready for a meeting? Absolutely, whether virtual or in-person. But it’s getting better. I know that God gifted me to be a writer, and I need to develop and use that gift to the best of my abilities. Being with other writers is part of the “iron sharpens iron” process, so even if it makes me uncomfortable, I’ll just take a deep breath and move forward to fulfill my calling.

As a freelance writer for over 30 years, Jeff Friend has published hundreds of articles in dozens of print and digital publications. He is an EPA Higher Goals recipient and the author of the book Staying Focused When Life Gets Blurry. Jeff has co-authored or edited several other books, and he was a staff writer and editor for a daily newspaper.