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BY DAMIAN FAGAN
Many freelance writers have a second or third source of income. Without a steady byline or writing gig, there can be gaps in the income stream that need to be supplemented by a variety of other part-time work. Carpentry, landscaping, food service, events and warehouse work are just a few of my recent part-time employment opportunities. However, I look at these jobs as temporary endeavors, stop-gap measures, at best.
Fortunately for me, the winds of luck shifted and I landed a different type of part-time work: teaching. No, not the public school substitute, but a job that ties together my outdoor-oriented interests and freelance focus – teaching non-credited outdoor recreation classes through a local community college’s community learning program.
THE FREELANCER TEACHING TRAIL
Many outdoor writers have a plethora of skills or interests that would make great teaching subjects: birding, target shooting, fly-fishing, hiking and hunting, to name a few. Just like putting together an article for submission, preparing to teach these classes require research, organization and of course, completion. And what if those same subjects form the foundation of an article or book or blog? Maybe this trail is worth exploring.
Having taught classes or given presentations, I realize that there is a level of time commitment that needs to be, at times, in favor of the freelancer. Volunteering or giving back to the at-large conservation audience are worthy reasons for providing free programs and are an integral part of my world. That said, there are always bills and expenses. Somewhere a happy medium exists.
SIX REASONS FOR TEACHING
First, of course, is gainful employment. Just like receiving payment for a writing assignment, it’s always nice to get a check. However, when I do offer classes, I keep my class schedule manageable. Some courses are one-day events, while others meet once a week for several weeks. Like juggling multiple article submissions, I balance my schedule for writing time around teaching days.
Secondly, the preparation for a course often sparks an article idea. If someone is interested in taking a class, might they be interested in reading an article on the same subject? There’s no better way to conduct research than to canvas a group engaged in an activity that I’m writing about.
Thirdly, during class, participants often ask good questions. Some I can answer, others encourage me to do more research. Plus, there are times when the participant’s contribution to either these unanswered questions or other discussions spark my idea generator. Their input has spun-off into material for blogs or articles. Although a book has never materialized from these discussions, the concept of one often arises.
Fourthly, there is the idea of staying fresh or updated on subjects. Teaching a class encourages me to review material, to seek out the “what’s new” and to make sure that a presentation is suitable to the participants. I teach course subjects that I know well, though, at times, I may not be up-to-date with the latest equipment and gear. Sometimes a pack from several years back or snowshoes from a different generation work just fine, but there have been advances in the industry that I need to know about so I can be properly prepared for instructing a class. Furthermore, if students do not understand me, I need to edit my presentation, just as I would edit an article.
Reason number five has to do with branding and platforms and marketing. Especially for freelancers, this visibility can communicate a level of expertise to or create a relationship with participants and ultimately, readers. I always thought branding and platforms referred to cattle operations and deer blinds, so I am trying to catch up in this category.
Number six is the real reason behind teaching a subject or leading a class: fun. Enjoyment and enthusiasm for a subject that one can share with others is truly a great thing. There is a lot of truth in the bumper sticker, “A bad day fishing is better than a good day in the office.”
Offering courses through an organization offers benefits such as advertising, registration, permits, class location, and payroll. That is a huge undertaking that I don’t have to take, especially when I am already concentrating on submitting queries and researching markets. The balance of time spent between organizing and presenting has to be reasonable, otherwise, for me, it takes way too much focus.
Though teaching subjects is not a new concept, I find that these endeavors are a nice complement to my freelancing. Scheduling courses fits within my time structure and creates outlets for my interests, and, at times, a little extra income.♦
Freelancer Damian Fagan lives in the Pacific Northwest. He teaches hiking, snowshoeing and bird watching classes for the Central Oregon Community College’s Community Learning program, as well as other organizations. Author of several field guides for The Globe Pequot Press, he is a first-year OWAA member.