Each week we interview fellow writers to pick their brains and gather insights to help you with your writing career. These interviews are either written, video, audio, or a combination of formats.
This week we have an audio interview with Mariana Abeid-McDougall who is a part-time writer, multipotentialite and mother of three.
We’ve also provided written notes below the audio file. These notes may differ from the audio interview which is usually more comprehensive. Simply hit play to listen to the 78 min interview which covers the following (and more):
- Why Mariana became a freelance writer
- How she balances writing and motherhood
- The method she uses to land clients
- What to do when you’re struggling to select a niche
- Her unique niche diversification technique
- How to keep your writing skills sharp
- Limiting beliefs you need to get rid of as an ESL writer
If you have any questions or comments, please leave them in the comments section at the bottom of this post.
Exclusive Interview With Mariana Abeid-McDougall
Hi Mariana, please introduce yourself to the WriteWorldwide readers.
Hey, I’m Mariana Abeid-McDougall. I’m a homeschooling mom of three in an out-of-the-box, adventurous family. I write and blog on a part-time basis.
The money I earned from my writing allowed me to visit my family in Brazil in November 2016 (I hadn’t been back for five years, as tickets are very prohibitive).
Why did you choose to become a writer?
I’m a very talkative person, but I find that I express myself much better in writing. I like to make an argument and prove a point or to share experiences with readers.
Writing allows me to process things in a way that conversations don’t allow – you can take your time when you’re writing; you can research your points, you can go back and make your argument better. I enjoy the process.
I’ve always loved to write – I started writing stories when I was a little kid. My focus shifted to nonfiction as an adult, though. I’ve been writing for decades, but only started considering a writing career more seriously back in 2015.
How did you break into freelance writing and have you experienced much success yet?
I broke into freelance writing by getting published on The Good Men Project, using that clip to get published in the Huffington Post, and then using those clips to get a regular, paid gig writing for The Talko.
I’ve since left The Talko and am now writing for online and local clients, mostly ghostwriting or copywriting work, as well as editing.
I have more editing clients than I do writing clients at the moment. I do sell the odd blog or magazine piece, but mostly I have private clients. I also write a blog and have some other personal plans in the works for another blog.
Success is a relative term. In the West, we tend to define success by how much money people have, which I think is a backwards way of looking at life.
In my opinion, success means reaching the goals you have set for yourself. And once you reach those goals, you need to set other goals to keep growing, both in your personal and professional life. That means that no one is truly ever successful because once you stop setting goals, you stop growing.
In other words, we’re having the wrong conversation about “success” in the West. The question we should be asking is, “are you growing? Are you learning? What is your next goal? How will you get there?” Etc.
So if you define success by how much money I have, you might say I’m not successful. I’m not rich, and no, I could not make a living from what I’m currently earning as a writer. But that is not my goal.
My goal has always been to work part-time to earn enough money to see my family in Brazil and to do fun things with my family. I have reached that goal and now have set new goals that continue to push me forward into new endeavours.
I chose to work part-time to stay home with my kids and homeschool them. My husband earns enough to support us, so working full-time will never be my goal while my kids are young. They’re only with us for a short time; I want to enjoy all the time I can get with them.
You’re a wife and a mom of three. How do you balance that with your freelance writing?
As I said before, I choose to work part-time, which helps. But even with part-time hours, it would be impossible to work on my writing without some childcare help.
My kids go over to another homeschooling family’s house once per week. On that day, I write all day long. I also wake up very early in the morning each day and write for two and a half hours.
When I’m with my kids, I don’t write at all. I try to give 100% of my attention to whatever task is at hand. It’s a hard balance, but I’ve been practising juggling things since I was 16.
As an immigrant, I had to work full-time and go to school full time (at the same time) for many years for our family to make ends meet, so time management and prioritisation comes with the lifestyle.
Besides juggling parenthood, were there any other challenges and how did you overcome these challenges?
I would say my biggest challenge was the lack of support. Sometimes, the people you love the most are the people who make it the hardest for you to believe in yourself. It still bothers me at times, but I would say I’ve mostly overcome it.
I overcame it by joining like-minded groups on Facebook, helping out where I can, and by surrounding myself with individuals who support my dreams and goals. I stopped updating the naysayers and told the most supportive people about my plans instead.
But what helped me the most in overcoming the lack of support (and by extension, lack of belief in my abilities) was telling myself that I don’t need to prove anyone wrong. I need to prove myself right.
Once you shift that focus to getting things done because you want to do them, rather than because you want to please others or prove them wrong, there’s a big weight lifted off your shoulders. It helped me enormously.
I also wrote something about overcoming the lack of support: How to Motivate Yourself to Write When You Have No Support System.
What’s the one piece of advice you wish someone had given you at the start of your career?
Believe in yourself. Stick to your guns. You don’t need to prove anything to anyone.
What techniques do you use to grow your writing business?
Because I work part-time, I don’t promote my business as heavily as someone who wants to work full time would need to do.
Having said that, I do still need to get clients and “keep the [small] pipeline full,” as it were. I like warm pitching. Although cold pitching is an effective technique when done heavily, it’s a numbers game, and when you work part-time, there’s no time to cold pitch the amount necessary for success.
So I don’t send as many pitches, but the ones I do are well-researched and more likely to be accepted. I tend to reach out to potential clients who already know me, or with whom I’ve developed an online relationship. In my experience, even if I’m not right for their publication/business, I end up getting referred to others by having this “warm pitch” technique down pat.
I’d say my most useful method for driving business is networking, both in person and online. I try to help whenever and wherever I can, and people remember me because of that. When someone asks them about a writer or editor, I end up getting referrals even though I never directly asked for them.
What’s the most effective method you’ve used to find new clients?
Warm pitching. Having conversations with people, both in person and online, reaching out to businesses I’ve used in the past and know well, etc.
What does your daily writing routine look like?
4:30 a.m. to 7:00 a.m. daily – Work on my blog and personal writing projects, unless I’m on deadline for a client, in which case I work on those projects instead.
9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. once per week – Pitch potential clients and publications and work on current client projects. I work in 25-minute blocks with 5-minute breaks. I usually start the day with at least one pitch or research for a pitch and switch back and forth between pitches, research, and client work throughout the day.
I don’t do well with strict routines that stay the same every day – I get stale. So each day before I start my work, I write a list of tasks that I need to do that particular day, and I go down that list. That means that each week the way my work gets distributed might look a little different – but I still get all my work done every time I sit down to do it.
I also find this strategy works better because priorities shift depending on my workload (for example, when I got hired for a rush editing job, I set aside the writing that was only due two weeks from that date, etc.).
Who are your biggest influences and people you admire in the freelance writing industry?
Not trying to brown nose, but you inspire me, Nick. You have goals, set them, and go after them without distraction; you wanted to create this website, and you had it up quickly, and it looks great. If there’s ever any hesitation on your part, you don’t show it.
All the regulars in Bamidele’s Facebook group inspire me. Here is a great group of people who help others simply for the sake of helping them; it is an excellent example of how much good there is in the world.
My editor, Lisa M. Blacker, inspires me to a great extent. She also encourages me and helps me to believe in myself whenever I feel like throwing in the towel.
The Writer’s Digest people are my go-to for freelance writing advice; a more in-depth guide to freelance writing has never been written (as far as I know).
Name one book, one tool, and one article that have helped you in your writing career.
Book: Writer’s Market, published by The Writer’s Digest, is my most prized work-related possession. It taught me most of what I know, and I purchase a copy every year.
Tool: My white board. I use it for everything, but mostly for mind mapping. It was the best $25 investment I’ve ever made. It helps me to come up with articles for clients, help other writers find their voice, teach others how to flip pitches, stay on track with my goals…I could go on.
Article: This is going to sound conceited, but the article I wrote about motivating yourself to write when you have no support system is the one that helps me the most. It sounds like I wrote it for readers, but I really wrote it for myself at a time when I was feeling an immense lack of support from everyone around me. I go back to that article when I’m feeling discouraged, and I tell myself, “Walk the talk.”
What would you say to writers who are struggling to pick a niche?
Don’t pick one. Niching isn’t necessary for success, despite what the big names say. Find a common theme among your many interests – using mind maps helps me with this. There’s lots of room to get published in many publications and to have many clients, even without a niche. And if you’re a multi-talented/multi-interest writer, niching too narrowly could hurt your career. You’ll get bored and give up on writing.
My newest personal project has to do with exactly this. Sign up for the mailing list on marianamcdougall.com to be the first to hear when my site for multi-talented writers launches.
Tell us about your niche diversification/pitch flipping techniques?
I’m what Barbara Sher calls a “scanner” and what Emilie Wapnick calls a “multipotentialite,” and what yet others call a “renaissance soul.” I have many interests, have worked in many areas, and get easily bored if I only stick to doing one thing. Routine is the death of my “joie de vivre”.
I need to be involved in many different things at once to stay interested in doing anything at all.
In a business where everyone tries to convince writers that writing about only one thing is the only way to continue getting published, I’ve managed to use my many interests to my advantage. I noticed that I’m constantly making connections in my head – everything is connected.
I started making mind maps to connect main themes with other things, and thus I can help a fashion writer write for a business magazine while still building authority in the fashion business.
I can help a parenting writer write a brochure for a mechanic while building authority in the parenting niche. I can help someone looking for ideas on writing about winter to writing for a carpenter’s blog.
I wrote about this mind-mapping technique in my post, From Scatter Brain to Hyper-Organized: How I use Mind Maps for Content Creation.
I’m also working on an eBook to show people how to use this technique to their advantage. Stay tuned.
How do you keep your writing skills sharp?
I do stream-of-consciousness journaling, participate in writing contests, and get others to read my work before submitting it – yes, I pay an editor if need be (and it often needs be).
I hang out with editors, both in person and online. If you want to get better at writing, spend time with editors. They’re not only super knowledgeable, but they’re also often hilarious.
I also read a variety of genres, but mostly nonfiction, since that’s mostly what I write. I read with “new eyes” now, and every time I’m reading something, whether, in print or online, I’m noticing the voice that’s used, how the author addresses the audience, the way the paragraphs flow, etc.
When you start noticing these things, particularly in the publications in which you’d like to be published, you have a bigger chance to be accepted, because you can make your writing flow with the voice of the publication. It takes practice, but it’s well worth trying.
What advice would you give other aspiring freelance writers who want to make money freelance writing?
Start slowly – don’t overwhelm yourself.
Before you ever set pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard), decide on the one publication you’d like to get published in. Research that publication thoroughly. Never send a pitch before actually understanding a publication. If you’re pitching directly to a client, the same is true.
Research the business. Find their pain points. Find out how you can help them overcome those pain points. Then, and only then, send your pitch – preferably after making a connection, either in person or online.
If you do all this, you have a much larger chance of being accepted. I did that and got my very first submission accepted. I wrote about that in my post, How I Got My Very First Submission Accepted into a Large Multi-Author Blog.
Getting your very first submission accepted (which is likely if you follow the steps above) gives you a huge boost of confidence to keep going after a writing career. You’re more likely to succeed when you’re confident (but not overly confident – there’s always room for improvement. Never forget that).
What limiting beliefs must ESL writers get rid of to achieve success?
That you’re not good enough.
But only after you get an editor to look at your work. Unfortunately, there are many ESL writers online who aren’t fluent and aren’t aware they’re not fluent. The majority of the time, these are the folks with the least self-limiting beliefs, which is ironic. If you’re an ESL writer who questions your abilities, chances are, your English is already good.
Stop telling yourself that your ESL status will hold you back, and start pitching. Be unafraid of rejection – and if you get a rejection that shows you exactly why you were rejected, hold those suggestions in your hands like a precious jewel, and get to work.
The best thing that can ever happen to you in this business is to get a detailed rejection letter that tells you exactly what to work on.
What are your plans?
I enjoy freelance writing, but I like writing for my own audience more. I currently have a personal blog that is more of a personal project than a business one but has a good audience considering it’s just a personal project.
I intend to continue writing there because that’s my space to be creative for the sake of being creative (I think this is infinitely more important for writers, especially multi-talented ones).
I’m also working on a blog specifically for multi-talented writers. This blog will be a community for folks like us to support each other and to help one another build a business while staying true to our multi-talented personalities.
Stay tuned. If this piques your interest, join the Multi-Talented Writers Facebook group – Group members will be the first to hear when the website launches (which will happen by September 1st).
My goal is to make that blog my primary business eventually and do less freelance writing and more eBook writing and blog writing for my audience.