Lara Witt is a freelance writer, senior editor at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. We talked about pop culture criticism, self-publishing platforms and the importance of a thoughtful pitch. Check out her portfolio/website and follow her on Twitter to learn more about her work.
When and why did you start freelancing?
It was by accident. I started freelancing shortly after I graduated [college] about two years ago. It was hard for me to find a full-time journalism job here in Philly. I wanted something within a newsroom, and that was hard to find at the time. I had just finished up an internship with the Daily News, but their newsrooms combined [with the Philadelphia Inquirer] and their staff was cut.
I decided to make an attempt to build my own platform little by little. I started using self-publishing sites like Medium and Tumblr so I could hone my voice and train myself to be a better writer, not just for news but also using my own perspective so I could eventually sell my pieces.
What was your first published piece as a freelance writer?
I got my first boost writing for Guerilla Feminism, but they lost their funding, so I stopped writing there. Freelancing has given me the opportunity to figure out what it is that people want to see from me.
I’ve read your work extensively on Wear Your Voice, Teen Vogue, Elle and more. Which stories are you most proud of?
The piece I’m the most proud of is something I self-published and cross-posted on the Establishment about Beyonce’s first maternity photo shoot. I’m happy about it because I was deconstructing the critiques that white women had towards her and showing them why their critiques were racist.
That’s where I realized I was strongest at doing cultural critiques from an intersectional feminism perspective. We devalue pop culture; we devalue women deconstructing pop culture, despite the fact more masculine identified folks have their own version of pop culture like sports. I’m not Beyonce’s friend, but I care about what Black women – what we all – go through.
What do you enjoy about freelancing?
The fact that, if I have a piece in mind, I don’t have to keep it at just one spot if I’m not not happy with it. You can always shop around your pieces. You can negotiate the own value of your work when you’re freelancing.
Having your voice published on multiple platforms helps you reach different readerships. Freelancing also gives me the ability to do the other things I want to do – not just writing – so I can manage my time better because I don’t think 9 to 5 works for everyone. It’s also better for my mental health. Not everyone fits into a little box.
What don’t you enjoy?
I’m a people person, so it’s hard for me to work from home and only see my dog for long stretches of time. I’m married, so I’m not alone-alone. It’s difficult to be so sociable and not have that anymore. I’m trying to find ways of improving my ability to socialize with other human beings in person.
Talk to me about your experience as senior editor at Wear Your Voice Magazine. What’s that like?
It’s very rewarding to focus primarily on Black and Brown folks within publications, especially considering how white most journalism is. It’s not just about hiring Black and Brown writers, it’s about hiring other editors who are Black and Brown. The issue of tone policing has come up repeatedly in magazines, newspapers and even smaller blogs where you have a white editor that tells you what you’re saying is too aggressive, which is very racist. Or that your perspective isn’t valid because it’s not backed up with data.
My job as an editor is to provide a space that is safer for us. I also want women of color especially to be paid for their own words. I don’t want them to be constantly seen through another person’s perspective.
What values are important to you as a writer and editor?
Promoting anti-racism is by far my first priority, and by anti-racism, I mean across the board: anti-transmisogyny, anti-misogyny, anti-capitalism and various other types of oppression – deconstructing why the world is what it is and how we can improve it.
Writing isn’t only words flying out into space; they have intention and purpose. It’s my responsibility to make sure we’re improving someone else’s life and validating how they feel. I try not to just do that through journalism but in my life through other people either on Twitter or in person.
What message do you have for millennial freelancers?
It takes an intense amount of self-discipline to be a freelancer. It’s not about working really, really hard but making sure you rest really, really well. Give yourself some space to understand that you can’t be 100 percent all the time, and that’s completely okay.
You have to be organized about your work. Create a Google doc of all editors you know of with their email addresses. Keep notes about who likes what. Know when they respond and if they’re quick responders or not. Keep a list of what publications pay so you can negotiate. Discipline, organization, mindfulness about your mental health and talking to other writers are important.
Learning how to pitch is the most important thing and is often overlooked. Editors will ignore your email if you don’t have a good pitch. Whether you learn it in school or by yourself, have other people look at your pitches.
Danielle Corcione is Founder of The Millennial Freelancer, a compilation of interviews with freelance writers and editors to uncover and overcome the issues affecting the modern freelance world.