On Freelance Writing: The Part You Don’t See

A week ago, I went out for coffee with a new friend I’d met through a part-time freelance job. She was interested in getting her writing out there more, and wanted to know how I got published so often. It’s a question I get a lot and I got it a lot today because of this article about me. Because of that, I feel like I’m misleading people.

Here’s the ugly truth (TM Katherine Heigl) that no one likes to talk about: You’re only seeing the successes.

All you see are the pieces I’ve pitched that were accepted. You’re seeing the 3-5 stories a week that I do get published. What you don’t see is that I pitch probably 10-15 pieces that get rejected.

I spend entire days putting together and researching pages and pages of pitches. In the end, I’ll probably write one of them, if I’m lucky. I pitched to two different editors of an inflight magazine for weeks, only for them to reject everything I sent. I pitch to the New York Times Magazine constantly. You see the two stories I did get published. I see the twenty-five rejections that came with it.

I did one interview with Business Insider and got coverage in the New Yorker, but I also got strung along for months by a producer at NPR who eventually decided they don’t want me on air or spent time putting together a segment for MTV News that ended up on the cutting room floor.

You see me in The Good Men Project or on Thought Catalog, but I’ve also pitched to and been rejected multiple times (so many times) by The Rumpus, HelloGiggles and The Hairpin. I’ve been told by professional editors that my writing is “dull” or “doesn’t sparkle” and by Internet commenters that I should “eat a mosquito with AIDS” or that I’m “not as clever as [I] think [I am]” or that my self-promotion is “annoying.”

If I could stress anything to young, freelance writers, it’s what I just wrote above. All you see are the successes. They are not the whole truth. They are just what I, as an egotistical writer, want you to see. Behind them, for me, there is so, so, so much rejection.

Do not let getting rejected stop you or scare you off writing. You need to throw a million things at the wall; it increases your chances that even one will stick. One is all you need.

Writing is probably 80 percent rejection, 20 percent success. Don’t let it discourage you, don’t believe for a second that other writers don’t go through this too, and don’t convince yourself that hard work, humiliation and throwing things against the wall to see what sticks aren’t the reality of this line of work.

I am rejected, embarrassed and insulted all the time.

And then you guys see one awesome published story. That’s the truth.