Meet Megan Blandford - a freelance writer embracing the unknown
Megan Blandford is one of those freelance writers whose byline you see everywhere. Her articles regularly appear in glossy magazines, newspapers, websites and blogs. Megan is versatile too - she can turn her hand to writing about almost anything; from health and business to travel, food and property. My decision to become a full time freelancer was partly inspired by Megan. She was the first person I knew whose husband looked after the kids while she made a good living from freelance writing.
Megan is also in the private Facebook group for graduates of the magazine and newspaper feature writing course run by the Australian Writers' Centre and I followed her journey from part time hobby writer to full time freelancer, with interest.
Megan's an honest and brave writer - she really puts herself out there - whether it's with the content she's writing, making the decision to meet editors face to face or hire a writing coach to write a memoir - Megan never seems to back away from a challenge. In fact, she tends to go towards them.
Meet Megan Blandford - a freelance writer embracing the unknown
Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and your path to becoming a freelance writer?
While I’ve wanted to write since I was four years old, it wasn’t until my late twenties that I took the leap. After having my oldest child, who is now nine, I tried going back to my corporate human resources job – but I only lasted a week before realising I needed to be home with my baby more than that job allowed.
So there I was, a stay-at-home mum, which I’d never intended to be. I was lonely and way out of my comfort zone, and I remember sitting at the table, laptop open, while my baby had a (rare) nap, and I thought, “Now what?”
I had a nagging feeling that I was in a now or never moment; either I tried writing then or I’d soon get carried off in another life direction.
I started a blog and, surprisingly, it took off.
Over the next couple of years I had thousands of readers, and opportunities coming my way to write for other publications. It took a while for me to see writing as a potential career, though. Eventually I let my blog go, so that I could focus on developing my freelancing career – which was back then something I did whenever my husband was home to look after the kids.
At the start of 2015, I started full-time freelancing (with a whole stack of nerves), and it’s been the best move.
This makes it all sound like a very neat process, but it wasn’t at all like that. There were a lot of false starts, confidence barriers and steering myself in the wrong direction over the years. I got there in the end, and am still evolving.
What kind of split do you have with the type of writing you do?
I do two types of writing: content marketing articles for corporate clients, and feature writing for various publications.
My income is pretty much 50/50 between the two.
Most people consider the two very different – but actually, I consider it all the same. Whatever I’m writing, I’m taking an idea and turning it into a story that people will enjoy reading. Whether it’s being published in The Age or on NRMA’s blog, they’re all stories.
Which publications do you currently write for?
I write for SBS, The Age and Sydney Morning Herald, Good Food, Domain, Country Style, Daily Life and Australian Traveller, among others. Plus a whole stack of corporate clients, mostly through content agencies.
Do you have a favourite story or two?
My favourite topics to write about are travel and mental health, and a couple of recent stories I’m proud of are:
- This one about a fun food safari adventure in Sri Lanka. It was such a joyful time that the story takes me right back there to that travel feeling.
- This one, where I got really candid about disliking being a stay-at-home mum. As with any time I write about mental health, people came out of the woodwork to say things like, “Me too” and “I’m glad I’m not alone”. That’s the stuff that blows my mind.
Have you had any stories that you wish had turned out differently or that you’d taken a different tack?
My biggest problem has been saying yes to things I shouldn’t have; saying yes to everything doesn’t do credit to me or a client.
Now when something new comes up, I really analyse my ability to do it justice before saying yes.
I always admire how productive and hard working you are – Do you have a writing routine? What does ‘a regular week’ look like for you?
A regular week consists of working from Monday to Thursday; I start early (anywhere from 6am to 8am) and aim to finish when the kids get home at around 3.30pm. (Although I’m still emailing, taking phone calls and noting down ideas well into the evening.)
I try to batch tasks together: it’s more productive to do a stack of interviews in one session, and then I can spend a couple of full days writing articles, rather than switching between tasks all week.
Each week also includes what I call a ‘pitching marathon’. That’s where I work through a pile of ideas and pitch them out (and follow up on the previous week’s pitches) – and I set myself a time limit and a goal.
The goal might be a number of pitches I want to send out, or to pitch to certain publications. That goal means I avoid the time suck that pitching can become.
Because of how full-on I work for those four days, my brain is fried by Friday, so that’s usually reserved for smaller tasks like invoicing, setting up interviews for the next week and working on other writing projects.
And I nearly always take weekends off – although I’m still noting down ideas all the time.
How many stories do you tend to have on the go at once?
The number of stories I’m working on at any one time varies so much. One week it could be five, another week fifteen.
What’s your writing process?
My process is quite logical and orderly, really. I guess I feel that if I have things set up in an organised way, then my creativity has some space to roam.
So, I arrange my story ideas into Trello, under the columns of ‘Pitches sent’ (so that I know exactly what to follow up on during a pitching session), ‘Ideas’ (so that I’m not starting a pitching session from a blank canvas) and ‘To write’ (so I can see what’s due).
With one card for each idea, it means I can have all the research and notes for that idea in the one place – this has been huge for my productivity levels.
I create my own deadlines that are well ahead of the actual deadline – I have quite an intense worry that if something happens, for example to one of my kids, and I have to stop work when I’m on deadline, then I’ll let someone down. So I work ahead of deadline to always have that breathing space.
When it comes to writing an article, I gather all the research and interview transcriptions together and then it’s like piecing together a puzzle.
You seem to meet up a bit with editors – do you think this is important for freelancers to have a face-to-face/phone contact with whomever they are writing for?
This is a relatively new thing for me and, to be honest, I dislike doing it.
I should clarify that: I get incredibly nervous about going to those catch-ups – my introvert self prefers to stick to emails – but once I’m there I love chatting to the people I’ve been working with but have either never met or rarely see.
I’ve realised that success in this job isn’t just about writing well; it’s also about relationships.
When I sit down with an editor, we chat about all sorts of things that would never come up in emails. We find common ground, they tell me what kinds of ideas they’re after, and they realise that I write on topics that they’ve been searching for someone to write. I’ve picked up a lot of work through those chats.
Face to face meetings aren’t logistically easy for me – I live in the country, so it means travelling to Melbourne and Sydney – but it’s both enjoyable (once I’m there!) and incredibly valuable.
You’ve recently used a mentor to help guide you through the process of writing your first book.
Has that process impacted on how you view your freelancing or how you approach your freelance writing?
At the start of this year I decided it was time to write an incredibly tough manuscript – a memoir of my experience with postnatal depression and my ridiculously long road to recovery.
I used a literary coach (Anjanette Fennell from Story As Life) who I’d known online since back in my early blogging days. I knew she’d ‘get’ what I was trying to achieve with this project, I needed support getting through writing this tough material, and I needed some help learning to write in such long form. Writing a full manuscript is so different to writing an article.
The biggest thing Anj taught me is that writing a first draft is valuable skill. That might sound really obvious, but as a perfectionist I find it very hard not to edit as I go, and this can really interrupt the writing process (and at times can be debilitating: you don’t want to write unless it’s going to be in exactly the right words first time).
I learnt to just write, without correcting grammar or even spelling mistakes; it will always be fixed in the editing phase. I’ve carried that through into writing articles, and I think that not aiming for perfection in the first draft has made writing much easier.
You are the breadwinner for your family of four – what do you say to people who think it’s not possible to make a living from being a freelance writer?
Funny that you ask that, because there were several people in our lives who were very concerned when we said that my husband was quitting his job to look after the kids and I’d work full-time. (Such a double standard, by the way; no one was ever concerned when I gave up my job to look after the kids …)
Their response was, “Your whole lifestyle is going to rely on a WRITER’S income?!” And we said, “Well … yes.”
I didn’t admit to those people that I was very nervous about it, too.
But I stuck my head into my computer and worked really hard – and my little solo business boomed.
The key, I guess, has just been sheer determination; I had to prove everyone wrong.
Choosing to write for a living isn’t the easiest path you can take, but being able to support my family by doing what I love has been very rewarding.
What do you find most challenging about being a freelance writer?
Starting every month at zero. This is, depending on my mindset, either a challenge to embrace or just exhausting.
And the best thing?
The best parts are:
- The flexibility. If I want to pick my kids up from school I can just start my day earlier; if I want a more active day I can pack my laptop in a backpack and walk, stopping to write in random spots with my dog sitting beside me. This freedom is what drives me to keep going.
- Being able to follow my curiosity. A lot of my stories are seeking answers to my own questions. So, if I’m unsure how to help my kids through an issue I’ll seek expert advice and write an article about it; if I’m wondering what effect diet has on mental health I’ll research it and write about it. I follow what interests me, and this keeps me eternally invested in my work. I also think that my interest comes across in the stories.
- Making a small difference. I get a lot of satisfaction out of writing things that make people feel less alone, and interviewing interesting people in order to share their ideas that can change people’s lives. It’s a real privilege to play a role in someone’s day as they’re scrolling through the news.
Thank you so much Megan, how can people get in touch with you?
I’m on Facebook: www.facebook.com/meganblandford1
And my website is www.meganblandford.net
Do you have any questions for Megan? Did anything she said stick out for you?
*This post contains an affiliate link to the Australian Writers' Centre.