Rae Ritchie pitched an article every single day for a month. This is what she learned.
RAE RITCHIE is a former academic historian, now freelance writer, editor, researcher and speaker, whose work has appeared in publications from the Guardian to Grazia. She specialises in sustainability and ethical living and is rather too proud of being Warwickshire County Council’s Slim Your Bin Champion February 2020.
Pitching up feature and-butter of freelance writing. I already knew how to do it. What I wanted was for this small daily action to build into a bigger habit that I would continue even when the month was over.
When I set myself this rather arbitrary challenge, I had no idea it would transform my creativity – and my confidence.
After a period on staff at a magazine, I returned to the world of freelance writing on the same day that Boris Johnson announced the UK was going into lockdown. Suddenly I was not only working for myself again but also, along with the rest of the nation, unmoored from the usual structures of everyday life. At the same time, the pandemic created turmoil within the publishing industry, with redundancies, furloughing, budget cuts and changes to schedules as well as content.
However, New York Times best-selling author Gretchen Rubin, who has written extensively about habit formation, issues a warning about the boot camp approach: beware the hidden danger of finish lines. ‘Setting a finish line does indeed help people reach a goal’, she explains. ‘But although it’s widely assumed to help habit-formation, the reward of hitting a specific goal can undermine habits. A finish line marks a stopping point, and once we stop, we must start over, and starting over is harder than starting’ (her emphasis). What I did in June would, therefore, be as crucial to the success of my challenge as the month of May itself.
I approached the first day with trepidation. What if I ran out of ideas? Would the pressure quash my creativity? Yet as soon as I actually got started, the challenge felt like a marriage of productivity and creativity.
My mantra ‘digital for productivity; analogue for creativity’ soon came into its own. I had a spreadsheet to record what I’d pitched, when and to whom; I also scrawled pages and pages of lists, notes and half-
formed ideas in my Moleskine. During one
A few whirlwind weeks later, I knew I needed a greater sense of routine and structure. I wanted an anchor point for my working day, an activity that I could concentrate on regardless of the outside world. The idea for my May pitching challenge was born: I would write and submit a pitch for an article every single day that month.
brainstorm I jotted down topics ranging from the joys of inter-generational friendship, to the experience of being a homework-helping auntie
THE ONLY WRITER WHO HAS NEVER BEEN REJECTED IS
in lockdown, to the environmental impact of condoms (alas none of these came to fruition).
ONE WHO HAS NEVER SUBMITTED
That meant every day: no skipping weekends, no missing out the Bank Holidays, no getting to the end of the month and catching up with any days I’d missed.
The premise was simple. As a freelancer trying to earn a living, I’m constantly looking for ways to generate more work. Pitching every day for a month would force me to cast my net more widely than usual, contacting new editors and trying out different angles on familiar topics (I specialise in sustainability and ethical living).
At the same time, the challenge would keep my focus on an aspect of my work that I could control. As a long-time listener of the #AmWriting podcast, I’d often heard the hosts, authors Jessica Lahey, K J Dell’Antonio and Sarina Bowen, discuss the importance of setting goals that are within our power to achieve. Sage advice.
Although the overall challenge felt like the definition of a Sisyphean task, the daily task required – write a pitch, send a pitch – was the basic bread-
One Saturday, when I couldn’t settle on which idea to develop next, my partner suggested pitching about the pitching challenge itself (you’re reading the result of that now). I’d started May with a tangible quantified goal and needed creativity to achieve it. Ten days in, my creativity kicked in and I discovered I needed the structure of the pitching challenge to channel and make use of it. Come the end of the month, I’d learnt three major lessons.
From the outset, I’d wanted to build relationships with editors I hadn’t worked with before. I’d done this previously, but returning to my pitching challenge spreadsheet day in, day out, made me much more consistent in my efforts than in the past. For example, I already knew that starting a conversation could lead to opportunities. Now I was in more frequent contact with new editors, the tips and tricks that would encourage a back-and-forth exchange rose to the forefront of my mind – and stayed there. In particular, I became diligent about replying to every response with the question, ‘Are
58 CAREER / Mslexia / Sep-Nov 2020