How once woman went from being a SAHM of four to a published freelance science journalist
I'm revising this intro after more than 15 years to better reflect my intention|
When I started this blog in 2004, I was a stay at home mom to two small children, a college graduate with a degree in English and Astrophysics. By 2007, I had four small children, ages newborn, 2, 4, and 6. For several years, Writing.com was how I kept my sanity. This blog began, first as a way of staying connected. Later, when I worked on a novel, I used it to stoke the writing fires as I plotted out short stories and the next step of my novel. Ultimately, I moved my writing preparation to "Invalid Item"
In 2010, I became a single mom who had homeschooled her children for several years. I had a 2, 4, 6 and 8 year old and had never had a "real" full time job, since I was married while in college. Everyone told me that I would have to buckle down and take on a "real" job.
Instead, I decided to attempt to live my dream: to make it as a writer. I knew that if I didn't try then, I would never really dive in. I counted my money and set a deadline. If I hadn't began making a decent (defined) amount of money after so many months, I would suck it up and get a J-O-B.
After some thought, I decided to play to my strengths. I served an internship at Sky & Telescope magazine while in college and enjoyed writing about space and astronomy. With an astrophysics degree, I thought I would be able to sell myself more easily, and a small niche should be easier to penetrate.
It's been about ten years since I was first paid for an article on Space.com. In that time, writing - journalism - has been my primary moneymaker. I've often thought about setting up a blog on my website - www.astrowriter.com - but just haven't gotten around to it. There are a few things I would like to share for those who are interested in scientific journalism in general.
Now that I'm back on WDC, there's no reason not to combine the two and use the site blog for that sort of interaction. There are certainly plenty of folks on this site interested in the publication process. So while I'll probably meander around some, that's the intention of of this blog: to share some of my struggles as a published journalist and to help answer oft-asked questions.
|As always, I am dreadful with my follow through....
I planned to write, and even purchased a one year sub. Because, hey, it's actually a business expense! That's not even bs, I do think that fiction writing does help me with my nonfiction writing, as I craft better stories. But then, life.
So I wound up in June and July struggling with, ew, gallstones. Those things are painful! My doc actually sent me to see a surgeon with the recommendation to remove my gallbladder. The surgeon said that it wasn't a pressing concern and that his recommendation still was to not go to the hospital with COVID so rampant if it wasn't urgent. So I still have my gallbladder, and am trying to avoid pain.
That's impacted my work. The best thing about self-employment is the lack of paid sick leave </sarcasm>. I wound up not pitching for several weeks because I didn't want to have to try to struggle through work while in pain. Or on medication. Or both lol. I also had several big features, including one for Scientific American. Okay that wasn't a feature, but still. I've written for SciAm online, but I'm excited to score in the magazine. That story was something of a catastrophe in action, but it worked out. I just submitted the fact-checked version today, so I should be pretty much finished.
Last night I had an amazing dream about magic. I woke up thinking, ah, NOW I am set to write a fantasy novel. Because the worst part of that is figuring out how the magic works and how to balance it. So I woke up thinking, Eureka. Then I went back to sleep and of course forgot everything. I keep saying I need a notebook by the bed, but then I tell myself I can use the phone, but I've been trying to lock up the phone so it's not working. Round and round I go.
Anyway, this has all been excuses. Let me use them to do the big lesson for freelancers. First, even when things are rough, keep pitching. (Actually, I have a COVID-related story on that one, but I'll have to tell it later.) Because eventually you come out of the rough time thinking, wow, I need some work. But also, cultivate a good relationship with your editors so they will understand that you rarely have to press a deadline. That way, when you need to push one back, they know it's not your normal method. By 'cultivate a good relationship', I mean, submit on time if not early. Turn in good copy. When I told my SciAm editor that I was going to pass on the assignment she offered, she said she could extend the deadline because she knew from experience that I turned in good, clean copy that required little editing. I had also been referred to that assignment by the online SciAm editor, who I have worked with frequently and have a good relationship with.
Also, don't get sick. Ugh.
|I just responded to a comment from Kåre Enga, P.O. 22, Blogville about blogging in general, and the way this website has evolved over the last decade and a half. Kare pointed out that more people are chasing the $$ from writing and doing less of the fun, and that's likely one cause in the drop in the community presence.
I can relate because that's one reason I stopped writing on the site. Ten years ago (you can skip if you've heard before), I was a single, self-employed, homeschooling mom of four. Over the last few years, my business has dramatically improved and my kids have grown up. One went off to college (homeschooled the entire way through) and two of the remaining three decided to opt for public school for high school. That reduces a lot of the workload in my day; not to mention the youngest is 13 and so able to do far more herself than she did at 8 or even 10.
I suppose like everyone else, I have a lot of constraints on my time, even with my kids getting bigger. My biggest time suck for the last two years has been a relationship. He jokes that I have cut seriously into his reading time, but it's a true statement; now he's predominantly 'reading' audiobooks. My reading is still in gear but my TV time dropped and I stopped playing Warcraft, something that used to suck up my 'down' time. I had already stopped that before we started dating, but hadn't really replaced it with anything.
I'm currently back to working on my memory palace. I have this idea that one day I'll be able to reach television proportions of memorization that I know is unrealistic. What I would love to do, however, is to be able to remember press release information, or at least research. There are some things that stick much more easily than others. I can't tell you how many times I've met someone at a conference that whose research I had previously written an article on, yet I forgot the topic and name completely. In addition to general facts and discoveries, I'd really like to hold onto people's names. These two together are my big motivation for memory work.
And I'd also like to get back to my novel, though the truth is that at night I'm just worn out still. I should work on it now but the thought exhausts me. In fairness, I had three phone interviews today for a feature I'm working on for Sky & Telescope magazine. One of the researchers mentioned a paper by a fourth person that I looked at and thought would be good for a story, so then I pitched it; that took an hour, going through all the research, making a list of further reading, and then of course crafting the perfect pitch. I sent it to an editor I haven't really worked with before, so it was an added level of tenseness. Much easier to pitch folks who have said yes in the past.
Anyway, I'm going to head over and do some memory work and then try to get to bed early, or at least at a reasonable time. At least, that's the theory!
|Congratulations on making it to the last day of the competition! What was your favorite prompt from the last month? What was the most rewarding aspect of participating in the competition? What did you learn?
Well, of course I hit technical difficulties on the last day of the competition. I had originally re-upped my membership through points for a month to determine if I was going to stick around or not. I decided to stick around, but my membership expired a few hours before I thought it would, so I missed entering the last day of the competition. Unfortunately, I was away from home, and from the credit card I needed to use to re-up. Annoyingly, I was about 1500 gps short of using gps to renew for another month. Ah well. Now I have gift points!!
So, the blogging competition. I enjoyed the time spent blogging daily, although I'm not sure it's quite for me. I have a deliberate direction I planned for my blog, and the competition prompts did seem to get in the way of that somewhat. I wanted to write more about publication and didn't think about the fact that having set prompts would actually change some of that focus. Something learned.
My favorite prompt? Hmm, I'd have to look back over the month, hold please.
I suppose my favorite prompts were along the lines of "objects other than electronics that you are important" or the "fork in the road." I didn't particularly like the list of values because, honestly, it was just a long list to review. I did a better job coming up with my own, although the list helped supplement them. But ten felt like too many. I suppose if you were just going to do a one sentence explanation it would be fine, but that seems to me the opposite of blogging; aren't we supposed to expound on our thoughts?
The most rewarding part, I think, was the interaction with other folks. It has been good to see people that I knew from my original stint on the site. I've been a member since 2003, so longer than half of my kids have been alive and within two or three years of the site kicking off. I was touched that Kåre Enga, P.O. 22, Blogville still had me on their favorites even after I'd been away for a decade, and that they were kind enough to come back by.
What did I learn? Well, blogging is a different type of writing than I usually do, and prompts are definitely different. Most of my writing nowadays is more structured. I learned that I still enjoy cutting loose. I also learned that, if I am writing-for-work during the day, blogging is a bit more than I can handle if I hope to work on my fiction techniques. I think I entered the Cramp once but I had hoped to do it a few more times. Commenting on the blogs, while helping to build some of the community and while I enjoyed what was said, meant less time spent reading and reviewing, which is something I also enjoy. R&Ring seems to help me polish my own writing, and is a big reason I returned to the site.
I also learned that reviewing must be really low on the site. I did a little bit but dropped way back after I started blogging. Somehow I still got a top #100 reviewer merit badge for the month. Do folks just not review anymore?! That blows my mind. That was one of the biggest pluses of the site to me.
Overall, I enjoyed the time spent. I probably won't continue to blog daily, though I might occasionally pick up the prompt if I think it's interesting. I appreciate the judges and can't imagine reading each blog daily, though I think it might be somewhat interesting to do.
|When I was little, I dreamed of living in a treehouse surrounded by a pool with a spiral staircase going up the middle of the trunk. In your second to last entry of the month, write about your dream home. Describe the rooms in your fantasy house and any unique characteristics. Be creative
Let's get one thing straight: I'm a mom of four kids, now teenagers. My dream home would freaking clean itself. Non-negotiable.
I'm an open and airy kind of person. Like most people, I'm sure, I'd like my dream home to have the usual spacious living and dining rooms. While I'm not a huge fan of the wasted space that comes with two-story living rooms, I do like the 10-foot ceilings that make you feel less cramped. I'd like a good sized kitchen, NOT the galley-style kitchen that I have now. I'd like to have five bedrooms - one for each of my kids, though at this point I'm moving towards dual-purpose rooms. I suppose in an ideal dream house, I'd have a room for each kid to come home to, PLUS an office. (Since my current boyfriend and I have been talking about long term plans, I guess he should have an office, too.)
THERE MUST BE A LIBRARY.
Seriously, right now I have seven bookshelves loaded with books in my living room, and another four or five downstairs of kids books, which I'm keeping because it's almost impossible for me to get rid of books. I suppose I could fold the library into one of the offices, but how much nicer to have it separate. To have a nice cozy spot to go and read, as opposed to curling up in my bed, which they say is not helping my lack of sleep.
I also want a wrap around front porch. Call it the southerner in me. I barely go outside, but still. I'd like to think with a nice porch, I'd be more likely to.
I'm a fan of a smart home and am slowly moving in that direction, so the house must also be able to do fast-internet, not this damn slow dragging of feet. Oh that's just for connection, but sure, let's make sure that it's wired and interneted and that the routers are already hooked up for some amazing wifi.
Okay, all of this aside, my real true dream home would have my family in it. That's really all I need. Everything else is extra.
|If your life were a song, 1) what genre would it be, 2) who would sing it, and 3) would it be a hit?
Ugh more music. Well, as I described in "Invalid Entry" I'm not a big music person. Don't hold that against me!
Most of the music I listen to, when I do listen, comes from my time in high school. Grunge band, alternative, whatever it's called now ('old'?). While I did feel a connection to many of those songs when I heard them, and sometimes even now, years later, I'd be hard-pressed to say that they accurately described my life.
Here's the short version of the song that I feel every Monday:
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Otherwise, I'd probably say the age old song, Rockabye Baby
on the tree top.
When the wind blows
the cradle will rock.
When the bough breaks,
the cradle will fall.
And down will come Baby,
Cradle and all.
Most of because there I am, sitting happily, and then the stupid branch breaks and I plummet down. All while someone is singing inanely in a pleasant and soothing voice so you think it's going to be a good song but no.
Like poor Sloth
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|Time to check in without a prompt. I felt the urge to ramble.
Today has been insanely hectic. One of the difficult parts of being freelance is that I get to pitch stories. One of the cool parts about being freelance is that I get to pitch stories. Usually even longer features come from research papers. But sometimes I fail to estimate just how much time I'm going to wind up spending on a piece for the space.
I'm working on a story like that right now, an article for the Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences (PNAS). I apparently have done way too much research in trying to nail down the facts. I've browsed somewhere around 30 paper abstracts and deep read at least a dozen of them. I spoke with no less than eight researchers by phone and one by email. I have facts, opinions, and quotes coming out of my ears. I've spent over 20 hours on this so far and haven't completed the rough draft, which I'll wrap up and submit tomorrow; I have at least another 5 hours of editing to go.
And I have to distill it down to 1,500 words.
The obvious answer when one winds up with too much information is to pitch a similar-but-different story to another venue. The problem is that I have a hard time separating out just how similar is different and how different is similar. I do have some leads on upcoming, to-be-published research from the eight people I've spoken to, so that will help. I think I have a decent idea for another feature that expands on the subject. I just hate that I didn't go back to my editor even last week to see if he would be interested in expanding to 2,500 words, something he said he might be amenable to doing. Asking right before I submit seems like a bad idea. And it's a shame, because another thousand words at $1.25/word is another $1200; PNAS is one of the better paying venues.
But that's the life of a freelancer. It may wind up that this turns into a longer story as we go through the editing process - that's happened with a previous story, and I'll probably let him know that I'm open to it. More likely, I'll take a look at a few other places. Muse magazine, for instance, pays crap - like $600 for 2500 words - but I do like the idea of writing for kids, and I can use material that I already have. There's another venue or two I'm considering as more papers come out, as well. I'll just have to keep my eyes open and be ready to jump on a similar but different story.
|Uh oh! I accidentally wrote about tomorrow's prompt today! I'm going to write the prompt for today, tomorrow, rather than write two twice and have to delete and undelete and all of that headache.
Help me fill the Challenge War Chest with new prompts! In your entry today, write at least three prompts to be used in future rounds of the 30DBC. Then, write the rest of your entry using one of your own prompts.
Well, this is a great way to keep people from complaining about the prompts! "You don't like it, you come up with one!"
Let's see if I can come up with a few, ideally with one that I would like.
Prompt 1: What would you do with a million dollars?
Yesterday I was responding to a post on Kåre Enga, P.O. 22, Blogville blog and I actually thought that would be an interesting read. I also bet there would be a bunch of "well a million dollars doesn't go as far as it used to" which, fyi, is fine, you can give me yours.
Prompt 2: What is a goal or resolution you made this year (or should have made)? How are you progressing on it?
This is in interesting one because a lot of people make New Year's resolutions, and we're about halfway through the year. Assuming anyone actually made one with the intention of keeping it, it's a good time to touch base on it.
Prompt 3: What is your favorite book OR the book you've most recently read? What did you like and dislike about it?
I'd like to think that on a site full of writers, folks are still reading, since reading makes you a better writer. It would be interesting to see what my fellow bloggers are reading.
Extra prompt: What has been your favorite prompt to respond to this month? Why? Feel free to link to that post.
Because that would be a nice feedback
Now, for my post, since I was already thinking about it, I'm going for the first one. What would you do with a million dollars?
Well, you know, a million dollars doesn't go as far as it used to...
Call me morbid, but I already spent a million dollars. My ex-husband has a life insurance policy on him for that amount, plus he had an extra $250k for the house. Our divorce agreement stipulated that we both had to keep our policies paid until the kids turned 18 because if he died, I would need to supplement child support and if I kicked the bucket, he would need to cover child care (though that's less of an issue now that my youngest is 13 and can stay at home solo). I actually went through the spending process at the time because I figured that, if I lost my husband (which is what he was when we got the policies), I would be too busy grieving to figure it out.
But let's say that I was randomly gifted, or inherited, a million bucks.
First step would be to pay off my house, which is about $210K, give or take. That leaves me with $790k.
Up until this year, I've made it without a car payment, but I decided to splurge this year and paid $12k for a 2016 Hyundai Sonata. That is both the most expensive and newest car I have ever owned, which says a lot about my car buying for the past 30ish years. So I would pay off that. I've also found myself ringing up credit cards during corona because I had three clients tell me they were cutting or cutting back on assignments. I've been very fortunate and still have a lot of cash in the bank, but I'm currently super nervous about it. So, pay that off. Call that a total of $20k; I'm scared to look up my credit card bills but that's probably not far off.
That leaves me with, what, $770k? Wow.
Alright, here's the easy part: I'd invest pretty much the rest. I'm 40 years old and there's a decent chance that I'll have another 20-30 years before I retire. Honestly, I could continue doing my job until I was 90 as long as my brain still works. I might move to dictating my articles at that point. But I do enjoy my job and would likely keep doing it after I "retire".
I can't put it all into retirement, of course. I'd probably put $100k into educational funds for each kid (x4). Maybe just $80k. I'd put it in a 529, which can be rolled to siblings or children. For my oldest two, right now, that money would just essentially be in a bank, because they are in college or about to be. My youngest, I'd invest it. My 3rd would depend on when I got the hypothetical check. While it would be nice for them to have that money later if they don't spend it all on college, I don't want to encourage them not to go to college (wow, I'd get $100k if I don't go!). And if that money is invested for 18 years for their kids, it would become a nice chunk of change. And hey, I could always use it myself for classes and the like if I decide to go back to school.
Now I'm down to $350k, basically. Most of that would go into retirement; I'd add a little more every year. But let's splurge: I'd take a nice vacation, maybe take my kids to Hawaii, which is beautiful, or scuba diving in the Keys, or on a cruise.
My goal, though, is to have more money when I retire than I do now. Which, considering my limited income, is not that hard to do. Right now, my dad is living off his pension and has something like $300k in his retirement that he doesn't intend to touch. His house is paid off. He doesn't do much because he's about as much as a homebody as I am - moreso, actually. At the very least, during my retirement, I'd like to spend time with my kids and grandkids. I say that I'd like to travel, but I'm a homebody so we'll see how it goes. One of my ex's uncles is doing pretty well and takes each of his grandkids on an individual vacation, just grandpa and me. He has seven kids, all married except maybe the youngest, so he has plenty of grandkids. I'd like to be able to do that. But at a minimum, I'd like to be involved with my kids and grandkids. My parents have been uber hands off, and I don't want to be like that. On the flip, I've had to be the "mean" parent while my ex spoils them rotten and makes everything easy for most of them, while I try to hold them accountable and actually punish them for stuff. So I'm looking forward to being a grandparent - though since my oldest is only a month shy of 19, not anytime soon!
It is sad and funny how much I enjoy mentally spending the money that I don't have lol.
|Complete the following sentence: When I’m in the mood to celebrate, nothing can stop me from_______
Um. I suppose I'm just not a big celebrator. Usually when something happens, I jump up and down like a loon, cheering and yelling and whatnot. So I guess that's the answer, nothing can stop me from acting like an idiot. Go figure.
We have our regular rituals. When it's not coronavirus season, we usually do birthday dinners out. We celebrated closing on the house with dinner out, as well. If I get a new contract or client, especially a major one, I do the previously described jumping up and down. I might hit up Dairy Queen for a Blizzard as well.
I'm interested to see what everyone else does to celebrate. The prompts from this month have made me realize how much of a shutin - or how old I'm getting - even when it isn't COVID, COVID everywhere.
|What is the most useless skill you have? The most valuable?
Well, there are a couple of potential skills that I could classify as most useless, but I'm going to go with everyone's favorite. I am an awesome World of Warcraft player, or at least, I was back in the day. A few years ago, I was playing in the top guild on our server, which admittedly wasn't much of an achievement. But at one point, we were in the top 1000 guilds in the US, back when there were several tens of thousands of guilds. I did all the research and put hours into it yo. I was killing it. I've sense stopped playing WoW and of course there have since been an expansion or two, so all of that skillset is gone.
As for my most valuable, I would say that was my focused intensity. I'm very goal oriented, and driven, and when I set my sites on something, I pursue it. That's what helped me get into freelance journalism. I was set to make it happen even when things are difficult. That sometimes is also a weakness, because I can tunnel on different interests and sometimes let things slide at times. But it also keeps me working towards my goals.
Although, I don't know. Maybe I should argue for my love of learning. It keeps me reading not only fiction but also nonfiction, and studying different topics. That might be stronger skill actually because there isn't much in the form of a negative. But I'm not sure it keeps me going as much as the original maniacal one.
|Write about something awkward or embarrassing that happened in public - it can be something that happened to you, or something you witnessed happen to somebody else. How did they react?
For the last few years, maybe a decade, I've been doing memory stuff. You've probably heard about memory palaces from shows like Sherlock and the Mentalist, among others. It seems to have been a thing. I picked it up from a friend of mine, and then subsequently read Moonwalking with Einstein, Josh Foer's book on how he went from someone who knew nothing about memory stuff to winning the championship. I've got a pretty good handle on it, and I'm good at memorizing random lists, magazines, and of course actual information that I want to save in my head, like the presidents of the US and the states from largest to smallest/state flowers/year they entered the Union. Best Actress winners. Fun things like that.
Anyway, I was at a singles conference a few years ago, and they were hosting a talent show. I thought it would be cool to have the audience develop a list of 20 random words that I would memorize on the spot. I practiced with my kids and felt comfortable with it. However, what I failed to take into account was the stage fright that would go with it.
I'm standing up on stage, having collected a list. The first one - I still remember this like 5 years later - was cookie. But then my brain froze, and I couldn't remember anything else. What I should have done - I realized once I was off stage - was make a joke about how the thought of a cookie distracted me and left to laughter. Instead, I just sort of fumbled my way off the stage and bawled like an idiot.
The worst part is that I had asked if the audience if they wanted me to repeat the list forwards or backwards. A friend of mine yelled out, "Just list the odd ones!". Then I realized that I had lost the list entirely and, subsequent embarrassment. Later, he came up to me and apologized; he felt really bad for throwing me off. And other people also told me that it was him that had thrown me. In both cases, I corrected them and reassured them that I should have been able to do it, it just went to fast. I told the guy that he could make it up to me and that the next year, we could do it again in the talent show and he could be my assistant in a fancy leotard! I actually think that having an assistant write the list on a chalkboard behind me could have helped because it would have given me a few more seconds to lock the image in my mind. But there was no talent show the following year, probably a good thing lol.