Writing advice from yours truly.

Answers to your questions, plus my pitch and essay drafts

Hi, there! It’s been a minute, as I’ve been in a (positive!) season of change in my life which has taken me away from this newsletter. Also, in a time when our world is literally and figuratively on fire, writing seems particularly frivolous. From talking to other writer friends, I know I’m not alone in feeling this way, but we all agree that our writing matters, especially now. So today, I’m here to talk writing, and to share the behind-the-scenes of my HuffPost article.

Q & A

I asked for writing questions over on my Instagram (shameless plug to follow me if you don’t already!) and this is what you wanted to know.

How do you set a writing routine? I call myself a writer but don’t end up writing most of the time.

Know that you’re not alone in feeling this way. I can make almost anything in my life more interesting when I don’t feel like writing (that show I’m watching, that person whose Instagram I suddenly must look at).

I don’t have a writing routine, but I try to get some amount of words down as often as I can, and if I can’t, I try to connect with the story in some way, whether puzzling in my head or just thinking about a future scene.

In my dream world, every time I sit down to write it would be at the beginning or end of a novel, which are the most fun for me, or writing witty banter or romance or something. But most often, I’m in the dreaded middle of a project, muddling through, and I think it sucks. For those times, I like to leave scenes purposefully unfinished the day before. I’m talking an unfinished sentence with a few more to go. I sit down to write those final pieces…and then suddenly, I’m going for more. External deadlines from writer friends also help me a lot.

What are your practices for finding voice? How do you move beyond how you think a personal essay should sound?

Personally, I think my fiction and my essays, and even the emails in my inbox all sound sort of different, but you can tell I wrote all of them. I have different styles, and often I’ll tailor my style to fit a publication’s voice (see the ending that I cut from the first draft of my HuffPost essay below, for example.) The best way to learn about voice is by reading widely and a lot. If you like something in a piece, think about why. Was it their honesty? How can you be more honest in your writing in your own way? You’ll start out mimicking other writers, like I think everyone does, and then eventually you’ll sink into your own style.

Personal essays aren’t the same as academic writing, and they don’t have to follow a prescribed style. I’ve been trying to open myself to story structures of non-Western cultures, and reminding myself that there is no one way to tell a story, especially if it’s one of your own.

How do you know who or where to pitch?

If I like a publication and I’m interested in getting something placed there, I read their articles and make sure what I’m thinking about is actually a fit. Usually, you can Google “How to pitch [publication name]” and pitching guidelines will usually pop up.

If you don’t know where to start at all, you can try searching “personal essays on relationships” (or whatever your topic and your piece is), and see what comes up. I also try to keep up with editors on Twitter, as they sometimes post open calls. If you don’t know who the editors are, check out the publication’s masthead. I’ll also plug Study Hall, and in particular, their Listserv, for this purpose.

Have a question about freelance writing, fiction writing, or another facet of the industry? Email me at newsletter@claireforrest.com and I’ll consider it for a future issue of All The Things.

How I Got My Essay Published on HuffPost Personal

The Pitch:

When I first started freelance writing, I didn’t know how to pitch anything. I didn’t go to j-school, and I found my way by doing my own research and being persistent. (This is also how I’m still trying to find my way, tbh.) That’s why I’m really open about sharing the pitches that worked for me and explaining the process, and why I’m sharing with you the pitch and the essay drafts that landed my personal essay about turning 30 with the ADA in HuffPost Personal last summer.

The idea for the essay came to me on July 1, 2020, which was inconvenient as it meant I only had 25 days to write and place the essay before the anniversary of the ADA. Luckily, I posted in the Disabled Kidlit Writers Facebook group and one of the members alerted me to a tweet from a HuffPost editor looking for personal essays from disabled writers!

Her tweet included this link on how to pitch HuffPost, so I read up and sent her the following pitch right away:

Subject: PITCH (Timely - July 26, 2020, ADA): Turning 30 six months before 30th anniversary ADA
Dear [editor’s first name],
My name is Claire Forrest and I am a writer and disabled woman living in Minneapolis. I am responding to the call on your Twitter for unique and compelling issues related to disability.
On January 28, 1990, I was born premature, resulting in cerebral palsy and the majority of my life spent using a wheelchair. On July 26, 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act became law. My essay parallels the anxieties I dealt with as a woman leading up to her 30th birthday: Will I ever find a partner? Why does dating suck so much? Why am I not further in my career? While these anxieties are not unique, they are heightened by the ableism I experience as a disabled woman in post-ADA America.
My essay links my anxieties to specific instances of ableism I've experienced in my 30 years: catcalled by men who tell me I'm "too pretty to be in a wheelchair", critiqued for the way my voice sounds in a mock job interview, lack of access to women's healthcare, and more. I outline how embracing the disability community in my mid-20s furthered my education and understanding to help me better appreciate myself and my struggles. This learning--with the help of therapy--helped me embrace turning 30. I argue that a law is just a law, and 30 years after the ADA, attitudes must change.
The essay begins with me outlining my fears of turning 30 and ends with a call to action -- 30 years after the ADA, we still have to talk about ableism for the act to live up to its full promise.
I recently completed my MFA in Writing from Hamline University. My essay on dating and disability appeared in Bustle in 2016.
Thank you for your time and consideration, and I look forward to hearing from you.

The editor responded that she was interested (yay!) but informed me that HuffPost Personal works on spec. ‘On spec’ meant that I would have to produce a draft of the essay for their consideration first, with no guarantee of publication (or getting paid for it). Every writer should consider whether this is something they’d like to do. For me, it varies project by project, and I felt confident that this essay was something I wanted to write regardless of whether it landed or not, so I agreed.

The Drafts:

I wrote a draft and sent it to some trusted beta readers. (I could do a whole newsletter on beta readers, and why it’s important to have good ones you trust — and how I found mine—but that’s not this issue. Let me know if that’d be helpful, though!)

You know they’re good friends when you text them saying “Hey, I wrote this thing and I need to turn it in tomorrow, so if I sent it to you in 30 minutes, could you read it?”, and they say yes.

In this document, you can see essay draft 1 and 2. Draft 1 is what I sent to my friends, and draft 2 is what I sent to the editor for consideration. I still love the original ending to the first draft, because that was how it happened IRL, and I’m glad it’s seeing the light of day somehow.

Ultimately, I cut it. Sometimes, essays don’t get written exactly as things went down in real life. Also, as I read a few essays on HuffPost Personal before sending it in, I noticed they tended to be less voicey and so I reshaped it into draft 2.

Read Drafts 1 and 2 of the essay!

Draft 2 was accepted on the condition that I add more personal details, and I agreed. We did a round of edits in a Google Doc, the editor accepted, and I was paid digitally via their system.

(I am also fully transparent about what I got paid, because as a marginalized woman, I feel the need to be: $124.) If you’d like to know more about freelance writing rates in general, check out the #FreelancerPayGap spreadsheet.

Of course, you can see what the final essay became by reading it online.

The tagline of my newsletter is thoughts on writing, pop culture, disability, and all the things I would be texting my friends. Welcome to my group chat!

I’m obsessed with this TikTok.

(You can’t embed TikToks directly into Substack? What gives?!)

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