My Mean Shrink Gave Me the Best Writing Advice Ever
Don’t pitch. Just write something that’s as good as you can make it.
When I was in my late 20s I went to a shrink in New York. This guy was kind of a dick. I thought he would be able to help me get my act together because I was afraid of him. I know, I’m an idiot. I know!
But there’s one thing he told me that I really wish I had listened to. I said I wanted to publish articles in better places. He said, write the article and then send it out to an editor. A whole article, I said. He said yes, a whole article. No, no, no, I said. You don’t understand my business. I have to pitch people. But everyone always says no.
Well if everyone always says no, he said, why don’t you try it another way?
But there is no other way! This is how it’s done, I said.
He just shrugged and we went back to talking about a bunch of crap that never amounted to anything.
So I continued to write for the places and the editors who would take my pitches and I never wrote anything I liked very much or got anywhere really. There is mostly nowhere to “get” as a writer—this business is extremely weird and getting weirder—but let’s just say there’s a place you really want to write for and you keep pitching them and they keep saying no or ignoring you.
My mean shrink was mean, but he was right. When I started writing whole entire essays and sending them to people at places I really wanted to write for, they started printing them. It is the only advice I have to give anyone who wants to write: Don’t pitch. Just write something that’s as good as you can make it and then get it to the best person to read it.
People often hate this advice. I only give it out when begged. I say “the only thing that ever made being a writer somewhat less of a nightmare was writing whole stories instead of pitching—that’s all I got.”
And then people say, “I don’t have time, I don’t want to do work for no reason, it’s exploitative to do work without getting paid for it.” This is all correct. You are not going to get me to disagree with you that if you want to be a writer you are looking at a vast and powerful system of exploitation, a world of pain. I can’t solve that problem today—I’m not being flip, I am just stating a fact.
That said, if there is some place you’re dying to publish something, the only thing I can tell you is write it, don’t pitch it. And I am just saying that because I banged my head against the wall pitching for years and in my experience it was a fool’s game! Anyone who wants to keep doing it is welcome to try. Sometimes I get sucked into pitching something. It always ends in tears.
Writers are hugely exploited. People need us to be entertained, to make sense of their lives, to make them laugh, to feel things, and many many people who read would like nothing more than for writers to work for free. (And a lot of them do.) When I write a whole story I am possibly writing for free. But at least when it’s done I have something complete, even if all I ever get to do with it is say “I wrote you.” When I pitch, I am writing and thinking for free too. But when that’s over, I have nothing except resentment for the people who said no, and resentment toward myself for trying something that never works.
There is no such thing as good advice on how to make it as a writer, other than “marry someone rich” or “be rich already” or “be extremely lucky somehow and also possibly really good but the luck part is probably more important but nothing is as important probably as the being rich part.” I’m not expecting to be super helpful, I’m just telling you what I have observed, and also that even though my old shrink was a dick I should have done what he said.