Kate Oczypok is a 30-something freelance writer and piano teacher. She has been published in The New York Times, Real Simple, Brides, and various local publications in DC and Pittsburgh, where she grew up. Kate currently lives in the DC area with her fiancé Brad and dog Tito.
I thought I’d be working full-time for a newspaper, or perhaps teaching upper elementary or middle school, the usual 9-5 or 8-4 job. Instead, my day-to-day routine is certainly something I never imagined.
The first story I ever wrote was called “Starlight the Magical Horse” about — you guessed it — a magical pony. I became hooked on storytelling, writing more pieces about families with lots of children and protagonists that sounded a lot like me. As my parents continued to have kids after me (I am the oldest of five), I discovered how much I loved being with kids — and later, working with them (not just writing about them).
Through lots of hard work and determination, I have managed to become a successful freelance writer and piano teacher. I also have a “side hustle” (as the kids say these days) as a family and portrait photographer.
Teaching 25 children ages 6-16 requires lots of organization. Writing for multiple publications at once needs plenty of calendars and to-do lists to make sure I don’t miss a deadline. Here are some ways I manage my teaching and writing careers — at the same time.
If I wasn’t organized, I would not be able to manage what I do — especially as someone with diagnosed generalized anxiety disorder. Every Sunday, I sit down with my paper planner (this year I went for a Kate Spade one) and write out who I have for lessons that week. Most of the time my lesson schedule stays the same, but there’s inevitably someone out of town on vacation or taking a make-up lesson on a different day not typically their own.
Then I write down any due dates, meetings or appointments that week. I even write a reminder for ordering groceries, which my fiancé and I do through Instacart since we don’t have a car. I pick a day that’s the least busy to do laundry or clean the apartment (I alternate weeks with those).
For piano, I stay organized by scheduling a lot of emails in advance. I send a reminder every Sunday at noon to my piano students’ parents. I also send a monthly progress report and estimate for the upcoming month on the third Friday of each month.
I find it very hard sometimes to test my creativity with a pitch, but I know that if I don’t put myself out there I’ll never get anywhere as a freelancer. I’ve learned that at least 80 percent of freelancing is looking for pitches — and being creative enough to understand what your experience could bring to the pitches.
I subscribe to multiple freelance newsletters, both free and for pay. The investment I make into these newsletters allows me to pitch publications I never knew existed (or never knew were accepting pitches).
To be a successful freelance writer, I’ve found that you must be willing to pitch anything that looks intriguing to you — of course, you'll also want to make sure you fit the description of what a publication is looking for! I love education and children, entertainment, lifestyle stories, and pets, so I look for publications seeking that kind of work. Another part of the pitch equation is thinking about what’s going on in your life at the moment. Right now, I'm engaged to be married, am a dog owner and work in freelancing and teaching. Using your strengths and experiences make the occasionally tedious task of coming up with pitches a lot easier.
Having two very different careers that both demand 100 percent of my attention requires a lot of balance. I can’t leave a writing deadline until the evening it’s due — not if I have an afternoon of piano lessons ahead of me. I have found that writing in the morning is the best for me. Not only do I work better in the mornings in front of a computer, I also tend to write my best in the earlier hours.
Since the children and teens that I teach attend school, I teach piano lessons in the after-school hours, approximately 3-7 p.m. Monday through Thursday. Reserving Friday for make-up lessons and/or writing work I haven’t finished was a crucial addition to my schedule. If I taught Friday 3-7 p.m. too, I would not have time for any last-minute deadlines.
As I mentioned earlier, I have generalized anxiety disorder. Without taking time out for self-care, my work suffers. I have the Calm App on my phone, love to spend time walking my dog and my youngest sister just got me into Peloton (I just use the app and our apartment’s gym equipment). I also see a therapist bi-weekly to help me manage my anxiety. Doing those things helps me with my work-life balance.
Even though my monthly earnings can be variable — with some months bringing in a lot less than the previous month — to me, freelancing is worth it. So are the piano lessons I give. I love being able to work from home and in the after-school hours, work with children on a one-on-one basis. I’ve been able to establish long-term relationships with lots of publications and I’ve been teaching some of my students for seven years now. It’s fun to watch them grow up.
Sharing music with my students is very rewarding to me — I am so proud of them when they play a scale correctly or pass a difficult song in the lesson book series that I work in. Recitals are particularly happy times for me. Even though we’ve had to move them to Zoom these last two years, it’s so wonderful to see everyone in one place playing pieces they worked on for months. It is so incredibly rewarding to see a child understand a concept or play a song perfectly for the first time. It’s equally rewarding to see my byline at the top of a story I’ve worked hard on.
Now that I’ve been freelancing and teaching for almost a decade, it’s been interesting to reflect on my career choices. Yes, sometimes I worry about my finances on certain months. I sometimes feel frazzled when I am working on multiple projects at once. I wouldn’t change anything though. I feel proud of the fact that I can honestly say I love my job — or, in this case, jobs!