My First Six Months as a Freelance Writer: A Look Back

I’ve always wanted to be a writer, but all of my life, people told me it wasn’t a feasible career.

Man, I love proving people wrong.

Six months ago, I came home from my last MFA session in Brazil and quit my job. Plenty of people said I shouldn’t do it, but I think it’s about time to putt the old adage “Don’t quit your day job” to rest already. Follow your goddamn dreams, because if you’re passionate enough about something, you’ll make a way.

I did.

Here are some of my favorite things I’ve published this year:

Reporting:

  • I went kayaking with Janet Reno’s sister Maggy Hurchalla and read POUNDS of legal documents for this feature in Medium.
  • Digging into Florida’s water crisis for Sierra Magazine, I discovered the world of the Waterkeepers who are fighting to keep your drinking water safe.
  • For Pacific Standard, I spread the word about ocean trash and how plastics are harming sea turtles around the world.
  • Why is America so obsessed with dead girls? I reported this piece on true crime for VICE to find out.

Personal Essays:

Hello, my name is Rebecca, and I make my living telling people my secrets on the internet. Here are a few of my favorites from this year.

  • For The Washington Post, I discussed how purity culture has affected the relationships of women in my generation. This essay was syndicated by The Chicago Tribune which gave it almost an entire newsprint page with a color illustration.
  • Tin House is one of my favorite literary magazines. So to have an editor there ask me to write an essay is definitely a career highlight for me. Read my essay in Tin House vol. 20, num. 1, which came out this past fall.
  • If you’ve spent any time with me at all, you probably noticed that I have my head in the clouds. I’m always dreaming about being someplace else. Sometimes those daydreams include moving. For Slate, I wrote this funny essay about wasting time on Zillow, searching for the place that’s right for me, when really that place may be in Florida, where I’ve always been.

Read more of my writing here.

The Life of a Writer

It’s easy to look at someone’s writing career from the outside and see a steep upward trajectory, but reality doesn’t work like that. 

This year, I sent out more than 250 pitches. I’ve probably had 30-50 pieces published in that time, and probably 1/3 of them were assigned without me pitching. That means I heard no a lot. Actually, it sounded more like, “Thanks for this, but we’ll have to pass.” ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Success is built on a hefty pile of failure, an iceberg of failure, if you will. The life of a writer actually looks like this:

Life as a writer infographic, success & failure by rebecca renner

If you look at everyone else’s careers and forget about that bottom part of the iceberg, you’re going to be really down on yourself, and you might quit…or sink. Don’t get discouraged by the edited version of everyone else’s life. I’m saying this as much for me as I am for you.

In addition to constantly having to remind myself I’m not a failure, I’ve realized that I’m a workaholic. Also…what is that bright thing in the sky? Oh, the sun. I didn’t recognize it. I haven’t seen it in a while…

Next year, I need to work on making my writing life healthier. For now, I can remind myself that tomorrow is always another day.

Thank You…

to the people who made this last six months possible. I could not have followed my dream of being a writer without the editors who took a chance on me and the other freelancers who taught me what to do.

Thanks in particular to the Pitch Like a Honey Badger crew. Poornima, in particular, has been incredibly generous with advice and editor contacts. 

I’m sending love to my grad school friends, too. Thank you to Luci for giving me advice on freelancing and reminding me I’m stubborn enough to succeed. And thank you to Nikki, my free therapist and impromptu life coach: I really would have lost it without you.

Special thanks go to editors like Libby at Real Simple and Cari, who I followed from The Cut to Medium this year, and countless others who have kept my bank account from being scary – thank you!

Also, I can’t forget all of my fellow Book Rioters. Thanks for keeping me sane and listening to me rant about my drama on Slack.

For the Doubters

A big thanks for you, too! Nothin motivates me quite like someone saying I can’t. Your pettiness is the fuel to my fire. You’re the salt on the rim of my margarita. Cheers!

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