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As a professional journalist with 30+ years in the field and a freelance journalist for eight years, I’ve practiced best practices, and for sure, also fostered the worst possible practices. If I may play the role of advisor for a moment, I’ll share game-changers I believe have assisted in amping my success.
It starts the day before. As you round out today’s assignments, prioritize your focus tomorrow. That written down “To Do” list may sound like something your mama did, but I swear by it, as an essential visual that is firmly entrenched in my little noggin.
Know before the sun rises your starting point and try to discern what assignment needs to be completed, what story should be outlined, the pesky transcription that you better at least begin, conjuring questions spelled for the upcoming interview, and (ah, the joy of) polishing up and finalizing your latest brilliant work.
Now, it’s morning. As a full-time journo, I never set an alarm; I wake up within 30 minutes, same time each a.m. That’s because after years of writing until the creative juices expired—often until 2 or 3 a.m, followed by persistent insomnia—I embraced that bothersome ubiquitous advice to go night-night around the same time every night. It took me decades to embrace. Guess what. It’s irritating. And it’s true. The clock hands matter.
So I’m up, it’s 7:30, coffee is ready and it’s time to get busy writing, right? No way. I spend an hour checking my bookmarked news sites. (Unfortunately, I also capture screen shots of the many typos and grammar errors on Daily Beast and even the Washington Post to post on Facebook with disdain—which I later delete. It’s like the bitter letter you write to your ex, and thankfully never send, but release the venom nonetheless.)
Where was I? Oh, right…
Get to work, young man. I am awake, caffeinated by choice and I am at ease by absorbing perspective on the day’s events (which, given today’s national headlines, makes me realize how fortunate I am to be in my own protective freelance world, instead of the potential of being assaulted by that loud “fake news” dude).
So now, with that previous night’s To Do list handy, I dive in… ready, willing and able.
Do I have to say this? At any given point, breaks, breaks, breaks. I live on a lake in Virginia and have a sweet Cavalier King Charles Spaniel (Charlotte), so walks that she is kind enough to schedule give me the breath of life.
It’s not that different from my 20 years in New York City: Walk around the block, sniff the bagel joint, pick up the free daily news rag on the corner… and soak in the joy of surviving/thriving in the greatest city in the blah blah blah (sorry LA, I can’t relate)…
And so, give your eyes and your mind a rest. When you reach a natural break point, stop. For me, whenever I’m off a phoner interview, I like to breathe and say, “Damn I’m good.”
The finale: What a great day. Now it’s time for decompression. I’m now single so I don’t have the luxury of personal connectivity, so I rely on MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow to make me feel really smart as the evening wanes. And that leads me right back to the beginning. Just don’t forget the next day’s To Do list.
Perhaps by following a few of my personal rules of the freelance highway, you too will ease on down the road.
Chuck Taylor has covered the entertainment industry for three decades, working at Billboard magazine as a senior reporter, editor and columnist for 15 years. He has appeared on “20/20,” “Behind the Music,” “E! True Hollywood Story”; and quoted in the NYT, USA Today, People and Entertainment Weekly.