Name: Alissa Walker
Title: Freelance writer
Location: Los Angeles, CA
Tell us about your educational/professional background.
My whole life I actually wanted to be in advertising. It’s kind of sick, but I was obsessed with television ads, even though I didn’t watch a lot of TV (maybe that’s why). So I set a very direct course to an advertising degree, which meant I went through the journalism school at the University of Colorado, followed by the advertising program at The Portfolio Center in Atlanta. I was dead set on being either a copywriter or an art director. But something changed once I finished school, I realized I had really fallen in love with writing, and maybe not the ad-making part so much. When I got out of school I tried to get those choice advertising jobs but in 2000 they just didn’t exist anymore due to the dot-com bubble bursting. I took a few freelancing gigs and hated it. So I took a day job at a production studio and tried to write. Well that never works, so three years later I found myself on a trip to Europe all by myself (and eating a lot of gelato), and realizing that if I wanted to write, I had to get serious about it. So I started my totally-serious, writing-only freelance career. Soon after that I got a job as an editor of the design blog UnBeige and my career just took off. That was seven years ago and I’ve never looked back. I love being a writer, I love telling stories, and I love being freelance.
Tell us about your current job.
Right now I’m a freelance writer for several publications. I contribute regularly to GOOD; Fast Company’s new design site, Co.Design; the public radio show DnA: Design and Architecture; and write occasionally for a few others like Dwell, AFAR, and Sunset. I have been writing a blog about design, cities, walking, Los Angeles, and gelato since 2006 named Gelatobaby. I produce and program a lot of events and conferences, including events and parties here in LA for GOOD, as well as the monthly design event design east of La Brea. I’ll be speaking and moderating several panels at the upcoming Dwell on Design conference in June, and I’m also putting together an emerging designer mini-conference for AIGA’s national design conference in Phoenix in the fall. I’m also working on a book of essays about Los Angeles.
What does a typical day look like for you?
I get up around 6:00am and start to sift through the emails which have accumulated in the night. Then I usually start on my toughest or most important writing assignment first thing in the morning when my brain is sharpest. A few days a week I head into the office at GOOD (here in LA) for meetings, but otherwise I’m here at my desk pretty much all day. I also do a lot of field reporting for local stories so I’m often out and about a few days a week, riding my bike or public transportation to various places around Los Angeles. I stop and make a really great lunch with my boyfriend, the graphic designer Keith Scharwath, who also works from our house. I usually work on the weekends, too.
What kinds of documents do you produce?
I would say a vast majority of the pieces I write are blog posts. This is a dramatic shift from only a few years ago when I was producing maybe 75% print pieces and 25% blog. Now the print pieces are definitely the exception. But I actually really prefer writing online pieces: the immediacy is so great, and the ability to share and comment make the story better.
What communication skills are needed for your job?
Freelancers in general need to be very clear about their availability and be able to manage expectations, things I’d say I’m not so talented at. I often take on far more than I can feasibly do and then work far more than is humanly possible. Although I’m not sure it’s a requirement, I am very vigilant about answering emails right away. Again, not sure if that’s necessarily a good thing but it’s something I feel strongly about.
How did you prepare for your job?
I think I took a very roundabout path to my current career (and I say current because it could all change soon!) so I’ve ended up drawing upon many skills that I’ve used throughout my lifetime. One thing that sticks out is my experiences performing in theater and show choirs when I was younger. Public speaking has become a big part of my job and I don’t think I would have been able to do it if I hadn’t been onstage so much as a teenager.
List three of your favorite professional resources/references/tools and tell us why they’re your favorite.
The first and foremost is UPOD, a writers’ group started by my friend David Hochman. Here journalists from around the world share information and advice with each other. It’s awesome. And I have to say Twitter is #2: It’s where I get most of my story ideas, and where I’m able to share what I write with an enthusiastic audience. #3 would be my Leica D-LUX 4 camera. I love taking photos and writing about the way I experience Los Angeles on my blog.
How do you stay up to date in your field?
As I mentioned, Twitter is a pretty great tool, as is just reading the blogs of my friends, who are all geniuses in their fields.
How would you define professional writing?
Professional writing is the ability to take an important story and turn it into an unforgettable experience that your enthusiastic readers can’t help but share with their friends.
Do you have any tips to share with other professional writers/editors/designers?
Never, ever, ever take a job for the money. Just when I think I’ve learned this lesson, I fall back in the hole and end up hating myself, the publication, the world. Only pick the jobs and assignments that are going to make you proud.