Though all freelance writers are part-time jugglers balancing various outlets, editors, and deadlines, not all have an extra full-time job: being a mom. Somehow, the talented Nadine Jolie Courtney manages to churn out articles for Reader’s Digest, Oprah.com, and others, all while caring for her two children. Did we mention she’s an author and a screenwriter, too? We have long been impressed with her organizational skills and positive attitude, so we asked her to give us a peek into her daily routine.
This interview has been lightly edited.
Tell us about your day-to-day routine
I have a built-in alarm clock because of my 16-month-old, so I wake whenever she wakes me. Today, it was 8:30 a.m.! (But that was after four wakeups last night.) Most mornings, I'm up-and-at-'em around 7. I give her a bottle, make my 6-year-old's breakfast and pack her lunch, and then hustle my husband and daughter out the door for school.
After I feed the baby breakfast, I make myself a coffee, eat my own breakfast, and then answer a few emails (if I can). I also read a few newsletters and, of course, check social media. The baby goes down for a nap between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m., so it's then the bulk of my day occurs: replying to emails, pitching, researching and writing articles, and working on my side businesses. I have a travel advising business called Backyard Dreaming and am also a novelist and screenwriter.
Somewhere in those three hours, I also try to shower and eat lunch. It's family time from 1 p.m. until 9 p.m.: feeding and playing with the baby, picking up my daughter from school, making dinner, boring but necessary stuff like laundry, and then bathing, reading to, and putting the kids to bed.
After they're asleep, my husband and I set a timer for half an hour and write: if I'm on deadline, this is when I put articles to bed. If I don't have any articles at the moment, I chip away at my latest screenplay or novel—either writing or breaking story. After half an hour, we turn the TV on (just finished "Halt and Catch Fire"; currently watching "Turn") and I answer more emails.
There's never enough time to reply to them all, sadly! I try to make it upstairs by 11 p.m. each night because I find it takes me at least an hour to wind down—Instagram, Deuxmoi, and the New York Times Crossword app. I'm usually lights out by 12:30 a.m., but on really busy days or days when I have too many deadlines, I might go to bed at 1 a.m. or later.
How many stories do you work on in a month? How do you keep yourself organized?
It really varies, depending on how much time I have to pitch because of my baby. Usually, I'm working on one or two articles at once, but I'll allow myself fallow periods to play catch up with all the other life stuff I don't have time for before diving into the pitches again. I use Trello to organize all my businesses: freelance writing, travel advising, screenwriting, and also personal stuff/things for my daughter's school.
How do you find sources and products?
Publicist emails! If I'm working on an article for Reader's Digest, The Healthy, Oprah, etc., where I need sources, I'll search old emails to see if anybody has messaged me something relevant. I'll also put a call out on Facebook in various groups like Sharing Opps. I've just started a newsletter for this very purpose (subscribe here!), so I have a distribution list at my fingertips.
What stands out to you in a pitch from a publicist? The good? The bad?
Succinct pitches are best: I'll email you for more info if I'm working on something relevant. And if I'm not writing anything at the moment where it fits, it doesn't mean I won't be able to feature you/your client down the road. I'll often go back to the well months or even years later off products or experts that have been pitched!
How do you come up with story ideas?
I'm nearly 15 years into being a freelance writer, so ideas are the easy part: the hard part for me is simply finding time to write them all! Most of my outlets are very interested in SEO pieces, so things that are timely or hot, but which haven't been covered to death in other places are always a hit.
What's the hardest part of your job? What's the best part?
Finding time to do it. I'm in a weird season of my life, with a young child at home that we don't feel comfortable hiring childcare for because of COVID, so I feel particularly tethered down. But I know it's temporary (even if, sadly, COVID isn't) and am just doing my best to juggle things until she'd old enough to attend preschool.
Until then, I always appreciate extra patience from publicists who understand that; just because I'm not replying to their emails or pitching out all their great ideas now, I'll be back with a vengeance soon!
The best part is being able to write for a living: what an absolute dream! I especially love being a lifestyle writer because it's such a broad umbrella and encompasses all of my interests: travel, food & drink, parenting, tech, health, and the like.
What advice would you give to a publicist to catch your attention?
Relationship build! I always reply to publicists who mention, "hey, I saw your baby on Instagram and she's mighty cute!" or "How was your recent stay at that hotel?! I'm thinking of going there myself!" Things like that show they're taking the time and going the extra mile beyond just copying and pasting an e-blast pitch to 1,000 writers.
And then, after you made that initial contact, keep it personal and reach out from time to time just to say hi. We're people; you're people—it's a relationship-forward business, but as writers, we are absolutely *inundated* with pitches and emails and products, so when I have something that is a fit, I'll be more likely to think of my friends and their clients and make sure they're included. And please, avoid typos and generic pitches that don't match our outlets and interests! A little extra homework will yield dividends.