I made the mistake of checking my phone early this morning when the vibrating notification woke me up. I had submitted a draft of a narrative piece about dating overseas and its associated difficulties late last night and at 3 am, the editor got back to me. I saw from the preview that it was her and nearly put the phone back down, telling myself I’d check it at a more appropriate time. Thinking it over for a minute, I reasoned that I wouldn’t get back to sleep anyway. That wondering about what it said would keep me up. It turns out I didn’t sleep anyway.
I opened up the Google doc and saw her comments. Essentially, she didn’t like anything I had written quoting use of stereotypes (these were more cultural dating norms among differing nationalities, namely Brazilians and Irish), lack of generalizability to other women overseas, and too much detail. I’m always irrationally offended by negative comments from editors, often taking them as a personal affront to the talent I believe I have. I felt defensive and starting planning out my response justifying my storytelling. She said in the email that I should consider her comments and try again. As I lay in bed, wide awake, I tried to consider the new angle until it was decided: I wasn’t going to.
When you’re freelancing and pitching ideas to an editor, your creative license is completely at their mercy. They don’t get your humor? Don’t like the angle you’ve chosen? Tough. They choose what gets published on their site. While I think this is completely fair, it also makes it very difficult to change your writing style and voice to fit a stranger’s ideal of how they envision a piece to be. In this way, journalism and travel writing are different from creative writing or poetry. When you submit your work to an editor in the two latter genres, you are submitting a finished product. Something that reflects your individual art. The majority of travel sites do not accept unsolicited submissions of completed pieces. You pitch them an idea, they say yea or nay, and if it gets past this first round, you work with them to craft a piece that matches the general voice/structure/content of the articles on their site.
All this considered, some editors I’ve worked with have been like a dream. The drafting process was collaborative and they allowed me to express things in my own way while maintaining the brand’s style. When I am told simply that the work is wrong and that I need to try again, I am left confused, dejected, and frankly a little bit demoralized. I do think this is partly due to my newbie status and thin skin, but I also think writers need guidance to achieve the editor’s vision. In a perfect world, editors would take this under advisement. The fact of the matter is, journalism is a cutthroat field and you need to fall in line or find another way if you want to make it.
For now, when it comes to pitching pieces, I’ll stick to flowery descriptions of travel destinations and leave my edgier ideas for later when I find a site where they’d fit. I currently have two main sources of near-constant work so all is well. I’m happy to build a portfolio and connections during a period of steady income; I don’t hate the extra side money but I also don’t need it. Ideally though, I see a future where my writing helps support me. Until then, this is just another lesson I’ll learn in a literary world rife with rejection.