My year in writing: 2016 and the freelance writer life Also otherwise known as the career and year to give you conniptions

Following in the footsteps of Anna Spargo-Ryan, Jane Rawson (who wrote about reading habits but anyway), and Marlee Jane Ward, I have finally cobbled together my rundown of my year as a freelance writer. All the writing things! My work as a freelance writer is varied since it includes editing, journalism, creative work and other stuff.

It just occurred to me that I create a timeline for this post – et voila! I be fancy.

January

Colombo, Sri Lanka and radio and TV news production

I started off the year in Sri Lanka, working as a paid intern for Newsfirst Sri Lanka in broadcasting news, helping to write scripts, source information and edit footage and voiceovers for three stories every hour for twelve hours per shift, five days a week. Intense? Yes, at first. Doable? Definitely.

I liked the work, I liked the people but I didn’t like the working environment as much. Perhaps that comes standard with any workplace, perhaps it is down to the nature of the job and the constraints under which people have to operate to get the news out. I had a couple of amazing producers Ms Stephane Lazarus and Ms Charitha Fernando – thank you for all that you did to help me out and Ms Omaya Kovilagodage for the laughs.

I did come away with experience and skills in broadcast news production so that was exciting.

At the same time I started work on a freelance editing job that Hardie Grant Publishing got in touch with me about.

The book was a companion book to a self help book by Domonique Bertolucci called The Daily Promise. It was the first time I had ever edited a self help book but this was a light copy edit and it was extremely interesting to read the manuscript. I always feel like I get to know the author a bit when I read manuscripts.

February

Writing HIM and jetsetting to Sydney

I had finished the first draft of my novel Sedition (or so I had thought) so I started thinking about working on a new idea in my head. I had no idea if it would turn out to be a novella or a novel length piece or if indeed it would go anywhere. But I started writing.

A huge thank you to my thesis friday writing buddies because writing in a group with equally focused individuals helps me greatly. And Sedition would not be at first draft stage now if it wasn’t for you two.

In the meantime, I was also volunteering for MEAA (MEAA is the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance – the union for journalists basically) and I was asked to stand in for someone who could not attend the national meetings in Sydney and so come February, barely a week after I had landed back in Perth, I was flying again to go sit in on meetings.

I decided to put forward some ideas for diversity and creating links with editors in publishing and authors. Diversity wise, we got a clause inserted into the MEAA charter calling for equity in hiring, treating and working with diverse members of the profession in terms of gender, sexuality, ethnicity, nationality, disability and religion. The actual wording was a lot better and was hammered out by me during a tea break in proceedings with input from the Equity (ie the actors section) Diversity Committee people Pearl Tan and Bali Padda who seconded my proposal so my thanks to them.

It means I then get to go off and do things without asking for permission in order to increase diversity in the media.

Which then led me to resume chatting to a group of diverse writers online who were formulating what is now slowly becoming Diverse Writers of Australia.

March

Freelance writer…, wait, what?

I was excited to get back after my trip to Sydney but I had wrapped up the Hardie Grant gig and apart from volunteering for Australian Women Writers (and failing miserably half the time) and for MEAA and DWOA and writing HIM, there seemed to be no paid work to be found.

But I finally did get to meet Caroline Wood from the Centre for Stories and that was an interesting chat. I went to talk to her about DWOA and we ended up chatting about several other things.

April

HIM goes online

In April I put draft sections of HIM online for the mailing list only and briefly thought about trying to more short fiction and poetry as well but the truth was that I had not planned out my schedule around writing but around volunteering and trying to get freelance work or jobs so the most I could get done creative writing wise was probably just sections of HIM. I was too ambitious with my goals there.

And putting draft versions of HIM online wasn’t quite working – out of 210 odd people on my mailing list only 2 or 3 read bits of it – 1% engagement, yay! It wasn’t what my mailing list wanted to see. I’m still at a loss as to what you do want to see or why you signed up to my mailing list or subscribed to the blog so let me know in the comments and I will also send an email out asking you what you do want to see in 2017. Maybe a mailing list isn’t even the right place to talk to you?

May

And a client appears…

Out of nowhere, I got an email from someone working at a government department who had a contract position. They knew me via volunteering for MEAA.

I applied, said yes, and got a contract job for two months till the end of the financial year for 2015-16 and got some money coming in. I saved as much of it as I could and decided to spend a bit of it on getting driving lessons.

Yes, driving lessons. I left Sri Lanka at 18 and haven’t been back there since for longer than two months and the process of getting a licence there takes awhile. While I have been here in Australia, the cost of getting the licence has been prohibitive – I took the written test but I couldn’t afford to pay for lessons (they cost $60-$75 per hour)and didn’t have any friends who were free or able or willing to spend time and risk their cars initially to teach me. This year it kind of all came together.

Passing the practical test is now a goal of mine for early 2017 – it will increase my chances of getting reporting gigs at country papers and failing that, I will find a car and go around Australia, ABC Story Hunter style, finding untold stories to cover somehow.

My thanks to my initial instructor Shane and to Andrew and Jess for being generous with their cars.

June

Adulting 101 as a freelance writer

After almost eight years freelancing I got myself an accountant. He and I disagree on politics but half the time I think he does it just to wind me up. My work is relatively simple to sort out come tax time but with a big client on board, I wanted to hand it over to someone who knew what they were doing.

Look at me, adulting. I then went the whole hog and signed up with Rounded (which if you are an Aussie freelancer, you should also do – tell them I sent you and you get an extra month free via that link and there is a discount option for MEAA members). Rounded is an online accounting app that does invoices and quotes and time tracking and is simple to use and is tailored for Australian freelancers. I am looking forward to giving my accountant all the info come next tax time.

June was also when I saw a lot of jobs come up at the Centre for Stories and so I applied. I didn’t get any of them but it paid off later. And I got to help out my friends behind the scenes for Democracy Sausage during the Australian Federal Election which was very exciting.

And then I got to write an op-ed piece on Brexit for the Daily FT in Sri Lanka. I love the Daily FT because they are very supportive of my work and the editor eternally hopes that I will come back to Sri Lanka and start writing for them. I don’t get that sort of response from any editor in Australia so I constantly wonder if perhaps I should up sticks and move back.

I also wrote this piece on an attack on a Perth mosque.

July

Shut up, it’s my birthday…

I did nothing in July. At least nothing I could remember. I waited on a few clients after querying them, did a lot of praying and applied to a lot of jobs.

It was a frantic month as I realised that Sedition wasn’t as done as I thought it was. I had missed the deadlines for Vogel and TAG Hungerford but not for the Dorothy Hewitt Award so I sat down and frantically went through the so called first draft fixing it up and organising chapters and finally submitting it. I have a very patient partner – thank you darling.

I realised then that I needed an editor for Sedition to help me pinpoint what didn’t work and what needed rewriting. Yes, I do this for other people but I was now too close to my own work to do it for myself.

It was July as well when the Centre for Stories got in touch with me and asked me to mentor a short story writer. They held a competition for African-Australian writers and the winners each got a mentor and they decided to let me be a mentor and had secured a grant to pay me. I was over the moon.

To add to that, I also got an email from the President of the Foreign Correspondents’ Association. They needed someone to work on their website. I signed a contract to have them as a regular client, invoicing them twice a year.

It was around July or August that former President of the Society of Editors (WA) and self appointed surrogate mother Robin Bower asked me to edit her self published book Senses of Paris – a travel memoir piece with illustrations by her friend Christine Vanderburgh.

August

Workshops

In August, I finally managed to organise a pitching workshop for the MEAA freelance writer members that was a great success. The award winning freelance writer Kerry Faulkner ran it and we all had great fun – thanks Kerry for being so generous with your time and knowledge.

We also ran a day for students who got to hear from employers and recent graduates on how to get into paid work and what they needed to do. I filmed both sessions at Curtin Uni for MEAA.

DWOA had been put on hold momentarily as several people attended to life and health issues. A conversation was needed about what to do and who would do it.

In August, I was told who my mentee would be and it was the amazing Taku Mbduzi, who globe trots as well and now calls me Magic Marisa. She was overseas at the time so we had to chat over Skype initially and work didn’t begin till September.

I also wrote a piece for another content agency but photos were delayed as trying to get credits for who took them was difficult. I decided that it was my fault this didn’t occur on time and waived the fee. If I don’t deliver fully and professionally as a freelance writer, I don’t get paid. Simple.

I also filmed the launch of Margaret River Press’ Short Story Anthology for 2016 which my friend Emily Paull had a piece in. Emily also later offered to edit Sedition but wanted to wait till her coursework for her degree was done. I agreed – Emily is pretty cool.

September

Anticipation and disappointment

I had spent several months waiting to find out if a major client wanted me to work with them again. By September I was sure the answer was no even though I had no official say so – various people had gone on leave.

In the meantime I had to start work with Taku on her short story. We met almost every week for several weeks fleshing out characters with me asking several very annoying questions and trying to be as gentle as possible.

It can be very confronting the first time you work with an editor on your work – even I get nervous about sending my creative writing out to others. Until you get used to it, I think it’s best to not get that criticism face to face but at a distance so you can spend ten minutes panicking in private before coming around and understanding what they are saying to you and why and the fact that they may have a point. I learned a lot about being a freelance writer, mentor and editor from working with Taku who even when she had to face a hard question or idea was still eager to learn and take things on and admit that perhaps she had not got something right. I admire her for that quality – it’s a hard thing to be gracious about something you are attached to like that.

October

Something official and something surprising…

I had my hands full. I had put my hand up to judge the Arthur Lovekin Award for the second time in a row which is given to the best piece of journalism work done within the past year in WA. The awards were coming up, the Sunday Times was being bought out by the West causing all sorts of tension and worrying in the industry and we had just started running photography workshops for the freelance writer members thanks to Aaron Bunch’s generosity. Thanks Aaron!

And I learnt to not worry about waiting for clients but to go pursue other clients anyway because I finally got a definite official no for now response from the client I had been waiting on. You’d think I would know better by now but apparently not.

In October, activists invited me to the vigil for Khodayar Amini.

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Marisa Wikramanayake

I had also written this piece on the Fremantle fireworks which got me a shared byline on WA Today.

Out of the blue, an agency approached me with some rewriting work. I had been referred to them by someone at Hardie Grant that I had never even met. I still need to send him flowers or something to say thanks. Over two weeks I rewrote 45 pieces and added in SEO and sent them off.

I also filmed bits of the inaugural Australian Short Story Festival for Australian Women Writers, said hi again to Will Yeoman, met a few new writer friends and dashed off to film Robin Bower’s launch of her book Senses of Paris (with Christine Vanderburgh) at the Bonjour Festival all on the same day.

November

Wrapping things up

Come November, I wasn’t entirely sure I was going to be in Sri Lanka at Christmas. I wanted to stay in Perth and try and get more work and more clients set up for 2017. I wanted to pitch more, organise myself more, have more of a plan for things, spend more time with the cat.

The highlight was being part of the Digital Writers Festival for 2016. I had applied back in June in response to a tweet from Jane Howard and had forgotten about it and then suddenly I was involved in not one but two sessions. It is a completely online festival and I got to meet cool new writers. There were technical difficulties and my camera and laptop wants to die when it is more than two people chatting but here are the two sessions and me getting too excited in the preview. Thank you to Jane for having me and being so patient with my tech issues.

Taku had finally got a great short story all ready to go and I sent off my invoice to the Centre for Stories and Taku got ready to move to Melbourne. Melbourne!

I also went to the launch for David Whish-Wilson’s new book Old Scores. I think part of being a freelance writer is about supporting other writers and I bumped into so many people I had not seen in years. And David is a darling. And his book is great – review coming soon.

The DWOA website got handed over to me and Aicha Marfour in London and I will let people know how that is going. There was a tentative start to DWOA writing groups which will restart in 2017 and will probably take on more of an online format.

Discussions had been held at national MEAA level on my proposals to link up with editors and authors so I was happy that some of what I was proposing was being considered.

I had not won the Dorothy Hewitt Award or been shortlisted so it was back to the drawing board of what to do with Sedition. Emily Paull could no longer edit it and I needed a new editor.

But I had no more clients and no more work so I was wondering what exactly to do. I decided to come back to Sri Lanka for a month and meet up with family and keep pitching and applying for jobs while I was overseas.

December

Surprises… so many surprises

Before I left there were more surprises in store for me. I had been thinking about vlogging my life because I wanted to keep myself more accountable, I wanted people to stop thinking I did nothing at all just because they couldn’t see it or weren’t interested in engaging with it and I wanted to practice video editing and speaking to camera.

So I started and the day I started I went to the Society of Editors WA Christmas Lunch. I have been involved with them for years and that day marked the day they were becoming a branch of the national organisation and being folded into them. It was a change for the better but also the end of an era. But I met someone there who wanted to become a regular client of mine. And I was flying overseas in two days!

I then also got an email from that former major client saying that there could be work in 2017 – I will have to see if this does happen but I have learnt now not to depend on it till there is a contract that I have signed. In the meantime I have to get more clients, pitch more and just write more.

I went to a meeting about MEAA related things and got a list of things that we can do in the coming year for freelance writers which will be amazingly cool. I pitched to a client and got rejected. I sent off article pitches to places and I took a week off from pitching once I got into Colombo in order to get settled and go on a family trip to Jaffna but I even met someone last night that could end up with me having a few stories out.

I have so far tried to do some planning and have realised that I have three novel projects and one play for 2017 plus hopefully an insane amount of short stories to send out. I have applied to Emerging Writers Festival and will be applying to the Brisbane IPEd Editors Conference and any other festival or conference I can think of. I have applied for some pretty cool part time jobs and am slated to do some weird work experience stuff for HR at the PCYC head office in Perth as well.

I have swapped around my duties at Australian Women Writers as well so expect more changes from that end.

At some point I will write a post about what I plan to do in 2017 but for now I think I should shut up, I have written enough. 😉


Marisa is a globetrotting freelance writer, journalist and editor with cat for hire (her, not the cat). She is usually based in Perth but is currently flouncing around in Sri Lanka for a month. Hire her here.

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