Dr. Juli Fraga
Conversation with Dr. Juli Fraga, Freelance Writer
The Journalistic Method
November 14, 2018
1. What is your business?
I am a private practice psychologist focused on individual clients, and I am a writer focused on health journalism and topics related to mental health. Right now I am working on parenting stories for different magazines and a service journalism piece.
2. What made you decide to start your business and/or switch careers?
Writing was really a happy accident. When my daughter was born, I submitted an essay about her birth story to a blog called Design Mom. I received really encouraging comments from people and decided to write guest parenting posts based on my experiences as a mom and psychologist. I ended up writing for the Huffington Post and a blog called “The Conversation.” I was just looking for a creative outlet, and then on a whim I submitted an essay to the New York Times “Motherlode” (now it’s called “Ties”) and it was accepted.
From that I learned that: One, I liked writing and wanted to walk to line between being a writer and a psychologist, and Two, that it’s hard to place personal essays and I needed to branch out more. I decided to take current research studies related to parenting and mental health and turn them into articles. So, I found a writing coach to work with in New York who helped guide me to craft a pitch and report a story. That year I started branching out more into journalistic writing for The Washington Post, The New York Times and NPR. Things improved from there.
3. What obstacles did you face in getting started and thinking of yourself as an expert in a new setting?
Usually I do not write the articles first because publications have different ways they want stories to be crafted. If it’s not going to get picked up then I usually let the idea go.
When it comes to crafting a pitch, there are three things that are really important: one, make sure you have a story, not just an idea, that is timely, circulating in the news or connected to new research. Two, you need a good title and elevator pitch to grab an editor’s attention. Three, is length, you really need to grab somebody’s attention in those first lines so you need a tight hook or lead.
There are many obstacles, the first is that writing is something you need to practice. It’s an exercise—even when I’m not working on a submission, I write every day. Also, some people who want to get into writing, hope to find connections or friends to help them get into publications but that really doesn’t work unless you can write. The main things were polishing my writing and getting picked up by publications.
Writing is an exercise and I really believe anyone can write if they put in the time and effort. The first reported story I wrote was for the Washington Post and I think it got picked up because I had already written an essay for the parenting section. I had already learned how to craft the story and used my expertise as a psychologist to pitch that section of the publication.
4. Was there ever a particularly tough time that in retrospect was a priceless learning moment?
The freelancing work is brutal, I’ve had a couple of stories killed by publications. It can be hard to predict the flow of work. At times, I get a lot of assignments, but sometimes everything I pitch lands flat—it can be feast or famine. It’s really best not to have your ego involved, you can’t be attached to an outcome or a pitch getting picked up by a certain publication to validate you. Editors pick up pitches bc they will resonate with readers and getting a ‘no’ isn’t a personal rejection.
5. Were there any partnerships or advice that were particularly helpful?
For someone starting out, I would say to take a course and to see yourself as a student again. I worked with writing coaches to hone my skills for reported writing. There are so many places (Facebook for one) to connect with coaches and other writers. I also have writer friends and we exchange our stuff, go over ideas…it’s really a way to build a community in a pretty solitary endeavor. It’s great to have a community to share editor contacts, tips on writing, and to share a non-competitive philosophy with like-minded writers.
6. What are some successes you have had with your business that make you proud?
Certainly writing reported pieces for the New York Times! But there is one piece that I am really proud of that I wrote for NPR about midlife motherhood that picked up a lot of traction. I really enjoyed writing it and it was a unique story to tell.
7. What are some of your current challenges?
I do not have enough time balance my private practice and get everything else done. The creative process can also be mentally tiring because it relies on you to have stories and ideas. Sometimes I can see things and it’s just really hard to come up with a great story idea. It’s also so important not to edit while you are writing–just get it down and go back to it later.
8. What are some of the biggest positive or negative surprises in your business?
I haven’t encountered many surprises. One thing about health writing is that people always need health stories. In 2018, it’s been a bit harder with all the political stories so not as many pitches have been accepted. Some editors just say that they need to focus on the current news cycle and right now it’s more political.
9. Have there ever been moments when you regretted what you started or had to abandon part of the plan?
There are stories that have been picked up by publications, and then I realize that it’s not the story I wanted to tell. When that happens, I have to try and retool it. I have had to go back to editors and pitch a new angle.
10. What was the best and worst piece of advice you have received as you were starting your business?
I haven’t received any terrible news, just news that wasn’t right for me. People saying I should build my platform but I am not trying to become a brand–that just wasn’t a good fit for me. That’s why journalism is a great fit, because it’s about finding research, experts, and sources to craft a compelling story.
11. What are your hopes for your business for the next five years?
Right now, I’m trying to branch into a new vertical: art and music writing. I want to continue with health writing, but I would like to explore a different area. Now that I have done some small stories, I am finding out what it takes to write about music or art—you really need to be a culturist. When writing about music for example: what makes a sound unique, is it influenced by anyone, how would you describe it? It’s a different writing process. But I definitely want to explore it a bit more.
Date of conversation: October 10, 2018
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