Freelance Friday: Pitching & Procrastinating

Q. What are the basics of pitching stories?

A. A pitch is the written equivalent of an audition. It’s you demonstrating not only that you have a great idea for a story, but also that you’re the right person to execute it, at this particular time, for this particular publication.

Pitching was one of the things that intimidated me most when I started journalism school, because it seemed like a code I had to crack. I felt that if I didn’t know the language of pitching, I’d never be able to “make it” as a writer, even if my skills were otherwise solid. This is somewhat true – actors who suck at auditioning don’t book many gigs, even if they’re fabulous once you get ’em on stage or on camera, you know? – but pitching isn’t as difficult as I once believed it was.

Here’s the basic formula. Look up the editor you want to pitch to (I usually sleuth out “sex & relationships” editors, since that’s my niche, but it depends on the piece and the publication) in the outlet’s masthead. (Or, alternatively, reach out to a writer friend who’s worked with that publication before and ask if they’d mind sharing their editor’s contact info.) Check to see if the pub has specific parameters for pitching, and read those carefully. If not, write “PITCH:” in the subject line of your email, followed by a brief headline/title for your idea.

Address the editor by name, if at all possible. Write a quick introduction like, “I’m writing because I have an idea for a story I think would be right up your alley.” Explain your story idea in 2-3 paragraphs. Lay out the main points you’ll make, and how you’ll support them – including anyone you plan to interview for the story. Connect your story to the publication’s particular audience – make it easy for the editor to understand why your story is a good fit for them, specifically. If you can, tie the story to a “news hook” that makes it current (e.g. “I want to write about fisting because International Fisting Day is coming up”). Specify what type of piece you’re hoping to write (news brief? personal essay? longform feature?) and what you estimate the word count might be (although an editor might just tell you the word count they want).

Some publications want you to have already done lots of research by the time you get to the pitching stage, while some are content if you just indicate what research you intend to do if your pitch is accepted. However, it never hurts to do at least a little research in advance, to prove you have access to sources and an understanding of the subject matter. You could, for example, dig up some statistics that prove your central point, interview someone who attended an event you’re reporting on, or reference some other writing that’s been done on the topic you’re tackling (so long as you explain why your story will be different!).

In your last paragraph, give a little context about yourself: explain who you are, what you do, what your credentials are (including a few past publications, if applicable), and why you’re the person to write this story. (Do you have firsthand experience with the subject matter? Are you well-connected with relevant sources? Are you an expert on the subject?) Finish with a nice conclusion (as per advice from Alana Massey, I like “If you’re interested in moving forward with this, let me know your thoughts in terms of angle, deadline, rate, and word count”) and a polite and professional sign-off. (I always include my portfolio URL under my name so editors can check out the rest of my work if they are so inclined.)

While you’re bound to get rejected a fair bit, good pitch skills can take you a long way. Once you get a pitch accepted, it’s just a matter of proving you can actually follow through on researching and writing the piece you’ve pitched!

Q. How do you avoid procrastination? What keeps you so highly motivated?

A. I’m often asked how I manage to crank out 2 to 3 posts a week so consistently. I think the answer is: a blend of caffeine, mental illness, organization, and love.

Let me explain what I mean by each component of that recipe. Love is easy: I have a deep, unending zeal for writing – and writing about sex in particular – that is the core fuel of what I do. Other factors in my life (like the aforementioned mental illness) sometimes obscure my passion for periods of time, but it’s always there, waiting to be rediscovered. If I ever find myself resenting my blog workload or just not feeling as thrilled about it as I normally would be, I know I’m burned out and need to refuel my creative engine. Often I can do that by just taking a few days off from writing (if possible), reading the work of writers I admire (in my genre or not), and then pursuing whatever topics genuinely tug at my curious heart at the time. (Erotic massages? Sex work law? Gloryholes?)

Mental illness is a tricky one. It’s my go-to jokey answer when anyone asks me how I stay so productive – “I’m mentally ill!” I’ll quip with a grin – and that’s an oversimplification but it’s also true. I have bipolar type 2 and my bouts of hypomania are often accompanied by boundless fascination with particular topics or people, more frequent strokes of brilliance, and more energy with which to transform those idea-flashes into fleshed-out pieces. My mental illnesses are a burden but they’re also my superpower. Many times, when Depressed Me was too foggy and forlorn to write a blog post, I’ve said a silent prayer of gratitude for Hypomanic Me and her hours of tireless work: I can often publish a blog post I wrote while manic to fill time while I’m too depressed to write.

That’s where organization comes in: I rely on infrastructure I’ve set up to keep my blog running smoothly, even in times of emotional turmoil. I use the Editorial Calendar plugin to keep all my posts visually organized and scheduled. When I receive a new toy to review, I create a draft of my forthcoming review and add to it whenever I have a relevant thought. When I think of a great idea for a blog post, I make a draft for it and make detailed notes so I can write it later. I work in advance on my regular features, like my Monthly Faves and link round-ups, a little at a time, so the work rarely piles up too much. I keep lists in Evernote and my phone’s Notes app of posts I’d like to write, so I’m never stuck for ideas. Basically, I put in a little work here and there to steadily reduce all the writing-related stressors I can, to make space for myself to actually write.

And when all of that fails me? There’s always caffeine. I get my ass to a coffee shop, order something tall and peppy, sit down with my laptop, and wait for the artificial energy to hit.

Got questions about freelance writing, blogging, or any of my other sexy-scribe activities? Email them to me, or comment below, and I’ll try to tackle ’em here!

Links & Hijinks: Nudes, Hooters, & Wet Dreams

• The ever-wonderful Alana Massey wrote an etiquette guide to receiving nudes and it should be required reading for sexters the world over.

• Melissa Broder wonders: why are we still having sex? “Many times, following a mediocre sexual experience with a partner, I’ve thought, Why didn’t I just stay home, masturbate, and eat snacks?

• Some accomplished journalists reveal the best reporting advice they ever received.

• OkCupid banned a white supremacist. Nice.

• Suzannah Weiss tried the new Satisfyer and isn’t sure she wants the plentiful, intense orgasms it gives her.

• Taylor has some suggestions for impact play implements you can get at the dollar store. (I love pervertibles! One of my all-time fave impact toys is a thick wooden cutting board I bought at a fancy culinary shop in Rome.)

• Important reminder: safer sex is more than just condoms!

• On Lady Gaga, fibromyalgia, and the stigma of invisible pain.

• Speaking of pain: BDSM can help with it, sometimes.

• I’ve never been to Hooters but this article makes me want to go.

• The hilarious Merritt K wrote about smelly dicks and why you should wash your junk. Fair warning: this article is disgusting, but highly amusing.

• Helena Fitzgerald on the allure of leather jackets. Yes, yes, yes.

• Suz has some great advice for how to feel less shook up when you get stood up.

• On the gender politics of sex robots.

• Why would someone want to get their dick rated?

• If you’re part of a couple seeking a “unicorn” for a threesome, read this post of Suz’s about how to message a potential third.

• Fascinating: you can take a BDSM vacation!

• The beautiful, wonderful Caitlin K. Roberts made a video about her experiences with mindful masturbation. (She’s offering masturbation coaching now, too!)

• Here’s a succinct write-up on why wet dreams happen, incase you’ve ever wondered about that.

• Fuck ScreamingO. They did a real bad thing. (More info + posts in this Twitter thread, if you’re interested.)

• Here’s a history of the cock ring!

• The dick, the myth, the legend: here’s some writeups on famous dicks and what became of them.

A lesbian sex party for straight women?! Yep, totally a thing.

9 Invaluable Tools I Use As a Writer

I am so nosy about other writers’ tools and processes. It’s a glimpse into genius, a map toward emulating the creative weirdos I admire most. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking, “If I just buy the perfect pen/notebook/writing software, I’ll suddenly be brilliant!” but behind-the-scenes rundowns on other writers’ tools also remind me that we all start with the same basic supplies: something to write with, something to write on, and something to say. If they got to where they are with just those three things, I can get to where I want to be, too.

In that spirit: here are the 9 tools I use most often as a writer. I’d love to hear about your faves in the comments!

Large hardcover ruled Moleskine notebooks. These are my favorite for daily journaling, as I’ve told you before. On their creamy pages, I document my days, process my feelings, make gratitude lists, brainstorm dreams and goals, and connect the dots of my various patterns and neuroses. I would not be able to function as a person without journaling, let alone function as a writer. But my journals are useful for more than just word-vomiting my feelings: I also refer back to them when writing about personal experiences. They’re a time capsule of feelings that felt intense at the time but may have faded into forgetfulness in the intervening weeks/months/years. Plus they’re real fucking pretty.

Pilot Precise V5 pens. I’ve been using these for god knows how long. They are just perfect. I love them. They play well with Moleskine paper – neither leaking through nor requiring excessively long to dry – and they feel luxurious and fancy but aren’t overly expensive. Please bury me with a few of these pens strewn throughout my casket. I’ll probably still need ’em in the afterlife.

Post-it notes. I use these for to-do lists. As much as I’d like to have the zen focus to mentally set myself goals at the beginning of the day and then just get ’em done, I am much more motivated by physical reminders of what I’m trying to achieve. So at the start of a big work day, I usually write my most important tasks on a post-it and stick it to my computer so it’s always staring me in the face. And then I get to feel like the goodest good girl as I check things off the list. Score!

My iPhone’s Notes app. Simple, yes, but always useful. This is where I keep the blog post ideas that come to me while I’m away from my computer. I also take notes in there when I’m testing sex toys I’ll be reviewing, because it’s not always ideal to have to type notes on a laptop while jerking off. (I like my Macbook too much to get lube all over it! …most of the time, anyway.)

My Macbook Air. AH, SWEET MYSTERY OF LIFE, AT LAST I’VE FOUND YOU. I bought this last year after lugging around my old Macbook Pro for years. The Air is so much smaller and lighter, ideal for my purposes as a writer who does much of her work at coffee shops and other out-and-about locations. I thought it might not have enough power to do all the stuff I need to do – edit podcasts, for example, and occasionally edit videos – but so far it’s handled all I’ve thrown at it with aplomb. (Including, sometimes, the aforementioned lubey fingers.)

Evernote. I started using this note-taking and organization software in journalism school and it continues to be useful on the daily. I can keep digital “notebooks” about individual projects (blog posts, writing assignments, podcast episodes) as well as more general notebooks for other, non-work things (travel, lists of goals, gift ideas for loved ones). I find it most helpful for huge, complex assignments requiring multiple interviews and lots of research, but it really helps me organize everything I ever work on.

Google Drive. A friend turned me on to Drive years ago when I complained that I kept losing my writing progress when Word would crash unexpectedly. When you write in Drive, not only does it auto-save continuously, but you can also access all your stuff from any internet-enabled device. I keep my sex spreadsheets on Drive, as well as my income spreadsheet, any active pieces I’m writing, and any file I want to have access to on several different devices. What’s more, upgrading your Drive storage to 100 gigabytes costs just $2 a month, which is a steal. I keep everything on there!

Spotify. I am always listening to Spotify. I am listening to Spotify as I type this. ALL HAIL SPOTIFY. It’s a music streaming service but also music organization software: you can make playlists, share them with people, discover new artists that are similar to the ones you already love, and so much more. I have a playlist called “I’m a Writer” which I typically groove to while I’m writing; most of it is minimally distracting instrumental music that keeps me energetic and focused.

WordPress Editorial Calendar. THE BEST PLUGIN! I’ve been using this for about a year and it fills me with such glee. Its drag-and-drop interface allows me to see upcoming blog content at a glance, laid out in a calendar format, so I know exactly where the gaps are and can fill them in accordingly. I can also move stuff around with ease, incase I decide that no, the world actually isn’t ready yet to read those 3,000 words about an obscure kink of mine, or whatever. If I had to marry a WordPress plugin, this is the one I’d choose!

What are your favorite tools for writing? Geek out with me!