An interview with Sydney Parker, writer and former student or our Freelance Magazine Writing Workshop
We’re celebrating today because Stacy Dacheux will be leading another Freelance Magazine Writing Workshop. We interviewed writer Sydney Parker, whose freelance work has exploded since she participated in our previous session this past spring. Below, she offers some insight into what you can expect to learn and take away from this super informative, one-day workshop.
How did our Freelance workshop help you?
Sharing ideas in a non-competitive, unconditionally supportive environment helped me get over my hang-up that everything I wrote had to be perfect. Stacy was very open about her own experiences with rejections, which made everyone feel more willing to share their ideas and insecurities. She provided great insight and demystified the freelance pitch process with a step-by-step breakdown. There was no magic trick or secret divining of inspiration. She said she just sat down and started writing. The workshop really helped me find the fun in writing again and stop worrying about the end goal.
What was the most valuable thing you took away from the workshop?
By the end of the workshop, I had come up with a name and a theme for my blog and was absurdly excited to go home and be creative. Stacy and the group affirmed that it didn’t matter if anyone read it or if it lead to lucrative opportunities–what was important was that I was having fun and enjoying the process. The blog was ultimately the key to paid opportunities, as it gave me an impetus to post my old work and to write new articles I could then show a prospective editor. I now had to go out and have interesting adventures and meet new people so that I would have something worthwhile to write about. It reinvigorated my whole life.
Why did you take the workshop?
I majored in Journalism in college, but upon graduation I decided it wasn’t a financially feasible or morally valuable pursuit and so I worked in book publishing and then went on to try to save the world. After working with kids with terminal illness, kids with autism, and a stint at a Holocaust Museum, I went a little nuts and knew it was time to make a major life change. I googled “writing class” Los Angeles and landed on LA Writers Group. The inexpensive, low-pressure Sunday Writers Workshop got my feet wet and gave me the courage to take my writing seriously enough to try out the Freelance Magazine Writing workshop.
What made you want to pursue writing, and in particular magazine writing, to begin with?
I’ve always enjoyed meeting new people, especially people very different from myself. I’m fearless when it comes to asking questions, because I’m genuinely interested and because I know that deep down everyone loves to talk about themselves. I try to conduct as many interviews as possible when working on a long-form piece, because just when you think you have a handle on your angle, you get another perspective that gives the article new layers and depth. Writing is a blast, especially now in the evolving world of digital journalism where the writer’s style and creativity is valued just as much as the straight facts of the story.
How do you know an idea or piece is ready to pitch?
You don’t! You will get rejected all the time, often for reasons that are completely beyond your control. An editor might already be running a similar story. It might be the end of the month and they don’t have a budget for any more stories. You might have made an egregious spelling error. There are a million reasons for which you might get turned down, so it is important not to get discouraged and to just keep pitching. A pitch should be a concise, attention grabbing summary of the article you intend to write, that tells the editor why your idea is exciting, why your idea is newsworthy, and why you are the best person to write the piece. Very rarely are editors interested in a finished article. They like to be part of the process.
What have you found challenging in the freelance lifestyle? What have you found rewarding?
The freelance lifestyle is definitely feast or famine, with unfortunately no guarantees as to when you will get paid. I might feel differently later on, but at this time in my life, working from home, being my own boss, having the freedom to decide what I want to write about, and learning from smart, nurturing editors is worth the sacrifice of security and regular hours.
How do you decide what topics to tackle?
I’m constantly ingesting news and researching topics of interest. Many of my ideas come from some intriguing bit of conversation. My ears are like magnets for all things strange and uncomfortable. Although I’m out of the non-profit sphere, I’m still interested in social justice and often choose to cover marginalized groups like LGBTQ autistics, transgender fathers, or women with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome. I’m also fascinated by people who are unabashedly excited about something unconventional, like fancy pigeons or dressing up in an otter costume. I love entering an unfamiliar world with an open mind and compassionately celebrating difference.
Do you have writer friends or a writing group that helps you revise? What are your revision strategies?
I do have some writer friends, but mostly I rely on my non-writer friends to tell me when something is readable and to keep me in line when my sense of humor overrides my journalistic ethics. They tell it to me straight if I write something unclear, insensitive or just downright boring. I usually revise as I write. I’ll write a few paragraphs, insert quotes, then read what I have from the beginning. Revise. Have a snack. Write a few more paragraphs, rearrange them, read it again from the beginning. Revise. Take a walk. Write. Revise. It’s not the most popular or efficient strategy, but it works well for me. Once I have a draft I feel is in pretty good shape, I submit it to the editor. The editors at these publications have years of experience and are whip smart, so my writing benefits most from their feedback. All of the editors I’ve worked with have been exceptionally kind, supportive and knowledgable. Every piece is an opportunity to learn something new that I can bring to the next piece. The research, the interviewing, the reporting. It’s a mentally and creatively stimulating dream job.
Sydney Parker is a writer based in Seattle. Her writing has been featured in publications including The Atlantic, The Guardian, The Hairpin, and Racked. You can read her articles on her blog, Carnival of Souls.