Featured Expert: Kristen Seymour
So, Kristen, tell me what brought you to the vast and varied world of online content creation?
I had always wanted to write professionally, but didn't really know how to get started without giving up my steady paycheck. A friend of mine wrote for AOL's That's Fit and had encouraged me to submit a sample. Although I'm very involved in health and fitness on a personal level, I didn't have any professional fitness certifications so I was too scared to apply. (Note to self: Don't ever be too scared to apply for something again!)
However, when she notified me that AOL was launching a wedding blog, I jumped at the chance – I'd worked in a variety of wedding-related jobs and considered myself an expert in the field. I was hired, and wrote after work and on the weekends for a few months before accepting positions at a couple of other AOL blogs, at which point I quit my 9-5 office job to become a blogger.How long does it take you to write an article? What's your process?
Writing an article can take me anywhere from about 30 minutes to a week or more. Some are quick and straightforward – you have a topic, and the point of the article is to tell your reader about it. Others require a lot more work. Doing the research and interviews can take days, and sometimes that research adds another facet to the article. Then, weeding through all the information to create a concise and easy-to-read article can take more time than you'd think.
For short articles, there's not too much of a process. I have an idea of what I want to write in my head, and then it just pours out. Then, I go back and clean it up. For longer articles, though, there are often pages of notes, lots of Post-it notes, and a great deal of hemming and hawing over the best angle and how to make it the best it can be.
What's the most satisfying aspect of creating content online?
I really enjoy the immediacy and fluidity of online content. Different than a newspaper or magazine, where every story in an issue comes out at the same time, publishing online content allows flexibility with the stories and scheduling. Something breaking can be published moments after a discovery is made or a quote is recorded, and that's really exciting. Or, if an article is written and about to go live, but a new angle comes out, you can update it moments before it publishes.
Additionally, I love the way online articles are so conducive to follow-ups. For example, there was a story earlier this year on Paw Nation about a Chihuahua who got a barbecue fork stuck in his head. It was an international story that we picked up, and we got hundreds of comments. The original article had to be written and published quickly, but afterward I did an interview with the vet who performed the surgery and got the full story. There's room to do that on an online article, but I'm not sure it would have worked as well in a print publication.
What advice would you give new AOL content creators wanting to earn a living (or even some pocket change) from their writing?
I can do a better job of advising on this with my editor hat on (don't worry, it's even more fabulous than this writer hat). There are a few things that make certain writers stand out and become successful. Obviously, a great writing style is key. Good grammar and a lack of typos is important, but you also have to be able to adjust your tone to work with the voice of the site you're writing for. Also, make sure you're willing to go the extra mile. If you're asked to get a quote from an expert, jump at the chance. It not only makes the article better, but it makes your writing stronger. And if an editor comes back to you with changes, make them without complaints. It's fine to ask questions if you don't understand something, of course, but this is like any other job – if your boss asked you to fix a presentation in another job, you'd do it, right?
Basically, the internet is huge, but the online writer and editor network is far smaller than I ever would have guessed, so doing your best work with a good attitude is just as important here as it would be in a non-virtual office.
What do you enjoy doing when you're not writing? Any of these offline activities inspire your writing?
I really only write about things I enjoy, so whatever I do when I'm away from my computer absolutely inspires my writing. I'm athletic, for example, and so the training I'm doing for an upcoming race has me thinking about things I can write about for That's Fit to help others who are embarking on a training plan. Or, take Paw Nation – I recently wrote an article to celebrate Shelter Pet Awareness Week, which is especially important to me because I volunteer with a local rescue and have adopted and fostered shelter animals. I'm always on the lookout for a great article, and often send pitches to my editor from my phone as they come to mind.
Who have you met as a result of writing online?
Well, that's a question with a few interesting answers! I've talked to athletes like Aaron Rodgers and Matthew Stafford, and interviewed celebrities like Sir Sean Connery and Christina Ricci. I'm actually waiting on a call from Malin Akerman as I write this.
However, I'll come back down to Earth for a moment. Through my work at AOL and other sites, I've met some of the most incredible writers ever. Scratch that – the most incredible people. Many of them, like Susan Wagner and (fellow writer) Cat Lincoln, I've since met in real life, which makes this virtual office seem a lot more real (and, of course, a lot more fun).
Where would you like your writing to take you? Any exciting projects on the horizon?
I feel like I've come so far in such a short period of time, so anything is possible. Two years ago, I never would have guessed I'd be where I am!
I certainly want to keep building my name in online content creation, but there's also a novel bouncing around in my brain. I'm getting better at budgeting my time and selecting projects that work with my strengths and preferred schedule, so setting aside a bit of time now and then to write a work of fiction is the next step.
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