How David Hochman built a freelance community

David Hochman Veteran freelancer David Hochman has seemingly written for every major media outlet from Forbes and Food + Wine to The New York Times and Town + Country. The LA-based writer also leads a 1,000+ member writer’s group called UPOD, which stands for “under promise, over deliver,” one of Hochman’s mantras. UPOD began as a Yahoo email list where freelancers swap ideas and contacts but it’s grown into UPOD Academy, a series of workshops where Hochman hosts writers and editors. The Academy’s sold-out Pitch the Editors weekend earlier this month featured editors from Playboy, AARP and Los Angeles Magazine.

Ebyline recently picked his brains about building community, brainstorming ideas, blogging (or not) and more. What follows are excerpts of that conversation, edited for brevity and clarity.

Your website reads like most journalists’ wish list. What do you think is the secret sauce that makes you so prolific?

I get bored easily. I don’t like doing the same thing twice. I have an affinity for novelties, so I like new things, new ideas, new people. I like to go where other people can’t go and write about that. It’s just that feeling of wanting to have the best life ever and designing it story by story.

Do any assignments stand out in your mind? Or is that like choosing a favorite child?

I do a lot of family experiments. We did 30 days of no spending, we did 30 days of gratitude, where we went and thanked all the people in our life that meant the most to us. We did a slow month, where we slowed everything down and just focused on the things that really matter. Those things are the most interesting.

David Hochman 2Do you ever get any pushback from your family? Like “Oh no, not another experiment”?

I do a lot of traveling, so I’m constantly being pitched by them and then I have to go pitch editors, which motivates me. We traveled for 10 weeks in 2012, and went all over the world to the very far north, to Norway, to Antarctica and Africa and Europe. That was driven mostly by my son and wife saying, “We want to go there.”

How did you take UPOD from a Yahoo group to UPOD Academy?

It’s really about community. People really wanted to get together in person, because even if you see people regularly online, it doesn’t feel the same as seeing their eyes glistening when you’re reading a story or the kind of electricity that you feel when you connect something to someone in a room. So, I really wanted to bring people together, because isolation is such a product of a writer’s life. People walk in nervous, petrified, and they leave really feeling a kind of love for the other people in the room.

How do you get such high-profile editors to give up weekend hours to attend UPOD Academy?

People are happy to give advice. You know, so few people actually ask editors for advice. People often think, “Oh, I’ll just send a blind pitch,” but [editors are] just people and they just want to be with other people, and so I just ask and they say yes. I think people like to engage in discussions with the writing community.

How do you juggle moderating UPOD and running UPOD Academy with pitching and writing your own assignments? Do you ever sleep?

I do sleep. Soft deadlines help. I set soft deadlines and I just have to meet them, because if I don’t everything else will fall out of place. So, I work a lot, I exercise, I have my wife who prepares delicious meals all day long, and I just do it. It’s not easy and it’s not always fun, but it’s what I do because I know that I’m not living a boring life. I know that things are always changing and always interesting, and freelancing is constantly setting refresh mode.

Any other advice you’d offer freelancers?

Don’t write for free. Don’t feel pressured to blog. If you have something compelling that hasn’t already been said, that’s one thing. But don’t feel like you need to do it just because anyone else has one. Everyone worries about how to get an agent, but the real issue is having a project that’s meaningful.

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About Susan Johnston

Susan Johnston is a Boston-based freelance writer whose work appears in, The Boston Globe, The Christian Science Monitor,, Parade Magazine, and SELF, among other places. She is the author of The Urban Muse Guide to Online Writing Markets and blogs at The Urban Muse.