Freelance Writing: What’s love got to do with it?

It’s Valentine’s Day. If you’re paired up, congratulations! Hopefully you’re happy, and your Valentine will spoil you with a token of their appreciation – whether it’s a card, a box of chocolates, flowers, a fancy night out, or a fun night in.

I don’t have a Valentine, so I thought I’d mark the day by sharing a few thoughts about something I do love: words.

Love

After 15 years writing for a living, I still love words! 

2019 marks 15 years since I graduated from J-school and launched my career as a freelance journalist.

It’s hard to believe that in 2004 Facebook was in it’s infancy.  Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube and Snapchat had yet to be launched, and mobile phones were simply used to make calls. Today, we carry the world in our pocket and spend far too much time worrying about our virtual life.

The media landscape has also changed beyond recognition since 2004. In fact, my alma matter – Western University – no longer offers an MA in journalism. It’s been replaced by a Master of Media in Journalism & Communication , which is an interesting commentary on the blurring of the lines between actual journalism and PR.

Somehow I’ve manage to write continuously through all the upheaval.

Like any job, there are days that seem to drag on forever. But overall, I feel incredibly lucky to be able to do what I do. So in honour of Saint Valentine, here are three reasons why I’m still in love with freelance writing:

The variety.
I’ve written about everything from cheese to concrete. I’ve interviewed farmers, CEOs, artists, researchers, and the odd politician. Some weeks I’ll be working on a magazine article (or two), website copy, and social media posts for several different clients. Every day is different.

Some projects may be less exciting than others, but the brain-numbing ones won’t last forever and a great story may be just around the corner.

The flexibility.
I started a full-time communications job the day after I graduated from J-school. I was also a regular contributor to several different local publications – which have all since folded or eliminated their freelance budgets.

Once my son was born I made the decision to leave the 9-to-5. At the time, it didn’t make sense to return to work just to pay for day care.

I’ve been extremely fortunate that my freelance income never had to pay the bills. But it always provided me with my own money and a connection to the outside world.

I’ve worked early in the morning and late at night. I’ve brought my laptop to the hockey rink and to the beach. I’ve done interviews from my car (parked, of course!) Last summer was the first time I closed my office for an official vacation. No one fired me – and I’m doing it again this year.

The ability to set my own hours and control my work load is one of the big advantages of working freelance. I wouldn’t trade this flexibility for the world.

The opportunity to learn.
Writing a wide variety of copy for so many different clients means that I now know a little about a lot of different things. This career path definitely takes an open mind and a willingness to learn!

I’ve also learned a lot about the art of writing over the past 15 years.

When I went to school, I studied journalism. It was a great foundation. I was taught how to research, interview, fact-check, and tell stories. But it quickly became clear that freelance journalism was not where the better-paying jobs were at.

So, I learned about PR, corporate communications and copywriting. I read books, attended seminars, and took online courses. And guess what? I discovered that I enjoy this type of writing too. And people seemed to enjoy working with me.

Today, I’m still learning. I’m currently enrolled in two online courses and I’m sure I’ll take many more. As the world of corporate communications and journalism evolves, I want my skills to keep up. And besides, it’s fun.

So  from this grateful freelance writer to you – Happy Valentine’s Day! What do you love about your job?

Nicole Laidler is the owner of Spilled Ink Writing & Wordsmithing. She’s passionate about helping people tell their stories, build their brands, and grow their success one word at a time. Visit her website to see what she’s been writing lately! 

 

The top 3 of 2018

If you follow my blog, you may recall that 2018 was my “Year of Momentum.” And the last 12 months have indeed been a time of tremendous change.

I’m officially a free woman, successfully organized a meaningful and joy-filled bar mitzvah for my son, and shifted my mindset from being a mom-who-also-writes to being a mom-who-also-runs-her-own-business.

I have an accountant, a CMS, and an HST number. I’ve grown the copywriting side of my business and discovered that I actually enjoy writing website copy and (ghost) blogs. And while this shift means I have fewer bi-lines to share, it was still a challenge to narrow down my top-three favourite stories of 2018.

Here they are, in no particular order:

William Older
I actually got to write two stories about William Older for London Inc. magazine in 2018, and I’m sure I could write a dozen more. Originally from England, he purchased London’s long-neglected Lilley’s Corners in June 2017 with a plan to reinvigorate the entire block.

William Older - Photo London Inc Magazine

William Older at Lilley’s Corners. Photo: London Inc. 

I drive past this corner several times a week on the way to the hockey rink. At some point I noticed the sidewalks were being kept clean. Then the exterior was painted. I decided to do some digging, which led to this story about Older’s vision for an arts and small business incubator.

I watched the space develop over the summer, and by the fall I was able to write a follow-up, which you can read here.

As a long-time Londoner, it’s inspiring to meet someone like Older. He may not be one of the “big boys” in the local development community, but he’s been able to bring about a big change in a neighbourhood that’s been ignored for too long. I’m looking forward to seeing what he will do next!

The Old Stone House
This is another story about part of our local history. In this case the subject was an old stone house built by two brothers who emigrated to Lucan-Biddulph in the mid-1800s.

Old Stone House

If these stones could talk! 

An assignment for Our Homes London & Middlesex magazine, it’s not hard journalism. But it was fascinating to peek behind the doors of an original Ontario farmhouse and to see how its current owners – descendants of the builder – managed to bring the space into the 21st-century while respecting the past.

You can read about the transformation of the old stone house here.

Rick Gleed – Back to School
I first met Rick Gleed almost 20 years ago. He’s one of the most successful commercial real estate brokers in the region. So when he decided to go back to school for an EMBA at the age of 64 I thought: “That might be a fun story for the Ivey alumni magazine.”

intouch-rick-spring-2018

Rick Gleed. Photo: Ivey Intouch magazine

The editor agreed and I had the pleasure of interviewing Rick about his decision to step back into the classroom after 47 years.

Intrigued? You can read my story here.

A theme emerges
Now that I’m writing this blog, I notice a common link between my top-three of 2018. They are all about individuals with incredible vision, courage, and dedication.

And speaking of vision, I recently wrote my business plan for 2019. One of my goals is to blog on a monthly basis. I guess we’ll see how that goes!

For now, I wish you all hope, peace, and joy  – whatever you celebrate.

 

Saying ‘yes’ to women supporting women.

A while back I was invited to be part of a November 1 fashion show in support of Kellee Student Education Foundation Africa (KSEFA) – a volunteer organization that offers educational support for women in South Sudan and Nairobi, Kenya.

FAshion Forward

I’ll be walking the catwalk for this SOLD OUT fashion fundraiser.

As part of my commitment to say ‘yes’ to opportunities that come my way, I agreed. But being a journalist, I wanted to learn more about KSEFA and the women it supports.

Turns out, the organization has ties to my home town thanks to a friendship that developed between Kellee Jacobs and KSEFA founder Lino Madut Angok. Kellee is the daughter of London-based image and style consultant, Sue Jacobs.

Kellee and Madut

Lino Madut Angok and Kellee Jacobs.

Kellee is currently living in Nairobi where she works as a monitoring and evaluation specialist for the UN’s International Organization for Migration (IOM). We recently connected by email so I could learn more about how our evening of style will help women half-way around the world.

KSEFA doesn’t have a website. Can you tell me a bit about the initiative?
KSEFA was founded in Nairobi in 2010, but began operations under Lino  in 2012. The program supports the education of women aged 24-40 from South Sudan who may not have had access to learning. It also offers technical training, including sewing and tailoring. There are also elements of peace programming, a focus on women and youth, and counseling and coaching of what is sometimes a traumatized group.

KSEFA is registered as a non-government organization in South Sudan and is awaiting registration in Kenya. The cost of registration in Kenya is quite high, so any available funds have previously been prioritized for actual educational programming. With funds coming in soon, Lino hopes to be able to continue classes and pay the registration and legal fees for the formalization of KSEFA in Kenya.

How did you meet Lino?
Lino was a student at Sud Academy in Nairobi, a school originally for South Sudanese refugees who cannot afford school fees in the Kenyan school system. I met him there in 2008 when he was in the equivalent of Grade 11. We spent three years working together at the school to develop small, high-impact projects like building a science lab, creating a sustainable water access and purification system, and a scholarship program that allows students in Grade 12 to join a neighbouring school for their final year so they can graduate with diplomas.

How will the November 1 fundraiser help support KSEFA? 
All of the funds raised in London will support two learning locations helping South Sudanese migrants and refuges living in Nairobi, Kenya

With the funds raised, Lino would like to be able to provide small incentives to volunteer teachers at each location, as well as pay some small fees to the churches where classes take place. He will also purchase school supplies like chalk, pencils and books to be shared by the students.

Tell me a bit about the women who are supported by KSEFA.
Many have come to Nairobi from the refugee camps in northern Kenya. Others have come directly from South Sudan, displaced by the last 5 years of war and economic collapse in their country.

These women are interested in learning to help support themselves day-to-day in a fast paced urban environment – at the supermarket, with documents they are required to understand, on immigration and legal issues. They need to have a basic understanding of literacy, English, numbers, math, and their rights. This school is not a formal education centre that teaches the full Kenyan curriculum, but rather a stop-gap that provides otherwise unavailable opportunities to give people the knowledge they need in order to survive.

Lino teaching

KSEFA teaches literacy and math skills to help women in their day-to-day lives.

Of course, I’m not the only local entrepreneur involved in this fashion fundraiser. In fact, I’m honoured to be in the company of such an amazing group of sponsors and participants:

Sponsors2

Check out these incredible sponsors! 

We all owe Sue Jacobs and Allison Stephens a huge THANK YOU for being the driving force behind this amazing opportunity! Keep an eye on my Facebook page for photos….coming soon!

 

Stepping away to move forward

A few months back, I delcared 2018 my year of momentum. And now that I’ve reached the half-way point I can definitely say that this year is indeed shaping up to be one of momentous change.

On the work front, I continue to write for many of the same clients who have kept me busy since 2004. I’ve also forged new connections that are stretching my writing skills and expanding my accumulation of random knowledge. I still love my job and feel grateful to work with such a wide range of interesting people who seem to genuinely appreciate my way with words.

Since January, I’ve had the opportunity to do two speaking engagements. And I just rented a desk in a funky co-working space where I plan to finally get to work on a book project that’s been percolating for the past few years.

BakersWall

A funky wall for a funky co-working space.

I’m now confident that I made the right decision to focus on growing my freelance business rather than trying to enter the traditional work world when my marriage fell apart almost two years ago.

On the personal front, I’ve experienced the love and support of family and friends – both old and new. I’ve had the pleasure of being able to open up my home and feel that I am starting to build a community of people who care.

I’ve also started to take better care of my physical, mental, and spiritual health. For me, that includes finally having the courage to take time away from the office.

As a life-long freelancer, not working can feel scary.

Unlike a salaried worker who can occasionally get away with daydreaming on the job, if I’m not producing, I’m not being paid. In the past, I’ve always brought projects along with me whether I was traveling overseas or just to the (former) family cottage. Over the last 14 years, there has rarely been a day that didn’t include some sort of research or writing.

That stopped this year, when I made a commitment to myself to take one week off in June, July and August.

Last month, I took advantage of a child-free week and flew to New York.

Me and Klimt

Me and Adele Bloch-Bauer, at Neue Galerie. (The original is upstairs – no photos allowed.)

I was joined by a friend and we spent five days exploring. We went gallery hopping – the Guggenheim, Neue Galerie, MoMA, Cooper Hewitt, New Museum , – stumbled upon a Damien Hirst exhibition in Chelsea, and I discovered my new favourite perfume which was kindly shipped back to Canada since the bottle was too large for hand luggage.

Beach

And then – the beach!

Last week, my son and I escaped to a rental cottage on the shores of Lake Huron.  I think I must be a beach bum at heart, because sun, sand, and time spent with friends who came up to visit felt like my first real vacation in ages.

So – what did I learn from my time off?

  • Clients (old and new) are willing to work around your vacation plans.
  • I still love traveling as much as I did in my 20s, and it’s something I want to do more of.
  • I can more-or-less navigate the NYC subway system.
  • Beach time is good for my soul.

Today I’m back at the keyboard with several projects on-the-go. I am not sure what adventure August will bring, but I feel refreshed and ready to embrace the second half of 2018.

How’s your summer shaping up?

Speaking about words….

A few years ago I ditched the traditional New Year’s resolution for a list of business goals. Then, I wrote them down and taped them to my office wall.

One of my goals for 2018 was to branch out into speaking. And, as we reach the mid-point of the year it’s kind of cool to realize that I’ve already had two opportunities to put my speaking skills to the test.

Even more amazing? I got to talk about two completely different writing-related topics!

In January I was invited to join international speaker and branding expert Joie Gharrity and local image consultant Susan Jacobs as a spotlight speaker at an event called Set Your Intention, Embrace Your WOW Factor, and Grow Your Success.

Speaking

That’s me – centre – with Joie Gharrity (bottom left) and Susan Jacobs (bottom right).

The duo seemed to think I had something valuable to offer and they weren’t phased by the fact that I’d never actually gotten up in front of an audience before. So, I decided to say ‘yes’ to the opportunity.

After giving some thought about the learning Joie and Susan would be sharing with the audience, I put together a 30-minute presentation called Style Your Copy.

My intention? To help participants overcome their fear of a blank page, identify and embrace their unique voice, and learn how to tell a compelling story across multiple mediums.

It turns out that I actually had quite a bit of advice to share. Several women in the room told me they were going home to re-write their websites. Wow!

Last week, women’s empowerment coach Tasha Hughes and I finally tested the waters with our first Women’s Playminar.

Tasha opened the morning event with yoga, meditation, and journaling.

Then I spoke about the power of the personal narrative. I shared my own story and invited the small group of women to put their pens to paper to see if a more structured writing exercise would trigger any revelations. And it did!

The morning wrapped up with artist Annette Dutton leading us through a guided paint tour where we created a story canvas to take home.

Playminar

Annette, Tasha, Ann, and me – with our story canvases.

So, what have I learned from these first steps into speaking?

  • After 14 years in the writing business, I actually know quite a lot about the power of words. And it’s knowledge that I am happy to share.
  • I can figure out Power Point.
  • I can get up in front of a room full of people and speak coherently. (I may even be able to make people laugh.)
  • I enjoy helping people overcome their fear of writing and it’s something I want to do more of.

And finally:

  • Writing down your goals and keeping them in sight actually works!

If you’d like to learn more about my speaking services, check out my website!

 

My top 3 stories of 2017

The last 12 months have been a whirlwind. I’ve been fortunate to have enjoyed a steady stream of work, which has given me the opportunity to write about everything from the Canadian fin tech sector to dairy farming in Oxford County.

Along the way, I’ve had the privilege of interviewing some amazing individuals doing some amazing things. That’s made it difficult to pick my favourite stories of 2017 – but after much consideration, here are the three that made a lasting impression:

Roads to reconciliation
(United Church Observer magazine, November 2017)

I don’t remember when I first learned about Canada’s residential school system, but I know it wasn’t at school. And I’ve written stories on First Nations issues in the past where my sources were wary about sharing their stories with a reporter.

geraldine robertson - photo Dwayne Cloes

Geraldine Robertson shares her experiences as a survivor of Canada’s residential school system. Photo: Dwayne Cloes

Geraldine Robertson had no such hesitation. A survivor of the residential school system, she has worked tirelessly to educate her own community and Canadians in general about the abuses suffered by generations of First Nations children.

(In case you think she must live ‘way up North’ – Geraldine is a member of Aamjiwnaang First Nation in Sarnia. That’s less than an hour from my front door.)

This year, Robertson and two fellow survivors shared their residential school experiences in a documentary film called “We Are Still Here,” which led to my assignment for The United Church Observer magazine.

It can be difficult to interview people about traumatic events, but Geraldine answered my questions thoroughly and thoughtfully. She also posed a few questions of her own, which made me see the legacy of the residential school system in a new light.

You can read my story here  and view the documentary ‘We Are Still Here.’   It should be screened in every Canadian school.

The Peacemaker
(Ivey In Touch, September 2017)

I was excited – and a bit nervous – when Ivey Business School asked me to write a profile of Frank Pearl for their alumni magazine.

Frank Pearl

Frank Pearl studied at Ivey Business School before returning to Colombia. (Photo: Facebook)

After all, it’s not every day that I get to interview a peace negotiator.  And like most Canadians, I have a limited understanding of Colombia’s long-standing civil war.

Luckily, it took a few weeks to arrange the interview so I had plenty of time to research and prepare my questions – which I hoped would provide readers with some insight into Pearl as a person, Ivey grad, and peace broker.

Often people who are in high profile positions have received tons of media training, which doesn’t always make for the most interesting quotes. So when I finally reached Pearl at his home I was relieved and delighted that he spoke with such candor about both his role in the Colombian peace process and his time in Canada.

I even had to ask my editor if she could stretch the original word-count. (Which she did!)

You can read my story here.

The Art in a Deal
(London Inc., June 2017)

I first met Marla Marnoch at an event at The ARTS Project in downtown London sometime during the summer of 2016. I think we may have been the only people in the room without visible tattoos, so of course we got to talking.

Marla mentioned her concept of marrying social enterprise, real estate transactions and community building – and I immediately thought “That’s something I need to keep an eye on.”

Almost 12 months later, Marla launched earmark.ca, I pitched and wrote a story, and as an added bonus I made a new friend!

Marla Marnoch earmark

Marla Marnoch (far right) building our community through her social enterprise real estate initiative, earmark.ca (Photo: Facebook)

Marla’s enthusiasm for London and her ability to bring her vision to life make this story one of my top 3 picks of the year.

You can read my story here.

So, what’s up for 2018?

I’ve already got a few new assignments lined up for January, as well as a small speaking engagement – so I’m looking forward to the year ahead. I’ll also be starting work on a book that I’ve been thinking about for several years now…stay tuned!

If you’d like to keep up with what I’m writing, follow my Facebook page or visit my website.  And if you’ve got a story idea, or need a freelance writer – please drop me a line!

In the meantime, thanks for reading my blog – and Best Wishes for 2018!

 

 

 

 

 

12 Months of Transition

I dubbed 2017 my “Year of Transition.” And as I mark 12 months since my separation, I can honestly say that life as I know it is almost completely different from what it was a year ago. It hasn’t always been easy, but everything I’ve gone through has given me the opportunity to grow.

change-948024_1920

For me, 2017 was a year of incredible change….

So, since it’s the season of lists, here are 12 things that I’ve learned during my first year as a single mom:

  1. I can make great decisions in high-stress situations.
  2. I can use a snake to unplug a sink.
  3. I can rise above negative situations. (If you’re surrounded by drama, try it sometime!)
  4. I can choose my mood. (see #3)
  5. Mom was right. Your reputation counts.
  6. I can assemble a hockey net – even if it takes three days!
  7. I can write more words in a month than I previously believed possible.
  8. I have a great poker face. (see #3 & #4)
  9. Simple things can make me very happy.
  10. I may be middle-aged, but I can still learn new things.
  11. Not everyone who is friendly is your friend. (But don’t take it personally!)
  12. Girlfriends (and male friends) who make you laugh are the best.
Railway

It’s full steam ahead for 2018….

I have dubbed 2018 my “Year of Momentum.” After the free-fall of 2017, I feel like my feet are back on the ground and that I’m on the right path forward.

Who’s coming along for the ride?