I recently got out of a four-month pitching slump. Despite attending pitching webinars, asking writer friends to hold me accountable, and researching publications — I had no good pitch ideas.
I started this year off with some big goals. I planned on selling $1000 worth of stories a month. I had a list of publications to work on breaking into. I enrolled in a freelance writing course. And well, let’s just say things weren’t as smooth sailing as I’d hoped. I got a lot of rejections, some articles were taken on-spec (in other words, the editor isn’t committing to the article), and a small handful of real acceptances. Then there was the whole pandemic thing. Editors contacted me to say my pieces are postponed or, even worse, killed because of Covid-19 changing the editorial calendar. My Twitter feed was filled with industry horror stories from other journalists. My confidence plummeted. And I convinced myself that I had no sellable pitch ideas.
A few weeks ago, I started pitching again. And, it’s been tough. Rejections are still difficult to swallow (does this ever get easier?). But I’ve also sold stories and placed pieces with brand new publications! I have no straightforward answers about getting out of a pitching slump. But here are some things that helped me get back into the game.
1. Take time off social media
I’m not telling you to deactivate your accounts or throw your phone away. Because, as a freelancer, deleting social media is a luxury we just can’t afford. But since it’s 2020 and all, I found that obsessively scrolling through Twitter wasn’t doing any favors for my mental health or my pitching confidence.
If you hit a complete block as I did, I suggest logging off social media for a few days. Read a book. Consume other journalism. Once I started reading for enjoyment again, I found my confidence returned, slowly. And so did my pitch ideas.
2. Schedule time to read
As a journalist, consuming media is crucial. But amidst copywriting, editing, pitching, and most recently, becoming a caregiver — I struggle to make the time to read.
Recently, I’ve started scheduling in time to read. It sounds silly but it helps, I promise. I’m not a morning person and I’m probably never going to be one. So instead of feeling guilty about my inability to work in the mornings, I’ve started reading for enjoyment. This could be books, The New York Times Modern Love column, articles in Al Jazeera, or whatever I feel like.
This helps hugely with pitch idea generation since I find a lot of thoughts or topics springboard from the content I engage with.
3. Free write with intention
I’ve often been told to set a timer and free write to see what pitch ideas this leads to. I’m assuming this works for other writers but, honestly, I’ve never come up with any great ideas using this technique.
What helps me with pitch idea generation, though, is free writing in response to a publication or an editor’s call for pitches. For instance, I subscribe to Sonia Weisner’s newsletter. When I’m brainstorming, I might research a publication that an editor posted a call for. After I’ve read a few articles and browsed the site, I word vomit everything that comes to mind onto a page. Most of what I write is nonsense. But it’s also helped me generate some pretty decent ideas, I think.
4. Subscribe to freelance newsletters
I’ve found nothing sparks ideas more effectively than seeing editors’ calls for pitches. Plus, there’s a better chance of placing the article if the editor is actively looking for the stories you’re pitching. My favorite newsletter is Sonia’s which $3 a month (you can ask her for a sponsored subscription if you can’t afford this). There are also some great free newsletters that send out pitch calls including PitchWhiz and Sian Meades-Williams’s newsletter.
Go easy on yourself
Freelancing is tough under ideal circumstances. This has been exacerbated by the pandemic. For me, pitching original article ideas is more of a passion project than seeking a reliable income. I’ve found copywriting and content marketing to generally be more sustainable and more lucrative.
Plus, the best part of freelancing is that you can do all of these things! So if you think you’ve worked through your writer’s block, you can check out my last blog post on how to pitch. Do you have any feedback on this blog post? Let me know, I’d love to hear from you.