Profile of Empish Thomas, Freelance Writer
Intro: The ability to write a newsworthy story, create interesting leads, edit numerous pages of text, and hunt down experts for interviews can be challenging for most freelance writers. Now add a visual impairment to those challenges and see what you get!
The Story: The ability to write a newsworthy story, create interesting leads, edit numerous pages of text, hunt down experts for interviews, or find an eye-catching headline can be challenging for most freelance writers. Now add those challenges to a visual impairment and you have something even more daunting. Not to be deterred as a totally blind freelancer, I dived into this career head first with a journalism degree, a few ancient college newspaper clips, and little professional experience. I am making a meager attempt to shed some light (no pun intended) on my writing career success and how I used my disability to create numerous writing opportunities.
The first question many people usually ask me is, "How can a blind person write?" Well, modern technology for the blind makes it possible for me to be a great writer. I use a PC with speech software loaded onto my hard drive. In addition, I use specialized scanning software to read printed information, a computer headset, and a basic handheld tape recorder. I also use sighted readers to help me review various publications for possible story submissions.
In 2004 I launched my writing career while working part-time. During my off hours, I would research information on the Internet, pitch story ideas to newspaper and magazine editors, schedule phone interviews, and write the story from my home computer. I started off this way because freelancing did not immediately produce a livable income. Many writers work other jobs and write on their down time. I also chose freelance writing over being a staff reporter because of the flexibility and control over my writing.
Last summer my job ended and I decided to start writing full-time from home. Freelancing has become an excellent career choice for me because I can telecommute. I conduct my interviews over the telephone and e-mail all my stories directly to my editor. I don't have to disclose my blindness or find transportation to work.
But on the flip side, while working from home, the comradery with co-workers is lost. Freelance writers are usually isolated and must find other ways to stay connected to their colleagues. To help alleviate this, I joined a local freelance writing association and attend their meetings. This allows me to network and build relationships. I also contact other writers via e-mail and list groups, discussing projects and getting needed advice on writing assignments.
Freelance writing requires personal commitment and self-discipline. I am constantly contacting editors about a potentially great idea only to get a rejection letter or no response at all. I have learned to have a thick layer of skin and not take things too personally. I just resubmit the query letter to another editor and move on. Also, as a freelance writer, you are your own boss, so you have to be disciplined and meet your deadlines. It is imperative that you build a good working relationship with your editor by staying in contact and sharing any challenges.
I have found that creativity is critical as a freelance writer because I must usually come up with my own story ideas. I use my previous work and personal life experiences to create a plethora of great story ideas. One of my first stories was about a previous employer and the services they provided. Then, using my personal experiences as a homeowner, I wrote several real estate stories. Next, I wanted to spotlight people with disabilities having fulfilling and productive careers, so I have been writing a bi-monthly column for an international magazine for the blind. I have written about blind cooks, research scientists, newspaper reporters, massage therapists, travel agents, and musicians.
Besides writing articles for newspapers and magazines, I update and edit the NFB-NEWSLINE local channel for Georgia. The National Federation of the Blind (NFB) sponsors this service that allows blind and visually impaired people to listen to national and local newspapers via their telephone. In this role, I post upcoming meetings, news articles, and announcements. I am also working part-time with the Disability Resource Group, an agency that provides local resources and information on the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). I also do educational outreach on breast cancer to disabled women. Although this is not a writing job, I have written articles on the project for my local newspaper and blindness-related newsletters.
I have also incorporated my volunteering into my writing career. I produce a radio show for the blind called "Eye on Blindness." This show is sponsored by the Georgia area Radio Reading Service, which provides access to printed information for people who cannot read because of a disability. On one of the segments last year, I had a blind travel agent discuss how people can safely take cruises, and turned that into a story for a national magazine.
When I first approached freelancing I was looking for a way to re-energize my writing, not knowing how much success it would bring, or the interesting people I would meet. I am very grateful for the writing talents that I have and the enjoyment that it brings me. Of course the income is nice too. I get excited about my future and discovering more interesting stories yet to be told.
Now, back to my keyboard and writing my next great story!
(To read an interesting article by Empish and one of her mentees, who found her through CareerConnect, see The Benefits of Mentoring.)
The Contact: Empish Thomas
Web site: www.empishthomas.com