I get a surprising (to me, anyway) number of requests from aspiring writers for writing advice, critiques, editors' contact info, and more. On occasion, I've responded to these individual online queries, but my packed schedule no longer allows me to reply to everyone.
Rather than be like, "Later, guys! You're on your own!" I've compiled this FAQ, which will hopefully address your concerns. Thanks!
Q: Can you read my writing and tell me how to make it better?
A: Sure! I offer writing classes either online or in New York City on article writing, personal essay writing, and humor writing. If you'd like writing advice, please sign up for those.
I've also started offering private writing consultations (think of it as personal training – but for writing). This works best for someone who can't make it to the classes listed above, whose writing goals may have a larger scope, and who wants more personal attention than I can provide in a class. For instance, maybe you live outside New York, want to become an essayist, haven't been published widely yet and need some hand-holding. We can meet in person in New York or via phone or Skype. My rate is $100/hour. Please contact me for availability.
Q: I'm beginning my writing career (or thinking of beginning it). Any advice?
A: Yes. And good luck to you.
Q: How did you get to where you are now as a full-time freelance writer in NYC?
A: Great question. Read this Q&A with me over at The Reckless Pursuit, where all will be revealed.
Q: I've done some writing here and there. How do I get paid for my work?
A: Let me start by saying that most of my writing is nonfiction of the journalistic sort. That means that it addresses what's going on in the culture or in current events and perhaps even suggests solutions. Therefore, if you're at all interested in crafting that sort of writing, think of issues that folks grapple with every day. This encompasses everything from how to live a more eco-friendly lifestyle to how to honor one's culture to how to break into a male-dominated industry. So hone in on a problem, figure out which experts to consult, propose a unique article to a magazine that might be interested, and maybe you'll land an assignment. For more details on the magazine article pitching process, sign up for my ONLINE class How to Write a Killer Magazine Article Pitch.
As for personal essays, they, too, should relate to something newsworthy, topical, or seasonal. You almost always need to write your essay in full before an editor will accept it.
Q: But I want to write fiction or poetry. HELP!
A: Hmm, I seldom write fiction and never write poetry these days, so let's see how this goes. First of all, Poets & Writers offers a wonderfully thorough list of literary magazines that seek fiction, creative nonfiction, and poetry. Start there. Roxane Gay, whose work I admire, also provides her own list of inclusive literary outlets.
I will say, however, that most literary magazines are nonprofits and often don't pay their writers (or editors, for that matter). Everyone's doing it for the love of the game. So please DO write short stories, poems, novellas, novels, and the like – but don't do it because you expect instant fame and fortune. Any fame and fortune you receive will definitely not be instantaneous.
Q: How long should I stay at my first-ever reporting job?
A: See this blog post.
Q: You're a female writer based in New York City. Is your life exactly like Sex and the City or Girls?
A: Sure, let's pretend I'm a Filipino Lena Dunham!
Q: Should I go to grad school to jump-start my writing career?
A: That depends. Do you have a financial safety net? If not, then no. Here's why.
Q: So if writing barely pays and I can't get famous for it, why should I become a writer?
A: Looks like that's a question you have to answer for yourself. For me, though, I think that being a reporter has offered me a unique opportunity to tell stories that I feel have been marginalized and forgotten. And whoever reads them will then be a little more informed every time he or she heads to the bookstore, to the farmers' market, or even to the voting booth.
Q: What was your big break? Where did you first get published?
A: Whoo, boy. Well, first of all, I don't really think there's such a thing as a "big break." For writers, I mean. The great Fran Lebowitz points out that there are child prodigies in music and in acting but not in writing. Why not? Because it takes YEARS of practice to develop not only the prose skills but the life experience and psychological insight to become a writer. I don't say that in order to brag. I say that in order to manage expectations.
So you're not as good as Joan Didion yet? Neither was Joan Didion when she first started writing.
That said, I first got published in one of those elementary school magazines put out by Scholastic. I was in fifth grade, and I had written about a science project. In college, I won some awards for poetry and prose—which was nice because that helped me pay my tuition. After graduation, I worked as an assistant and then as a copywriter for about five years, writing email blasts, ecards, and web copy for which I didn't receive a byline. My first assignments where my name actually appeared were for Flavorpill and Zink around 2004 or 2005, and later (after a long hiatus) Bust Magazine and Bookslut.
Which brings me to today, when I am paid to write features for publications that you may have heard of: The Atlantic, Jezebel, BuzzFeed, the New York Daily News, etc. All of which is to say, I've been writing for years. So if you want to do what I do, start practicing now.
Q: Can you give me your editors' contact information?
A: Nope, sorry. I've worked hard to establish professional relationships with my editors, so I'm not going to hand over that information to someone whom I don't know. However! If there's a particular publication that you'd like to write for, click their Contact Us or Submissions or About Us link on their website. They often list general contact information there. And, hey, I've cold-pitched almost all of my editors, and they awarded me assignments.
So don't think that editors will never read your email; they will (or their interns will), but your idea and your work experience must be the right fit for them. For instance, don't email The New Yorker or The Atlantic if you've never published anything before. And don't email Seventeen an article about saving for retirement, know what I mean?
Q: Can I interview you for my school assignment, blog, podcast, or magazine?
A: Sure! Email me to set up an interview.
Q: I am an editor or literary agent who would like to pay you to write for me. What's your—
A: YES, PLEASE.
Q: I am a publicist or other person seeking publicity. Can you write about me or my client?
A: Maybe, maybe not. Even if your story is newsworthy, I may not be the ideal person to cover it. Remember, I'm a lifestyle and culture reporter who's particularly interested in books, film, TV, travel, and race and gender issues. That said, feel free to pitch me if your idea falls into those categories.