Reflections on Writing for the Media: An Interview with Brad Lemley, Editorial Director of

by Loolwa Khazzoom • August 12, 2011 • Writing and Editing Tips

Wondering what it’s like to write for the media? Looking for some dos & don’ts to keep in mind as you enter the fray? Brad Lemley, now Editorial Director of, shares the benefit of his 15 years of experience freelancing for leading periodicals.

When did you first get interested in writing?

From the time I was a kid, writing came pretty easily to me, and I was often complimented on my work. I was in no danger of excelling at sports, math, or really anything else, so I seized on my writing ability as my one true talent.

How did you get into freelancing?

My son was born in 1986. My wife had a regular 9-to-5, and I had wanted to freelance, so I decided to stay home and try it. I pitched a piece to The Washington Post’s Sunday magazine, and the editor liked it. I wrote for The Post for about five years, then branched out to other publications for the next 15 years.

Did you have formal training?

I did go to journalism school, but the main way I learned was via my poverty: I had to make money as a writer from the time I was a sophomore in college, just to make ends meet; so I started freelancing like crazy for anyone and everyone. I would just study existing articles and work from that format. It’s not difficult if you have some natural gifts and are motivated.

Why did you stick with freelancing?

I loved being my own boss, choosing my own subjects, and getting to learn from the best people in the business — yet having the freedom to move on if a given situation grew claustrophobic, or a more interesting opportunity popped up elsewhere. I almost never took assignments. I generated my own ideas and pitched them, which had two major advantages: I only wrote about those things that truly interested me, and I spared overworked editors the need to dream up good ideas — which made me valuable to them.

What do you have to say to untrained writers?

Three-quarters of “writing chops” is simply the willingness to do it. Many people want to be professional writers. Few have the discipline to actually sit and create. It is hard, and you must be wiling to be edited. Some people just have too much ego to handle a big, black “X” through their favorite paragraph!

What was one of the coolest things about your freelance career?

I wrote hundreds of articles that had the potential to make the world better. Once I wrote about the world’s only surgeon who specialized in making people with dwarfism syndromes able to walk. Many people found this man through my article, and his surgery allowed them to walk. He said to me, “You will never know all of the good that story has done.” The scenario repeated, with variations, dozens of times in my career.

Before becoming the editorial director of, where did you freelance?

Parade, Reader’s Digest, Psychology Today, The New York Times Sunday Magazine, Discover, Body and Soul, This Old House, and many others. I also co-wrote some books: It’s Not What Happens to You, It’s What You Do About It, Thos. Moser, Artistry in Wood, and The Complete Tightwad Gazette.

At your peak, what was your income from freelancing?

It is a tough way to get rich. In my best year, I made about $80,000 from magazines. You have to write awfully fast to make even that much.

How did your freelance work lead to your editorial position?

I wrote about Dr. Andrew Weil for both Discover and Body and Soul magazine. We formed a friendship, so when his company needed an editorial director, I had a natural entry point.

What are the major dos & don’ts you advise when working with editors?

Listen. Take direction. Don’t take it personally. I used to work with a guy who crossed out whole paragraphs and wrote “YUK!” in the margin. If that frosts you, stick to PR or teaching English.

Anything else you’d like to share with aspiring freelancers?

It takes great courage to face a blank page, fill it with words, and submit it to an editor. But the writer/editor dance is one of the things that distinguishes real writing from the random logorrhea of blogging. I have had the experience of working with editors and making something truly special — far better than either of us could have dreamed of creating individually.

Freelancing is a good way to have an interesting life. When people tell me about the mind-numbing jobs they do decade after decade, I am appalled. If you like rampaging around and seeing what there is to see, be a freelancer.

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About Loolwa

Loolwa KhazzoomLoolwa Khazzoom has worked with leading media outlets, including The New York Times, CNN, Rolling Stone, and ABC News. In addition, she has published two books and has lectured at prestigious venues including Barnard Center for Research on Women, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, and Harvard University. Loolwa is passionate about health, music, dance, multiculturalism, and Judaism.

Holistic Media, Marketing, PR

Loolwa Khazzoom is a a public relations manager specializing in holistic media, holistic marketing, holistic public relations, and holistic promotions. Her services include branding and messaging development, image and communications management, website content development and optimization, social media management, traditional media campaign management, book development, and in-house writing and editing.

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