I was recently interviewed by another Tim Sohn--What's the word for this? Doppelnamer? Nameganger?--who happens to be a freelance writer and editor for the website ebyline.com and their blog at ebyline.biz, interesting sites dedicated to helping freelancers and promoting entrepreneurial journalism. I was flattered to be asked to contribute some lessons learned along the rocky and meandering path of my own freelance life, along with some very dubious advice. Overall, I found it to be a fun and useful exercise. Here's how it starts:
Ebyline: When and why did you start freelancing? Who was your first client or your first assignment?
I remember writing a few freelance articles for a local newspaper when I was in middle school or maybe a freshman in high school, which helped plant the seed—that first realization that people would pay me to write things was a powerful one. The fact that the payment was a pittance—more honorarium than anything—is something I should have perhaps paid more attention to at the time. I think my first piece was about the local Boy Scout troop, of which I was a member. I believe I disclosed the conflict of interest, but I didn’t know much about journalistic ethics then.
The freelance gig that set me on my current path was the summer after my junior year in college when I went to Central America to write the El Salvador and Honduras chapters of the “Let’s Go: Central America” travel guidebook. The Let’s Go books are all published by Harvard Student Agencies and researched, written and edited by undergraduates. It was a fantastic opportunity, and one I enjoyed so much that the next year I went to Australia to work on the Victoria and South Australia chapters of that book. And while the vast majority of students who work on Let’s Go move on to other careers, it’s been a great starting point for many future journalists—it’s very much a “sink or swim” kind of thing, being in a strange place, alone and on a shoestring budget, and you figure out pretty quickly whether you’re suited to that kind of work.
Check out the full interview here.