Monday, December 14, 2009

Breaking Back In

Dear Mrs. Ditter, My husband passed away three years ago, and I'm going back to work after having been home with our kids the past 11 years. I've decided to pursue freelance writing as it best suits the needs of my family. I've been volunteering at a non-profit radio station for the past several months. I thought it'd be a great way to build up my portfolio, and if all went well, maybe even land a part-time position.
Instead, I've been doing data entry, stuffing envelopes, answering phones. I'm beginning to think this is all a big waste of my time when I could use the time I give them WRITING.
I will not apologize for having spent time at home raising our kids, but I'm not 22 years old any more, I had a career before kids, I've already done all this entry-level stuff and it doesn't feel like it's getting me any closer to my goal as a freelance writer!--Frustrated Family Support

Dear Frustrated Family Support: First of all, ouch. Other than the widowhood piece, our stories are very similar. I had a freelance writing career for many years, stopped working to raise our kids, and have been trying to get back to freelance paying work for a while now. It. Is. Tough. 
About your specific case, however, a couple of things jump out at me:
First, you say that freelance writing best suits the needs of your family. Is that because you can do it on your own schedule, or is that because you love writing, you're good at it, and you want to move it from being a hobby/pleasant diversion to being a source of income? Also, you don't specify what TYPE of freelance writing you're interested in. I'm assuming it's business-oriented, as opposed to writing books, but I could be misreading your letter.
Second, I'm intrigued with your choice to volunteer at a radio station. Were you hoping to be assigned writing projects there, such as sponsorship announcements or newsletter copy? If so, I can see why you're frustrated with performing clerical duties. 
Third, either you want to pursue a freelance writing career or you don't--It's not clear to me that you're clear, because you say "...if all went well, maybe even land a part-time position."
What I DON'T see in your letter is the following: "I've talked with my boss, reminded her of why I volunteered in the first place, and let her know that as much as I love being here, I need 1) work that is 2) in my area of interest/expertise so that I can 3) concentrate on supporting my family." In other words, if she won't give you writing assignments, you need to find a place that will.
So talk with her. If she promises you writing assignments but they don't materialize, it may be time to move on.
Here are my other suggestions, for what they're worth: 
**If what you really want to gain from volunteer work is writing experience, contact your local neighborhood newsletter, if there is one. Or your local elementary school/PTA. Or your church. Or a favorite charity. Tell them you're a writer, you have ten hours a month to volunteer, and you'd be happy to work for them. Be really specific, or you'll end up doing clerical work again. And while that may be the way to work up the ladder at the radio station, it doesn't seem to be the best choice for you right now.
**Contact ten advertising agencies--small, medium and large-sized. Tell them you'll provide twenty hours of free copywriting services during the month of January. One of them might take you up on it, and if they don't send work your way after the month is up, they might refer you  to other potential clients.
**Try the same thing with websites that you like, offering free services for a month (or three free articles, or something like that).
**Try the same thing with corporations that are large enough to have communications departments.
**Find and join a local writer's group--most metropolitan areas have quite a few. Libraries often host writers groups on a monthly basis. Bookstores do the same. 
**If you can afford it, a writing class at a local community college or university might be helpful (depending on what sort of writing you want to pursue).
This is an extremely hard time break in as a writer, and my heart goes out to you. My own portfolio is so dusty that it looks as if mice have been nesting in it. 
Best of luck, and let me know how things go over the next several months.
And as always: If you have a question for Mrs. Ditter, leave it in the Comments section at the end of this  post. Thanks for reading!

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