by Emma Christensen
I’ve been asking myself different versions of the same question for years: “Could I make money from my writing?” You know, write as a side gig?
Although I’m grateful for the modest sums I receive from my writing, I return to my day job to really pay the bills. Writing for (more) money remains a bit mythical, an idea that generates more questions than actual dollars.
For freelance writers Graham Strong and Bonnie Schiedel, writing isn’t just a side gig, it is their day job. At a NOWW workshop held at the Waverley Library on March 20, 2018, Strong and Schiedel shared their best advice on how to make money from freelance writing, answering some of those many questions in the process.
Although Strong and Schiedel both make their living from freelance work of various types, they’ve taken very different routes to get to that point, proving that there is no “one size fits all” solution to breaking into the industry.
Schiedel was introduced to the world of magazine writing while working for Chatelaine in Toronto. Her articles have appeared in many of the consumer magazines we think of as household staples – Reader’s Digest, Canadian Living, and Best Health. She adapted to a changing economy by writing content for corporations.
Strong’s career began locally by writing for a community newspaper and editing the Robin’s Donuts employee newsletter. Within a few years, with the rise of digital content and internet advertising, Strong had connected with clients all over the world who employed him to write everything from web content to television scripts. Variety is what makes his work interesting. “For me, freelancing is a perfect fit,” he said during the workshop.
As full-time freelancers, being generalists—offering a wide variety of services—has been successful for both Schiedel and Strong. Schiedel recommended specializing in an area of knowledge or interest for writers who are looking to freelance part time. “It’s easier to market yourself if you have an area of expertise,” she said.
Strong and Schiedel quickly confirmed my long-standing hunch that success as a freelance writer requires more than strong writing skills.
Schiedel emphasized accuracy, adaptability, and the importance of having an approachable writing style—one that is easily understood without sounding simplistic. She also cautioned that working freelance does not mean working in isolation. She’s made good use of her ability to work with a team and develop a rapport with interviewees, skills that obviously transferred to her role as a presenter.
Strong emphasized the value of professionalism and good communication. For him, these qualities are even more important than his skill as a writer. He takes deadlines seriously and underscores the need to be self-motivated and to gracefully accept criticism and feedback from clients.
Both presenters conveyed information in a casual and approachable manner, welcoming questions and dialogue with the audience. The fact that they are peers in our local writing community—rather than professionals from faraway cities – made the presentation even more effective. Humour and personal anecdotes added a new dimension to the content of the workshop and to potentially dry topics like negotiating rates and contracts. I was happy to leave with an extensive list of additional resources, not in the form of a stack of handouts, but as a slim business card that directed me online to nowwwriters.ca/workshops.
Strong and Schiedel engaged the audience further by presenting an “elevator pitch” exercise, challenging us to think critically about how we would introduce ourselves as freelance professionals if we had only 30 seconds to do so. For me, the exercise brought another set of questions to the surface – “How do I want to present myself?” and “What skills and areas of expertise should I emphasize?”
Ultimately, I walked away from “Side Gig” feeling that many of my questions about a career in freelance writing had been answered. What surprised me was that I valued the questions the workshop posed—bigger, more career-defining ones that only I have the answers to—even more than the information I’d received. Thanks to Strong and Schiedel, the process of writing for money seems a little less mythical and decidedly more tangible.
Emma Christensen contributes regularly to The Walleye and indulges her love of fiction through reading and writing. She’s currently working on the second draft of a novel. Emma lives with her husband in rural Thunder Bay, where hiking, cycling, kayaking and other outdoor hobbies continue to fuel her creativity.
Wondering if you can get paid for your non-literary writing? Join two career freelance writers, Graham Strong [www.grahamstrong.com] and Bonnie Schiedel [www.northstarwriting.ca], as they talk about the ins and outs of a freelance writing business.
Meet the speakers:
Bonnie Schiedel is a freelance writer, editor, and content consultant. She got her start in the publishing world at Chatelaine magazine where she worked for several years, first as an assistant (lots of fact-checking, faxes and photo shoots) and then as an associate editor. In 2000, she moved to northwestern Ontario and launched her freelance writing business, North Star Writing.
Her award-winning work has been featured hundreds of times in national publications such as Best Health, Canadian Family, Chatelaine, Canadian Living, Cottage Life, Today's Parent, Reader's Digest, Canadian House & Home, and Outdoor Canada. Over time, the focus of her business has shifted to corporate clients, and the research and storytelling skills she honed with years of magazine writing work well in the business world too. For the last six years, she’s been doing content marketing, writing, and editing for top brands and agencies like Bravado Designs, PACE Communications, Green Living Enterprises, Scotiabank, TD Bank, fyp.io, and RE/MAX. From 2011-2014 she was a consultant on the Creative Services team for Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts. And while she still writes lots of magazine articles, she now also writes and edits copy and provides content strategy for blogs, websites, business emails, and apps.
Government and corporate clients include the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines, the Ministry of International Trade and Investment, the City of Thunder Bay, Northwestern Ontario Innovation Centre, Mobile Health Network, the Arthritis Society, St. Francis Herb Farm, BillyYTZ.com, RBC, Toronto Hydro, NorthernOntario.travel, and Nishnawbe Aski Development Fund. She also writes for trade and B2B publications like Grocery Business, Ignite (meeting planning, incentive programs and corporate travel), and Adrenalin (sports tourism). In 2016 she was nominated for a Thunder Bay Chamber of Commerce Business Excellence Award in the Tourism Partnership category. Her passion project, Tbaywithkids.ca, a website about stuff to do with kids in Thunder Bay, just celebrated its first birthday.
Graham Strong is a freelance marketing writer, ghostwriter, journalist, and web professional. He started writing as a professional side gig in 1995, though he has been a writer of one sort or another most of his life. He majored in English at Lakehead University where he joined the student newspaper Argus and eventually became Editor-in-Chief.
After university – and a lot of travelling – Graham would get the occasional request to do some writing on the side. Most was free work for friends, but some were paid opportunities. It was through one of these freelance side gigs for a local community newspaper that Graham got a job editing the employee newsletter for Robin’s Donuts when its headquarters were still in Thunder Bay. That led to work with the graphic design company on the account, and eventually other organizations as well.
It was about that time that Internet advertising was on the rise, and Graham started getting clients from all over the world including Toronto, Calgary, Philadelphia, Boston, New York, Dallas, Los Angeles, London, England, and Frog Pond, Alabama. Most of those clients are still with him today. He writes in almost every format possible including articles, web content, brochure content, catalogue-like descriptions, annual reports, ads, TV and radio scripts, white papers, PDF brochures, and more. He transitioned to writing full time in 2005.
Graham also provides web services including website building for small businesses using the WordPress platform. Not only does branching out like this keep his days interesting, it’s another service he can offer to clients. Recently, Graham officially launched his ghostwriting services, providing professional writing for authors who have a great story to tell, but need someone to help write the book. He is also finishing his first novel, Social Grooming for Higher Primates, which is currently in the beta reader stage. Graham will be looking for publishers and agents later in 2018.
What to expect from the Side Gig workshop:
• an overview of skills that make a must-hire writer
• the wide variety markets out there
• money—what you can make, and how to keep the cash coming in
• tested tips on marketing yourself as a writer
• our top picks for helpful websites, books, and other resources
Date: Tuesday March 20, 2018
Time: 7:00 pm to 9:00 pm
Location: Waverley Resource Library Auditorium
Registration: Not required
Fee: Free and open to the public
By Jodene Wylie,
NOWW Writing Contest Co-ordinator
It’s the beginning of March and Spring is in the air. The temperature dips above and below zero and the snow shows signs of melting. With Spring comes the closing of the 20th Annual NOWW Writing Contest. There’s something special in the air this year. Perhaps it’s because we’ve been doing contests for two decades and we have an exciting set of judges. Perhaps it’s because we have a new category (Historical Fiction) and that we have three prizes being offered in every category (more than in any previous year). Either way you’ve found your way to this blog post and, maybe, you’re interested in participating this year. I hope you do.
First of all – if you’re a NOWW member then entering is free. That’s right – F.R.E.E. So why the heck wouldn’t you? Second of all – you can technically enter ten times and you guessed it – it’s still free. You can enter each category twice. That’s a whole lot of writing goodness.
As for non-members, we want to hear from you too! NOWW is a wonderful community of writers that hosts workshops, readings and contests that teach, support and celebrate writing here in Northwestern Ontario. Entering the contest this year (for the low price of $10) is your first opportunity to get to know NOWW and its community. Come join us for the Write NOWW LitFest on May 5th and you’ll see that community come together and celebrate all the writers and winners who participated this year.
I’m excited about each of our judges. Heather O’Neill (who you may have heard is also judging the CBC’s Short Fiction contest in the Fall) is serving as our Short Fiction judge. She is joined by Ross King and Helen Humphreys who both have made incredible strides in their genres of Historical Fiction and Creative Nonfiction. We are honoured to have George Elliott Clarke who was the Parliamentary Poet Laureate of Canada (!) judging the Poetry category and our own Michael Christie serving as the judge of the Bill MacDonald Prize for Prose (in Nonfiction). These Canadian Greats may read your writing and award you a writing prize. That’s right – you.
I love writing contests because they offer an opportunity to challenge ourselves as writers. They come with a deadline which is something that most writers (myself included) need. They come with word limits and line limits so that we must force ourselves to focus our writing, make each word count and avoid unnecessary details that may not add to our entry. They also come with multiple categories. NOWW’s Writing Contest has five categories that are distinctly different from one another. You may not typically write Creative Nonfiction but perhaps you have a story that’s been floating around your mind and this gives you motivation to step away from your normal style and try something new.
I hope you enter the contest this year. I hope you try something new and challenge yourself. The contest closes on March 31st , so you still have some time to gather your thoughts and start writing and rewriting. I look forward to seeing your entry.