When I started out as a freelancer, I over-researched pretty much everything. I would spend hours researching a particular topic for a query letter. Then, if the piece was assigned (and if it wasn't, then all of that time was pretty much wasted), I'd over-research some more. I'd do background reading, identify way too many potential sources, line up interviews, and conduct interviews. Usually too many interviews. Trust me, you don't need to interview four sources for a 300-word piece. But yeah, I did that.
Today, I've gotten smart. Or you might say lazy. Probably both. But in general, I do the least amount of work necessary
to research a piece and complete an assignment. If I'm writing a piece on "mommy guilt," for example, I don't need to read books on the psychology of mothers, the working mom vs. SAHM debate, or on the changing role that parents play in society. I can get by a lot less than that and I do. In this article's case, that meant:
- locating and interviewing a parenting/psychology expert (maybe two) who could talk about why moms feel guilty; and
- locating and interviewing two Chicago-area moms who could talk about their experiences with mommy guilt. (This was for Chicago Parent, so I wanted to use local sources.)
That's it. My story of 1,330 words was based on four interviews, each of which took less than fifteen minutes to conduct (and write a thank-you note afterwards). Including background research to identity and locate my sources, I spent less than two hours researching the story, and another hour or two writing it.
In the past, though, I would have gone online, read about mommy guilt for hours (and then probably feel guilty for spending too much time working!), talked to at least a half-dozen potential sources before I felt that I had the "best" anecdotes, and generally done a lot of unnecessary work. As a working writer with limited time, I've learned to do the least amount possible to make a story work.
So today's Hot Freelance Tip of the Day is: Say, "Enough, Already."
(See Secret 28, Find facts and experts fast, and Secret 36, Find sources more quickly, from Writer for Hire: 101 Secrets to Freelance Success
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