Archive for the ‘Freelance journalism’ Category

It all started when I was climbing the conning tower of the UK’s latest nuclear submarine.  Yes – you’ve guessed it. HMS Astute. My knee not so much gave way as disappeared out of my leg completely.  And that was it – over twenty years of freelance journalism and poor workplace ergonomics (I work from home) were catching up with me. Musculo-skeletal disorders were rearing their pretty ugly heads. Along with a rather peculiar form of adrenaline-aversion which is triggered particularly by deadlines. And deadlines – as we all know – are an essential tool in journalistic productivity.

‘No work’ was not an option and ‘Less desk-bound work’ and ‘using my expertise’ were imperatives.  And – with unusual foresight as opposed to journalistic crisis management – I just happened some time ago to have taken a coaching course. So now, I was able to re-jig my career – for the fourth time if you include motherhood.

I still do occasional medical journalism assignments and I’m working on a series of short stories and a novel.  But, since 2005, when I founded the Lonely Furrow Company, a new world has opened up. Trained in co-active coaching, NLP and transactional analysis, I am now a writing coach.

As a result, clients ask for my help with projects ranging from novels to academic theses. And tricky but common writing coaching problems  include writers’ block, time management and work life balance, where to find ideas, how to handle feedback and how to write a book proposal.

But, it doesn’t stop there. I improve people’s communication skills – personal and professional – by drawing on my eclectic knowledge of literature and my Masters in Sociolinguistics. Communication impacts on human relationships and the simple equation is: better communication skills = better relationships. Of course, other aspects such as shared values and a GSH help. But communication contributes here too.

Within the Lonely Furrow Company stable, there is also the workshop facilitation service, Out of the Box Workshops. Some workshops on offer embrace creative writing for personal development – such as memoir writing and journaling – writing coaching, creativity and opportunities for peer review. Others deal with media coaching issues such as how to write a winning press release or how to give a good account of yourself, your work and your organisation when interviewed by the media. Other presentations deal with corporate interests such as the role of communication in leadership and team building and yet more, deal with the highly-charged areas of family breakdown and healthcare.

And I am a storyteller. I use story to help people reflect on their personal and professional lives. And I train others in the use of story. Clients for these workshops range from healthcare workers to family lawyers to organisational leaders.

In fact, put simply, I tell stories for a living and help others to do the same. And this – in the brave new world of the economic downturn – is what retirement means.

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In July, three Out of the Box Writing Workshops are due to run  – led by published writer Elizabeth Gates MA.

July 2nd               Finding your voice

This is the holy grail of the writer’s art and craft. And, in this workshop, we’ll look at the elements of word and phrase, content and theme. You will then be able to tell the stories that matter to you in your own way.

July 9th                Memoir and Journaling

Have you or members of your family kept journals? Do you want to start?  This workshop will teach you: how to write, how to organise your materials, and how to do justice to the materials others have left you.

These Creative Writing workshops will take place at The Conservatory, 28 Park West, Heswall, Wirral CH60 9JF (10am – 12.30pm). Cost is £20 per participant. For further information, please contact Elizabeth on 0151 342 3877 or email elizabeth@lonelyfurrowcompany.com

July 20th               Style – academic, blogging and journalism. You’re an expert. You want to reach a wider audience but how do you do this? Articles on the Internet or in print could be the answer. But you must adapt your academic style to these other media. And this workshop will teach you how.

Unless otherwise stated, all professional development and communication Out of the Box workshops will take place at The Conservatory, 28 Park West, Heswall, Wirral CH60 9JF (1pm – 3.30pm). Cost is £25 per participant. For further information or to book an in-house workshop for your organisation, please contact Elizabeth on 0151 342 3877 or email elizabeth@lonelyfurrowcompany.com

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You may want to produce evocative memoir or convert those holiday jottings into cash. Either way, writing is play with a purpose, when you’re travelling.

  1. Write down ideas in an ideas book or your all-important Writer’s Notebook. Idea-collecting requires an open mind.  Look out always for the unique and the strange.
  2. Think of angles for each idea. Take for example working out in a gym abroad. What are the equipment differences? Are there language problems? Do people have different goals or objectives in different countries? What are the cultural differences such as separate gyms for different genders and age groups?
  3. Consider who your audience is. Are you writing to inform customers, gym staff or investors/backers?  Slant the material. For example, if the latter, you’ll need statistics and figures (costs, benefits, turnover etc) here.
  4. Identify the magazines which may want the idea.  Analyse style (formal/familiar), whether they use anecdotes or academic-style case studies, length of article (ie 500- 600 words up to 2-3000 words).  Choose which style you think fits in with you ie. Have you only time to produce a 500 word piece with one picture or would you like to produce a more in-depth study with detail photos to illustrate? Remember photos double sales.  People photos are preferable to photos of equipment without people.
  5. Interviews. Ask: who (correctly spelled name)? How old?  Where do they come from? What are their training and qualifications (if relevant)? Where – location? When (within last few months – no longer than 12 months)? What is this person doing which is special/unusual/unique? If a service, what does it cost? If you are looking at a new/unique equipment/method – what is the cost? Availability? How to access?  What’s good about it?   What’s bad about it?  What’s different from something similar in the UK about it?
  6. Write up in sentences approximately 18 words long in paragraphs approximately four lines long. And write a first paragraph – summarising story.  (This is the Standfirst)
  7. Think of a Title (Make this attention-grabbing, pointing up the essentials and/or targeting your audience.)

These guidelines work through one example. Now think about your own.

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I KEEP six honest serving-men
(They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who.

These are journalist’s questions, taken from journalist Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories. As a modern journalist, I would usually add a seventh. ‘How much?’ is a question on everyone’s lips, these days.

But it’s worth contrasting these ‘closed’ questions – which elicit information – with a coach’s questions. The open questions used by coaches, followed by a safe silence, allow the coachee to open up their own thinking about a subject.

As a journalist and a coach, I use both kinds of questions in journalism but, when coaching, I use only open questions.  In fact it was a matter of some pride for me when, training as a coach, I managed an hour’s coaching session without a single ‘closed’ question.  It was liberating for the client. And also in that instance, for me.

But coaches who wish to try their hands at freelance journalism – and there are many – should be wary of using the open question too liberally. Too many open questions will keep you in the interviewee’s hair for far too long – to your mutual irritation. Remember the purpose of interviewing is to elicit information. Closed questions achieve this. When acting as a journalist, it is not in your remit to help the interviewee envisage their future!

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Hello, everyone!

Freelance Journalism comes in many forms. I should know. I’ve been a freelance journalist since 1985, writing for national and regional newspapers and magazines – a wide portfolio – and I can tell you, although the audience may vary, the skill set is clearly-defined. So, for some time now, I’ve been running a series of freelance journalism skills’ workshops. And, for those of you close enough to Heswall, here is a call to action for an information-packed and exhilarating Out of the Box Workshop placed firmly in that series.

The subject of this workshop – due to take place at The Conservatory, 28 Park West, Heswall, Wirral, CH60 9JF, on December 1st 1.30pm – 4.30pm (cost £15) – will be Interviewing Skills. Whatever your subject and whatever your angle, if you want to freelance, at some point you will have to interview someone. This could be a nerve-wracking experience in itself. And – even worse – the next question will be: ‘How do I handle the masses of material I’ve generated?’  This workshop will offer you a practical survival guide.

Subsequent workshops – taking place on the first Wednesday of each month – will include topics such as self-publication, press releases, sourcing ideas and many more. Please see this Blog   for more details.  On January 5th, for example, we’ll be looking at story-telling and its role in a variety of contexts from management to healthcare to family law practice!

In the New Year, I also have in mind to run certain Saturday morning specials on topics such as Travel Writing or Memoir Writing. So please watch out for further details.

Could you let me know by November 30th (12 noon) whether or not you intend to come to Interviewing Skills. Numbers are restricted to 10 so be quick! And, even if you don’t live close enough to Heswall to join the Programme, please remember these workshops travel!  Why not contact me to book a workshop for a group near you?


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Out of the Box Writing Workshops are changing!  Based on a blend of feedback from participants and my desire to give you the most effective format, Out of the Box writing workshops will now be a monthly event – to give you time between sessions to practice what I’ve preached.  But, in future, these workshops will also allow for more ‘reading’ and critiquing time.  This means they will now last for three hours – instead of two as previously.


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Freelance journalism is a hard way to make a living. Newspaper and magazine publishers are cutting writers’ rates by the minute – some to as little as 9p a word in the UK.  Many even encourage writers to write for nothing – for the glory of being in print ie for nothing.  So why bother?

At a workshop I ran yesterday for writers exploring the possibilities of freelance journalism, we considered this question in some depth.


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