I didn’t attend Columbia, but when I stepped out of the cab and onto the campus, a wave of nostalgia washed over me. Nothing compares to the energy of a buzzing college campus.
I walked into the Tow Center for Digital Journalism and took a seat next to my friend Alyssa. My youthful feelings faded as I quickly realized we were two of the only non-students at the lecture. At the front of the room sat a long, lanky lady with fitted jeans, a black tee, brown lace-up ankle boots, hair in an effortlessly coiffed topknot, and bright red lips: Ann Friedman.
You may think you don’t know Ann Friedman, when in fact, you probably know Ann Friedman. She writes regularly for New York magazine and the Columbia Journalism Review in addition to contributing to publications like The New Yorker, Elle, Newsweek, The New York Times, The Guardian, and countless others. Still not sure if you’re familiar with Ann Friedman’s work? Then maybe you know her by her famous pie charts regularly featured on The Hairpin.
Ann Friedman is a full-time freelance writer. No, she’s not secretly unemployed. No, she does not live a life of non-office-regulated luxury. No, she’s not flaky or a weird loner or any of the other all too common freelance stereotypes. If you’re wondering exactly what a freelance writer is, look to Ann Friedman. She’s a pretty successful one.
Without further ado, here are three takeaways from Ann’s lecture on Pitching for the Digital Space:
- Kissing Sideways: Don’t kiss up. You should always be kissing down and sideways, to the people who are going to be working alongside you and coming up behind you. Create a strong support group of colleagues rather than seeking out one powerful person to shape your career.
- Writing Something You’re Excited About: It’s a privilege to write something you’re excited about. It took Ann ten years to reach this point in her career. Working with difficult clients, being published in less-prominent publications, writing on subject matter that is of little or no interest to you, getting paid abysmally or *gasp* not at all are all part of the process. Do something on the side (might I suggest a blog?) that represents the work you want to do.
- Breaking the Story: In today’s digital writing world, it’s no longer about breaking the story and being the first person to write on a particular subject matter. It’s about writing on a topic in a new way, with a distinct voice, or for a particular audience that makes a great story.
The backbone of each of these three takeaways is that freelance writing is a marathon, not a sprint. The right person, a particular publication, or a single story will not “make you.” Relentless perseverance, unfading passion, and above all, time are the keys to a successful freelance writing career and ultimately making a name for yourself as a writer.