Freelancing as a journalist can look different, but it usually includes a lot of pitching story ideas — an unpaid and often thankless task that requires focus and work for little reward.
"Pitching takes a great deal of energy –– from the initial research and the creative part of the process to then persuading an editor why this is the perfect story for their readers," said Caroline Harrap, a freelance journalist in Paris who has written for The Guardian, France Today and Culture Trip, among others. "And then, of course, there is no guarantee that the article will actually get commissioned!"
For emerging to established names alike, the pressure to find and put forward well-crafted story proposals can take a toll, often causing a lack of motivation and inspiration. "It has more of a strain because you're [regularly] expected to come up with ideas, and it's not just ideas, but good ideas and different ideas," said occupational psychologist Angela Carter.
Freelance writer and editor Sian Meades-Williams said she usually realizes the impact of constant pitching when it's a little too late: "We often think: 'Get to the weekend, just one more piece, we'll take it easier next month.' But by the time we're saying that, we're already struggling."
Dealing with rejections — or lack of responses — also makes the whole process harder. Meades-Williams loves the research process and finds it especially rewarding as a freelancer being in control of what to pitch. "What's harder for me than keeping the momentum going is the regular rejection, which happens to all freelancers no matter how long they've been working for themselves," she says.
Writing books and setting up her lifestyle newsletter Tigers Are Better Looking helps Meades-Williams deal with the days when she feels like she doesn't have the resilience to send another pitch. Instead, she can explore ideas, themes and create without waiting for someone else to say “yes.”
If you're struggling with the lows of pitching — or if you feel like you've run out of ideas or motivation — we've put together a few tips to help you cope and keep you going.
Prioritize and plan
Prioritize the most important things you have to do, and limit the time you spend worrying about unhelpful thoughts, suggests occupational psychologist Angela Carter. For example, do not fret about how many other people might be pitching the same editor that you are when you reach out to a publication for the first time.
"Draining concepts need to be put in a box,” Carter said. “Deal with them when you have to, deal with them immediately so you don't have to worry about them, but they're things that will drain your energies.”
Instead, try and concentrate more on things that are in your control.
Give yourself time and space to have ideas.
If you're stuck, go for a walk, ride your bike or go out. Do something different. "When you actually free your mind, you'll be surprised about what it can remember or generate," said Carter. Even using a pen and a notebook instead of staring at the usual computer screen or changing the setting from where you're writing might be enough to help ideas flow more easily.
Choose stories that excite you
"I make sure I'm excited about what I'm pitching," said Meades-Williams. "That sounds obvious, but so often we find ourselves pitching what we think an editor wants to read."
Working on a story that you find genuinely interesting and truly fascinates you can make the research feel less like a slog.
Savor wins, even little ones
According to Carter, celebrating victories or lessons learned before moving on to the next thing is helpful. "This is particularly important if you don't get [commissioned]," she says. "Did I do a good pitch? How can I improve the next one? I might not have got that work, but I can re-package it in another way."
The type of stress journalists are under is almost like being always on the frontlines, she explained: "And to equip yourself to always be at the front well, you have to come back into yourself and care for yourself to then go forward again."
Taking time to savor what you have done or learned may feel like you're wasting time, but you're actually investing in yourself, Carter noted.
Talk to other people (even online)
"Sometimes just chatting about something you're interested in can spark a new angle, or help you formulate your initial idea," said Meades-Williams.
It can also help with encouragement and growth. Harrap said. "Having a support network can make a world of difference, which is why we set up the Society of Freelance Journalists,” which is an international Slack community open for anyone in the world to join.
Remember, it gets easier
"Over time, you become more resilient and learn to take things less personally," said Harrap. It's important to remember that pitches are rejected for many reasons; it doesn't necessarily mean the idea was bad in itself.
She added: "If you can build up a relationship with an editor, that makes things so much easier than sending out a pitch cold.”
Even when your ideas get turned down or ignored, the key is not to give up, Harrap pointed out: “As a wise person once said, the only difference between failure and success is in a person’s willingness to keep on trying.”
Cristiana Bedei is an Italian freelance journalist with international experience.