How’s your week been? Mine’s been a strange combination of lousy on the personal front and pretty great but exhausting, professionally. So I just want to start by saying thank you for giving me this thing to do each week—for letting me slide into your inbox with something I love working on. This space sits right at the intersection of personal and professional for me, which makes it a cozy retreat from both. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoy writing it.
Here’s what I have for you today:
Some thoughts on quitting the hard things
Recommendations of the week
Opportunities and editors who want your pitches
It shouldn’t be so hard
Image: mural of poppies behind a chain link fence.
There’s a crumpled up ball of fabric under my desk that was meant to be my first cross-stitching masterpiece. In the drawer by my bed, there’s an almost-finished scarf.
I once decided that hanging upside down from hoops and strips of silk would be a good way to make friends in a new city. I did make a friend. But also, I’m very prone to motion sickness so the two-hour weekly class was mostly an exercise in not puking. I stopped going to aerial arts class after that friend and I exchanged numbers. (Thankfully, she was happy to hang out with me, right side up.)
I like trying new things. I’m a hobby starter and a hobby stopper. I stuck with running because I’ve always loved long stretches of solitude. Through running, I found something familiar, then kept pushing myself to find new accomplishments in an activity I was inherently decent at. I got stronger and faster and discovered the joy of steep, muddy trails in the mountains—so different from the roads I started on. I fell in love with something new by following the path of something that felt right.
I think we should all learn to be better at quitting things that don’t feel right. I think we should all do the things that come easily.
“But you have to push yourself,” says a persistent voice in my head. And maybe one in yours.
Shush, voice. Hear me out.
My friend Dani started carving wooden spoons a few years ago. She’d post photos of a table covered in the curly-q’s of wood shavings and the stubborn lump of tree flesh at which she scraped and scraped and scraped. Eventually, the tree lump turned into a lumpy spoon. Very cool. I knew Dani was going through a rough patch at that point in her life. And it sounded like spoon carving made her feel better. A meditative, productive hobby—sure. But a business? No way.
Her spoons improved quickly. They became smooth and delicate. She introduced details that were unique, and her spoons became beautiful. I was impressed.
Still, when Dani started talking about selling her spoons, I thought it was surely more work than it was worth. It takes hours to carve each one. How could she possibly have enough time, or skin on the tips of her fingers, to make enough of them to sell?
But Dani loved carving. I heard it in her voice when she talked about it. I saw it in each piece she made. Spoon carving wasn’t easy right away, but it was easy for her to keep doing it.
Today, Dani and her husband have a successful wood products and lifestyle business. She doesn’t spend all of her time carving spoons. But she followed the crumbs of something that felt right and they led her to a magical place where something she loves is lucrative. Together, they started teaching spoon carving classes. They sell spoon carving kits for people who want to carve themselves—and that single product has completely blown up since everyone has been stuck at home. Their business, Honeysuckle & Mud, is booming. During a pandemic, no less. (You can hear more about the progression of Dani’s creative business in the latest episode of her podcast, Mudlark.)
Dani has been offering me this advice for years in various forms: do what flows naturally.
It wasn’t until recently that I really got it.
When I quit my job to pursue freelance writing full-time in November, I considered a million things I should be doing to make this writing thing sustainable. I should market myself as a content marketer, not “just a writer.” I should start blogging in a niche where businesses have decent budgets. I should start Instagramming about writing and create writing courses and workshops. But I didn’t really want to do any of those things. The to-do list of all the things I should do sat untouched.
All I really wanted to do was research stories and pitch them to publications. So I gave myself a few months to just focus on that. I went to talks about things I wanted to write about. I read and read and read. I called experts to talk more about those topics. I pitched and pitched and pitched. I started dipping into my savings and got scared. But I kept pitching. And suddenly, I had assignments.
Landing journalism assignments through cold pitching wasn’t easy. (It still isn’t.) But it was easy to keep at it, because that’s the work that I love.
Eventually, I knew I would need to find some more consistent income streams. But a really cool thing happened when I let myself do the work that felt natural. People started coming to me.
Two different clients have now found me through the articles I wrote at the very start of this freelancing endeavor. I did the work that felt right—the work that I wanted to do—and opportunity followed. So now I spend part of my time pitching and writing stories. But I also do work for clients I really love, for businesses that reflect my own interests and values.
This newsletter is another endeavor that feels natural. It feels right. (Even though, for now, I’m doing it for free.)
I absolutely love writing to you each week. I woke up at 5:30 to work on this today. I’m sitting here in a pile of blankets with my coffee next to me and my dog Jackson snoring at my feet. And I love it. I love that people enjoy this newsletter enough to keep opening it. So I’m going to keep doing it. And I know that opportunities will follow. (For me and for you.)
Ask yourself: When it comes to your writing, what kind of work sucks you in? What kind of work is fun and easy? What tasks do you turn to when you’re struggling to focus?
Those things might not be what make you the big bucks up front. But I now truly believe there is so much opportunity waiting if you let the current carry you towards the work that feels good.
It’s great to challenge ourselves and try new things. We should all keep doing that, too. You never know when something new and hard might turn into something you love. But also, don’t force it. Don’t be afraid to walk away from the things that don’t feel right. I am probably never going to finish that scarf or that cross-stitch project, and that’s just fine. Because I have a lot of writing to do.
My Favorite Reads of the Week
“Writing is an emotionally vulnerable act. Creating good stories requires editors to be partners in the process, and to cultivate trust—by treating writers not only as professional colleagues, but also as human beings." A Reminder to Editors, Be Kind to Your Writers (Columbia Journalism Review)
“In the mainstream heart of the media business, both artists and writers are moving quickly to find new business models as huge swaths of the media business have been wounded or shut down by the coronavirus pandemic.” The New Model Media Star is Famous Only to You (New York Times)
Opportunities and Editors Who Want Your Pitches
The Information is hosting a free “summer school” for early-career journalists. It will take place over 8, 1-hour sessions in July.
Knight Science Journalism Fellowship applications open on June 1 for independently-conceived science journalism projects.
Penguin Book’s Write Now Program aims to support underrepresented writers, and you can apply with just 1,000 words of a project in process. (UK and Ireland only)
And here are some pubs and editors who want your pitches:I'm always looking out for opinion pitches for from journalists and non-journalists! First-person & opinion where you have a special insight work best, with strong angles - check out metro.co.uk/blogs/. Email (don't DM) stephanie dot soh at metro dot co dot ukToday we’ve published a comprehensive pitching, rate and style guide. We want to help our contributors understand the kind of content we aim to produce, and be as transparent as possible to our readers. Read it here: pelliclemag.com/pitching
That’s it for now, friends! I’ll be back in your inbox on Friday with a Q&A.
And just a reminder: One More Question will be moving to a paid model starting in a couple weeks. There will still be a limited number of free issues, but it will soon be $5 a month for all of the good stuff.
In the meantime, it would mean so much to me if you shared this issue with a writer friend. 💛