How To Break-In As A Writer

Durga Chew-Bose for Passerbuys Too Much and Not The mood18.jpg
Sometimes it’s about who you know, and other times, it’s all about taking initiative and finding those people yourself. We sought advice from the writers interviewed on Passerbuys on how to make it in media.

Like many of the careers featured on Passerbuys, there is no one straight path to making it in a profession. The path to being a writer and making a living off writing often comes with detours and unusual routes. It’s never a clear cut answer, though it’s helpful to learn from the women who have experience. We asked authors and journalists about their career path to help us understand how to make it in such a fast-paced media industry. They also share their tools and routines that make their writing process...less difficult.

Breaking Into The Media Industry

Any career in the media, as a writer or journalist, can be daunting especially when it’s always changing and the online platforms are relatively young. Sara Radin, writer for various online publications, said, “When I first decided to pursue freelance journalism on a full-time basis, I assumed it would be a very lonely pursuit. From the outside looking in, I think this kind of work, and the industry itself, can seem very isolating, out of reach and even competitive.” After graduation, Olivia Fleming, came to this realization as well saying, “I studied journalism at university and figured out early on that like any creative industry, success is mostly about who you know. So I made a point of meeting and surrounding myself with working writers and editors during and after university.”

Verena von Pfetten, founder of Gossamer, said, “Editors are busy, and their inboxes even more so. Be prepared to write a full piece on spec if you have few or no bylines. You shouldn't have to do this more than one or two times, but it's a good way to remove any guesswork on the editor's part. These are all totally doable things that are easily accessible to anyone with an internet connection.”

Being a writer means developing routines and forming a writing process that will work for you. Nada Alic adds, “There's no one approach to writing, and it makes me uneasy to suggest an optimal route. Some writers are monastic. Others can only write in the white noise of other people. Elizabeth Gilbert writes as a human vessel for hovering spirit ideas hoping to impregnate her, so honestly, whatever works for you. Regardless of whatever routines, showing up and practicing non-judgement during the process is key.” The co-author of Just Sit, Elizabeth Novogratz, suggests habits “I write every morning before I do anything else so there’s not much time for overthinking, worry, or procrastination. I write mostly thoughts and ideas that I won’t look at again. It has made writing a habit and given me the ability to just start whatever it is I’m working on.”

As for becoming an author, sometimes being at the right place and right time, along with plenty of preparation, is the best way to get your work noticed by a publisher. Durga Chew-Bose, author of Too Much and Not the Mood, said, “I was in college studying literature, and then after college I was trying to find places to publish some of my work. It kind of worked backwards in that way. I published several essays online, and FSG (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) actually asked me if I’d be interested in collecting my essays somewhere.”

How To Pitch Publications

Sara said, “I realized that so much of the pitching process involves connecting with people and developing strong relationships with other writers and editors. Don't be afraid to reach out to other writers and see if they're open to sharing some words of wisdom. I now have so many other writer friends, who openly share contacts and suggestions, and that makes a huge difference in the work that I do.”

When it comes to pitching publications, Verena recommends keeping track of stories and doing research on the publications. She says, “Take the time to craft five solid pitches, and make sure the pitches are not stories they've done before but in line with something they would publish. It's not hard to find the right editor and a lot of publications now have pitch guidelines on the site.”

Writers Fariha Róisín and Melissa Broder in conversation at the Passerbuys Book Club for The Pisces

Writers Fariha Róisín and Melissa Broder in conversation at the Passerbuys Book Club for The Pisces

Classes and Online Communities

Sara recommends Catapult courses in New York, “I found an amazing freelance journalism class at Catapult, which is taught every few months by independent writer Jamie Lauren Keiles and The Outline's executive editor Leah Finnegan.” Being in LA, Nada recommends its online course, “[It’s] really great if you want flexibility. It's two hours once a week online!” In addition, Alic recommends joining online writing groups like Study Hall and Listeristic.

It’s important to stay immersed in your industry and stay updated on what people are doing and saying. For a career in communications, Natalie Guevara of Genius, recommends, “Read every type of publication you can get your hands on, online and in print. Develop a feel for what they cover and who writes for them. Follow journalists you like on Twitter and ask them out for coffee or drinks. Develop relationships with those grounded in reality. Don’t be pushy and slide into people’s DMs to pitch them something.”

As a journalist, Kelsey Garcia suggests studying the work of other publications. She said, “I went to journalism school, so on a very practical level that taught me the basics. I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s a must. One thing that was and still continues to be invaluable to my writing career is reading other people’s writing. Whether it’s an long-form piece in The Atlantic or a Real Housewives recap in Vulture, reading a lot of content across the internet has shaped my voice.”

Tips & Tools For the Writing Process

To fully immerse herself in writing and working, Nada requires solitude. She said, “If you're easily spooked or distracted, like I am, it's important to create an environment and lifestyle that perpetuates good, healthy feelings about yourself and your ability to write. I prioritize an environment that prioritizes solitude, a clean organized space, and no other plans. Not even evening plans because it'll just throw me off to think about what I'm going to wear. If you can carve out a space for solitude that you return to regularly, celebrate incremental progress, share unfinished work with friends, read lots, be open to feedback, and be patient with yourself, you'll get into a good flow.”

Fariha Róisín said, “Rituals by Mason Currey is about how no artist works the same. Mine are simple. I read a lot, and write all the time. Etel Adnan, Susan Sontag, James Baldwin, Shailja Patel, John O'Donohue and Clarice Lispector are the most inspirational. ” Her writing inspirations include the artwork of Shirin Neshat and Naeem Mohaiemen, Bright Lines by Tanwi Nandini Islam, They Can't Kill Us Until They Kill Us by Hanif Abdurraqib, Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie, and movies by Abbas Kiarostami, Satyajit Ray, Wong Kar Wai, and Taika Waititi.

When asked about what helped her to write her book, Durga said, “I use Microsoft Word, but I also keep running notes in my phone of things that strike me when I don’t have a pen and paper.” For writing tools, Nada added, “Download Scrivener if you like seeing all of your drafts organized neatly in one place.” Róisín said, “I love my Kaweco pens and Moleskine notebooks.”

Lastly, if there’s anything that writers recommend the most to become a better writer, it’s to read. Durga said, “Read more than you write, and come up for air with the people that you love and listen to your parents’ stories and be open-hearted about how you listen and how you read and who you pay attention to and who you love.” Melissa Broder, author of The Pisces, simply said, “Read!”

Words by Jessica Jacolbe

CareerJessica JacolbeComment