There are things that are for us to decide and things that are decided for us. We are here on this earth on other people’s accounts, so to believe that everything is in one's hand is an illusion of self-improvement gurus. The individual has limits and it’s good to know where they lie, where you begin and society starts. To know who is in charge of what, to be able to take action for yourself and when to call on society's responsibility for things to change.
This May I decided to try and be a freelance writer. Against the odds of a looming pandemic or actually in spite of it, my job recently lost and being on furlough and government support, I had no fucks to give. I started writing pitches, jotting down every idea that came across interesting enough; I attended webinars (shoutout to: the freelance sessions) and read what felt like all the advice on pitching on the internet that I could get my hands on. I talked to other freelance writers, who were so kind to give me advice (shoutout to: Charlotte and Marta), followed editors on twitter, and subscribed to newsletters advertising freelance gigs. I was trying really hard. Setting myself a period of three months till I would need to succeed. Success meaning: One commissioned article.
I had no fucks to give.
What I had learned along the way of going freelance was: Rejection will be plenty. So I kept my goal small. But things should work out occasionally. Setting a time limit, be honest with my progress, evaluate. That was my mantra.
I tried writing a pitch a week for a month, with no success.
I tried writing 4-5 pitches a day for three days a week for another month, with no success.
I tried pitching 3-4 pitches a week for the next month, with almost succeeding but then ultimately failing again because there was no budget. No success.
All the while editors were losing their jobs and subsequently going freelance themselves, magazine sections were closing and budgets cut to a minimum. One time I bursted into tears as I was reading an Instagram post about: “After attending this webinar I got my first commission this week. Don’t believe those nay-sayers that you cannot get an article published because of the pandemic!” It felt like the ultimate proof that it was in fact me and not the pandemic, who was the reason why I wasn’t getting anywhere. After all: I had attended that webinar as well.
Try again, try differently, change till you succeed.
For months I was craving the validation of one commissioned article, like a high five from a stranger when you’re halfway through a marathon. Because rejection may be plenty when you’re a freelancer but only rejections seemed a little well, it could only mean I was probably writing horrible pitches. Or I was pitching the wrong editors. (Which was definitely true for a good amount.)
If I wouldn’t have received really good feedback – occasionally – from kind editors who took their time like: “This is great and so witty but unfortunately we don’t accept freelance pitches at the moment.” Or. “I would love to commission both of your pitches, but tomorrow is my last day here and then I will have to go freelance, too.” Or “Please send more ideas!” I would have stopped completely.
Then the fourth month came and I had to face the fact, that I had not even met my minimum goal. Was it me? Had I not been trying enough? Or was I fighting windmills dressed up as a pandemic?
Nothing seems worth anything if you fail on a big scale.
I decided to try something else: While I would collect my scattered confidence, I would focus on my work, something I could be in charge of. I would still pitch but keep it on a minimum. By creating a webinar about self-publishing, and focusing on writing my novel again, which I hadn’t for some weeks, I would resurrect my self-esteem. Try again, try differently, change till you succeed but also make a big fat pause when trying is tiring.
A week later I got an email. Another rejection I thought. I really didn’t feel like reading it but opened it anyway. Politely, the editor was asking if it wasn’t too late they would be delighted to commission my article. I gasped. There I had been running all these miles and still had many miles ahead but there it was: A big high five. Smacking me wide awake. I was on again.
I still struggle with blaming the pandemic for the lack of commissions just as much as I struggle to see myself as the only problem that needs to be fixed to succeed. I think we need to be able to see that both are true. Perseverance and bravery counts but also circumstances and luck. Adapting to one's own situation, try again, try different, change till you succeed, then try again. That to me is a virtue, I will always try to hold on to.
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