My freelance career began about two and a half years ago after reading an article and deciding I could have written it better. It has been said writers need to have a little arrogance and I never thought I did until that moment. The story dragged. It was about shopping for a certain piece of furniture and it was illustrated with an unhappy-looking store clerk next to a dusty, empty bookshelf. The photo was as much of a turnoff as the article.
I had dreamed of becoming a published writer and had sent in queries every few years, but had never received so much as a rejection letter back. This time I seriously studied writing how-to books and carefully crafted a query to a small, local publication. The editor responded in about a week with the go-ahead to write it. Two weeks later, I submitted the 800-word piece in which every word had been scrutinized repeatedly. She loved it and even asked if I had other ideas. I was ecstatic. Finally, I had broken through and was going to be a published writer.
After that initial success, I submitted three more stories in a row and each one was accepted. The topics were about local resale shops, a wedding coordinator and a gala fundraiser. These were all subjects I had experience with and felt comfortable writing about. Hardly a word was changed in any of them, which I took as a compliment. This was easy – a snap. My confidence soared.
Then I took a cooking class and thought I’d write about that. I didn’t know a lot about cooking and the words didn’t come easily. Getting quotes from the chef was almost impossible and I found myself trying to fill with anything to get to the 800-word mark. Still not convinced it was worthy, my deadline had arrived and I had no choice but to submit what I had written. Rationalizing that the editor had accepted everything else I’d offered, she probably wouldn’t complain.
The stinging response will forever be etched in my memory “…very disappointed” and “…not up to par” and “…we all think so”. She went on to say the article was unacceptable. Who knew words could hurt so much? Mortified, I promised her I would do an excellent job on my next assignment to redeem myself. I read books on the subject, conducted an interview, wrote, rewrote and edited until the cows came home. Not one hundred percent sure I had nailed it, I submitted the piece. Again, rejection. Ouch!
With my tail between my legs, I slipped into the magazine’s office to pick up payment for a previous article. When the editor heard I was there, she asked me to come back to her office to talk with her. She quietly said, “You’ve gotten into some unfamiliar territory. It seems you can’t see the forest for the trees.” We talked about why the pieces didn’t work and how they had been drudgery to write. After brainstorming some ideas that were more up my alley, I left feeling hopeful and excited about the next assignment.
The next piece was a joy to write. Words came easily. It was fun to do the interviews and I had a feeling when I submitted it that it was good. The editor’s response was the salve my wounds needed, “You’re absolutely back on track” and “I’m as delighted as you will be.” I followed up with six more articles for this magazine, all of which were published. I would still be pitching to that editor if I hadn’t moved out of the area.
Three valuable lessons came from this experience:
1) There are good reasons newbies are advised to write what they know – it’s easier, more fun and the chances of success are higher.
2) A slump will pass – just try to regain footing on familiar ground.
3) Now when a friend suggests a topic for me to write about, unless I have a very strong interest and some familiarity with the subject, I politely decline.
Martha Miller is a freelance writer who spent two years living in Rome, Italy. Her work has appeared in Transitions Abroad, International Living, GoNomad.com, GoWorldTravel.com and ASU Travel Guide. An avid shopper with a background in retail sales and marketing, Martha writes often about shopping, retail businesses and Italy. Now repatriated and living in Austin, Texas, she is working on a book about her Italian experiences. Contact her at Martha_response (at) hotmail.com.