A Day in the Life of a Freelance Writer Who Works With Brands
“What do you do all day?” Whether I’m making small talk with a stranger, catching up with a family member, or even chatting with a close friend, it’s a question I have to field over and over again as a freelance writer.
Many people who have 9-to-5 jobs are puzzled when I say make my own schedule. They aren’t sure how a freelance writer could make a living working for media companies and brands. There are a ton of misconceptions to clear up when it comes to my gig, and while there are plenty of perks to the career path I’ve chosen, there’s also frustration. I’m perpetually hoping each day will bring less of the latter and more of the former.
Most people assume freelancers just roll out of bed whenever they’d like. While that’s an occasional luxury, I learned early on to keep a rigid schedule. I’m diligent about starting work at 9 a.m. and ending at 5 p.m. I work every weekday with few exceptions.
Holding myself to typical work hours gives me the perfect amount of time to get a normal day’s tasks done. Most importantly, it grants me nights and weekends off. Without a schedule, my job would be a stressful free-for-all.
The quest for normalcy is also a reason I enjoy working in coffee shops. Since I’m lucky enough to live in Brooklyn, we have an embarrassment of riches in that department. From my perspective, a good coffeeshop to work in has to have two qualities: ample, comfortable seating and robust WiFi. There’s nothing worse than troubleshooting internet issues when you’re trying to be productive. (A good cup of coffee and tasty snacks aren’t bad either.)
Lately, I’ve been starting most days at two places. There’s Butler, a small, laidback bakery and cafe steps from the Williamsburg Bridge. Other days, my main workspace is Gotan, a bustling European-style eatery full of glowing laptops, which offers great breakfast and lunch.
I’ve found that most people working in media and publishing offices typically start their days around 9:30 or 10:00, so I’ll log on around then and the first thing I’ll do is see what replies came in overnight. Today, an editor wanted me to quickly punch up a piece I wrote a couple of weeks ago. It’s a commentary tinged with humor for a major men’s publication, and we need to get the language just right. I never mind punching up pieces as long as the feedback is specific. Who doesn’t want their writing to be better?
Since I cover many topics, from music to humor to general human interest, my inbox is typically drowning in a deluge of press releases and unsolicited emails from PR firms and companies around the world. Eighty percent of these pitches are useless to me, but those other 20 percent can be valuable when it comes to finding a nugget of a great new idea, a possible future gig, or a new contact.
Depending on the amount of writing I have to do on a given day, I aim to set aside two hours for brainstorming pitches. For better or for worse, it’s entirely up to me to come up with the ideas that would be interesting to work on.Most of the time, I reach out to editors I’ve worked with in the past since I’ll better odds of getting a pitch accepted.
Some of this block goes to connecting with new clients and media outlets. That’s a vital part of sustaining myself as a freelancer. This morning, I received an email about a sustainable winery. I wrote for a spirits-focused blog a couple years ago, so I reached out to the editor there to see if she’d be interested in coverage. I also caught wind of a new play coming to Broadway featuring an actor I want to interview, so I pitched an entertainment publication for a possible Q&A.
Over the last few years, a growing part of my freelance output has been content marketing work. I’m part of Contently’s talent network and write for some of their clients. I saw that a travel brand put out a pitch call, and I sent over a few ideas.
When it comes to content marketing, I don’t see much contrast between that and my journalistic work. Of course, brands may have certain business aspects to accentuate, but the companies I’ve written for prioritize the quality of the content over that. I think readers can sniff out when an article is too self-promotional. As a writer, I can separate the genuine from the salesy myself as soon as a company sends a brief.
Time to eat and decompress.
After a bite of lunch (and a second coffee), my attention shifts to transcribing an interview I conducted last week for an article about a major record label. This is probably my least favorite part of the job, but a key one. While some writers choose to hire an outside service, I believe transcription is a skill in itself, and it’s a way to save on expenses.
Since it would be impossible to truly write someone’s exact sentences word-for-word (complete with “ums,” “uhs,” and reconsidered thoughts that trail off), it’s up to me to best translate exactly what a subject is trying to say. I record all of my interviews on Apple’s GarageBand, which allows me to easily fast forward, rewind, and pause. Today’s transcribing task is a particularly tricky one, considering I interviewed two executive at the same time concerning the anniversary of a major label. They both have similar voices, so I have to be careful to attribute each quote to a proper person.
After five hours of staring at a screen, it’s time to leave the coffee shop and finish up the day at my apartment. I’ve found that breaking up my work like this is the perfect way to stay interested and energized. It’s an easy way to diffuse the monotony.
Once I’m back at my apartment, I have a snack and see what else I have on the docket. I have to prep for a phone interview with a country music star. Since I’m not completely familiar with his songs, I spend the intervening time researching him and listening to his popular singles. While I wait, I continue to brainstorm some more travel story ideas. My goal is to strike a balance between what the requirements are an an inspired idea that’s in service of the brand.
The interview is very straightforward. We talk through his career and focus the end on his latest single. After the talk, I can start to piece together what to use and what to cut in my head.
I’ll use the final part of my day to answer any subsequent emails that may have come in. Unfortunately, the editor I emailed from that spirits publication no longer works there, so I’ll have to find another contact. However, a different editor accepted my Q&A with the Broadway actor. Now I’ll have to send a query to the actor’s publicist to try to set up an interview.
As the day winds down, I tie together a few final loose ends. I receive a tip from a publicist about a chatting with a film composer, so I forward his email to an editor that I work with on a regular basis. I’m strict about starting work at the same time every morning and, I’m equally rigid when it comes to finishing at 5 p.m.
As a freelancer, there’s always work to be done. Thankfully, there will always be another day to work on it.
Rob LeDonne is a Brooklyn-based freelance culture and humor writer whose work has appeared in Billboard, Rolling Stone, GQ, and Playboy.