Andrew Vietze spends half the year as a seasonal park ranger and the whole year as a freelance writer.
A former managing editor of Down East: The Magazine of Maine, Vietze has written for such magazines and online venues as Time Out New York, The New York Times’ LifeWire, Weather.com’s Forecast Earth, AMC Outdoors, Explore, Offshore, Big Sky Journal, and Maine Times.
Earlier this month, Vietze’s fifth book, Becoming Teddy Roosevelt: How a Maine Guide Inspired America’s 26th President, was named a finalist for the 2010 Book of the Year Awards in the Biography category. It’s an honor well deserved. Becoming Teddy Roosevelt tells the story of a Maine woodsman and a sickly future president—a story of wilderness, friendship, and mentorship. Vietze’s writing is engaging, beautifully efficient yet layered.
Vietze will be back around to talk more about writing non-fiction. Today, we talk about flexibility, versatility, and the freelancing life. He even offers up a little marital advise.
How long have you been working as a full-time freelancer and what sort of work do you do?
Andrew Vietze: I quit my job as managing editor of a magazine and went freelance in 2002. I’ve done all kinds of things–whatever pays. Lately I’ve been doing books, but I’ve written everything there is to write in the nonfiction world: magazine pieces, newspaper articles, documentary scripts, audio tours, PR copy, educational materials, and on and on. If I had to pick specialties they would be the outdoors, music, and history.
What is a typical day like for you? How is it different than a traditional “day job”?
Andrew Vietze: My life couldn’t be any more different than a day job. I watch my two young boys several days a week and write when I can. Every day is different. I work all day when my wife is home, otherwise it’s up early before school and nicking hours where possible. For six months of the year I work as a full-time writer and as a seasonal ranger in a wilderness area. At my duty station there is nothing but woods and mountains and water–no phones, no internet. And it’s very conducive to getting writing done.
Is there anything you wish you’d known before you took the plunge into freelancing?
Andrew Vietze: It’s easier to get non-fiction books than you think. Also, I wish I’d aimed higher as a magazine writer. I feel like I was too content taking the pieces that were being offered and too lazy about pitching bigger magazines.
What are some of the frustrations of freelancing and how do you handle them?
Andrew Vietze: My greatest frustrations are simply time–I have more work than I can handle–and money. I have never had a problem getting work but the checks don’t always arrive when I need them to. I hate having to grovel to get paid. And I’m tired of the constant scramble of finding new jobs.
What’s the best part?
Andrew Vietze: The joys are many. I get to be there with my kids as they grow. I don’t have a boss. I make my own schedule–if it’s a nice day and I feel like it I can take off for a walk on the ridge behind my house. And because I have a steady gig that I can do anywhere, I get to be a park ranger, which is the job I truly love.
Is there a project that you simply couldn’t have pulled off if you’d been working at a full-time day job?
Andrew Vietze: I’ve become very adept at massaging my schedule and making it work with whatever time I have. I’m a very efficient writer these days. I also have a full-time job in summer, and I manage to still complete big projects–books, screenplays, etc. So, no.
What is the role of flexibility and versatility in a writer’s life?
Andrew Vietze: I think flexibility and versatility are the keys to survival for a writer. They have been for me, anyway. My resume/portfolio now shows potential employers I can write about history, the outdoors, music–even business. I’ve done scripts, ads, PR copy, textbooks – anything that leads to a check arriving in the mailbox.
A salary… is it friend or foe?
Andrew Vietze: A salary is definitely your friend. The greatest drawback of being a freelancer for me is money stress–will the checks arrive before the collection agencies do? Couple a salary with a freelancer’s lifestyle and writing would be the best job possible (except maybe park ranging).
Any parting words? Words of encouragement or caution?
Andrew Vietze: Marry well. A working spouse is the freelancer’s salvation. Don’t sell yourself too cheaply–the online freelance boards are littered with jobs that pay far less than minimum wage. Be versatile–the more kinds of things you can write the more jobs you’ll find.
Jeremy L. C. Jones is a freelance writer, editor, and teacher. He is the staff Interviewer for Clarkesworld Magazine and a frequent contributor to Kobold Quarterly. He teaches at Wofford College and Montessori Academy in Spartanburg, SC. He is also the director of Shared Worlds, a creative writing and world-building camp for teenagers that he and Jeff VanderMeer designed in 2006.