Freelance Travel Writer Offers Advice to Millennials: Do Not Freak Out, But Seize the Day

Florida Keys resident Jill Zima Borski is a lifelong writer who currently freelances for a weekly newspaper and a monthly magazine as well as a national news website where she is a travel writer. She loves taking photos to accompany her stories. She also teaches art at a private grade school and works in a gallery to sell her and her husband's art. Jill has two sons, 15 and 12, and wrote about her adventurous life before moving to the Keys in the memoir, Know that I have Lived.

Florida Keys resident Jill Zima Borski is a lifelong writer who currently freelances for a weekly newspaper and a monthly magazine as well as a national news website where she is a travel writer. She loves taking photos to accompany her stories. She also teaches art at a private grade school and works in a gallery to sell her and her husband’s art. Jill has two sons, 15 and 12, and wrote about her adventurous life before moving to the Keys in the memoir, Know that I have Lived.

Jill Zima Borski, mother of two, and author of the memoir, I Know That I Have Livedwanted to show her kids what it was like growing up in the 60s, 70s and 80s. She wanted to remind them of what she calls a “much simpler time.” But, the most important lesson she wanted to teach them, and other young people, is to seize the day. 

Borski, who is also a freelance travel writer and journalist in the Florida Keys, knew she wanted to be a writer after volunteering for the Duke University newspaper in college. She went on to get her master’s degree and quickly found that getting a job was tougher than she expected. But, Borski said she tried to never focus on that and, instead, took bicycling trips as a way to gain experiences she would never forget. Her book chronicles these stories and offers advice to millennials who may be dealing with the so-called quarter-life crisis.

“When I had all these degrees and I couldn’t find that dream job, I just kept going back to Europe,” Borski said.  “I would take these amazing bicycle journeys and that, in many ways, was just completely gratifying.  I wouldn’t change it for the world.”

And while not everyone can hop on a plane to Europe, she encourages people to think outside the box when planning their lives.

“My point is that some people graduate, get their dream job, work like a dog for 30 years and then they start traveling to Europe,” she said.

“Here is the good news for my kids: there are lots of ways to live your life. There are so many ways to work out your life and taking advantage of opportunities when you get the chance is critical.”

Now, we think THAT is some advice to live by.

I had the pleasure of picking Borski’s brain on what it’s like to be a freelance writer, to live a balanced life and how she made her way into a difficult field.

Can you tell us a little about your writing career? How did you end up as a journalist in the Florida Keys? 

I was a volunteer newspaper reporter at Duke University and my assignments were varied. One of my favorite articles I remember writing was about these two archaeology professors that went on a dig in the Middle East.

In 1995, I was lucky enough to get a job in the Florida Keys as a staff writer and when I moved down here for that job, it paid $18,000 a year plus benefits. So, not much.  It’s all very good to have a career you love, but I think sometimes with journalism you’re not going to get rich. However,  the assignments can be wonderful and you’re always learning.”

When you got your first job, what was your life like?

“I was single so I could afford a little apartment beneath somebody’s house. The rent was reasonable, so I could make things work. I loved the job and I loved the Keys and I stayed at that job for 13 years. But I also saw that the future of newspapers was not great,  so that’s why I decided to branch out and start writing for magazines. I joined the Florida Outdoor Writer’s Association in 1999 and I saw that others made a living by writing about the outdoors. That encouraged me to become a freelance writer and kind of expand my options for selling my writing.”

Can you tell us about the process of starting a freelance career?

“I took an adult education class at Miami-Dade (Community) College  taught by a freelance writer. She recommended that we buy the Writer’s Market. To this day, that publication comes out every year and it just lists all kinds of places where writers can sell their work. It also has inspiring articles and teaches you the proper way to submit a query letter,  which is kind of just giving editors an idea of what you would write about if they gave you an assignment. But, there is a formula for that. So, between that course and Writer’s Market, I knew how editors wanted to receive these query letters. And the good news is a lot of that is done now by email, so you don’t have to worry about self-addressed stamped envelopes which is how you did it in the day.”

How does being a freelance writer differ from being a staff writer at a publication?

“Working for a newspaper as a staff writer, I got a salary and benefits. Working on my own, like I do now, I am totally independent and therefore only earn whatever I’m paid for an article. No benefits. But,  I get to work out of my house, which I dearly love. I am very reliable regardless. I always meet deadlines because that’s the only way you will get future assignments. And of course I also follow all the journalistic guidelines. For example, I always double-check my facts, dates, and I Google things if something doesn’t quite sound right. I know it’s better to leave stuff out than it is to print something that’s not quite right.

I do love, although I don’t get paid very highly for them, the travel stories I do now.  The trade off is in the experience you gain.”

What is the most exciting thing you’ve ever written about?

“I’m going to say it was a series I did on Oslo, Norway. I found a cheap airfare and I went there for four days.  I focused on all the things to do and see there. Thanks to a free pass I asked for and received from the Oslo Tourism Office, I went to museums and several attractions for free each day. What I loved about it is that I was on my own and I was able to fill my days doing exactly what I wanted, and then come back and write all about it.  I loved the independence about it. It was amazing.”

Borsk family in Cave

How do you achieve a work-life balance?

“What I tend to do is get up relatively early. I’m usually at my computer by 7:30 a.m. And then, by lunch time, I need a break. During my break, I usually go bicycling or swimming, which of course is hard to do if you work in an office sometimes.

I then work again in the afternoon from about 2-4 p.m. and then I’m pretty much done. The good news for me is that since I have two kids in school, my hours kind of follow their school schedule. If I need to, I can work in the evenings or on the weekend. I try my hardest to keep it fairly sane. However, if I have a really fun project that I want to do for an online publication, that’s also a good time to do those sorts of things—at night time or on the weekends—because those things bring me joy.”

Why do you think keeping this balance is so important?

“I think I do my best work if I’m fairly consistent. I don’t like to be right up against a deadline, so when I take my little breaks at lunch it really kind of clears my head. Then,  I can go back to the story I was working on and see it with fresh eyes and make improvements or changes. To me, being able to get away from the computer actually helps my writing and helps me balance stress. I think taking breaks, whether it’s exercising or going out to lunch with a friend, is important because then you can do your best work.”

You mentioned your cycling adventures, how does that hobby play a role in your life?

“Cycling is definitely a passion of mine and it’s very interesting to see how people’s lives have a theme. For example in 3rd grade I won a bicycle through an essay contest. And it kind of signaled that I was decent at writing and I won this bicycle. When I was 16, my parents gave me an Italian racing bike as a gift. Bicycles for me always gave me freedom. You don’t have to put gas in them.  You just take off and paddle. And to this day when I go off on these bicycle adventures, I’m just completely joyful at exploring. On a bicycle you can’t carry that much. It’s about experiencing things. That is one of the reasons I love it so much—it takes me on experiences that bring me joy.”

Who is your female role model and why?

“Wow. At the moment, I’m going to say Hilary Clinton. I think she’s as tough as she needs to be. I think she has amazing foreign policy experience, and I love that from a travel perspective. I think travel can teach you so much. I think she has great education because she was an attorney and she made her way through law school. I think that’s a wonderful occupation from women and I just admire her. I admire her win or lose of going through this ordeal of running for president. I think anyone who is striving for that is worthy of being a role model.”

Do you have any inspirational quotes that you live by?

“I have a poem and I even put it in my book:

To know someone
Here or there
With whom one can feel there is
Understanding in spite of distances or thoughts unexpressed
That can make of the world a garden.

What it says to me is when I travel or meet certain people, I don’t have to spend a week or a lifetime with this person for them to have an influence on me. I love the way that poem says that there are a lot of amazing people out there. I feel blessed when I meet someone that makes a difference no matter how short of time is spent with them.

1556468_10203019599679997_790696697_oWhat is your advice to women who are thinking of breaking into the writing field?

“For younger girls: I would say don’t be shy about asking for help or advice. You can reach out to English teachers, visiting speakers, make a phone call to somebody that they admire and I bet most of the time that the person they are reaching out to would be happy to share their wisdom with you. I substitute teach and I often share certain things with the kids. I’m always hopeful that if they know I’m a writer they will ask me about it.

For older women: There are ways—they aren’t easy. Many jobs are not advertised. That’s always frustrating to hear. I would knock on doors anyway, whether it’s a newspaper office or whatever. Nonprofit offices have opportunities. Tell everyone you meet you want to be a writer, anything that’s going to get your foot in the door. But you have to let people know that’s what you want to do. I don’t care if they’re working for Publix and paying the bills. Every chance you get, you need to tell people, ‘I really aspire to be a writer,’ and who knows, someone may help you. Maybe the corporate office has an opening for website writing. You have to be much more outgoing and proactive and blow your own horn, which a lot of us aren’t good at but it’s amazing at how that will help. Also, be open to the types of writing jobs.

Thanks Jill for being a great Renaissance Woman and showing us to not freak out when our lives aren’t going as planned and to simply–LIVE.