When I exploded onto the freelance scene earlier this year with the essay “This is what happened when I drove my Mercedes to pick up food stamps,” people assumed it was an overnight success, built on luck and good timing. It was that, but so much more.
In 2010, I had to give up a television producer career due to family priorities and the economic crash. I became a stay at home mom, and I cried. A lot.
I started a blog to save my sanity, and toiled there for three years, before branching into writing for other sites – for free. Another year of that and my friends and family started to give up on me. After four years of endlessly putting out content, I hadn’t been paid a dime.
I pitched that Mercedes essay to the Washington Post because none of the freebie sites wanted it. I was astounded when they accepted it, and more astounded when I learned they would pay me for it.
I knew the notoriety would be brief, so the week after the essay, I collected emails and social media information for editors of every paying outlet I could. Then, I pitched and pitched and pitched. I got picked up by a few places, and rejected by far more, but I was quickly able to start building my clip resume. Since July, I have widened my employer list to several national newspapers and magazines, and this past week I was published five times – all for fairly well-paying outlets.
My freelance journey is far from over but I’m making a sustainable income from my writing now. Not because I’m any better than I was five years ago, but because I decided to believe in myself, and pitch the big dogs like I was worth something.
Darlena Cunha is a former television producer turned freelance journalist and mom. She blogs daily at https://parentwin.com, and writes for TIME Magazine, The Washington Post, The Atlantic and The Gainesville Sun, amid others. She’s been published in The New York Times, McSweeney’s, and Wired, plus many more. You can find her on Twitter @parentwin.