Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Talking with Freelancing Teen Writer Maxine Frendel

Maxine Frendel is a spunky teen writer from New Jersey with a passion for journalism. Maxine was introduced to the freelance world two years ago when she attended classes on journalism at a conference at Columbia University and thought, “Wow. I can do that.” She was first published in Teen Voices and now writes for a multitude of magazines and newspapers, including ChickSpeak, Girl Zone, and The Beauty Bean, and has been published in the Suburban News. Perhaps her favorite project was publicizing Liz Funk’s book Supergirls Speak Out.

What led you to start writing?
My whole life, I’ve always been a writer. I like to say that I have “writer’s eyes” – I feel like I’m watching the world through a special pair of literary glasses, because I imagine everyday things in creative ways and play out ridiculous stories in my head. As a child, when people would ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would always say something traditional, like a chef or a doctor; but deep down, I knew there was something else out there.

English class was always my favorite. I was impassioned. I read like a fiend. Between fifth and sixth grades, I devoured over 150 books. (That summer, the librarians were my best friends!) I always knew that, one day, I would do exactly what my favorite authors did: write.

What was your first official writing assignment? How did you get it?
In November of 2008, my school newspaper went on a field trip to a journalism conference at Columbia University, where I attended a seminar called “How to Get Published Before You Leave High School.” It was taught by Liz Funk, a marvelous young woman who still helps me out with my writing.

I was absolutely shocked – I never even knew about freelance writing, much less that students can do it before they even graduate!

I knew that this was what I had been waiting for. That night, I rushed home and poured out everything that I had learned onto paper and wrote my first pitch. (A pitch is a query letter you send to a newspaper or magazine editor proposing an article idea.) This was at the peak of the recession, when it seemed like it was the only thing people were talking about, so I suggested an article about how teenagers were affected financially, too.

I had no idea where to send it. I decided to try my local newspaper and found a random email address for someone who worked there off of a website; it was the completely wrong person (probably someone in the advertising department!), but thankfully, my email was re-directed to the correct editor.

I got the job!

Do you have a writing specialty?
I mostly write about issues affecting young people, such as health and personal wellness. My mom is a personal trainer, so we talk about exercise a lot, and it’s easy for me to come up with interesting article ideas about that. I love investigating matters of concern and coming up with a concrete answer or solution. And I absolutely love to do reviews of beauty products!

What is your favorite part about being a writer? The greatest challenge?
I love the fact that I’ve learned so much. For fact-based article assignments I really have to do a lot of research – much more than just Googling stuff. For example, I just spoke with a dermatologist about the link between UVA rays and skin cancer. (Trust me, I’ll never skip on the suntan lotion again!) Sometimes in everyday conversation, someone will ask a question like, “Why is sunscreen important?” and I’ll totally know the answer. They’re usually stunned and I’m just like, “I just wrote an article about that!”

Additionally, I meet so many interesting people, from PR representatives of different companies and expert sources for articles to new editors and fellow writers. It’s great experience and most of the people don’t even know that I’m a teenager, which is a real confidence booster!

And finally, writing is the best excuse to do more reading!

The toughest part of being a teenage writer is fitting it in with my schoolwork. When I have a deadline, it seems like most important thing in the world – and to full time freelancers, it really is! But I have to remember that I also have to study and do my homework and all that other stuff. Sometimes, I wish there were 25 hours in a day, just so I could get some more sleep.

What is your favorite/most memorable writing assignment?
I’m a contributor to and for the 2010 Olympics I wrote profiles about inspiring athletes. Aside from writing, I’m a competitive freestyle mogul skier, so it was really motivational to do research about and speak with the “big names” in the sport.

What/who are some of your favorite books/authors?
I think that Sarah Dessen writes the best young adult novels. Some of the teenage fiction out there is so cheesy, but readers can really connect with her work, because what happens to her characters actually occurs in the lives of teens of today. Jodi Picoult’s novels are awesome, too. She weaves a complex web of contrasting storylines and I can never wait to see how they spin together in the end.

Since I was young, though, I’ve always loved Ann Martin’s work. She’s the author of the Babysitter’s Club series. The summer that I read 150 books, 149 of them were probably hers. This was around the time that I switched to a new school in middle school and had a tough time adjusting at first. Her stories really helped me through. I still see a little bit of each of her characters in myself, to this day.

How has writing helped you in other areas of your life?
I’m not naturally a shy person, but writing has given me even more confidence. The fact that I proved to myself that I can make it in the journalistic world and be published in newspapers and magazines makes me think that I can do anything if I put my mind to it. It really rings true that quote, “If you can dream it, you can do it.”

Advice for young writers?
When you have a creative thought, record it somewhere – even if you’re saving it as a text message on your phone or scrawling it on the back of a napkin. You never know if that’s going to be the one.

If you’re interested in freelancing, just go for it! I read the book Get a Freelance Life, a mediabistro guide to freelance writing, which was so helpful. One of the quotes really stuck with me. It said something along the lines of, “[Freelance writing] like fixing a car engine. I don’t really know what I’m doing, but I bet if I sat there for a while with a bunch of tools, I could figure it out. And that’s like writing; I don’t really know what I’m doing, but I’m going to figure it out.”

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