For our Freelance Writer Spotlight this May, we are very excited to honor a relatively new addition to our awesome team of writers: Shireen Stephenson.
After only about 6 months as a BlogMutt writer, Shireen has impressed our team with her ability to tackle the most challenging topics with flair. Her writing is not only technically excellent, but she writes with a wonderfully likable and often funny style. Shireen is a master of making complex topics feel easy to understand, and she is a regular contributor (as well as a preferred writer) for customers in tech, cybersecurity, finance, and even international business consulting.
Shireen says that she enjoys a good challenge when it comes to important topics with large-scale social or political impacts, and given her extensive reading list, I'd be surprised if you could give her a challenge that she couldn't meet.
In addition to being a freelance writer, Shireen is an online educator and editor who works with corporate clients, but also enjoys tutoring high schoolers and undergrads. Read on for our interview with Shireen in which she shares some amazing advice for freelancing, courtesy of Kung Fu Panda 3, and shares the weirdest topic that she has ever covered as a writer.
1. How did you get started as a writer?
Shireen: I first began writing about 30 years ago, when I was still in high school. One of my favorite subjects at the time was English literature. I absolutely adored the Shakespearean plays I had to learn.
As a scholarship student in England in the '80s, I had to keep my grades up. The literature course I took required a portfolio of personal works, and I plunged into the project enthusiastically. When I wasn't in class, I spent many hours reading; I was fascinated by the intrigue, drama, and humor in Shakespeare's plays. As a writer, Shakespeare portrayed humanity in all its magnificent nobility and latent ugliness.
At the time, I was desperate to excel but equally desperate to prevent my bookworm tendencies from cementing my nerd status at school. Alas, Shakespeare won, and my adolescent dreams about appearing knowledgeable but "cool" were summarily crushed. However, I did learn to appreciate the nuances of language.
I've been fascinated with the written word ever since, and my love of reading supports my work on behalf of BlogMutt's clients.
2. What type of clients do you write for on BlogMutt? What are their businesses like and why do you like to write for them?
At BlogMutt, I usually like to write for clients who request tech, cybersecurity, finance, and trade articles. As to why I like writing for these clients, I will say that I enjoy the challenge of fulfilling client expectations for these articles.
Some of the businesses I write for engage in international trade or are tasked with designing the best national security solutions for a country. Others address online privacy protections for medical data or how current political events will affect the viability of a treaty. It's a great feeling when I know that an article I've written will make a difference in the world.
3. What is the most important piece of advice that you can give to beginning freelance writers?
Wow, great question! I think the best advice I've ever received is this:
Challenge yourself continually, and you won't be disappointed with your efforts.
Last year, I watched an animated movie that fully illustrates this point. The movie was Kung Fu Panda 3 (yes, I'm a kid at heart), and one of the most memorable scenes was one which involved Master Shifu and Po, the Dragon Warrior.
In the scene, Po accuses Master Shifu of entrusting him with an impossible task: that of training the other warriors. In deep frustration, Po announces that he is done with teaching. Master Shifu then asks Po what exactly he is done with: teaching or feeling humiliated about his failures. Master and student continued arguing until Master Shifu utters one of the most powerful lines in the movie:
"If you only do the things you can do, you'll never be more than you are now."
To me, this is true for writing as well.
4. What are you reading right now? Any book recommendations?
I tend to read a lot of nonfiction. One of my favorite books is Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell. Gladwell's hypothesis is that it takes up to 10,000 hours of practice for anyone to excel in a skill. I've also enjoyed a fair amount of fiction over the years.
Since I'm an educator and have been for almost twenty years, I make sure that I keep up with what students read in school. I also read industry journals and business magazines; along with these, I keep up with the latest SEO techniques from books and publications on the topic.
As for recommendations, I believe it's a good thing to try something new once in a while. I've explored everything from Ursula Le Guin to Khaled Hosseini to J.D. Vance (who wrote the nonfiction Hillbilly Elegy). Then, there is Orwell, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and the Greek classics.
Your mileage may vary, and that's ok. Just keep on reading!
5. What does a typical writing day look like for you? Do you have a schedule, set goals, etc.?
Besides writing at BlogMutt, I'm also an online educator and editor. On any given day, you'll find me pounding away at my keyboard by 6:30 am. Apart from my work with corporate clients, I also enjoy tutoring high school and undergraduate students. My workdays are long: typically about 10 hours daily.
My goal is to deliver the best content to any BlogMutt client I write for, so it's not unusual to find me reading a lot, no matter what time of day it is. When I'm not writing, I read anything and everything (I know; how can anybody read everything?). I read works from every political persuasion and on various technical topics.
I haven't yet graduated to reading car manuals yet, so there's still hope for me (my apologies to all car mechanics out there).
6. What is one thing about you that we might find surprising?
I write many technical articles on BlogMutt, and in public, I'm usually pretty reserved (people with less tact would say that I was boring). However, I have one guilty pleasure: I like playing the piano, and I've been known to play the latest Star Wars or other movie theme at high volume (I have patient neighbors).
At present, one of my favorite movie themes is the "Imperial Suite" from Rogue One. When I play it, I like to imagine that Director Orson Krennic has just landed on Earth and is making his way to the United Nations. Of course, he would be flanked by columns of Imperial Forces, all bent on exerting the will of the director over the peaceful nations of Earth.
(Image courtesy of InaFarAwayGalaxy.com)
7. What is the weirdest subject that you've ever written about on BlogMutt?
I think the strangest thing I've ever written about was an article about exotic mounts. Although hunting is a big deal in my state, I don't personally know anyone who collects exotic mounts. In terms of exotic mounts, I'm talking about Arabian oryxes, African Cape buffalo, plus African rhinoceros and crocodile. Think big and dangerous.
Behold, the African Cape buffalo.
I also learned that the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service green-lighted the breeding of exotic animals to support the demand for exotic mounts. True, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service does protect endangered species, and these animals cannot be hunted without repercussions. However, exotic animals that are not endangered are fair game; the rationale is that continued breeding of these animals prevents them from becoming extinct. Interesting.
That said, the article was a fantastic adventure in broadening my horizons and an exercise in testing my natural curiosity. I learned that I could hunt these exotic creatures at ranches in Texas and Florida and then turn them into mounts that can frighten small children into finishing their peas. Not bad for a day's work!
Thanks so much to Shireen for being such an fantastic member of our writer community. It has been wonderful working with you, and I'm excited to see what you'll write about next!