By STEPH AUTERI
For Montclair Local
Steph Auteri is a full-time freelance writer and editor who has written for The Atlantic, the Washington Post, Pacific Standard, VICE and other publications. Her memoir, “A Dirty Word,” was released in October 2018. She is a member of Montclair’s The Write Group. For more, visit stephauteri.com.
As a work-at-home freelance writer who rolls out of bed at 7 a.m. and wears slipper boots all day, I am well aware that I’m spoiled beyond belief. Yes, I can get my food shopping done when everyone else is at work. Yes, I can pick my daughter up from school at 2:45 p.m. Yes, I can lie down on my office floor and crack my back without anyone looking at me funny.
Some, however, assume that because I’m not feverishly typing away at my magnum opus 24/7, I’m not really working. Not all the time. I mean, why else have I only ever published one book? Slacker.
So I thought I’d give readers a peek behind the curtain. A glimpse of my glamorous writing life. A peep at all the parts of writing that are not writing at all:
The Stuff That Subsidizes the Writing. While I’d love for everyone to believe that I pay my bills by chasing down the latest leads on sex-ed legislation or gender bias in the medical field, most of my time is actually spent editing blog posts about style trends and holiday decorations. It’s not exciting, but it’s regular, and that’s what counts.
The Pitching of Stories. The thing about freelancing is that you can’t expect the assignments to come to you (though sometimes they do). Instead, you have to brainstorm new story ideas. Figure out which markets would be best for them. Develop and send out query letters. Send follow-up emails. Experience the crushing disappointment of endless rejection. Question your place in the world and your abilities as a writer. Brush it off and query someone else.
The Research. Once you land that assignment, it’s time to do your homework. This means reaching out to professional organizations and academic institutions in an attempt to find sources. This means searching Google Scholar and ResearchGate and the Pew Research Center to find the facts that will back up your thesis. This means following citations to new articles and then following new citations to new articles and then following new citations to new articles until your eyeballs fall out and, sorry! You’re blind now!
Surviving the Interview Sweats. Yes, I have been a journalist for 15 years. Yes, I have interviewed many people. Yes, those people are almost always delightful. And yes, I still get so nervous that, by the time the call is done, I have to change my shirt. Anxiety-induced armpit sweat: The struggle is real.
Surviving the Interview While My Daughter Is Yelling About Poop. “Mommy! I have to go potty!” “Mommy! I pooped!” “Mommy! Can you make sure I wiped my poop good?” God bless sources who understand what it’s like to be a work-at-home mom.
Playing Spider Solitaire. My favorite mindless activity for when I need to give my brain a break.
Scrolling Through Social Media. Sure, some might say that repeatedly scrolling through Feed.ly and Twitter and Instagram is a giant time suck and a distraction from my real work. But how else will I promote my latest published piece and keep up with the latest trending new stories and cyber-stalk editors who may or may not be willing to pay me for my words?
Reading. A Lot. Sure, some might say that I should spend my evenings with my husband, communicating about my day and working to maintain our romantic connection. But how else will I remain up to date on all of the latest work within my niche and find topics for that book blog I’m supposed to be contributing to and get inspiration for my own writing?
Wrestling an Article into Submission. Sometimes, this means taking 5,648 words’ worth of interview notes, combining them with another 1,232 words’ worth of research notes, and somehow wrangling the whole damn thing down to just 800 beautifully rendered words. This requires a lot of impromptu stress laps around the first floor of my house, during which I lean my forehead against walls and sob. It also requires a lot of stress snacking.
Playing Spider Solitaire. Again. My favorite mindless activity for when I want to reward myself for actually filing my piece.
So, there you have it. “Sex and the City” this is not.
But, still, this is what it looks like to be living my writing dreams. And honestly? I wouldn’t trade it for anything.