In the spirit of all things Web 2.0, I followed an enticing link I received in my Google Alerts, and landed on a fantastic article by a woman named Meagan Francis. I then followed the links at the bottom of the article back to Meagan’s website only to find a gifted author, blogger and community-activated mother of a gazillion kids – all boys, mind you. We started to chat, found some common ground, became ‘web’ friends and decided to shake things up a bit on our blogs.
Because we liked each other’s work so very much, we wanted to share our new finds with our readers. We had many ideas about how to do this, but landed on this one: We interviewed each other and we’re posting the interviews on each other’s blog. Below you will find Meagan’s wonderful and insightful answers to questions about writing, being a freelancer & a mom, blogging for business and more. To read my answers, you’ll have to journey over to Meagan’s blog…and I encourage you to check her out, because she is truly a gem. Most recently? She and a small group of mommy bloggers blogged their way live across the country to BlogHer ’08, roadtrip style – Katie Couric even took notice. Pretty cool. Here’s Meagan:
1. Who are you?
I am Meagan Francis, a writer, author, blogger, mom of four boys and wife of Jon the Geek. I love traveling (with or without my family), showtunes, and walks on the beach. Oh wait, Julie already used that one.
2. What do you do?
I write about pregnancy, birth, family life and motherhood as well as travel, lifestyle and mind/body wellness for national magazines like Natural Health, Parenting, and Pregnancy and regional publications like Michigan BLUE and AAA Living. I also blog for sites like www.chicagomomsblog.com. I’ve written a newspaper parenting column for over four years, and have two parenting books under my belt: Table for Eight and The Everything Guide to Postpartum Care.
3. What kind of writing do you do?
Mainly consumer writing, which means I write for the people who buy magazines and newspapers (or the people who buy the products featured on the ads on websites and blogs). I do a lot of “service” writing, which is the how-to variety, but also write a fair number of first-person essays and columns.
4. What kind of writing do you wish you could spend all of your time doing?
Hmm. Actually, I’m really glad that I don’t have to spend all my time doing any one kind of writing! One of the things I love most about my work is that while there is a constant theme (I’m writing all the time), the topics, audiences and approaches are always changing up. It keeps me on my toes, provides a challenge and is just plain fun. Once in a while, I get tired of doing a certain type of story, but when that happens I can usually just move in a different direction until it passes—which doesn’t take long.
5. How do you manage your business and your family and yourself?
This is a toughy. It’s hard not to work all the time when you work from home around your kids. You have to be really disciplined about picking a time to turn the computer OFF and sticking to it. Since I started seriously freelancing in 2003, I’ve had two babies (plus the two olders I already had) and have had to learn to work quickly and efficiently in order to take advantage of small bits of time as they present themselves. It does get easier as kids get older and can entertain themselves for a while or spend more time away from Mom, but there’s no doubt about it, balancing is hard. And the older I get, the harder it seems for me to work late into the night like I used to do regularly.
I deal by making sure that the time I spend on the computer really counts (so I’ve had to do away with a lot of time-wasters, like checking silly websites or watching videos on YouTube all day…) and outsourcing what I can. Like housecleaning. It would take me three times as long as it takes a good housecleaner to do things like mop the floors and scrub the bathtub. It makes a lot more financial sense to hire somebody to do a better job than I would anyway, and then spend the time I’ve saved working.
6. Do you ever get writer’s block?
Not really. Once in a while I get blocked on a specific story, but it’s often related to something OTHER than writing. Like say I’m stressed out about having too much on my plate—I transfer all of that stress into an upcoming deadline, and it becomes this big THING and I find myself avoiding it. After a while it’s just silly…for all the time I waste avoiding the assignment, I could have written the thing four or five times over. I hardly ever get blocked when I’m on a tight deadline (adrenaline snaps me out of it) but strangely, sometimes when I give myself too much time to work on a story, I have a hard time getting started.
7. What do you do when this happens?
I’ve gotten pretty good at recognizing when I’m throwing roadblocks in my own way, and can get around it by walking away from the assignment for a while and doing something to deal with the other stressors in my life. Also, if I’m having a really hard time getting started on a story, I’ll use little tricks like picking out my favorite quotes from interviews, pasting them on to a page and writing the story around them. Or I start with the middle or end of the story and write backward. Sometimes just a small shift in perception can help. If the problem is that I’m starting so far in advance that I don’t have the incentive of a deadline, I try doing little parts of the process that don’t actually involve a lot of writing—printing out research, creating a source list for my editors, outlining the story. Then I’m getting something done, even if I’m not ready to really dig in to the writing yet.
8. What did having a website do for your business inititally?
I’ve had a site since 2003, and it’s always been essential for my business. I do almost all of my querying via e-mail, and having a site gives me credibility and a place to showcase my work. Now that I’m doing more than magazine stories—I have my books, TV appearances, interviews, etc—my website gives me a professional place to display everything I’ve got going on.
9. What is the purpose of your blog?
My blog has gone through a lot of transformation! I initially started blogging in 2000 or 2001, when it was still a relatively unknown thing. Since I wasn’t writing professionally yet, I blogged anonymously under my first name and wrote very frankly about personal things going on in my life. Since then, I’ve definitely scaled back the personal nature of my blog and use it more as a way for my readers to get to know me (but not TOO much about me) and to get to know my readers and other bloggers. It also gives me a great opportunity to write about things I’m interested in but that may not be a good fit for any of my other outlets.
10. What have you gotten from your blog that you didn’t intend to get – good and bad?
Good—practice, discipline (it’s hard to keep adding content regularly that people might actually want to read!) and the opportunity to participate in a larger community. Bad—confusion. I’m always wondering if I should take my blog in a different direction, get more personal, more professional, start a new blog, etc.
11. Is your blog the primary vehicle for selling your work?
Not so far. I mostly sell my work through query letters/pitches and referrals. But, I have noticed an increasing number of editors have found me through my blog, or editors who already know me have read my blog and then come to me with a story idea based on something I’ve blogged about. So it’s a useful tool for getting work, even if it’s not the primary tool…yet.
12. What advice would you give to someone thinking about maybe, possibly, sort of starting a blog and/or a website for their business?
Do it now. Seriously, I am always baffled when I see a writer’s byline and then find that they have no internet presence whatsoever. I really believe that the era of a website being optional is almost over, if it’s not over already. No matter who’s looking for you or for what reason—to comment on something you’ve written, offer you more work, or offer you publicity for your work; chances are good they’re going to look online first…and if they don’t find you, they may move on.
13. Do you run your blog all by yourself (widgets, design, plugins) or does someone help you with that sort of thing?
I hired a designer to set up my site for me. I knew that I wanted it to be run within WordPress so that I could customize different parts easily myself without having to change the whole site, and so I could have different parts of the site integrated together on the front page. But I didn’t have the skills to do what I wanted to have done, nor the available time to learn (remember what I said about outsourcing?) It was definitely a worthwhile investment.
Check out Meagan’s Website: www.meaganfrancis.com
To read my answers to these questions (and because her blog is a smart, informative and entertaining read) visit Meagan’s Blog: www.meaganfrancis.com/blog
Meagan’s Books: Table for Eight: Raising a Large Family in a Small-Family World (Alpha/Penguin, 2007)
The Everything Health Guide to Postpartum Care (Adams Media, 2007)
We will be hosting a cross-blog Q&A soon to answer any additional questions that you all might have for us! Just leave them in comments or send us an email.