This week I submitted an article to an editor I’ve worked with for awhile whose opinion I value and trust. When he sent it back to me, the piece had been ripped to shreds. Edits galore and what my high school English teacher would have deemed “R”. R meant rewrite and it was dreaded amongst students in the hallways of my high school. When I was a 16 year old just trying to breeze through to graduation, getting an R was one of my life’s biggest fears. I was an over-achiever in high school and getting poor grades sent me reeling, so to think that I would have to re-do an entire piece or risk failing marks was a huge stumbling block for me mentally. I held my breath every time papers were passed back, silently praying for an A or B. Spoiler alert: I never got an R in high school, but this week I got a professional-grade R. And you know what – sometimes that’s a really freaking good thing.
I think there are a ton of preconceived notions surrounding working a freelance writer and one that always makes me laugh to myself is that one time someone said to me “I would love to do what you do, just write a piece on what you’re thinking about and submit it like Carrie!” They were referencing the popular show character Carrie Bradshaw on Sex + The City. I don’t remember what I said back to them, but I have never forgotten it, mostly because that’s not at all how freelance writing works in my world. First and foremost, Carrie had a column, so maybe she had a bit more flexibility when it came to what she wrote about and the voice she wrote in. I’ll give her that…but she’s also a fictional character! I love Sex + The City just as much as many other millennials, but…it’s TV, people! I used to write a column for the newspaper here, but sadly it folded in 2016 and I’ve been on my own ever since. The reality of freelance writing is coming up with story ideas that aren’t stale or have a new interesting twist, researching editorial calendars to figure out when it would be relevant based on what outlets already have outlines for the year, pitching the stories to media outlets (and finding the right person to pitch to), developing the story, interviewing people, finding photos or taking them yourself, editing photos and then sitting down at your computer. You haven’t even started writing yet, my friends! And I could probably go on and on here about how the writing and editing process works, but trust me when I tell you that it’s a lot of culling for word counts, editing to fit parameters of the publication and then approving a final piece. It’s a process that can go on and on and on. On the flip, it’s a process that may never start, because for every 5 story ideas I pitch, I usually hear back from 1. It can be absolutely exhausting. That said – I wouldn’t change any of it, because I love what I do.
Aside from the Carrie Bradshaw reference, another motto that has always stuck with me is from my mom. She used to tell me “Experience is what you get when you didn’t get what you wanted.” And for every time I hear “no, this isn’t a good fit” or “please rewrite this section” or “Kait, what happened? Please re-do” or even total radio silence (Jesus, take the wheel), I am learning. No has such a negative connotation to it, but for each time I hear the above, I ask myself: What could I have done better? Sometimes it’s nothing and it’s simply that there was no editorial room. That’s okay, too! But also – how can I make my writing more descriptive? How can I infuse character more fluidly into a piece without sounding like a brochure? And sometimes it prompts me to dive head-first into a free write where I’m able to just let my thoughts flow. Do I love hearing critical feedback? Uhh – negative. But it definitely helps me to grow in my profession and, for me personally, hearing critical feedback or straight out “nope, we’re good” makes the “Yes! Absolutely! We love this idea!” responses that much sweeter. And to be even more honest – if I was constantly hearing yes my ego would be enormous. Sometimes the well-timed no’s and non-responses knock me down a few pegs and that’s not a bad thing either.
Note: I feel like this post is a bit of a departure from my usual, but it was a free write I did and thought it may wind up being helpful or useful for any fellow writers out there!