Tuesday, May 01, 2012

My Writing Life

It’s difficult to say exactly when I started writing on a freelance basis. Early on, it sort of just happened, and then I began pursuing it, which made it happen even more. I guess I’ll just tell you my story instead of trying to explain it.

I graduated from Abilene Christian University (Abilene, TX) with a journalism degree in 1994. As a student, I had established myself as a pretty solid writer through my work on the campus newspaper and yearbook. The people in the campus media relations office noticed and began asking me to write for the alumni magazine, ACU Today. My first article for them was in 1994, and I’m still writing for them. I have a major feature in the issue that’s about to come out.

ACU Today is a slick mag that wins tons of awards, and I’m proud to be a part of it. The problem is that it only publishes quarterly, so if I relied on it as my only income, I would have starved to death between issues long ago. So I was working other jobs during the mid-to-late ’90s (church secretary, university events coordinator, etc.).

In 2000, my husband graduated from seminary and we moved to the Houston area for his first ministry job. I was so happy that I was finally going to be able to stay home with Julia, our exceptionally adorable toddler. Turns out staying home was…OK. I really wanted to be home with Julia, but I wanted to keep writing, too. It’s a very strange thing to be college-educated and have opinions on all kinds of issues, but the most intellectually-stimulating thing you do all day is dig Froot Loops out of the couch cushions. I had a story idea for the local newspaper (The Baytown Sun, Baytown, TX) and spent DAYS mustering the courage to call and pitch it to them. I finally did, and they let me write it. They liked it, and I ended up writing features for them for about five years. After I had been doing that for a couple of years, I wrote a column for the paper about visiting the local mosque and interviewing the leaders there for the one-year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. This led to me writing a weekly column for the next 3.5 years. I tried to keep it funny by writing about the craziness of everyday life and, because they are easy targets, I took occasional shots at Rick Perry and the tobacco industry. I also made fun of Jerry Falwell once, which earned me my first piece of hate mail. Except for the person who wrote that, everyone seemed to like my column and I became known as “the Erma Bombeck of Baytown.” If you go to my blog (, you can read some of those columns. They are posted mostly on Wednesdays between Nov. 2004 and Aug. 2006.

Let me say something about my stint as a weekly newspaper columnist. Baytown is a blue-collar, refinery town full of the most genuine, hard-working people I have ever met. Being able to connect with that community through my column was the most satisfying writing I have ever done. It paid next to nothing, but I doubt I will ever again have a writing gig that rewarding. If you’re only writing for the monetary benefits, you will miss out on a lot. Besides, if you go into writing for the money, you’re not smart. You’re just not.

Then in 2005, I got a call from an old friend that I had not seen in years. During the years we had been out of touch, she had gone to college, earned a journalism degree and landed an editing job with VideoPlus in Dallas. VideoPlus publishes magazines (and other resources) that support the direct-selling industry. My friend asked me to start writing for their pubs, so I’ve been doing that since 2005. A couple of years ago, VideoPlus bought SUCCESS magazine, so now I write book reviews (and I’ve done a few features) for that magazine. All of the mags VideoPlus publishes are distributed nationwide at major booksellers. Does it ever get old to walk into Barnes & Noble, pull a magazine off the shelf, and find my byline in it? Nope.

I had to let the newspaper gig go when we moved to Arkansas in 2006, but since I had also been writing for magazines and saw how much more they pay than newspapers, I was OK with that. (But so, so sad to let my column go.)

Today, I’m still writing for ACU Today, VideoPlus, and I just picked up At Home in Arkansas, a statewide home and garden design pub, this past year. That was another stroke of luck. A friend of ours at church is a dentist who is a major advertiser with them. The editor mentioned to him one day that she needed writers, and my friend told her about me. I came home to an email from the editor, asking when I could start. I’ve been writing for AHIA for almost a year now. Some people call those lucky connections “networking.” I call it “suh-WEET.” I also just landed a grant-writing internship for this summer, which I will do from home. Grant writing may not seem that thrilling, but for writers who really want their words to make a difference, there is probably no more direct way to do that than writing grant proposals. There can be good money in it, too, so it’s worth checking out.

Here are the reasons why freelancing has been great for me:

1) During the ten years I had preschool-aged children at home, it allowed me to keep working and keep my skills up while still focusing on my kids. They went to mothers’ day out twice a week, so I scheduled my work for those days. They didn’t even know I worked until they were older. To me, you can’t put a price on something like that.

2) I have loved being a “free agent” and writing for whatever publication I want to.

3) I love the flexibility of working from home. Both our girls are in school now, but I can still go on their field trips and take care of them when they’re sick without having to use sick leave or beg for time off. I joke about getting to work in my pajamas, but I usually wear actual clothes. But I could work in my pajamas, if I wanted to.

4) I love seeing my name in print. Again, that never gets old.

Here’s what I say to people who want to be successful freelancers:

1) Be nice to people. Be genuine and honest, and be a good friend. For one thing, that’s what nice people do. And you never know when a relationship that you value personally could become professionally valuable (like with my VideoPlus editor friend). You don’t want to snub someone who later becomes editor of the magazine you’ve always dreamed of writing for. That would really, really suck.

2) Get someone to give you a chance. And when that happens, turn in clean copy and turn it in on time. Editors remember writers who do that, and they will ask you to work for them again.

Thanks for reading all about me, and please check out my professional website ( and like me on Facebook (Deana Nall’s WordWorks)!