Sometimes we writers get hitched to the wagon and steed on a blazing trail headed to nowhere fast. That blazing trail for our purposes may be the pipe dream magazine of a bitter editor. It might be a newspaper making due at just the middle ground with no path to better real estate. It may be the dead end online portal for pulp entertainment and sports write ups that don’t really get you the Pulitzer you dream of. Whatever it is, eventually you have to have a heart to heart with yourself about your ambitions as a writer. When is it time to move on to greater adventures? That, my friends, is the million dollar question.
First, here are a few scenarios in which we might find ourselves as writers.
The Toxic Editor/Newsroom
Maybe you’ve been there. It’s 2:00 a.m. and an email arrives in your inbox, rousing you from a deep sleep because you, like many of us nutty writer types, sleep with your smartphone near your pillow. You’d much rather sleep through the night but can’t resist the ominous bell sound a new email notification makes. So, you read what turns out to be a scathing letter from your editor or colleague about something not being up to par, up to speed, or up to snuff. Why on earth it was necessary for said colleague or editor to rip you a new one at 2:00 a.m.? That is beyond your shrewd detective skills, Sherlock. But, here’s where it gets interesting. You ask yourself what are you getting out of this situation. It’s not a symbiotic relationship anymore. Your pieces aren’t trending on many a social media platform. The clips aren’t even really that scintillating. Your portfolio looks like a near death experience. But, you soldier on, pumping out fluff pieces that need to be done and you’re the only one that gets lumped with the work.
The Sinking Ship
Let’s face it. The economy sucks. It really does. So, pitching your tent for the sake of martyrdom is suicide. Sure, there are some lovely publications that don’t pay what you’re worth that have published some truly thought-provoking articles, essays and stories that you’ve absolutely loved. And, on the flip side of things, you’ve hated those company memos that went out stating that the salad days were upon you all; that the publication would be cutting back or taking donations or launching some futile crowd-funding campaign where everyone’s relatives would be hit up for five bucks to pay the overhead costs. You winced at the thought. And, ultimately you’ve mustered up the courage to tighten your belt long enough to get the portfolio clips necessary to move on to bigger and better things. So, why are you dragging your feet? Perhaps you’ve engendered a heartwarming relationship with the staff. Maybe you have a platform to write as you will, when you want, as you want. Maybe you’ve gotten used to being the big fish in the little pond. But, what are the returns? Are you making a professional pay rate as a writer? Are your clips getting the readership they deserve? Are you afraid to really challenge yourself as a writer and move up in the world? Deep down, are you happy? You know the answers to these questions.
The Flag Burner
We’ve all got opinions. They’re spilling out of every cavity at every moment when we can’t clamp them down and batten the hatches. Perhaps you’ve noticed your newsroom swimming in opinions, breast strokes galore around one sensitive subject after another. And, maybe you’ve felt a tug in your soul when, on more than one occasion, the editor announced a stance for the publication that just couldn’t possibly sit well with you. Or, maybe you read the ABOUT section of the online portal and found it offputting. Somewhere, somehow you looked around the room and thought one of these kids is not like the other. Maybe you don’t like the tone of the magazine. Maybe you don’t like the nature of discourse. Or maybe you don’t want to be caught smack dab in the middle of a debate that doesn’t suit you. Yet, you, for all purposes of being a staff writer, represent that brand that is in fact smack dab in the middle of said debate. Where do you stand? Do you fight the good fight from within the ranks of the enemy? Do you rattle off the politics and philosophies of your publisher as if they were your own? Or, do you respectfully decline to be a part of something that doesn’t represent who you are as a writer?
Now the straight talk…
It’s Time To Move On
A few things are taking a hit here: your esteem, your passion for the craft, and your body of work. None of these are worth sacrificing for a gig that isn’t paying dividends in the long term for you as a writer. So, ask yourself a few questions. Where do you see yourself in three years if you stay on at your current post? Where would you like to see yourself in three years? What kind of writing would you like to pursue? Where can you pursue that kind of writing? Once you’ve honestly answered those questions, it’s time to engender your escape plan.
Recycle, Recycle, Recycle
Building up an arsenal of possible pitches for a new publication can be exhausting. But, it doesn’t have to be. Surely there are some gems in your portfolio than be polished off, upgraded, and made to look brand spanking new. Fire those babies off in some cleverly crafted queries to new potential editors, and see where they take you. Editors are always impressed by drive and ambition, fascinating new takes on things that have been tried and true, and a zest for facing challenges. That’s you in a nutshell. So, take those old stories out of the freezer and thaw them out. Give them new life, and send them on their way.
Remember those stories you wish you’d authored for your soon to be ex publication? You were refused or they were handed off to someone else. Now’s the time to whip out those brilliant ideas you had spinning in your head, and pitch them to someone new. Here’s your chance to write the story you always wished you had. Articles can be your best friend or your worst enemy. Why not make love and not war? Claim those ideas in the name of your own ambition as a brilliant writer and make your next potential editor swoon at the thought of you writing them for him or her.
Pitch A Hitter Not A No Hitter
There is something to the law of numbers that says try and try again. Remember that if you’re worth your salt as a writer and you pitch seven ideas to seven editors in the course of a week, four will probably take a definite interest. At the end of the week, you might be looking at perhaps two stories accepted for publication. Do the math, in other words. Don’t place all your eggs in one basket. Get out there in the marketplace, and make your presence known. Pitch and pitch again. Don’t take no as the end. Take no as an opportunity for someone else to say yes. And, that editor that may have said no will possibly be interested in something else from you. Be sure to ask what sorts of stories they are currently shopping for.
You’ve come this far towards achieving your full potential. Time to take those extra steps to making it all real. Good luck!
Akil Wingate is an American singer-songwriter and writer based in Switzerland. He currently writes for Style Equation, Viral Fashion, and Menswear Style UK magazines. His forthcoming novels, There Be Dragons and La Mariquita, have been excerpted in Devilfish Review, Jukepop Serials, Writing Tomorrow and Graze magazines. He also has contributed to The Savvy Explorer and Travel In 10 magazines. When he isn’t writing, composing, or touring the world, he can be found in the kitchen, whipping a challenging recipe into shape.