It was my second freelance writing assignment ever.
I had won an essay contest for the L.A. Weekly — my first clip ever. Then I got an assignment out of them to cover a protest. That short piece went OK.
To say I was excited really doesn’t begin to describe it.
The paper gave me another piece to do that would be more in-depth, on one of the protest groups.
And I just drowned.
I did a book’s worth of research, then desperately tried to organize it.
Worse, I had a very decided personal opinion about this group…and it showed.
I didn’t know yet that it’s not cool to throw your opinion into a reported story.
I turned in my 2,000-word epic…and they killed it.
Not “you need to rewrite this.” Just buh-bye.
I pitched them a few other things, and got nowhere. Slowly, it dawned on me:
I had blown it
When I look back on it now, I can see that this was a major turning point in what I did not yet even know was my budding freelance-writing career.
I could have crawled off into a corner and never pitched an article again.
I might have concluded that I wasn’t really cut out for this freelance-writing thing.
But here’s what really happened:
I was too stupid to give up
I was so new to freelancing that I didn’t realize this should have been a devastating blow to my ego.
Instead, I thought, “Well, I made a mess of that.”
Then I wondered what to do next. Writing articles was fun!
I wanted to figure out how to keep going.
I got an idea for another article.
So I pitched their competitor
The L.A. Reader didn’t seem to know or care that I’d had an article killed.
Apparently the Universal Editor Communication Network where they all tell each other which loser writers not to hire wasn’t functioning that day.
They gave me a short front-of-the-paper piece. And another. I kept pitching them.
Soon, I was writing something for them every week.
And coming in to bug their editor every week.
“Why did you change this paragraph to say that?” I was a total pest.
Incredibly, this long-suffering, overworked, alternative-paper editor was willing to help me. (Thanks, Eric.)
I kept getting better
I wrote book reviews. I covered city council meetings. Whatever they’d let me near.
After a while, I got some feature ideas, and wrote them a 3,000-word cover story.
My first draft was 6,000 words. I had no idea what I was doing.
But I got some nice clips in course of all this writing.
I used them to get a $35,000-a-year staff writing job.
The writing just kept rolling…into another, better-paying staff job.
Which I also got fired from
The new editor that came along 5 years into my tenure wasn’t my speed, to sum up a lot.
So one day there I was, just like that lady up there with the box. Marched out of the building, lugging my stuff.
I called one of my former editors to look for freelance gigs. I told him I was feeling pretty morose about getting the ax, even though I’d seen it coming.
“Oh,” he said coolly, “I just don’t think you can say you’re a real reporter unless you’ve been fired at least a couple of times. You don’t have enough passion for it.”
And I thought, “Yeah. That’s right.” But still…
It seemed like a disaster
I had three kids to feed.
Then, I started to freelance. Within a few years, I had doubled my income.
When I look back on it now, I can see that getting fired, both times, was the best thing that ever could have happened.
Except the way I reacted to it. Which made all the difference.
What can you learn from my tale of getting fired?
- Even good writers get fired
- Getting fired is not the end of your career
- Getting fired can turn out to be a good thing in the long run
- This is business — you need the resilience to take a blow and keep going
- A great mentor may be waiting at the next gig — but you’ll never know if you fold after your first setback
- When one door closes, just try the other ones
Have you come back from what seemed like a career-killing disaster? Tell us all about it in the comments below.