Sunday, November 23, 2008

GumboWriters Interview with Freelance Writer, Darlene Arden

GumboWriters had the opportunity to interview Ms. Darlene Arden. Why her? Because Ms. Arden has done something many writers would love to have done, she has found a way to make a full-time living as a freelance writer. Take a look at her interview and see what tips you can pick up:

Photo Credit: Lisa Croft-Elliott

How did you get started as a freelance writer?

Oddly enough, it happened by accident. I had been an actress/singer/dancer and occasional choreographer. I also did a tad bit of script doctoring. I loved the work but hated the business. I wanted to move into television production but was discouraged because I was told point blank that my qualifications didn't matter when a job I wanted and was qualified for came up at a local television station. I was told that with affirmative action they would have to hire a black woman so don't even bother to apply. I was trying to figure out what to do with my life when friends of friends who were starting a daytime magazine asked me to be the Boston Stringer. I was such a novice to the field that I didn't even know what a "Stringer" was! I was more than qualified. I could do interviews that were unlike others. I didn't care about an actor's favorite color. I understood the work and could bring new insight to the interviews. Thus began years of doing celebrity profiles and behind-the-scenes features. I moved on from daytime to prime time, theatre, film, etc.

How in the world are you able to make a living doing what you love when others have to hold down a day job?

It isn't easy. (BIG understatement!) As I've said, I started doing more than just interviews with daytime television personalities. I also branched out to women's issues, travel writing, etc. For years, I turned out an awful lot of articles for magazines and newspapers. Sometimes I wonder how I did it. Today I would find it more than overwhelming. Then I got a dog who changed my life. I began, at the urging of his breeders, to write about dogs. I started to learn more about health issues, behavior, and training. And I moved on to writing about cats as well. All of this became somewhat overwhelming when my mother's health began to deteriorate. She had always been my best friend and I wasn't about to warehouse her so I became her full-time caregiver. Something had to give and the travel writing was the first to go. I also became a Certified Animal Behavior Consultant during this period and eventually became a learning facilitator in the Dog Training and Management Program at Kutztown University. I travel there annually to teach. I also speak at various venues on everything from dogs to writing. For example, I conducted all of the writing seminars a few years ago at Groom Expo. And I've been on the faculty of the Cuesta Writers' Conference in San Luis Obispo, CA. I've led seminars for the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants, the Cat Writers' Association, and more. I've spoken at veterinary conferences, breed club specialties, conferences for groomers, boarding kennel owners, and pet sitters. I've been a columnist and contributing editor for various publications. I have also emceed events. I also produce and host a cable TV show, "Creatively Speaking." My guests are published authors as well as musicians, artists, etc. I'm not paid to do that but I believe that what goes around, comes around. I like helping other creative people get some visibility.

What are the first steps someone can do to be able to quit their job and become a full time freelance writer?

In this economy? Win the lottery! Seriously, I think it takes tremendous dedication, energy, perseverance and nerve. It has all the charm of walking a tightrope without a net. You have to be disciplined and dedicated. I can think of few professions where people are treated as badly. Where else is there something called Payment on Publication? You write, time is money, and you may never seen money if the article isn't published. Have your markets lined up and be sure that you will have a certain number of features lined up to write on a regular basis before you quit your day job. Remember that you're going to have to pay your own health insurance, which is no small feat these days. Then there are the other basic costs of living. It can be pretty depressing at times. There's always a certain amount of rejection, even after you're well established.

Did things happen over night for you? If not, tell us your journey to get where you are today?

My initial job seemed to come out of thin air. After that it took a lot of hard work. I had to look for markets (that's ongoing), introduce myself, produce as promised, deliver on deadline, build contacts and clips. It doesn't happen overnight. I look back and wonder how I did it. Well, I know how, but the fortitude that it took sometimes seems absurd. You have to be focused. And you have to put up with a lot of garbage from some of the people in your life. A major complaint of most of the writers I've known has been that no one takes you seriously. They think you can't possibly be working since you work at home. They think nothing of calling in the middle of your workday and interrupting you. They don't understand that they can kill your train of thought and it may never return in the same way. That's very frustrating. Trying to be polite and yet let people know that I'm really working has been very difficult for me. My mother ingrained in me that I should always be a "lady." I think a lot of people interpret that as "doormat." Gaining respect from colleagues and editors is hard but a lot easier than gaining it from family and friends who may always treat you like some sort of ne'er do well because you write. Even having had five books published hasn't changed that for me in most cases.

Did you need an agent to get your jobs?

No. You're on your own with magazines and newspapers. You need an agent for books.

What books have you written?

"The Irrepressible Toy Dog," (Howell Book House), "The Angell Memorial Animal Hospital Book of Wellness and Preventive Care for Dogs," (McGraw-Hill) "Unbelievably Good Deals and Great Adventures That You Absolutely Can't Get Unless You're a Dog," (McGraw-Hill), "Small Dogs, Big Hearts," (Howell Book House) and "Rover, Get Off Her Leg!" (H.C.I. Books) I also wrote a couple of sections for a Harcourt Distance Learning Course but I don't really count it even though others do.

Where can we get your books?

Anywhere books are sold. Most people just surf over to Amazon. I love independent bookstores and they can always order the newer books, as can any other brick and mortar bookstore.

How can we reach you if we'd like to?

Sometimes it seems as if I'm everywhere. My website is: and there's an e-mail contact link there. You can find me on Facebook, LinkedIn, ecademy, Naymz, and you can follow me on Twitter (petxpert)