What’s in Your Backpack?

Joseph McCarthy Speaking with Reporters

Photo by Don Rollnick

As a freelancer, the boundaries between your work and personal life are hazy at best. There are those late nights of working on breaking news; the cocktail party chats that turn into an interview, and later a story; and those vacations you need to steal away to a café to file some quick copy. For those freelancers who thrive of the excitement of freelancing, preparedness is key. Any place can become an office with a few essential items.

As a recurring series, we take a look inside freelancer’s back packs, briefcases, purses, and satchels, to explore the tools of the trade.

Today I will share the contents of my own freelancing kit.

1. Moleskine Reporter’s Notebook

Few freelance writers will ever leave home with out their trusty black Moleskine notebook. As the notebook of journos and café bound writers across the world, this trusty black book is as iconic as the journalist hat with a press sign poking out. Yet, there are times that pulling out that indispensable black book isn’t always advantageous. If you don’t want to look like a journalist, say while you’re reporting in another country or even waiting at the bar to report on celebrity sightings, I suggest having a small arsenal of notebooks. Each notepad can be used for different purposes. A personal favorite is the the mini-Volant book by Moleskine http://www.moleskineus.com/volant.html , which can almost fit in your wallet. It’s a must have for those times when you’re in undercover mode.

2. Digital Recorder

Now that tape recorders have been relegated to the International Museum of Antiquity (wherever that may be), the digital recorder is king. You never know when a conversation partner will turn into an interview subject, so it’s best to have a recorder on hand to capture that lighting in a bottle. I use Olympus WS-600S digital voice recorder with 2GB of storage, it’s compact and easily transfers files to your computer in both MP3 and WMA formats via a built in USB connector. It’s about $80, but it’s a trusty workhorse that will become home for countless hours of interviews. For radio journalists, I suggest the Mini Marantz PMD620, which easily fits in a bag or even a pocket. For quick interviews that you’d like to repurpose for radio, this little guy gets big sound. For a good guide on mics (and everything for independent producers) check out Transom.org.

3. Light Up Pens

There is no doubt about it. Light up pens will make you look like a total nerd. But for freelancers who frequently review plays, films, concerts, or other activities that involve taking notes in near darkness, the light up pen is a necessity. Try to find one with a blue light as to not disturb your fellow concert goers, and whether you purchase one with a snowman on it is entirely up to you.

4. Flip Cams

Sometimes your mobile phone just won’t cut it for recording video when you need it. That’s when the flip cam comes in handy. It’s true that these cameras have a few drawbacks, including somewhat shoddy sound and low performance in low light, but what you gain in immediate ability to shoot and quickly upload your videos online will outweigh the Flip Cam’s challenges. To make your videos infinitely better, purchase a tripod to forgo the shaky handheld effect that often turns your insightful interview into the Blair Witch Project.


Mommy Writer: The Challenges of Working at Home While Raising Kids


Bbbbbbb bbbbbbb (gun shots), PKUUUH (bomb drop)! The sound effects keep on coming as the Star Wars battle rages on. This version stars hundreds of Legos and my 7-year-old’s imagination.In between air raids and bomb drops, I try and squeeze in a few words of a writing assignment on my laptop, while keeping the f-bombs to a minimum. “Honey, please don’t be so loud. Can you play in the other room for awhile,” I say. A few minutes later, I hear another battle, this time between siblings. “Mommy! He won’t let go of my (fill in the blank),” one says. Then comes mediation time. “Who wants a snack,” I implore. After the troops are fed, it’s time for homework (theirs and mine). Just as I settle back into my keyboard to start that article, I’m interrupted once again.

This is the daily battle in our home.

Is it even possible to have a freelance writing career while raising kids? Being a working-at-home mom and a stay-at-home mom are two very different jobs. I should know, I’ve been doing both for awhile now. It’s definitely a challenge at times – organizing schedules, making priorities, ignoring housework and not forgetting to pick up the kids from school. For Mommy (or Daddy) freelance writers, it can be a quite a feat to balance between your job and your kids, but with a little guidance, you can be an efficient freelancers and while also enjoying time with your children.

After hours of on-the-job research, here are six  tips for parents who freelance from home:

1. Wear one hat at a time.

When you’re working, focus on work and when you’re parenting, focus on your kids. Of course there will be times when your two worlds overlap, but you will be more productive and enjoy your kids more if you can learn to separate the two.

2. Make a work schedule and stick to it.

Think about when you can get the most work done. Is it early in the morning before the kids wake-up, when they’re at school, or late at night after they’ve gone to bed? I’m a late night owl and not an early riser (getting up early to take them to school is torture enough!), so I adjust my work schedule accordingly. Just don’t expect to get much work done once your munchkins are home from school. Lego battles and sibling skirmishes can make work frustrating.

3. TV is your friend!

You may have heard that you shouldn’t use the TV as an electronic babysitter, but I say, “Why, not?” Turn on the tube and don’t feel guilty. Just don’t watch it, this is for the kiddies only. TV can be a lifesaver when you’re on a deadline and you need to distract Junior from being your distraction. In moderation, it won’t hurt them – I promise. Relax, your kids will turn out fine.

4. Get out of the house.

It’s easy to get glued to your laptop, but fresh air, exercise, a lunch date, and conversations with other writers are just as important. The more you experience in life, the more you have to write about. Just don’t play “hookey” all day! It’s all about balance.

5. Prepare for the Unexpected.

Unless you’re a psychic, preparing for the unexpected may be hard to do. You never know what chaos will come your way once you have kids. Just as I sat down to write this piece, all three of my kids began to get sick at the same time (all night long!). Have a back-up plan. Do you have a babysitter to help out? Will your spouse take the kids out for a couple of hours and give you some more time to work? Try setting your deadline a day or two earlier, so you can account for that unexpected chaos at the last minute.

6. Congratulate Yourself

Above all, pat yourself on the back. It’s not easy juggling freelancing with parenting, but the rewards are immense. Catching those special moments with your kids is truly priceless.


Liz Laing is a freelance writer and single mother of four. She has been published in national magazines, including Mothering and in-flights, US Airways and Alaska Airlines. Most recently, she’s been blogging about the “Best of L.A.” for CBS Los Angeles.com and some of the neighborhood Patch outlets. Her work can be viewed on her website www.lizlaing.com.