The 5-Minute Freelancer Q&A #4 – Jeff Gailus

In this regular feature, Story Board asks Canadian writers to share a few details about their work habits and their strategies for navigating the ups and downs of freelance life.


1. Where are you when most of your story ideas come to you?

Usually it’s when I’m in the shower or, most often, when I’m driving. When I’m focused on keeping the car on the road my mind just wanders. I do a lot of driving between Missoula and Calgary and that’s usually when I have my best ideas. And then I’ll just speak them into a voice recorder or pull over and write them down. Because thoughts and connections and insights tend to come to me when my conscious mind is otherwise occupied. Another place is lying in bed. Usually I read a little bit before I fall asleep and what I’m reading will trigger something around style or structure. It’s mostly making linkages and connections to something I may have been thinking about before. All of a sudden I get this big “ah ha!” And nine times out of ten they never result in anything, or they go into a file of story ideas on my computer that’s a mile long. But I just pick and choose from them either as interest dictates or as opportunity does.


2. What’s your biggest distraction and how do you resist it? 

I’m a little bit ADD… I don’t know about formally or not, but my biggest distraction is trying to stay focused on the matter at hand and not get caught up in all these other interesting things to write about and story leads to track down. And because I’ve been kind of living on the road for much of the last five years, I haven’t had a permanent place, a permanent community, a place to call home, never mind a permanent office, so that only adds to the mix. But now that I’m settled in Missoula, it’s all coming together. There’s a great writing community here, too. It’s a very literary community from Bill Kittredge to David James Duncan and Rick Bass and all of these wonderful people I’ve met here. That is really helping me focus on my writing. And I’ve got an office now and I feel a little bit more stable. So I still deal with the impulses to keep track of every issue and try and follow things up, but I’m getting better at that.


3. What non-writing activity do you do to recharge your batteries?

One of the things that recharges my batteries the most every year is teaching university field courses. I take university students into the Purcell Mountains or Yellowstone National Park and lead two-week courses on natural resource management, ecology, conservation biology. And I absolutely love it because I’m in the backcountry, which is one of the ways I recharge my batteries. And almost 100% of the students are self-selected, they’re interested, they’re passionate and they want to learn more and use their knowledge and experience to make the world a better place. There’s nothing more satisfying than helping young people get on a path to making a difference in the world.

If I spend too much time in front of the computer by myself I start to go a little bit stir crazy so I’ve been trying to get out a little bit more. People think that freelance writing is this romantic profession where you get to travel all over the world and see interesting cultures and for some people it is but for most of us it’s a lot of sitting in front of a computer. I think my next book will be quite different. I’m a little burned out writing about environmental politics and the tragic state of affairs in that regard. It’s time for a break to recharge my batteries.


4. What’s your best strategy for getting over rejected pitches?

When I started freelance writing I was terrified. I actually started when was living in Budapest, Hungary for four years and it took me two days to pick up the phone to call the editor of the local English language newspaper because of my fear that he would just say “no.” And that hasn’t totally dissipated, but I’m also pretty persistent. You read all these stories about classic novels that got rejected 200 times and now they’re in the canon. You just have to be persistent. And I guess that’s the strategy I use now. And once you develop relationships with editors… like, I’ve been rejected three times by Outside in the last six months but the editor loves my ideas so you’ve just got to keep floating them his way until you find one that fits his specific needs. I’m a firm believer that you just have to be persistent and it’ll all work out.


Jeff Gailus is a science, nature and culture writer formerly of Calgary, now based in Missoula, MT. His recent work includes An Act of Deception and Lobbyists and Lip Service (which was nominated for a Best Investigative Reporting award at the NMAs last year). His first book, The Grizzly Manifesto, was a finalist for the Alberta Readers’ Choice Award in 2011. His second book, Little Black Lies: Corporate & Political Spin in the Global War for Oil was released last month. You can follow him on Twitter at @jgailus.


How do you get over rejected pitches? Share your strategies with other freelancers in the comment section below.

Posted on November 2, 2012 at 9:36 am by Rachel · · Tagged with: , ,

2 Responses

Subscribe to comments via RSS

  1. Written by Melissa Martz
    on November 5, 2012 at 4:49 pm
    Reply · Permalink

    We all know, rejection is hard. These are things I do to try take my mind off it (especially when it was going to be a big contract…and I’ve had a few of those lately that did not pan out)

    1) Go for a power walk
    2) Listen to some favourite music
    3) Read inspirational passges: my favourite right now is “The World According to Mister Rogers” by Fred Rogers
    4) Deep breathing and meditation
    5) Find a good old comedy (TV show or movie) to watch
    6 Eat chocolate…just a little!! 🙂

    • Written by editor
      on November 6, 2012 at 10:05 am
      Reply · Permalink

      Good tips for keeping the freelance spirits up, Melissa!

Subscribe to comments via RSS

Leave a Reply